Secret Origin Saturday: “The Doom Patrol’s Robotman!”

Secret Origins #2: The Doom Patrol’s Robotman!

It’s Secret Origin Saturday once again here on and this week we’re featuring a personal favorite… as they all will be, but more on that later… Cliff Steele himself, the Doom Patrol’s real Man of Steel… Robotman.

First appearing alongside his teammates in the Doom Patrol in DC Comics’ anthology series, My Greatest Adventure #86, Robotman was adrift in comic book limbo when I was a kid reading comics. The original Doom Patrol had been killed and a new team had been formed to replace them. This second team didn’t really go very far after their debut in another DC anthology series, Showcase Comics. They kicked around the DC Universe here and there making very rare guest appearances. Robotman, the only survivor of the original team’s gruesome murder, got a new look when he was rescued and recruited for the new team. Fortunately, by the time I first encountered him in the pages of The New Teen Titans, Titans artist George Perez was drawing him in his familiar, now iconic classic body.

It was in the classic New Teen Titans storyline involving the hunt for the original Doom Patrol’s killers that I actually encountered an active Robotman for the first time in an actual story that I was reading. It was a story packed with characterization and also the rich unique history of the Doom Patrol. It was a great introduction to that team and especially to their bronze-bodied former race car driver.

Since that initial encounter, I’ve gone on to read the Silver Age stories of that original team, as well as many of the incarnations and resurrections that followed. The Doom Patrol easily fell into that level of beloved second stringers who’s appearances will reel me in to sample them no matter what the warning signs. Sadly it seems that once Grant Morrison got his hooks into them, the team would be ruined forever. I’m in that very rare minority who didn’t appreciate the weirdness he brought into the team’s Vertigo book. The team, always a pack of misfits bordering on the surreal, became too weird and any nonsense involving the Chief as secretly evil just makes me gag. That’s the oldest, most used and abused cliche in comics. “You know that guy who was always a good guy? Well, he was secretly a scumbag! Ta-dah!!” I hate to tell you, Fans… That’s pretty low hanging fruit. Hackery at its worst!

Fortunately, I have my Silver Age reprints.

Now before I get into my usual Director’s Cut Commentaries, let’s talk about who makes for a good candidate for Secret Origin Saturday. After last week’s debut, I got tons of suggestions. Some of them are already on my least. A couple I honestly hadn’t considered. A lot of them are just characters I’m not interested in so I’m sorry to say… Gambit doesn’t have a prayer. In fact, it was pretty clear by a lot of the suggestions, most people I guess don’t know what a classic-loving cranky hater of most things post-90’s I am! I thought it’d be a good idea to go over a few of my requirements for Secret Origin candidates.

First off… Obviously, it’s got to be a character I like. Let me be candid, Everybody… I ain’t getting paid for this! I’m doing this for fun and maybe a little traffic on social media. Nobody’s paying me. Since this is a total indulgence, I’m going to have fun with it and play with the characters I’ve always loved. Characters I’ve never had an interest in… or I outright loathed… they probably won’t turn up. Sorry, Gambit, Cable, Deadpool, Lobo, Carnage and a bunch of others!

Because I’m completely indulging myself, the selections are going to be from all over the place and they may seem often totally random and very often even very obscure! To that end, my choices aren’t always going to come from the Big Two and most often they will not be A Listers! In fact, a lot of my personal favorites tend to dwell on the C and D lists! To me, that’s where a lot of the fun is!

Okay. Secondly… Their origin has to be do-able in a single page. If the origin is a long convoluted mess of a saga, that character might get passed over. Sorry, Wolverine. Get back to me if that origin ever gets pruned a little in a retcon. As a side note… It’s going to help a lot if I’m familiar with the origin. If I don’t know it, I’m probably not going to be moved to draw it. Again, I’m indulging myself here!

Third, the origin has to have some visual interesting aspect to it. If its a boring story, I won’t be moved to draw it. Remember! I’m largely doing this to get views! I need lots of eye candy!

Last week, a friend suggested I tackle the Spider-Man villain team, the Sinister Six. I’m not opposed to team origins at all, but I misunderstood the request. The suggestion were for individual members of the Six and not the story of how the group had formed which is what I interpreted the suggestion as being. My reaction was that the Six had a horribly boring origin. I read their first appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. Essentially, Doctor Octopus just thought it would be a good idea if six of Spidey’s foes teamed up and he called everyone up. My reply to the suggestion was that five panels of Doc Ock on the phone wouldn’t make for a great page.

Keep in mind, I’m largely sticking to classic origins that I’m familiar with. If a lot of fluff and retroactive revisions were added later, I’m probably ignoring them. In some cases, I may indeed adapt a later version of an origin story simply because it’s better known and may honestly be just a better story. We’ll see. I’m taking everything on a case by case.

All this having been said, please feel free to add your suggestions in the Comments below!

Now onto the Director’s Cut Commentary…

This is of course, a streamlined look at the classic origin of Robotman. The cars have been updated from the creek roadsters Cliff Steele drove in his first appearance to contemporary NASCAR cars. Cliff’s car seen in Panel 1 is sporting the number 36 which was indeed the number on Cliff’s roadster from his first appearance.

As is normal with NASCAR, there are sponsors and corporate logos everywhere! In Panel 1, ardent DC fans might spot a Lexcorp logo thus giving away that this Origin does indeed take place in the DC Universe. Also present is a logo for Dayton Industries. I’m not sure if this is what it was called, but this would be the company owned by Steve Dayton, the DC Universe’s “fifth richest man” and the Doom Patrol’s self-made freak, Mento. We also see a Dayton Industries logo on Cliff’s helmet in Panel 2.

The final panel gave me a chance to play with the entire line-up of the original Doom Patrol including the Chief, Negative Man, Elasti-Girl, Mento and Beast Boy. Rather than going with a generic static “family portrait” pose, I went with a composition somewhat harking back to an earlier Doom Patrol piece that I did last year. Here is that piece…

The Doom Patrol

That’s it for this week, Everybody! Come back next Friday for Fan Fiction Friday! Keep those suggestions coming!


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