Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Brief Introduction

Every now and then, I'm called upon to use my overabundance of comic book knowledge to write an introduction or foreword to some collection of stories, frequently stories that I am somehow connected to because of my long experience in the field. In this case, it was an archival collection of the Doom Patrol, a classic comic book series from the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, I wrote revivals of the Doom Patrol, mostly, at the time, to lukewarm fan review, although time has soften many of those opinions and there seems to be a certain fondness for the work now.

Here's a slightly abridged version (I took out references to the stories printed in the volume) of the foreword to THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVE, Volume 4. DC doesn't illustrate these forewords so the photograph did not appear in the book.


THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES • Volume 4 FOREWORD
© DC Comics
Photograph by Marc Svensson

The first time I met Arnold Drake in anything more than passing was in March of 2004. Someone had arranged to bring a bunch of Golden and Silver Age writers and artists up to the DC Comics offices for a tour and a small gathering for the comics creators of the day to express their appreciation for the creators of yesteryear. Among that number were some old friends, including artist Murphy Anderson (and the charming Mrs. Anderson) and several new acquaintances, including Larry Lieber and Arnold Drake.

Murphy, of course, was a long-time staple at DC, one of the company’s top artists and inkers. Larry never wrote a word for DC, but as a prolific Atomic and Silver Age Marvel writer and artist, I had grown up on his work and was thrilled to meet him. Arnold, on the other hand, had written plenty of words for DC: mysteries, science fiction, detective stories, suspense, super-heroes, humor (including THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS — I’m just saying); you name it, he’d written it.

Though I was junior to Arnold Drake and the rest of the gentlemen gathered at DC that day in terms of years in the biz (as well as status and reputation), I had logged a few decades hanging around those offices as well, beginning as a fan around 1970 (when a fan could still hang around the offices), so it was unsurprising that our paths would cross, even if only, as I’ve said, in passing.

Starting in 1977, Arnold and I actually had a legitimate connection, but I doubt he knew who I was or that the connection even existed.

Arnold Drake and I had both written THE DOOM PATROL.

Not that the credit put me in the same stadium, let alone on the same playing field, as Arnold. As the forewords to previous volumes of this Archive series have related, he created this remarkable cast of characters (along with co-writer Bob Haney on the first couple of stories). He was the guiding force of this, DC’s most forward-thinking series of the 1960s. Probably more than any other writer at National Periodical Publications in 1963, Arnold saw the writing on the wall that was being scrawled by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko at Marvel, and he replied with THE DOOM PATROL.

How well did he understand what Lee and company were doing?

Arnold’s DOOM PATROL was the perfect DC counterpoint to the Marvel Revolution, as proven by the debut of the similarly-themed (but thoroughly different, wheelchair-bound leaders aside) Lee and Kirby-created X-Men a couple of months later. In 1967, Arnold also gave the world Deadman, and by then the rest of the company had gotten the hint and creators such as Ditko, Mike Friedrich, Steve Skeates, Dennis O’Neal, Neal Adams and others had joined Arnold in pulling the company into the 1960s.

THE DOOM PATROL never seemed to lose its edge. Sure, parts of the stories may seem forced and corny today, but to those of us reading them in the 1960s, when plot gimmicks and “as fate would have it”-levels of coincidence were still the norm in a lot of titles, the group was a revelation. The Chief, Cliff, Larry and Rita (later joined by Gar Logan and Steve Dayton) provided one of the few continuity-driven books in the line. A diehard DC fan could tell, even then, that THE DOOM PATROL, under the editorial stewardship of Murray Boltinoff, had to have been flying under the radar. It was too different. Too good. I wasn’t surprised to learn, years later, that despite the second-class status of many of his titles, quiet, unassuming Murray consistently posted some of the highest sales percentages in the company.

I came to THE DOOM PATROL around 1967 via a back issue of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN that I had picked up for a nickel at one of the few used book stores in my area of Brooklyn that carried old comics. It was CHALLENGERS # 48, from 1966 (reprinted in THE DOOM PATROL ARCHIVES VOL. 3), the first of the two-part crossover with the Doom Patrol (another big deal for the time — crossovers were few and far between!). The Challengers were my second-favorite team at the time (after the Justice League of America, of course; that went without saying), and I was picking up whatever back issues I could find. In that 25 cents’ worth of old comics was my introduction to Arnold’s creation.

* * *

By then (the time of the stories reprinted in this volume), the Doom Patrol readership was becoming a bit of a family as well. Editor Boltinoff didn’t just run letters from the fans on his letter pages; he had a “Swap Shop” section in there as well, listing the names and addresses of readers looking to buy, sell or swap back issues of THE DOOM PATROL. Only Julie Schwartz’s letter columns at DC (and Stan Lee’s at Marvel) had that same feeling of intimacy, not only between editor and reader but among the readership in general.

But all good things must come to an end, and THE DOOM PATROL met its fate in the summer of 1968 with a denouement as unexpected as it was unprecedented.

And there it ended. Until 1977, when Paul Levitz, Boy Editor, called me with the news that (a) DC was reviving the original title of SHOWCASE, last seen in 1970; (b) he was editing the first three-issue arc (although we didn’t call them that until the 1990s, when someone swiped the term from the TV show Wiseguys (they used to just be called “stories”); and (c) would I like to write it, because (d) it was going to be the New Doom Patrol.

Paul and I have known each other since seventh grade in Meyer Levin Junior High School. Like me, Paul is one of the biggest fanboy geeks around, and he knew full well that this assignment contained all the elements I liked, wrapped up in one: it had the Doom Patrol, it had SHOWCASE, and it was work!

However.

Let me just say now, with no apologies but by way of explanation, that I was young, only a couple of years into writing comics, and caught up in the trend of changing, fixing and otherwise screwing around with what came before. Suffice to say that both the New Doom Patrol and I would have been better served if I hadn’t revised quite so much. I took Arnold Drake’s Doom Patrol and broke it. It was done with the best of intentions, but it still wound up broken. And I didn’t make things much better when I had a second chance at the characters in 1987.

Thanks to continuity, there’s no such thing as water under the bridge in comics. It all becomes part of the gestalt, and the characters (not to mention the readers and the writer) are stuck with it, regardless of subsequent retcons or reboots.

So, in March of 2004, I finally got the chance to sit down, face to face, with Arnold Drake and spend some time just talking. I told him how much his Doom Patrol meant to me. I talked about his other work, particularly on THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS (again, I’m just saying), and then, just before we had our picture taken together, I said, “I really regret that I messed with the Doom Patrol. It was perfect the way you set it up. Changing it was a big mistake.”

Arnold was gracious, shrugging as if to say, ‘What’re you going to do?’

“What I did with the Doom Patrol’s really one of my biggest creative regrets,” I said with a sigh.

He sighed too, nodding his head and patting me fondly on the shoulder. “I know, my boy,” he said in his gravelly voice. “I know.”


Which explains why I wasn’t smiling when the picture was snapped.

Sorry, Arnold.

— Paul Kupperberg
2007

2 comments:

rob! said...

a really nice piece. part of the reason i used to pick up the archive editions was for the intros, since some of them (like this one) were really superb little stories.

i haven't read your doom patrol stories in a loooong time, but i don't remember them being that bad, paul. sheesh!

considering how friggin' weird DP got in the late 80s/early 90s, i'd say the Doom Patrol can withstand some lean years.

slightly OT: I would've loved to have seen a Doom Patrol movie in the late 60s, with Orson Welles as the Chief.

Johnny Rizzo said...

Honoring the legend.