Superheroes. They're muscly, serious, heroic and always the good guys. It's a formula we love. But even our favorite things can sometimes become tiresome or routine. Sometimes we want something more, something a little stranger, like a team that dispels the idea of superheroes being so beautiful and perfect.
Well, if that's the reason you've been holding off on checking out Doom Patrol, you can breathe a sigh of relief as this ragtag team is anything but the standard, spandex-wearing supers that you're used to.
Ever since they were first introduced in 1963's My Greatest Adventure #80, the Doom Patrol has lived on the fringes of the DC Universe. This strange group of misfits—originally made up of Elasti-Girl, Robotman and Negative Man—is brought together by the enigmatic Chief and have never been what you'd call mainstream. Even the team's most famous adventures came from the minds of Grant Morrison and Richard Case's anti-superhero superhero comic, so it should probably be no surprise that it took the Doom Patrol decades to headline their own live-action series. What is a surprise is that the aforementioned project is just as weird and wonderful as their comic book origins.
Doom Patrol begins as any good superhero story does, with a terrible tragedy. In fact, make that two. In the first subversion of our expectations, we meet our antagonist before our heroes. Mr. Nobody (Alan Tudyk) has an origin just as tragic as our heroes’, making him the perfect foil for the burgeoning team. He's also our narrator and, of course, Tudyk blesses us with a dementedly delightful performance. Our "in" here is Cliff Steele (Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan), an arrogant racecar driver who somehow survives a horrific crash. But Doom Patrol is not ready to reveal all the secrets within its intricate puzzle box. For now, we just know that Cliff lost his life and was saved by a mysterious man known only as the Chief (Timothy Dalton).
You might have noticed an unexpected double credit above. It reveals one of Doom Patrol's biggest strengths, two incredible dual performances. Both Cliff and Negative Man (Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk) are embodied by different actors while in their superhero forms, but are voiced by their more famous counterparts. Bomer and Fraser do appear in the show, though, when they're playing pre-Doom Patrol iterations of their characters. If it sounds complex, it is, and it's part of the nuanced, thoughtful and intricate work that goes into making this series so special. It turns out that Cliff isn't the Chief's only special project—he's just one of many unusual characters including Elasti-Woman (April Bowlby) and Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero).
As you might imagine from a show hailing from a Silver Age comic that features heroes with simplistically wacky names, there is a certain level of humor to Doom Patrol. Much of that comes from Fraser's sterling voice acting and the physical brilliance of Shanahan. Bomer and Zuk offer up a cynicism and wit that sparkles. But where Doom Patrol really excels is in the exploration of the tragic figures at its heart. This is a devastating story. Thematically it delves into death, loss, heartbreak and the fear of being different. It's a true outsider story in every sense. But it also features a flatulent donkey that plays a major part in the first storyline, and it's that balance between the absurd and the haunting that makes Doom Patrol truly unique.
Ensemble pieces often struggle to find balance, but Doom Patrol succeeds with aplomb. Dalton is a bundle of smarmy, secretive smarts. Fraser and Shanahan make Cliff a heartbreakingly lovely hero. Bomer and Zuk offer up sadness and hope as Negative Man. Bowlby is unforgettable as the actress turned reluctant hero. Guerrero stuns with her multiple-role performance as Jane and her many, many personalities. And we haven't even gotten to Joivan Wade, who brings such a kindness to Cyborg that you almost wish he could get his own show. This is a team you can root for, one that fights against the worst the world has to offer and they do it together, no matter how hard or scary. It's a beautiful thing to watch.
Without getting too deep into spoiler territory, here are a few things that you can expect from the first season if you decide to commit to the wild world of the Doom Patrol: inclusive, thoughtful representation; a sentient street that Morrison and Case fans might just recognize; a musical number that will leave you crying; a terrifying horror-drenched backstory that you will never see coming; a should-have-been-award-winning turn from Guerrero; and a moving tale of found family where you'll least expect it. Basically, come for the strange superhero hijinks and stay for the emotionally grounded exploration of trauma.
Oh, and the farting donkey. Always the farting donkey.
Rosie Knight writes about comics, movies and TV for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com. For another recommendation from her, check out her article on why Swamp Thing is worth a binge and be sure to follow her on Twitter at @RosieMarx.