Our first pick today in The 2020 PopCult Gift Guide is a pair of books that collects the adventures of one of the wildest superhero teams of the 1960s. This is the perfect gift for the lover of vintage comics, and anyone who enjoys bizarre superhero adventures (or wants to see the beginnings of The Doom Patrol due to their DC Universe/HBO Max series).

Doom Patrol: The Silver Age Vol. 1
by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani
DC Comics
ISBN-13 : 978-1401281113

Doom Patrol: The Silver Age Vol. 2
Written by Arnold Drake, Art by Bruno Premiani and Bob Brown
DC Comics
ISBN-13: 978-1779500984

Doom Patrol, the original Doom Patrol comic from the 1960s, was decades ahead of its time. This team of misfit superheroes brought the concept of a dysfunctional psuedo family of heroes in a world where people react to them naturally to comics long before the great wave of surrealist British comics writers transformed superhero comics forever.

These are the adventures of Robotman, Negative Man and Elasti-Girl, all working under the direction of the wheelchair-bound Chief, Niles Caulder, and alongside their allies, Mento, the world’s fifth-wealthiest man (equipped with a helmet that gives him psychic powers) and Beast Boy, a teen with green skin, who can turn into different animals.

Before Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, there was Arnold Drake. Drake was a mainstay of DC comics, but he proved with Doom Patrol that, given free reign, he could out-Marvel Marvel. Drake, working with a full script, created wild and bizarre adventures that rival (and possibly inspired some of) the work of Stan Lee at Marvel.

Unlike Lee, who took credit for plot work done by the artists under the “Marvel Method,” Drake crafted his tales on his own, pacing the stories and writing all the dialogue before sending the script off to his main Doom Patrol collaborator, Bruno Premiani.

Premiani brought those scripts to life with a fine, illustrative style that, while lacking the dynamic quality of Jack Kirby, perfectly suited Drake’s stories of a team that fought among themselves as much as they fought their enemies.

The Team was made of up three people who, due to different twists of fate, were turned into freaks with amazing powers. Brought together by The Chief, who was intrinsically tied to their mishaps, they did battle with a rogues gallery unlike any other. With an evil immortal, an alien warlord, a disembodied brain, a super-evolved speaking (with a French accent) ape, and a man with the powers of all the elements, all of them hell-bent on world domination, and all them willing to work together to kill the Doom Patrol, the stories in this volume take you on a wild ride, indeed.

These two paperback collections of Silver Age Doom Patrol stories bring us the first two-thirds of the team’s original comic book run, and if DC holds true to formula, in about two years we should see the final volume in this series. They are also collecting the later versions of the team, all of which are used in the streaming TV series.

These stories, originally published from 1963 to 66, put the lie to the myth that DC was just publishing staid, traditional superhero comics during the heyday of Marvel. Doom Patrol, which had an obvious influence on Marvel’s X-Men, holds up a lot better than many of Marvel’s lesser titles, and at times rivals the work of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko in terms of pure imagination.

The Doom Patrol (Spoiler Alert here) were killed off in the final issue of their comic a couple of years after the stories collected here. It was nearly a decade before DC resurrected the team, with only Robotman surviving from the original team. The revived team, originally written by Paul Kupperberg, went through a few changes and reboots until the early 1990s when Grant Morrison took over writing the adventures of the team, and managed to out-weird the original run.

The TV series, which debuted on DC Universe and then moved to HBO MAX, is based on parts of all three eras of the Doom Patrol, but the core of the personality clashes between Robotman, Negative man and Elasti-Girl, are found in the original series.

A lot of the roots of modern superhero comics can be traced back to the Doom Patrol. These collections are a great sampler.  I hope that DC comes through with a third volume ahead of schedule. My only complaint is that the final issue collected in volume two is the first half of a two-part story, and ends with a big cliffhanger. I don’t want to wait two years to see how it all turns out (and I don’t want to have to buy the original comics).

These comics were among the first I remember ever reading as a young child, and they’ve stuck with me for more than five decades. I can’t recommend them enough. You can order Doom Patrol: The Silver Age Vol. 1 and Doom Patrol: The Silver Age Vol. 2 from any bookseller using the ISBN code, or get them from Amazon by clicking on their titles above.