Doom Patrol #117, "The Black Vulture!"

DOOM PATROL #117; February 1968; DC Comics (National Periodical
Publications).  The cover scene (drawn, like several late DP issues, by Bob
Brown rather than interior artist Bruno Premiani) is dominated by the figure of
the wheelchair-bound Chief cowering away from the talons of a giant bird of
prey, while, in the far lower corner of the cover the three core DP members are
walking away; "You wanted to run the whole show, Chief?  Okay, the DP is
finished-- and you're on your own!"  Caption: "The DP has flown!  The
Chief is alone in the nest!  And circling above, waiting for the kill, is--

Review by Bill Henley

My last couple of
reviews have been of stories scripted by Arnold Drake during his brief stint at
Marvel in 1968-69.  I thought I'd do another review of a Drake story but
move backwards a bit to cover one of the later issues of the best-remembered
series Drake wrote for DC, the Doom Patrol.  In my opinion, though nearly
every installment of the original Doom Patrol was produced by the same team of
writer Drake and artist Premiani, the DP series went through three distinct
phases of quality.  From its debut in MY GREATEST ADVENTURE #80 through
roughly DP #98 (the DP title took over the numbering of MGA) DP was a pretty
serious and well-crafted series combining elements of traditional Silver Age DC
storytelling with the new Marvel approach.  Starting around issue #99, the
series adopted more of an over-the-top "camp" approach marked by the
introduction of often goofy teen character Beast Boy, lots more jokes and
wisecracks, and more ludicrously bizarre villains.  Then starting around
issue #113 or so, with "camp" wearing thin in the comics world at large, an
attempt was made to rein in the silliness and revert to the earlier, more
serious approach.  The attempt wasn't totally successful, but did produce
some more readable stories until the team and the series came to an end with
issue #121.

The splash panel is another scene of the Chief cringing from
an avian adversary, but here we see that the "Black Vulture" is not a real bird
but a man in a somewhat silly-looking but nonetheless flight-capable bird
suit.  "You're alone now!  And you're not The Chief any more! 
Just Niles Caulder, a lonely man in a wheel chair!   This is the
moment I've waited for!  The moment of THE VULTURE'S REVENGE!"  And a
caption tells us, "The word spread like fire throughout the city!  THE DOOM
PATROL IS FINISHED!  Broken beyond repair-- like Humpty Dumpty or a
two-dollar watch!  And as the fabulous freaks fled from their nest, a dark
shadow settled over the remaining figure, The Chief!  It was the shadow of
Death, but it flew upon the wings of THE BLACK VULTURE!"  (I commented in
my last review of CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 that Drake showed in his writing for Marvel
a tendency toward overwrought, purple prose.  That tendency is also present
here, though executed in a slangier manner.)  Traces of the camp element
are still present as the first story panel is of a hand offering the reader a
crying towel (marked "New York Mets," during a period when that team was the
doormat of baseball) if he missed "the last sensational issue".  A page
worth of synopsis tells us that The Chief, attracted to Madame Rouge, the female
member of the DP's archfoes the Brotherhood of Evil, has been trying to reform
the Madame through the use of subliminal messaging.  The attempt has
seemingly succeeded, as symbolized by the woman with the flexible body
fissioning into good and evil versions of herself and the good Rouge winning the
fight.  But the disembodied Brain, leader of the Brotherhood, is not
dismayed, telling the gorilla Monsieur Mallah, Madame Rouge needs us more than
she knows!  The evil which I carefully nurtured within her breast will not
remain asleep for long!  She will return to our loving nest!"

Meanwhile, the inclusion of Madame Rouge in the "nest" of the Doom
Patrol is not doing wonders for the team's unit cohesion.  The Chief and
the Madame are enjoying a peaceful and pleasant evening watching a roaring fire
together-- until they are disturbed by a loud banging on the door.  It
turns out to be Robotman,  who as a result of an otherwise undepicted
battle with "a maniac with an atomic ray," is hobbling around minus his right
arm and left leg.  In time past, The Chief would presumably have dropped
what else he was doing to help effect repairs.  but now he is so besotted
with Rouge's company that he just tells Robotman, "Please skip the gory
details!  There's a torch and a soldering iron waiting for you
inside!"  Then, when the energy-being Negative Man enters the room and
flies around trying to signal The Chief, our leader assumes that he's just
complaining because the kitchen is out of ham for his alter ego Larry Trainor's
nightly snack.  ""Sorry N-Man, but there's loads of salami!"  However,
when The Chief and Rouge themselves head for the kitchen to make some popcorn,
they find Larry there, nearly as battered and damaged as his metal
colleague.  It seems that Negative Man went up solo against some enemies
who pinned his human body underneath a block of lead which kept Negative Man
from escaping.  Then, when the energy man did manage to get through a crack
in the lead and flew back to DP headquarters to seek help, The Chief ignored
him.  Finally, Neg Man managed to lift the lead block himself (or itself),
but The Chief takes the incident lightly; "See, you didn't need us after
all!  You're getting to be very self-reliant!"

Some time, later, a
late-night phone call disturbs the rest of the remaining DP member, Elasti-Girl
(aka Rita Dayton nee Farr) and her spouse, Steve Dayton (aka Mento), "the
world's richest and angriest man".  Dayton is even more upset when the call
leads Rita to jump out of bed to try to prevent "the end of the Doom
Patrol".  "The sooner the better!", Dayton grumbles.  "I never liked
having to borrow my wife from them-- like a book from the library!"  Upon
reaching DP headquarters-- actually sooner, since she can "hear the shouting
from six blocks away"-- Rita finds that the team's usual bickering has reached
an unprecedented pitch.  Larry declares that his gratitude for The Chief
helping put his life back together is exhausted, and if The Chief himself no
longer cares about the Doom Patrol, neither does he!  Robotman blames
Madame Rouge and her distracting The Chief, suggesting that her appearance is
part of a Brotherhood of Evil plot to "bust us up1"  The Chief himself is
offended by Cliff's verbal attack on Rouge.  Rita tries to smooth things
over by reminding Cliff Steele how Niles Caulder saved his life by transplanting
his brain from a fatally injured body into a robot form, and how Larry was saved
from spending his life in a lead vault when The Chief found a way to enclose his
radioactive body in special bandages.  And she reminds the group of their
importance not only in fighting evil but in providing inspiration to "freaks"
and "outcasts".  "We gave some hope to every gimpy, hare-lipped, fat,
four-eyed kid in the world!"  (Rita might want to ease off on the
self-righteousness, considering she is the only DP member who is neither
disfigured nor handicapped.  And was Drake describing his readership in the
"gimpy, hare-lipped, fat, four-eyed kid" line?  If so, I resent it.  I
was never hare-lipped, anyway.)  The Chief doesn't help the situation by
hurling insults at the "primitive minds" of the two malcontents, and declaring,
"Apparently they don't need me-- and I certainly don't need them!"

and Larry are not mollified by any of Rita's attempts at peacemaking, and after
threatening to commit "assault and beardery" on the Chief, they walk off and
split up with perfunctory farewells-- "Been good to know you,
robot-boddy!"  "So long, mummy-guy!", though clearly neither one has a clue
what to do with his life from here.  Meanwhile, Rita, now highly irritated
herself, gets in a cat fight with Madame Rouge, who disdains the childish
behavior of the two former DP members.  Rita may feel that way herself but
she's not inclined to take the supercilious attitude from the interloper Rouge,
and after The Chief tells both women to stop the "cheap melodramatics," both of
them walk out, leaving him alone.  "This is insane!  They're all
gone!  They've all left me!  I-- I-- I'm-- ALONE!"  But not for
long, Chief, as the bird-costumed form of the Black Vulture (who earlier was on
hand to watch Robotman and Negative Man walk away) is lurking just outside the
window.  And with a shrill "SCREEEEEE" whistle, the Vulture summons an
avian ally, a giant condor capable of carrying more than its own weight, to
crash through that window and seize The Chief!  But though abandoned and
lonesome, Niles Caulder is not altogether despondent or helpless.  He fires
a missile of some sort at the condor, but the bird grabs and lifts The Chief,
chair and all.  But The Chief gets a death-grip on the condor's neck (hey,
Chief, you better watch out.  Aren't condors an endangered species?)
declaring that "the power of that a man loses in his legs is transferred to his
arms (by) the law of natural compensation!"  This sounds like shaky
biology, but anyway, as his chair crashes back to the ground, The Chief manages
to hurl the condor against the floor and break its neck. 

But our
villain has more than one bird in the hand, as he sends a flock of hummingbirds,
capable of flying at 500 miles an hour and with poison-tipped beaks, to attack
The Chief-- whose chair, fortunately, is armed with a miniature rocket launcher
with electronic tracking equipment to stop the birds.  And so, declaring
that "we shall waste no more time with these preliminary bouts, Dr.
Caulder,"  the costumed Black Vulture crashes into the room himself. 
The Chief has no idea who this bird-brain is or why he is out to get him, but he
is prepared with another weapon from his chair, a sub-machine gun to kill the
Vulture before he can kill The Chief.  (Apparently, when you're not only
not super-powered but handicapped, and the bad guy specifically theatens your
life, the normal superhero inhibitions against killing a foe can be put
aside.)  Unfortunately, "The gun jammed!  I'd kill the idiot who
invented this thing-- except that I invented it!"  The Black Vulture swoops
around The Chief, coming closer with his "deadly talons," but The Chief speeds
through a door with his mobile chair and sends a "supersonic signal" to slam
down a protective metal doorway.  The Vulture counters by summoning a giant
eagle-- addressed as " Ahaku-- the great Thunderbird"-- carrying twin bombs in
its talons to smash through the door.  (The Black Vulture may look like
kind of a bozo, but his bird servants make Batman's foe the Penguin and his
bird-crimes look lame.)  The metal door is strong enough to resist the size
of bombs the Vulture is using, but The Chief is aware that if the Vulture
continues his assault, the door may be knocked off its tracks and out of
place.   At this point The Chief realizes that the "sensible thing"
would be to call the police for help.  But, assuming that the police would
call in his former partners, The Chief thinks, "That's an admission that I can't
draw a breath without the aid of the Doom Patrol!  The devil with
that!  I'll stand alone (presumably a figure of speech in his case)... or

Meanwhile, we catch up with Robotman, walking the streets in
search of "a good robot hotel," and Larry Trainor, flying a jet over the city
because it is the only place far enough from people for him to partially unwrap
himself.  Robotman rescues a pedestrian walking into the path of a speeding
car, but berates the man for his carelessness and stupidity until he realizes
that the man is blind!  Embarrassed and ashamed, Robotman also realizes
that The Chief whom he abandoned is also handicapped and all but helpless (yeah,
right) and decides to go back and check on his former leader, though he hopes
Larry and Rita won't catch him "going soft".  And Larry reflects that maybe
he shouldn't blame The Chief for being obsessed with Madame Rouge, since
(apparently in some unspecified earlier story I don't recall offhand) Larry
himself was attracted to the mysterious Madame! 

Arriving back at
the DP mansion, Robotman observes the Chief's danger on closed circuit TV, and
decides he needs a weapon against the Black Vulture and his bird
battalion.  He grabs a seemingly appropriate object, a replica "Winged
Victory" statue.  But he and the statue are knocked over by the hurtling
Negative Man, for Larry has spotted Robotman slinking through the dark halls and
mistaken him for an enemy!  Robotman is undamaged, but both he and the
"gauze-faced goof" are delayed reaching The Chief to aid against the real
threat-- the Black Vulture, who has finally gotten through the metal door
guarding The Chief.  A "curtain of flame" across another doorway fails to
stop the Vulture, who flies through the flames at high speed, and it seems that
the villain will finally rake The Chief with his talons when Robotman and Larry
arrive on the scene!  Instead of Larry sending Negative Man against the
flying foe, for some highly unclear reason Robotman hurls Larry's physical body
against the Vulture!  As Larry clings to the veering villain, his extra
weight exhausts the Vulture's flying jets that aid his wings, and the bad guy
crashes to the floor and is knocked out.  But as Cliff and Larry start to
haul the Vulture to a cell, Elasti-Girl arrives back on the scene and she, like
Larry before her, makes a major misjudgment.  Thinking Cliff and Larry are
foes hauling the helpless Chief somewhere, she expands to giant size and swats
at them, knocking them over and giving the Vulture the chance to summon more of
his flying creatures.  "Oooo!  I could kick myself!"  " Don't
worry, sweetheart!  If we ever get out of this-- we'll do it for
you!"  To further embarrass herself, Rita screams in terror when she sees
that the Vulture's new minions are not more birds but a swarm of bats! 
"You tryin' to prove you're just a normal, fraidy-cat girl?"  (This was
fairly untypical behavior for Rita.  As I've commented before about the
Doom Patrol they were obviously a copy of, er, a homage to Marvel's Fantastic
Four.  But the characterization of the token female member was one area
where the copy generally improved on the original.)

The caption refers
to a "bat bat-allion" and says, "All true lovers of bad puns please
appreciate!"  (Upon rereading and reviewing this issue, I observe that the
"camp" element wasn't rooted out of these last few DP issues nearly as
thoroughly as I thought.) The bats set up such a barrage of sound waves that not
only are the DP members rendered helpless, but Robotman starts to shake

apart!  But the seemingly doomed Patrol gets another chance from the most
improbable band of rescuers I can think of (at least in this context) in a comic
story-- a band of horse-mounted, screeching, tomahawk-wielding American
Indians!  The Vulture cries out in fear and takes flight, but the Indian
leader (who is addressed as "White Feather," but doesn't seem to be the Inferior
Five member) leaps from his saddle and pulls the Vulture back to the
ground.  "Man, I pulled a real Custer!  I underestimated the
Indians!", says Robotman.  And now we finally learn what the grudge is that
sent the man known as the Black Vulture to try to destroy The Chief.  He is
really a man named Decker (no relation to Dwight, I imagine) and The Chief as
science maven helped use radioactive dating to stop Decker from making a
fraudulent claim to tribal land.  (And yet, once again, we see a comic book
super-villain using incredible high tech and extraordinary abilities to tangle
with the heroes, when he could have used his flying suit technology and
bird-training skills to get rich in some more legitimate way.)  When Rita
asks, "How your people gettum here so fast, White Feather?", the chief explains
that the tribe is rich from oil, and besides, he is a Cal Tech aerodynamics
expert with his own private jet!  (I have to suspect that this whole Indian
plotline, besides being highly politically incorrect by modern standards, was a
desperate last-minute inspiration by Drake when he realized he hadn't thought
either of a reason for the Vulture's villainy or a way to get the DP out of

"Finally, the swinging 'redskins' leave, but some red faces
remain..." as the four DP members confront each other;  "We've learned one
thing!  "We've gotta all hang together..."  "Or we'll all go
hang!"  The Chief insists that, if he is going to be the DP "father figure"
again, Madame Rouge gets to stay on "as long as she needs to". and the DP
members consent.

But as it turned out within a few issues, the
schizophrenic Madame Rouge was a threat to the team after all, and the end of
the Doom Patrol, narrowly averted this issue, came about in DP &121 (despite an
unprecedented on-panel appeal to the fans by the editor and artist to keep the
team and the comic alive by buying more copies).  But at least, instead of
an ignominious breakup, the DP stood together and went out in style as they
sacrificed their lives to save a tiny town of civilians.