The Sandbox Review: DOOM PATROL Episode 1

These aren't your typical superheroes - and that's what makes them great

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Back in November, in the fourth episode of DC Universe‘s TITANS, the unorthodox, strange and unusual Doom Patrol made their on-screen debut in a back-door pilot. This week, the first of a fifteen episode series about this unique collection of “super zeroes” has debuted and, as I have graciously been given access to a preview screening in advance, here are my thoughts on it.

But first, for context, let’s quickly talk about the backstory of DOOM PATROL. The group was first created in 1963 by writers Arnold Drake and Bob Haney and artist Bruno Premian, a comic about misfits with super powers led by a man with above normal intelligence who is confined to a wheelchair… no, it’s not X-Men, although the similarities about the two teams have been debated on-and-off throughout the decades.

This new original series – one of the first showcase releases of the fledgling DC Universe streaming service – stars April Bowlby as Rita Farr / Elasti-Woman, Diane Guerrero as Kay Challis / Crazy Jane, Joivan Wade as Victor Stone / Cyborg, Alan Tudyk as Eric Morden / Mr. Nobody, Timothy Dalton as Dr. Niles Caulder / The Chief. Two characters with some very unique physicality are represented on-screen via familiar faces in flashback, with Robotman getting the body of Riley Shanahan and the voice of Brendan Fraser and playing Cliff Steele in flashbacks, while Matt Bomer plays Larry Trainor in flashbacks and provides the voice of Negative Man, with Matthew Zuk portraying the character.

The first half of this first episode flips between flashbacks that show how DOOM PATROL members Robotman, Elasti-Woman, Mr. Nobody, and Negative Man got their powers (or, to be more accurate to the attitude of the series, came burdened with the way they are now); through accidents, experiments or out of this world encounters, as in the case of Larry Trainor.

That’s the setup – from here on in, I’m going to get into more of the meat of the episode. I’m going to try and keep it pretty spoiler-free but if you’d like to go in fresh without learning too much, please skip to the end of the review where I’ll give my impressions of the episode.

All good? Okay then, here we go.

The show continues along the same asthetic as previous DC Universe series TITANS, in that Geoff Johns, Greg Berlanti, Akiva Goldsman et al are determined to work to their tried-and-true comics formula of beginning with a vibe and then tease out any major character and story arcs across a season, drawing you in with a moment or a story beat and hoping you’re intrigued enough to stay the course.

This works for a more mature sensibility and leads to the same question of TITANS: who is the show ultimately for? The pitch seems to be toward a comics literate audience, playing with comicbook tropes (and even making a few slight digs at current mainstream output, even DC’s own), eschewing any new converts and playing to the house crowd. Makes sense for a paying-streaming demo.

While we get the setup in the first episode, slow and sedate, the pace picks up in the second half of the episode as the team, disgruntled at being cooped up and coddled for what appears to be complete decades, leave “Doom Manor” almost on a whim and out of the blue, and head to the adjacent city, despite the warning not to from The Chief. And naturally when misfits from society leave their safe confines, something bad happens… and boy, does it happen big time, with the shit hitting the fan in fine style before bringing our Big Bad to the fore, teeing up the second episode nicely.

If you were a fan of TITANS, you probably will like this show and, just like TITANS, DOOM PATROL is not meant for younger viewers, due to strong language, violence, sexual situation, and partial nudity (both male and female, just to keep things nicely equal). Indeed, the show very much takes its tone and direction a blend of Grant Morrison’s esoteric Volume 2 and the more recent sardonic Gerard Way run in the comics, with that signature ‘dark and edgy’ DC Universe spin layered on top.

A tasty, gooey trifle mess of a show, then. Recommended stuff.

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