Writer: Rachel Pollack
Penciller: Linda Medley
Inker: Tom Sutton
Colorist: Stuart Chaifetz
Letterer: John E. Workman Jr.
Assistant Editor: Julie Rottenberg
Editor: Lou Stathis
Speical Thanks to: Jamie Tolagson
Cover Artist: Bob Fingerman
Summary: Mass marketing mayhem! Cliff discovers his downloaded-to-disc consciousness popping up all over the place in the form of cheap pirated computer games, domestic robots and garage-door openers. Can he face up to the dupes and purge them of his personality?
I’m writing this recap for someone who may be leaving soon. Someone whom I knew, but fate screwed up both opportunities I had to finally meet her in real life. Someone whose work means a lot to me, in ways I don’t think I can necessarily describe in an adequate manner.
The Doom Patrol is one of my all time favorite superhero teams from DC Comics, up there with the Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes. Rachel Pollack took over writing Doom Patrol in the early 1990s, when DC first launched their more adult-themed imprint Vertigo Comics. A science fiction author and specialist on the Tarot and the Kabbalah, Rachel Pollack is also a transgender woman responsible for creating Kate Godwin, DC’s first trans woman superheroine. Over 30 years later and Kate still stands up as one of the few trans heroes in comics period that was created with any depth and foresight.
I don’t have the energy right now to do my usual thing of ranting about how long it took to reprint Rachel’s Doom Patrol. And how long it took to bring Kate Godwin back after she was killed off for shock value in 2002. Something which, believe it not, I can honestly say I helped undo thanks to my dear friend Devin Grayson consulting with me about bringing Kate back to life in her DC Pride story along with Dorothy Spinner. And thanks to Jadzia Axelrod, who had the same idea and featured Kate in her own story in the same anthology. Devin and I didn’t know Jadzia was doing it when we were discussing Devin’s story, so it was a pleasant surprise that got Kate’s return more notice.
I hate that it took this long, but I’m glad Rachel was finally able to see her Doom Patrol run reprinted and getting the acknowledgment it deserves. And you’ve no idea what it felt like to tell her that Kate Godwin was finally back, knowing I was given the chance to do it for Rachel, myself, and everyone else that Kate’s meant so much to.
Before the recap begins, here’s a look at the history of the Doom Patrol up to the point of this issue.
Arnold Drake and Bob Haney
The Doom Patrol was the original misfit superhero team, having debuted roughly a year before Marvel’s X-Men. The original team consisted of Robotman (Cliff Steele), Negative Man (Larry Trainor), Elasti-Girl (Rita Farr), and were led by The Chief (Niles Caulder). Later additions to the team were Mento (Steve Dayton) and Beast Boy (Garfield Logan).
The Doom Patrol was a group of outcasts and trauma survivors led by the brilliant Niles Caulder. Cliff Steele was a race car driver whose body was destroyed in a crash; his brain was implanted in a robotic body. Larry Trainor was a test pilot who became the host for an alien entity referred to as “The Negative Spirit.” Needing to be wrapped in special bandages due to the radiation emitting from his body, Larry could release the Negative Spirit from his body for an hour at a time but would remain comatose while doing so. Rita Farr was a beautiful actress exposed to volcanic gases that gave her the ability to alter her height and weight and stretch her limbs to any length.
The original four were seemingly killed, sacrificing their lives to save a small fishing village from the likes of Madame Rouge and General Zahl.
[Wing: I’m not really a DC reader, but holy shit, this is ridiculous and amazing, and I want to read it all.]
Years later, Robotman was revealed to still be alive and had his body salvaged by Niles Caulder’s ex-wife, Arani Desai. Arani, calling herself Celsius, created her own Doom Patrol with Robotman and two new heroes: Tempest (Joshua Clay), and Negative Woman (Valentina Vostok).
Arani’s Doom Patrol received their own series in the late 1980s, gaining more members in the form of Lodestone (Rhea Jones), Karma (Wayne Hawking), and Scott Fischer. Around this time, it was revealed that Niles Caulder and Larry Trainor had both survived their previous deaths with Caulder claiming that he was never married to Arani. The Negative Spirit also departed from Valentina Vostok’s body. This Doom Patrol ended up slaughtered during the Invasion event. Its only survivors were Robotman, Tempest, and Lodestone who was left comatose.
This is where things started to get really, really weird. [Wing: STARTED TO GET WEIRD?!]
A new Doom Patrol was formed in the aftermath of the Invasion. Robotman struggled with the trauma of having watched two versions of the team die while still dealing with the loss of his human body. While recuperating in a mental hospital, Robotman was introduced to Crazy Jane. Jane was a woman with 64 alternate personalities, born from the horrific sexual abuse she suffered from her father as a child and a violent assault she survived as an adult. After exposure to the Gene Bomb during Invasion, Jane’s alters gained superpower. Jane and Robotman ended up forming an unlikely bond. [Wing: Jesus fuckin christ, Crazy Jane’s name and backstory are fucking awful.]
The Negative Spirit forcibly merged Larry Trainor with Dr. Eleanor Poole, creating a dual-sex being calling themself Rebis. Though in truth, Rebis was mostly Larry Trainor with little focus ever shed on Eleanor Poole’s life.
Rhea Jones eventually woke from her coma having evolved into a form called “The Pupa.” She left to explore the universe and hasn’t been seen since.
Joshua Clay stayed on as the team’s doctor but no longer called himself Tempest, while Niles Caulder took control again. He invited onto the team Dorothy Spinner, an adolescent girl with simian-facial features the Doom Patrol previously met on a mission in Kansas. Dorothy had the power to bring her imaginary friends to life, something which had been boosted thanks to the Gene Bomb. [Wing: Dorothy. Spinner. Kansas. Imaginary Friends. This could not be less subtle, and I could not love it more.]
The last member to join was Danny the Street, a sentient, genderqueer street capable of teleporting and inserting themself into any location. The nicest street you’ll ever meet, with lots of manly shops and storefronts decorated in lace and frills, Danny was a safe haven for the homeless, the distressed, and the unhappy. They ended up becoming the Doom Patrol’s HQ.
The Doom Patrol’s rebirth was accompanied with some genuinely horrific and confusing enemies. Metafictional cities trying to impose themselves onto reality, doomsday cults led by discarded toys, government agencies trying to summon the entity haunting the telephone system, strange beings calling themselves Satan and God, and the anarchist Brotherhood of Dada led by the anatomically impossible Mr. Nobody.
The most dreadful enemy the Doom Patrol fought was the Candlemaker. The anthropomorphic personification of nuclear holocaust, [Wing: What.] this creature spent years hounding Dorothy Spinner to use her power to enter the world. The Candlemaker’s manifestation coincided with another awful event. Niles Caulder revealed he’d been faking his disability for decades, and had in fact deliberately caused the “accidents” that created the original Doom Patrol. [Wing: What.] After killing Joshua Clay, Caulder explained to Robotman that he also brainwashed Arani Desai into thinking they were married so he could experiment on her. [Wing: W H A T.] Caulder’s rants ended when the Candlemaker tore off his head, and then destroyed Robotman’s brain.
Robotman only survived his seeming death thanks to his personality being downloaded onto a computer disk. It took everything the Doom Patrol had to stop the Candlemaker from destroying the world, but in the process Crazy Jane had been shunted into “Hell.” In the aftermath, Danny the Street used their power to expand and grow into Danny the World. Rebis went off to explore Danny’s horizons, while Robotman was able to find and rescue Crazy Jane from the hell she was sent to (OUR world). Dorothy Spinner rejected Danny’s paradise and instead wanted to live in the real world, not a fairy tale.
Despite their best efforts, Dorothy Spinner and Robotman couldn’t adapt to their new lives. Dorothy’s appearance and powers made her a target of mockery and scorn as she tried to live on her own. Robotman would have an unexplained falling out with Crazy Jane and left Danny the World, while his computer disk brain began to glitch.
Will Magnus tried to save Niles Caulder’s life by grafting his head onto a robotic body, but Caulder wanted to be left dead as atonement for the horrors he committed.
Circumstances and bizarre events led to Dorothy, Robotman, and Caulder being reunited. Caulder was altered and left capable of existing as a severed head, while Robotman was given a new human brain to replace the broken disk. Dorothy developed greater control of her power, allowing her to summon her imaginary friends to fight for her instead of just popping up at random. It was Dorothy who got Robotman and Caulder to reform the Doom Patrol. Only now, Robotman lost any trust he had in Caulder.
The team moved to Violet Valley, taking up residence in the abandoned gated community called Rainbow Estates. They soon discovered Rainbow Estates already had some weird occupants.
[Wing: I am already in love with Violet Valley and Rainbow Estates.]
Dorothy found Charlie the Doll, a weird looking teddy bear with a ventriloquist dummy’s head. [Wing: What.] Charlie, called “The Inner Child,” had mysterious abilities and proved to be a very calming, supportive ally to Dorothy. Robotman would later discover Rainbow Estates was haunted by the “S.R.S.,” Sexually Remaindered Spirits. [Wing: WHAT.] These were essentially ghosts who had died while performing sexual activities. The S.R.S. were watched over by George and Marion, two happily married, bandage-clad energy beings aptly referred to as “The Bandage People.”
In a refreshing change of pace, George and Marion were considered local heroes and well regarded by Violet Valley. The two would find themselves trying to stop the extremely unstable incel calling himself “The Codpiece” when they made the acquaintance of Coagula (Kate Godwin). A freelance computer program and former sex worker, Coagula was a trans woman who gained the ability to generate an energy which could coagula and dissolve matter after a physical encounter with Rebis.
[Wing: I. am. in. love.]
So now the new Doom Patrol was made up of Robotman, the Chief, Dorothy Spinner, Charlie the Doll, the Bandage People, and Coagula.
But wait. If Robotman received a new human brain, what happened to that computer disk?
We open on Kate Godwin playing what appears to be a computer game featuring none other than Robotman, fighting hordes of mutant monsters to rescue Crazy Jane. Kate does pretty well in the first two levels, but things go pear-shaped very quickly when she encounters the final boss. Though she manages to land a couple of good shots, Kate’s unable to stop the Candlemaker and loses again.
The real Robotman comes in to ask what Kate’s up to. When Kate tells Cliff she’s playing “his” video game, he doesn’t know what she’s talking about. He hasn’t been playing any games. Kate mistakes Cliff’s confusion for modesty, saying he should at least take credit for the game’s inspiration. Cliff clarifies he has NEVER seen… whatever the hell is on the computer screen, and has no idea what Kate’s talking about.
[Wing: I love weirdness around video games. Makes me think about one of Christopher Pike’s books, See You Later. We haven’t recapped it yet, but Teen Creeps has a great episode about it.]
Kate’s shocked and indignant on Cliff’s behalf, realizing someone stole his likeness. Cliff grows increasingly horrified as Kate describes the layout of the game. It’s built around controlling “Robotman” to save someone called “Crazy Jane” from a monster called “The Candlemaker.”
Outraged, Cliff demands to know who the fuck did this. Kate is as apologetic as possible, saying she didn’t realize he wasn’t involved in this when a friend gave her the disk. She turns the game off and on again so they can see the design logo on the start menu.
A Production of Steele’s Universal Robot Emporium
Elsewhere, some kids are fiddling with something. A smug looking kid in glasses and suspenders is operating something with a handheld control. The boy standing next to “Glasses” thinks this is hilarious, while the girl’s not too sure. It seems that “Glasses”, a.k.a. Rick, has put together… Robotman!
Or at least, a robot that looks like and thinks it IS Robotman. This Bootleg!Cliff thinks the kids are the Chief, Rebis, and Crazy Jane. The girl hesitantly goes along with Bootleg!Cliff thinking this is the Doom Patrol’s headquarters, while Rick messes with the controls to make him hallucinate the room is full of ducks. [Wing: What.] Rick thinks this is hilarious while “Jane” leads the robot out of the room. The girl, Alice, doesn’t find this funny but Rick doesn’t care. He tells Alice they can do whatever they want with “Robotman” because he, it, is “just a pile of junk with an expensive floppy disk.” Alice coldly points out “that pile of junk” doesn’t know that.
Now Cliff and Kate are prowling the streets, looking for answers about the video game and whatever the fuck “S.U.R.E.” is. Kate’s friend Jimmy is hesitant to tell her where the game’s from, until Cliff decides to persuade him. By which I mean threaten to break him into pieces. Jimmy quickly reveals he doesn’t know a thing. He just gave the game to Kate to look cool in front of her.
Kate: Well, I’ll say one thing for you. You know how to get people to open up.
Cliff: I just wish there’d been something inside.
Kate suggests maybe this isn’t worth pursuing, since the game’s not even sold in stores. Cliff explains that he can’t let this go.
Cliff: Look. I don’t have too much in my life. I don’t have too much of me. But I do have two things I care about… my friends and my work. And I’m goddamned if I’m going to let some bastard take what I do–and my friends–and make them into a joke.
Kate: I’m sorry, Cliff. I didn’t realize.
Kate remembers Cliff mentioned something about the Candlemaker before, how they had to stop it from destroying the world. But Cliff never said anything about Crazy Jane. Cliff doesn’t want to talk about Jane when a couple of randos compliment Kate on “her model.” They ask if she built it herself or got S.U.R.E. to do it.
Cliff grabs both of the punks and demands answers about S.U.R.E. They tell Kate to get Cliff off, but she flatly states he doesn’t listen to her because of “a glitch in the program” and wants them to answer Cliff. They stammer S.U.R.E. makes software for robots, and that most people build the bodies themselves.
Back to the asshole kids tormenting Bootleg!Cliff, Rick continues to mess with the controls to create hallucinations. However, he’s not prepared for Bootleg!Cliff lunging on him when he sees “The Chief” covered in porcupines. Alice asks if Rick’s still having fun when she leads Bootleg!Cliff away.
Having had enough of the boys abusing the poor guy, Alice tells Bootleg!Cliff the truth. She’s not Crazy Jane, the guys aren’t the Chief and Negative Man, and he’s… well, he’s not the real Cliff Steele. He’s a copy of the actual Cliff Steele. Bootleg!Cliff doesn’t understand, thinking “Jane” has been brainwashed. Alice explains that her friends bought a disk from a hacker group called S.U.R.E. and assembled “Robotman” from a kit. Bootleg!Cliff doesn’t understand how he can be a copy of someone else, or how S.U.R.E. could make copies.
Well, when the Doom Patrol fought the Candlemaker, the real Cliff Steele’s brain was destroyed. He only survived thanks to Cliff’s mind being downloaded onto a disk. Somehow, Cliff gained a new human brain and the disk was, well, everyone just forgot about it. S.U.R.E. found the disk and started churning out bootleg copies of Robotman. Hell, Bootleg!Cliff isn’t even a copy. He’s a copy of a COPY of Cliff’s mind. [Wing: God, I love this. What does it mean to exist? What are we if we aren’t ourselves? What would someone do if they found a random disk? Obviously run it to see what’s happening and then do something stupid and awful. Obviously. Nature of humanity and all.]
Bootleg!Cliff can’t handle this, insisting he’s real. He can talk, hear, touch, and think. Can a computer disk do THAT? Alice states it’s interactive programming Niles Caulder invented. Bootleg!Cliff is controlled by the device Rick has, which he uses to make those hallucinations of ducks and shit for giggles.
Speak of the devil, Rick enters the room not realizing Alice has yanked away Bootleg!Cliff’s illusions, and the robot steals the controls. He then orders Rick to tell him how they work if the kid wants to keep breathing.
Cliff and Kate manage to find a warehouse that’s supposed to be S.U.R.E.’s HQ. Kate dissolves away the chains and padlock on the front entrance, revealing a room filled with robotic parts. Suddenly, Cliff and Kate are attacked by a security system spraying some sort of gas at them, followed by a voice shouting “THIS IS CLIFF STEELE! GET OUT OF MY BODY!” Cliff rips the gas hoses away and Kate coagulates the hoses when they’re then attacked by wires.
“GET OUT OF MY BODY! GET OUT OF MY BODY!”
Having dealt with the security system, Cliff smashes through a door that says “Keep Out” but isn’t prepared for what’s on the other side. Cliff and Kate find themselves facing an entire assembly line of knock-off Robotman bodies. They’re greeted by a nasty looking man in a suit and tie, who states it’s “a genuine pleasure” to meet Cliff. The suit explains he’s not the one in charge, but is more of a human liason for the clients who want to buy their robots. Kate realizes the building itself, or the computer running the building, is the one manufacturing everything and also thinks it’s Cliff.
[Wing: How many Cliffs would a Cliff cliff if a Cliff could cliff Cliff.]
The suit claims the building IS Cliff Steele, and even if it’s destroyed a duplicate consciousness will activate somewhere and pick up where the previous assembly line started. Cliff doesn’t believe this, stating that HE is Cliff Steele. The suit then asks Cliff to prove how HE is Cliff Steele and all the OTHER Cliff Steeles in the factory aren’t. Kate agrees with Cliff, saying just because a computer is programmed to think it’s Cliff doesn’t make it true. That’s when the suit reminds Cliff about the disk that had his mind.
Back to Alice and Bootleg!Cliff, the robot now understands how to work the controls. Bootleg!Cliff decides to test the limits of what he can perceive reality to be, altering the filter that lets him perceive the world around him. Alice is disturbed by Bootleg!Cliff’s reactions and sets the control back to normal, worried that the robot is deliberately hurting himself.
Bootleg!Cliff: What do you know about pain? I have memories of things that never happened. Or that happened to someone else. I remember seeing my best friend die. I remember my–Jane’s face when the Candlemaker sent her to hell. I know I’m Cliff Steele. And now I know I’m not. All I have is this goddamn box. And if that’s all, I’m going to use it. I’m going to go all the way.
With that, Bootleg!Cliff turns up the dial all the way and lets the universe consume him. [Wing: Goddamn.]
At Doom Patrol HQ, Niles Caulder ponders on how to stop S.U.R.E.. Kate proposes they create a virus and deliver it to intercept S.U.R.E., figuring the main computer has to be networking all the false Cliffs. Caulder finds this an intriguing challenge, but Kate is put off by the talking head treating it more like a game than Cliff’s life. Cliff, at this point, honestly wonders if this IS a game. A sick, twisted game, and is starting to wonder what the fucking point of bothering is.
Like, as the suit said, Cliff doesn’t know how he can prove who he is. Is he really Cliff Steele, or just a box that thinks it is. What makes him any different from those robots in the warehouse?
And here we get to the heart of the matter.
Kate: You’re right, Cliff. You can’t prove who you are. None of us can. If we try to prove we exist, we’re just suckers. And if we ask other people to tell us we’re real, we’ve lost everything. Cliff… listen to me. All you can do–all any of us can do–is make a decision. You’ve got to say, from all the way down, “This is who I am. I’m Cliff Steele. And I’m a human being.”
[Wing: And if we ask other people to tell us we’re real, we’ve lost everything.
Fucking. hell. my. heart.]
Bootleg!Cliff tries to describe to Alice what he experienced when he turned up the dial, but his thoughts start to falter when all he can say is “Jane” over and over again…
At the S.U.R.E. warehouse, everything has gone to shit. The robots are exploding, the computers breaking down repeating “Jane.” The suit tries to get control when the monitors all explode. Cliff, Kate and Niles appear on the scene and explain to the angry man that all of S.U.R.E.’s programs have been thoroughly destroyed. The suit threatens Niles over destroying millions of dollars worth of private property, until Niles clarifies it was all stolen. Specifically because the disk and the programs S.U.R.E. used to make their bootleg Robotmen belonged to NILES. He made the disk and the programs on it, so they were making money off HIS property.
The suit turns his bile to Cliff, screaming about him and his “freak pervert” friends. He says Cliff’s no better than the piles of junk burning in the warehouse. Cliff calmly states that he is NOT like those piles of junks. There is one key difference between them.
Cliff: They’re machines. And I’m not.
I need to clarify before I go further that I am not transgender. At least, I don’t think I am. I’ve felt for a long time that I don’t really consider myself a man, but, calling myself a woman doesn’t fit either. I don’t give a shit about pronouns either. I don’t really care about what “hardware” I have, but I must admit I’d feel so much more comfortable in my own skin if I could permanently get rid of my body hair.
This issue continued the trend of Cliff Steele trying to reckon with his identity and his body issues ever since he was reduced to a brain in a robotic shell. Rachel Pollack would develop Cliff’s relationship with Kate Godwin as Kate empathizing with Cliff via her own identity as a trans woman.
What I truly love about Rachel’s Doom Patrol is the emphasis she puts on healing and living with yourself as you dictate. There’s Cliff’s existential horror at trying to prove he is who he is when it comes down to simply saying “I am Cliff Steele.” Kate doesn’t validate who Cliff is, she tells him he has to do it himself by announcing this one thing.
I think about what Rachel put into this series when she worked on it, and how mad I am that many people didn’t give her a chance because it wasn’t Grant Morrison’s work which is why she only barely got 25 issues in. I’m so angry that she’s going to die, angry at what this country and terfs like that hag bitch J.K. Rowling are trying to do to trans people.
I’m sorry, I know I said I wasn’t going to rant.
I don’t have the words right now to really express my feelings. All I can say is thank you Rachel. Even if I misunderstood some of your work and still aren’t familiar with everything you’ve done, thank you.
[Wing: Thank you for introducing me to Kate, Jude. And thank you for creating her, Rachel. Kate’s words, this questioning of identity and reality and what makes us us, rang through me.]