Bigger Than A Breadbox... And Twice As Deadly!
With the exception of a the hasty image I threw together when Pat Morita died, I don't usually do memorial posts. My goal with the ISB, after all, is comedy, and while my family's got plenty of history with making jokes at the expense of the recently deceased (my mother's infamous punchline on our way into Dad's funeral springs to mind), it's not usually the sort of thing I'm up for.
Plus, like Hova says, "they never really miss you 'til you're dead and you're gone," and while it's easy with my usual focus on back issues, I don't want to fall into the trap of only celebrating someone's work when they've shuffled loose this mortal coil.
For Arnold Drake, though, I'm willing to make an exception. He did, after all, create this:
Back before I decided it was worth trading a couple hundred bucks to keep up to date on the mind-blowingly awesome insanity of The Future, the first volume of Doom Patrol was the first Archive I ever owned, and, well, covers like that one ought to tell you why.
Yes, it's The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man, Drake's brainchild from the pages of Doom Patrol #89, and he may just be the craziest foe those guys ever fought. And considering that their arch-enemy is a talking militant French gorilla in love with a disembodied brain, that's saying something.
"All matter is divided," the story begins, "into three categories!" They are, of course, animal, mineral, and vegetable, and as much as this may come as a shock, that's not exactly hard science we're working with here, but rather the categories into which the object of a game of 20 Questions fits. It's an easy mistake to make, though, so it's probably best to just move on.
The whole thing really kicks off with a visit from Dr. Sven Larsen, an old school chum that the Chief decides to impress by having his small army of paramilitary carnival attractions kidnap Larsen from a transatlantic flight and walk him up the outside of a building, which, really, is the Silver-Age DC Mad Scientist equivalent of showing up at your high school reunion with a supermodel girlfriend and a winning lottery ticket. It turns out, though, that Larsen's still holding a grudge from their wayward youth at whatever school it is that teaches offers a triple major in Robotics, Brain Surgery, and Liberal Arts, and has thus decided to get revenge in the most sensible way possible:
He turns himself into a giant rampaging paramecium. Come on, we've all thought about it.
Also of note about this scene--as though a thirty foot-tall hot-pink one-celled organism threatening to destroy vast sections of downtown wasnt enough--is the fact that we learn a little something about Niles Caulder:
He is the very soul of optimism.
Of course, a giant amoeba bursting out of a warehouse to wreak untold havoc is just another Thursday for the Doom Patrol, but the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man's a little trickier than their usual fare, given its ability to shapeshift entirely at random. Over the course of eight pages, the AVM-Man becomes the aformentioned single-celled horror, a pile of sulfur, a bird of indeterminate quality, a dinosaur, a ten-story sponge, a lead monster, and an inappropriately lecherous tree before making its escape as a dandelion.
Because in the mad world of the Doom Patrol, a self-loathing robot, an energy creature that can move at the speed of light, and a giant starlet in a Go-Go miniskirt can be thoroughly vexed by a flower that usually succumbs to a mild breeze.
And that, of course, is the pure genius of the Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man: Why have a story where the heroes fight a giant tranatula when you could have them fight a giant tarantula that can turn into a swam of gnats?! It's perfect!
Before long, though, the Chief's able to put a stop to all this nonsense with a laser death ray blaster that he just happened to have laying around (you know, for theoretical science purposes), Larsen gets dropped into the de-monsterfying box, and that's pretty much the end of that.
And that's the way it should be. But today, with Arnold Drake gone, the world makes a little more sense. As you can see for yourself, though, that's not always a good thing.
Like every other early Doom Patrol story, "The Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Menace" was drawn by Bruno Premiani, whose artwork in those issues was easily some of the cleanest, most dynamic, and all-around best stuff that DC put out during the Silver Age, but that's pretty much all I know about him.
Still, I can't shake this feeling I have that back 1964, he'd get these crazy scripts that called for dinosaurs and chemical monstrosities, shrug his shoulders, and go back to trying to figure out how hot he could make Rita Farr while still keeping things well within the Comics Code.
Seriously, check that stuff out. You'll see what I mean.