Nov 4, 2010

The Doom Patrol May Have Been a Rip-Off After All

Do I have your attention now with that title? I do? Good.

All right, for those of you who don't know who the Doom Patrol is, here they are.

Created by Arnold Drake, Bob Haney, and Bruno Premiari, the Doom Patrol debuted in MY STRANGEST ADVENTURE #80 in June 1963. The original team comprises Chief Niles Caulder; Rita Farr, the size-changing and shape-stretching Elastigirl; Cliff Steele, the gruff powerhouse Robotman; and Larry Trainor, former test pilot who can release an energy form of himself, which he calls Negative Man. They protect the world, which hates and fears them, and are led by a scientist in a wheelchair.

Sound familiar?

Yep, there's a lot of similarities between the X-Men and the Doom Patrol, and one would think initially that one was a ripoff of the other. But no, there was a three-month margin between the Doom Patrol (June 1963) and the X-Men (September 1963), and comics need about six months to be put together, so it's generally accepted that, like Swamp Thing and Man-Thing, this was just a gigantic coincidence.

Now, it's widely accepted (if Wikipedia is to be believed, and I won't be citing it as a reliable source) that the Doom Patrol was influenced by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four.

Like the Doom Patrol, the Fantastic Four has a flying character, the Human Torch. Like Negative Man, when his powers are in effect, visually, he's a pure manifestation of his power; Negative Man is pure energy, and Torch looks like pure fire.

Like the Doom Patrol, the Fantastic Four's leader is a brilliant scientist, and its leading lady is, originally, quite shy and ready and willing to follow. Reed Richards is Mr. Fantastic, the world's most intelligent man, and he stretches, just like Elastigirl. Visually speaking, in an action scene, Niles Caulder is missing from the battle, much like the Invisible Girl, Susan Storm, can be said to be "missing" from the scene since she's, you know, invisible.

And most telling of all, like the Doom Patrol, the Fantastic Four have an orange powerhouse who can in absolutely no way even pass for human, and all he wants is to be human. Like Robotman, the Thing is gruff but really likable (the Thing is actually lovable).

All right. There are obviously similarities, and it's superficial enough, right? After all, the Fantastic Four themselves were influenced by the Challengers of the Unknown (also created by Kirby, because Kirby is -- he's like that kid, you know? That kid off in the corner, creating worlds of his own? The kid who never grew up and let the world get him down and just kept creating? Yeah, that kid.), a team of explorers.

But it never really went past the superficial resemblances (their leader is really smart, they have a powerhouse, etc.). So we could say the Doom Patrol is the same way, yes? After all, it's not as if the Fantastic Four are a team of outcasts. The Fantastic Four are celebrities! With the exception of the Thing, their powers are a blessing! They don't hide from civilians; they live in New York, publicly, with no secret identities! So any influence must be superficial, right?

But then, Paul Cornish pointed out in Part Two of my series about who deserves the credit for creating the Marvel Universe that the influence may have been heavier. He read Stan Lee's original plot outline for the Fantastic Four, which you can read too, just by clicking on it below:

And then Paul said this:

Stan's original plot for FF #1 is fascinating. It's surprisingly dark. I'd love to see a What If? that told the story of this version of the FF. Having said that I'm glad Kirby made the changes he did, I doubt Stan's FF would have been the hit that it was without Kirby's changes. It sounds more like the Doom Patrol.

So I read it again, and my initial reaction? "Holy crap, Paul is right." Seriously. Read it again. The Invisible Girl is always invisible. The Human Torch can only go aflame for a limited amount of time, at which point, he has to go back to normal. And it hurts Mr. Fantastic to stretch. It is a much darker version than the one we're used to -- and it doesn't really seem to lend itself to what the Fantastic Four eventually became: a team of celebrities. Instead, it sounds more like a team of freaks and outcasts. Just like the Doom Patrol.

Now, now, despite the thread title, I don't think the Doom Patrol was a rip-off of this original Fantastic Four treatment. First of all, I don't really believe you can rip off an unused idea. I mean, it was unused. And in fact, as Comics Cube reader Darrell D. points out, there's some debate on the authenticity of this document. But even assuming it's real, you can't really copyright an idea; you can copyright a work. Secondly, there's no indication in Stan's treatment that that was definitely the direction in which they were going; it was just the logical place for it to go.

Still, it's an interesting connection. And an interesting idea. And Drake, Haney, and Premiari got something good, enduring, and profitable out of it.

I wonder what other unused ideas there are out there, floating around?

Do you know of any unused ideas that were later tweaked for another product? Leave them in the comments below!


Paul C said...

Great post, that Paul Cornish sounds like a clever guy. :)

Paul C said...

As for ideas that were tweaked and used for something else, I've always been intrigued by that famous story about Nightcrawler being originally created by Dave Cockrum for the Legion of Superheroes.

Duy Tano said...

Holy wow, I never knew that! That's so cool and it makes sense. I'm surprised Dave didn't put him in the Imperial Guard instead.

Lilac Armbuster said...

X-Men is really a combination of Odd John and Children of the Atom.

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