Welcome to the two-hundred and fifty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and fifty-six.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Baseball Legends Revealed to find out what Hall of Famer Adam Sandler incorrectly labeled as Jewish in “The Chanukah Song!”
This week is a special theme week! All legends related to the late, great Arnold Drake!!
COMIC LEGEND: Arnold Drake based Robotman of the Doom Patrol on the Golden Age Robotman.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
This one is particularly amusing because of the age-old story that Marvel’s The X-Men is a take-off (or rip-off, if you wish to be less genteel) of Arnold Drake’s creation, the Doom Patrol.
I address that one in my book, Was Superman a Spy? and Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (hint – I lean heavily towards “coincidence”) but here, what makes it interesting is that it is Drake who is put into the position of “defending” the originality of one of his characters.
Probably the most famous members of the Doom Patrol is Cliff Steele, Robotman, a robot with the brain of a man (which, I suppose, would technically make him a cyborg, right?)…
Interestingly enough, though, there was a Robotman in the Golden Age!
This Robotman debuted in Star Spangled Comics #7, created by Jerry Siegel and artist Leo Nowak.
This guy was named (oddly enough) Bob Crane, and he was also was a human brain living in a robot body…
Drake, though, noted in interviews that he had never heard of this older Robotman until Julie Schwartz mentioned it to him one day.
And I believe Drake, particularly since Cliff was not originally CALLED Robotman!
You see, in his first appearances, he was known as Automaton…
It was only over a period of about nine issues before he slowly became known as Robotman.
Check out the progression…
Then he’s known just as Cliff Steele…
(as you can see, only Negative Man’s name was “set in stone” – Rita Farr was called Elasti-Woman frequently to start before Elasti-Girl became her “official” name…
Finally, by My Greatest Adventure #89, it was “Robotman” for Cliff…
And that stuck.
Note, though, even in the first appearance of the Doom Patrol, people were calling him Robot Man…
In any event, while Robotman was a fairly popular back-up character back in the Golden Age (lasting five years in Detective Comics), he was never THAT popular – and Arnold Drake was always quite clear that he was not a big comic fan when he was growing up.
So you couple that with the fact that he was calling the guy Automaton for a number of issues makes his story believable to me, so I’m going with a “false” here.
Doom Patrol, as you can see above, originally appeared in a comic book called My Greatest Adventure, edited by Murray Boltinoff. It was an anthology comic book, featuring different adventures each issue. With the return of the “superhero age,” however, pretty much every comic book title was looking for a superhero.
Julie Schwartz’s titles became standard superhero fare (Brave and the Bold, Showcase), but the other editors ALSO wanted superheroes, and they were more open to “different” heroes.
In Boltinoff’s case, that meant the Doom Patrol – the “legion of the world’s strangest heroes.”
A few years later, towards the end of the 1960s, editor Jack Miller ALSO wanted a superhero lead for his science fiction anthology, Strange Adventures.
So he tasked Drake to come up with a lead.
Which is fair enough.
Only Miller gave Drake the assignment on Friday – and it was due MONDAY!
Nicola Cuti did a text piece for the Deadman collection during the 1980s where he discussed Drake’s dilemma…
I asked Arnold Drake what inspired him to create Deadman and he said: “Deadlines!” Actually he was only half joking because one Friday the late Jack Miller called Drake into his office. Miller told Drake that the book he had just inherited (from fellow editor Julius Schwartz), Strange Adventures, was in trouble and he needed a continuing feature to bring in readers. And he needed it by Monday!
So over the weekend, Drake considered the rise of Eastern Mysticism and figured that such ideas were “hip” for the time (heck, the Beatles were even into Eastern religious teaching!), and the concept of astral projection and reincarnation was becoming fairly notable in the world of popular culture, so he tied them into a sort of typical noir anti-hero, and the result was Deadman!
Come Monday Drake brought in the finished script to Jack Miller. Miller liked it immediately but was unsure that the Comic Book Code would approve the title of “Deadman.” Drake contended it was worth fighting for, assuring Miller that the Code would not give them any trouble. At the time, Carmine Infantino was working in the same office and said to Miller: “He’s (Drake) right! Fight for that title!” Miller relented and the title remained as dubbed by Drake.
The comic debuted in Strange Adventures #205, designed and drawn by Carmine Infantino…
When Infantino showed Drake the splash page of the first story, Drake was delighted. Infantino had truly caught the spirit of the character, but Drake did ask for one change: “Boston Brand is supposed to be an ex-fighter. Bust his nose!”
Drake only stayed on the title for a couple of issues, as he was on his way out of DC at the time (part of the exodus of veteran DC writers over a mixture of new blood coming in in editorial and most likely some ill will over the veteran writers threatening to unionize – along with Drake, Bill Finger and Gardner Fox ended their DC tenures at around this time, as they would later describe as being effectively blackballed from the company – although do note that none of the writers were specifically blacklisted or anything like that. Fox, for instance, still could have had work at DC, just not on the same terms he used to have, so he felt it was not worth it).
Doom Patrol was popular enough to get its own title, which lasted until 1968.
The sales of the book were slipping, and with Drake on his way out of DC, the book was pretty much finished.
However, for the “final” issue, Drake decided to write a story where he, artist Bruno Premiani and editor Murray Boltinoff would kill off the Doom Patrol, but let the READERS decide if they wanted to let them stay dead!
It was a novel idea, but due to some acrimony between Drake and Boltinoff over Drake’s departure, Boltinoff actually had Drake ERASED from the issue within!
So in the issue itself, only Premiani and Boltinoff appeared talking to the readers!
That surely did not make Drake’s departure to Marvel any harder on him!
Thanks again to Lou Mougin for this information.
And, of course, thanks to the late Arnold Drake for ALL the information derived from Mougin AND Cuti!
With Drake’s death in 2007, we not only lost one of the most active Silver Age creators in terms of convention appearances, we lost one of the best Silver Age writers period!
Okay, that’s it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you likely know by now, last April my book finally came out!
Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…
See you all next week!