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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

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.

BONUS FEATURE: Bruno Premiani Is The Man

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Drake & Premiani are one of the great underrated teams in Silver Age comics.

Drake's insane stories meshed very well with Premiani's art. The guy truly drew a very hot Rita Farr.

3/13/2007 5:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may just have to buy this DC Archive (instead of New Teen Titans which I was planning to buy) if you don't stop with the Doom Patrol love thang.

3/13/2007 7:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may be nuts, but I have a memory that Premani was in the US as his dad was anti-fascist and Premani left the US to fight for freedom in South America. Beats going into advertising. If I'm correct then this is two-fisted good girl art!

3/13/2007 8:26 AM

Blogger S Bates said...

"All matter is divided," the story begins, "into three categories!"

How do gases, such as the dreaded carbon dioxide which is going to KILL US ALL by global warming (who'd've thunked it, eh?), fit into these categories? They are not animals nor vegetables and they're not really minerals either. And what about comic books?

"Run for your life! It will destroy us all!"

Why is that always the reaction to seeing a giant amoeba? Not "Aw, isn't it cute!" or "For the sake of science, we must analysis this phenomenon!" or "Wait! What about its rights?!". Thankfully, Dr Caulder comes to the rescue!

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

Sulphur? Sponge? Dandelion?!? My, he just gets more hideously monstrous as he goes on, doesn't he? Absolutely flippin' awesome! God bless Drake.

3/13/2007 8:41 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

That was pretty cool

3/13/2007 8:56 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Twenty Questions" sometimes adds another category - "abstract". So there's room for a sequel!

3/13/2007 9:02 AM

Blogger Shon Richards said...

"and an inappropriately lecherous tree before making its escape"

In a world where Rita Farr exists, that would be the whole point of studying super-science.

Drake's own mad genius will be missed.

3/13/2007 9:41 AM

Blogger Gordon D said...

Man, right now, I wish my 3 Doom Patrol archives weren't packed - I need some Drake/Premiani madness.

They're the closest thing to taking drugs that's legal.

3/13/2007 10:18 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember reading the Doom Patrol back in the 1960's. As Grant Morrison has described them, they were the junkyard dogs of the DC universe, and it indeed was weird that they inhabited the same universe as Superman, Flash and Scooter (check out Rita and Mento's wedding).

My personal favorite was Negative Man. Just the name was cool. You had the radio wave being, the obligatory 60 second time limit that he could be out and about without killing Larry (and how did they ever determine that 60 seconds was the limit?), but best of all - the head to toe mummy wrappings.

A real sense of mystery as to what was underneath the bandages. I can recall the excitement when discovering that when the wrapping was removed (Spoiler alert) Larry's head was a glowing, radioactive skull!

I am constantly in awe as to how a grown man could so perfectly devine the Ne Plus Ultra of coolness for a 10 year old kid! [Of course their evil nemesis would be a human brain kept alibve in a dish!] DP is the only comic series that I make an effort to collect in back issues - mostly just reading copies, never to be slabbed for resale. The archives beautifully show off Bruno's artwork, which was (is) truly unique, but there's something about seeing the stories in the context of the ads for this month's Jerry Lewis amd Tomahawk, and the letters pages, that makes it worth the effort.

3/13/2007 11:48 AM

Blogger Mark W. Hale said...

This almost makes those giantess fetishists make a bit more sense.


I hope Mr. Drake is staying weird, wherever he is.

3/13/2007 3:11 PM

Blogger Bill S. said...

[Monsieur Mallah removes the beret (that Che Guevara gave him) and bows his head in a moment of silence... The Brain just sits in his jar.]

3/13/2007 4:14 PM

Blogger Scorekeeper said...

That is one of the most awesome cover artwork I have ever seen.

3/13/2007 7:41 PM

Blogger Captain Infinity said...

Rita Farr: No exposed cleavage, covered midriff, no ass shots, yet totally freaking hot.

3/13/2007 8:36 PM

Blogger Michael Strauss said...

Mr. Sims, yet again I don't know why I bother.

Well said, sir.

3/13/2007 8:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they sold tickets to stand below the gigantic Rita Farr, I would be first in line.

Witchblade has nothing on Rita.

3/15/2007 4:08 AM

Blogger VP81955 said...

Rita Farr alone is reason enough to hope that a Doom Patrol movie comes to fruition...but who should play her? Anne Hathaway, perhaps? (Or another actress who'd look particularly hot at several stories high.)

4/29/2007 2:30 AM

Anonymous Sidney said...

It will not succeed in actual fact, that is what I think.

9/17/2011 2:36 PM


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