Doom Patrol is one of the best DC shows currently streaming on HBO Max. It’s wacky, sincere and very unpredictable. And it has a distinctive quality that separates it from Marvel shows on Disney+, and even some other superhero shows. The producers and showrunners know they’re making a show based on a comic. And they run with it.
There’s no way to deny it. Doom Patrol is a very strange sight. The very first character audiences encounter in the series is a cheating racing driver whose brain is placed inside a robotic body after an accident. The rest of the cast includes a radioactive man wrapped in bandages with some sort of spirit sharing his body, a woman who turns to mud when her confidence wavers, and a woman with 64 different personalities, each with a different superpower. The Guardian and leader of the Doom Patrol, Chief Niles Caulder, is a long-lived and morally questionable man who seems to have once had a thing with a mystical unicorn head. Cyborg, the half-machine man following a terrible accident, is the most social and heroic member of the cast.
Characters aside, many storylines and moments in the series sound so bizarre they could only have come from a comic book. In the second episode of Season 1, some characters enter a donkey’s throat in order to rescue the townspeople trapped inside. The third episode’s post-credit scene features Vegetable-Animal-Mineral-Man, who is…exactly what he looks like: a man covered in rocks and vegetation, and with a raptor’s head next to his own. There’s also a recurring character called Ezekiel, a constantly talking cockroach prophesying doomsday prophecies. Not to mention flesh-eating butts.
Perhaps the best example of the show going wild is season 1, episode 14, penultimate patrol. In the episode, Flex Mentallo, a man who can alter reality by flexing, accidentally causes an entire town to orgasm simultaneously. And that accident happened while he was trying to hit a different flex that would send the team into a hidden dimension in comic book white space.
All of these characters and moments in the series would sound a bit out there to an average viewer. But the show takes advantage of that, making it clear from the jump that this is a fantasy world. And while physical logic is malleable, emotional logic is actually firm. The weirdness of the settings and storylines is meant to show the characters’ deeper sides. Jane has 64 personalities because the trauma she experienced as a child left her sense of self fractured. Larry is a radioactive mummy who can’t physically touch anyone after years of not being able to choose between his family or his gay lover. And Cliff, a man who tried unsuccessfully to be a good person when he was human, finds his humanity rekindled after becoming a mastermind in a machine.
And that willingness to embrace the inherent silliness of comic books and bring it to the screen is something that’s been lacking in a lot of superhero media. In fact, the most popular comic book adaptation, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has become famous for how often it pokes fun at comic book elements. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man calls the spider-sense Peter the tingle. The Thor the films poke fun at the concept of divinity by making Asgardians “space vikings”. Not to mention the fact that the The ant Man the movies are basically just comedies disguised as heist movies. But while that humor may have served to set MCU movies apart from the competition, over time it has become a hindrance. Since Marvel movies don’t take themselves or their source material seriously, audiences can feel a disconnect. Thor love and thunder is a recent example, almost looking like a two-hour big-budget SNL skit, which is far less compelling.
But Doom Patrol shows that it’s certainly possible to embrace the outlandish elements of comic books while telling compelling stories. Spiderman 2often cited as one of the best Spider Man films, is the touching story of a young man who learns to take control of his life and balance his responsibilities with his desires. It’s also a story where a man dressed as a spider and a man with metal tentacles fight on top of a train. daredevil, often considered one of Marvel’s best shows, centers on a blind man with such heightened senses that he essentially has 360-degree awareness. So, while many of these properties are very serious and even emotional, they are all based on silly concepts, which is not a problem. Audiences can still love these stories, no matter how unrealistic.
Doom Patrol is a show that knows it comes from the psychedelic mind of Grant Morrison. He knows it’s weird, and he’s not bothered by it. He knows this is the case and uses his ridiculousness to catch the audience off guard. And his madness only serves to enhance the intense emotional moments. And he will continue to do so.
Doom Patrol Seasons 1-3 are available to stream on HBO Max.