In this week's Justice League #31, readers got their first good look at the make-up of the new Doom Patrol team's full debut in the New 52.
The team has been hinted about in the Geoff Johns-written Justice League title since back in October 2013's issue #24, and even more during Forever Evil, as two characters on the team were killed.
The final page of Justice League #31 showed a team that includes Dr. Niles Caulder (called "The Chief"), Robot Man, Elasti-Girl and Negative Man, as well as former Justice League ally, Element Woman. The line-up includes the founding members of the pre-reboot Doom Patrol, with the addition of Element Woman.
According to the hints we've seen so far in Justice League, the New 52 version of Niles Caulder previously put together a team of people with superpowers who wanted to do good. But he had to "start over" after they were killed in Forever Evil.
In dialogue and art from Justice League #27, it was implied that Caulder could bring back these heroes from the dead. (If that's true, we may see some of the killed-by-the-Crime-Syndicate members again, including Karma, Scorch, Celsius, Negative Woman and Tempest.)
Johns has established that Niles Caulder holds the Justice League responsible for the he evil unleashed upon the world by the Crime Syndicate. When Lex Luthor said (during a televised interview in Justice League #30) that it wasn't the Justice League's fault, Caulder said, "Like hell it wasn't."
Misfits of the DCU
In past incarnations of the Doom Patrol, the team was established as the "misfits" of the DCU.
"They were complete freaks," said Keith Giffen, the writer on the last incarnation of the team. "Even way back when, they were off the beaten path. They dealt with villains like Monsieur Mallah, who was an ape in love with a brain. So they were the odd group that got the strange missions."
The concept of the Doom Patrol debuted in 1963's My Greatest Adventure #80. The team members were people that had gained their powers through tragedy, and their leader, Niles Caulder, convinced them to work on the side of good.
When the character debuted, Dr. Caulder was a super-genius who led the team from a wheelchair (incidentally prompting many fans to compare the team to the X-Men, who debuted at Marvel at the same time).
But in the New 52, Dr. Caulder appears to standing, implying the character is no longer a paraplegic. It's possible that the reasoning for Niles Caulder not being a paraplegic in the New 52 is similar to one of the motivations for healing Barbara Gordon, the New 52 Batgirl. As Gail Simone said when Barbara's exit from the wheelchair was announced, "[In the DC Universe], arms and legs get ripped off, and they grow back, somehow. Graves don't stay filled… the excuses to not cure her, in a world of purple rays and magic and super-science, are often unconvincing or wholly meta-textual. And the longer it goes on, the more it has stretched credibility."
So perhaps a super-scientist like Niles Caulder, who can apparently bring people back from the dead, would surely be able to heal himself.
The other members of the team were usually people who'd been ostracized from society, or called "freaks" because of their abilities. Included were Cliff Steele (Robot Man), whose brain survived a race car accident and is now part of a robot body; Larry Trainor (Negative Man), a former test pilot who had the ability to launch a separate, negative energy soul from his body; and Rita Farr (Elasti-Girl), a former Olympic swimmer who could shrink and expand her body.
The Doom Patrol has had several incarnations in the decades since their debut, including the most recent series launched in 2009 by Giffen himself, which ended only a few months before the New 52 reboot.
Because the Doom Patrol is considered a "misfit" team, the concept is often allowed to develop outside the confines of the regular DCU. As a result, the series has often been the source of innovative and quirky concepts — particularly the Doom Patrol run by Grant Morrison that's getting an Omnibus treatment this year.
"Grant Morrison took the idea of an oddball team and just shot that idea into the stratosphere," Giffen said. "And they became the group that dealt with the things that most of us only see out of the corner of our eye.
"Other people followed up on that [in subsequent Doom Patrol series], and I did as well," Giffen said. "I thought they should have kind of surreal, wink-wink-nudge-nudge quality to them."
The other thing that makes the Doom Patrol unique is that they feel more like a family than most superhero teams. "Because they were such outcasts, all they had was each other," Giffen said. "They say the family you're born into, you're stuck with; the family you marry, you choose. And the Doom Patrol chose one another. And the series always had that family element to it, where you could depend on each other.
"They had no place else to go, but by the same token, there's no place else they'd rather be," Giffen said.
Element Woman, who was introduced during the Flashpoint event that created the New 52, was invited to join the Justice League in the post-New 52 universe. She's been portrayed as socially awkward, with an unusual speech pattern, which may be part of her motivation to join with other misfits of the DCU in the Doom Patrol.
As Justice League #31 ended, the Doom Patrol was offering assistance — and maybe even membership? — to the new Power Ring, Jessica Cruz. The character is being controlled by an entity (Volthoom) inside the ring that was brought to Prime Earth by the Crime Syndicate / Earth 3 version of Hal Jordan. The ring sought out Jessica, presumably because she suffers from paranoia.
But the Justice League is also on their way to the same area, also to hunt down Jessica Cruz. Is a confrontation between the Justice League and the Doom Patrol coming next? Will Dr. Caulder's obvious dislike of the Justice League come into play?
The current storyline in Justice League promises a "startling confrontation with the all-new, all-dangerous Doom Patrol." Perhaps, in the New 52, the word "doom" is even more fitting.