One of the main arguments for the so-called “superhero fatigue” is that superhero movies are becoming all too similar. The MCU has its “Marvel formula” which is rarely broken, and the “Arrowverse” too has a tendency to default to angst whenever possible, with the exception of Legends of Tomorrow being nearly indistinguishable from each other in terms of story and tone.
Of course, there’s exceptions to the rule. Guardians of the Galaxy provided a breath of fresh air to the MCU that paved the way for Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther. On the DC side, Doom Patrol finally gave us a superhero show that isn’t afraid to go completely cuckoo bananas with its weird storylines and side characters, without losing sight of the emotional journey of its characters.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Doom Patrol, and its tale of people whose powers and appearance alienated them from society and are more like a curse than a gift, sounds similar to Marvel’s X-Men. But to do that would be to diminish what makes Doom Patrol special.
At the heart of Doom Patrol is a rag-tag group of accident victims and marginalized outcasts whose powers are often manifestations of their traumas: Crazy Jane (Diane Guerrero) is a girl with 64 different personalities all with different powers, which were created as a defense mechanism to help survive her abuse. Rita Farr (April Bowlby) was broken by the Hollywood system of the ‘50s and now battles with keeping her blob-like body in one piece, which becomes a stand-in for her own self-loathing and body issues. Larry Trainor (Matt Bomer) and his self-hatred towards the Negative Spirit that resides within him is a not-so-subtle allegory for Larry’s internalized homophobia and regrets of the past.
Though Doom Patrol does get as dark and grim as Titans, it is often as ridiculously funny as Legends of Tomorrow. The first season is mostly a search-and-rescue mission, but in the way the team gets in the most bizarre situations ever seen in a superhero TV or even movie. What other show would wrap up a season with a giant cockroach with a god complex fighting against a giant vigilante rat who craves vengeance for the murder of its mother à la Batman? Beyond that, what other show would end that fight by having the rat yell, “I wanna spread you like the plague, Daddy.” Before resolving the fight with a make out session in the middle of a sentient, genderqueer street?
Where Legion gives us bizarre scenarios and plenty of WTF moments, they’re usually done in a disturbing way to show how fragmented David Haller’s mind is. Doom Patrol on the other hand gives us a man who can learn everything about a person by eating their beard hair or a flock of man-eating butts to make us laugh as the characters shout profanities in confusion, while never losing sight of how these situations affect the characters’ growth.