Monday, March 21, 2016


Super-Team Family was a series from DC Comics in the 1970s.  It started out reprinting stories from a variety of DC's more popular series--Superman, Batman, Teen Titans, etc.--before branching out into original content featuring DC's heroes toward the end of its run.  Sadly, the series only lasted 15 issues, but all 15 serve as tribute to some of DC's iconic characters in their late Silver Age/early Bronze Age glory days.

"To Order is to Destroy"
WRITER: Steve Skeates
PENCILS: George Tuska
COLORS: not listed
INKS: Nick Cardy
LETTERS: John Costanza
(originally presented in Teen Titans #31)

SYNOPSIS:  In the waiting room of university psychologist Dr. Pauling, a young man is having anxiety over visiting the doctor about his anxiety when he overhears Dr. Pauling explain to a patient how implanting a computer chip in his brain will help calm him down.  The young man quickly decides he wants nothing to do with this and storms out, declaring he is canceling his appointment.

Meanwhile, young Wally West is riding along with his grandfather Ira on their way to Elford University where Ira has been asked to give a guest lecture. Wally claims to be scouting potential colleges for his post-high school life as he is graduating soon.  As Ira drops Wally off, Wally notices the young man from the doctor's office being chased down by a mob of college students.  Wally quickly changes into Kid Flash and rescues the young man from his attackers.

The pair escape into the hills to a vacant hunting cabin where Johnny, the college student, has been hiding out the last few days.  He has since run out of food and has been trying to make his way into town for more, but the path requires crossing campus. Every time Johnny returns to campus the other students attack him, causing him to run for safety.  Kid Flash zooms to town and returns with a few groceries to help tide Johnny over for a few days then returns to campus in order to catch a ride back home with Grandpa Ira.

The next day, Wally returns to Elford University with fellow Titans Donna Troy, Mal Duncan, Roy Harper and Lilith.  Inside a university office Dr. Pauling and the acting president discuss the new teens on the scene as well as how their plans regarding reprogramming the university students are going.  The Titans decide to go visit Johnny. They change into their costumes along the way (or at least some of them do). When the reach the cabin they find evidence of a struggle and that Johnny is gone.

The Titans return to their civilian garb and go back to campus where they are quickly set upon by the students under Dr. Pauling's control.  One student, Johnny, manages to resist the control enough to get into the acting president's office and fight Dr. Pauling, making him order the controlled students to cease their attack.  The Titans detain Dr. Pauling and the acting president long enough for the police to arrive.  As the two are led away Wally ponders if all people's wills are so easily subverted.

MY THOUGHTS:  Holy cow! This is fifteen pages of story.  Fifteen.  Something with a synopsis this dense would span two or even three issues in modern comics.  I am constantly amazed at how much storytelling has changed over the years. This story serves as a perfect example.

Skeates's writing is pretty indicative of the revolutionary DC style from around the same time.  The legendary Green Lantern & Green Arrow run by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams had started the year prior to this story's original publication in Teen Titans #31, so the subject matter of social justice was a topic DC writers were eager to explore.  Instead of stopping supervillains from taking over the world or destroying far off planets heroes were finding ways to just make the world a better place and stop things like bigotry and prejudice.  This story focuses on both the idea that "the establishment" wanted to put an end to free-thinking counterculture and the possibility that our free will could so easily be subverted, or that despite what we think of ourselves we might all really be hate-filled bigots at heart.  

With all that in mind, this story could easily have fit in a horror anthology series like House of Secrets or even as an episode of a TV series like The Twilight Zone or Thriller.  Remove the Titans and instead focus entirely on Johnny and it becomes a horror tale of being the only moral and/or uncontrolled individual left on campus. It can easily be equated to an Invasion of the Body Snatchers styled story.

The art is pretty standard for DC stories of the time.  1971 is a time that straddles the Silver Age and Bronze Age.  Depending on how one personally judges the cutoff point between the two this story could either be from the end of the Silver Age or at the first of the Bronze Age.  Either way, the art is beginning to show a stronger focus on realism compared to stories drawn in the 1960s.  Tuska draws well-muscled versions of Kid Flash and Speedy without overdoing it.  They come across as believable superheroes as opposed to bordering on cartoonish proportions.  Cardy's inks help sell this appearance.  Again, he doesn't overdo his job.  All the figures standout as they need to.
Lilith doesn't seem in too big a hurry, though.

My main complaint about the art is that sometimes it feels like some of the Titans aren't really in a scene and then suddenly appear a few panels later.  Obviously with a cast of five Titans it's hard to fit everybody into every panel.  Maybe equal blame should be shared by the writer as there is not always clear exposition for what the characters are doing when off-screen.  Either way, if this is the only detriment then this story still excels.

"The Brotherhood of Evil"
WRITER: Arnold Drake
PENCILS: Bruno Premiani
COLORS: not listed
INKS:  Bruno Premiani
LETTERS: not listed
(originally presented in Doom Patrol #86)

SYNOPSIS:  In the halls of the Doom Patrol's headquarters, Chief is having difficulty finding the members of the team. In his room, Larry Trainor sends the Negative Man to Egypt to bring back a piece of the Great Pyramid, a feat which takes less than a minute to complete.  In a jewelry store, Rita Farr is buying an item which she wants engraved. The salesman claims that nothing can be engraved in such a short time, but Rita says she will take care of it herself.  Shrinking down to a tiny size back at headquarters, she easily engraves a message onto the clasp.  Meanwhile, Cliff Steele laments that he is only a human brain in a robot body. The others can use their special powers to help create gifts but he is too clumsy.

The next day, the three members surprise Chief with a birthday party. They decided to declare that day as his birthday since he would never tell them his real one (which just so happens to be the day they have chosen).  They present their gifts to him one by one.  First is Negative Man's gift of a miniature sphinx carved from the piece of the pyramid.  Next, Elasti-Girl has carved the words courageous, heroic, intelligent, exasperating and fighter to describe Chief into the clasp.  Finally, Robotman tells of how he took piece of coal, climbed down deep to the bottom of a hot spring and used his incredible strength to pressurize the coal into diamonds.  Too bad he squeezed a little too hard and crushed the diamonds into dust.  However, Chief reassures all three that he will cherish all their gifts.  

The next day, news of a train robbery reaches the Doom Patrol.  They learn that a powerful weapon designed by the Chief intended for use on the moon to protect Earth from invasion has been stolen.  Chief informs them that it is more dangerous than all other similarly designed weapons they encountered on a previous mission.  That weapon is shown to be used to wreck a bridge at that very moment.  The weapon is nothing short of a giant robot!

Days later, the Doom Patrol is still searching for the giant robot. They recount that the robot has appeared, caused destruction and left without ever stealing anything nor making any demands. Mr. Morden, the man controlling the monstrosity known as Rog, seems to only be interested in destruction.  The Doom Patrol encounter Morden and Rog near a dam and a battle ensues.  However, Morden manages to turn things in his favor by threatening to kill Larry's prone body.  Rita has no choice but to let Morden escape.

The next day, at a school in France, instructor Madame Rouge receives word that she has a message from her cousin Rog. This is code for her to access a secret room to meet with her colleagues Monsieur Mallah and the Brain, collectively known as the Brotherhood of Evil.  Morden seeks to join and uses his theft and use of Rog as evidence of his qualifications.  

The Brain informs Morden that even though he has fought the Doom Patrol to a standstill, he shall have to battle them again soon and assigns Mallah to help.  Morden boasts he needs no help but inquires what makes Mallah so necessary.  The Brain reveals Mallah to be a gorilla, but not just any gorilla.  Mallah is superior to normal gorillas in both strength and agility, as well as being able to speak and possessing a genius IQ of 170.  

Within days the Brotherhood's plan is revealed.  Riding two large boats like water skis, the giant robot Rog is sent to steal the Statue of Liberty.  The Doom Patrol, having calculated this as a possible plan, responds.  Negative Man obscures Rog's vision while Robotman tries to blow up Rog's foot.  The robot proves too tough for the explosives and Negative Man must return to Larry's body, giving Rog an opening to grab Robotman.  Meanwhile, Rita parachutes into the fray.  She grows to giant size, frees Robotman and begins to fight Rog.  Before she can land a single blow, Rog ties her up and tosses her aside like a rag doll.  However, Rita regains he composure quickly and tosses a buoy at Rog's back, knocking him over.  Mallah bursts out of the control center to attack an approaching Robotman while Morden gets Rog upright and proceeds toward the Statue of Liberty.  

Rita grabs Rog and smashes it upon the ground, knocking Morden free of the control center. Morden boasts that he has planted a bomb at the base of the statue and time is running out. Robotman knocks Mallah away as Rita tosses him the bomb.  He throws his metallic body over the bomb, however it proves to be a dud used to buy time for the villains to escape.  

Back at headquarters we revisit the subplot of Rita and Larry having an unspoken potential romance.  Rita wonders about Larry's room having metal walls and Larry laments that he can never show Rita what horrors lies beneath his special bandages.  But, that is a tale to be continued in further stories of the Doom Patrol.

MY THOUGHTS:  This story is some of the most fun I have had reading comics in a long time!  Not even exaggerating here.  It is a fun ride from beginning to end and never ceases to entertain.  Drake's storytelling is superb. 

Looking at this story in a modern context, it can be seen as hackneyed and so full of sci-fi tropes that it could easily be weighed down by them.  Ignoring all that and just taking the story on its own merits, it is easy to see how the Doom Patrol was such a cult favorite of the era.

Premiani's art is typical for the Silver Age.  It may seem simplistic by modern standards, but honestly there are Jack Kirby influences present in his drawings of the Doom Patrol members.  It is no wonder there are comparisons between the Doom Patrol and the X-Men.  Naturally Kirby's designs are superior to Premiani's, but there are obvious similarities that can be seen between the two.  While Rog is the main focus of the villains, Mallah's design stands out among them all.  This is truly a frightening gorilla foe and not because he is drawn so monstrous or exaggerated, but instead because he is drawn as a more humanoid gorilla. Mallah's movements are easily seen in the panels and he acts as a perfect blend of human and gorilla traits.  It's hard to describe, but can be seen on the page.  [NOTE: It finally clicked upon second reading that this version of Mallah has opposeable thumbs that can easily grasp a match. Maybe this is one factor that led me to my conclusion.] This is Mallah as he was meant to be and I am not entirely certain anybody has captured this design the same way since.

OVERALL:  Overall this is a great issue for fans.  The Teen Titans story is a bit heavyhanded, but it makes a decent point.  The setting and delivery are a bit dated but the theme is still very present in modern society.  The Doom Patrol story reminds readers why they enjoy superhero adventure stories.  These two are an incredible read together, despite being mostly unrelated. This issue is definitely worth tracking down for a fan of either team or just for the historical aspects.  


  1. Unbelievable! It's like you have reached into my longboxes and eloquently informed the world of these hidden gems. Super Team Family was an awesome series, really one of the best iterations of Supergirl you'll ever see are contained within the pages of these comics. And Bruno Premiani's art is a bit stiff, but as you read through Silver Age Doom Patrol (which I am betting you have done) you see that the guy could draw anything! Any animal, any vehicle, just about anything you can think of and a whole lot that neither of us would have before Bruno put pencil to paper. Drake himself said Premiani drew the best horses he'd ever seen

    1. So glad you enjoyed. I honestly didn't even really know much about this series until recently but it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. DC needs to do books like these again. And now I am eager to read the Supergirl issues.