Gabbing Geek Jenny has, in the past, stated her belief in Madam Xanadu as an iconic character. I tried one before to to suggest that maybe Phantom Lady had a better claim to that title under her criteria (does not have a male version, has not cameoed in a movie or TV show, has an origin story older than the mid-90s, and has been read by Jenny). Jenny said Phantom Lady’s costume sucked (which, to be fair, it does), but maybe for my weekly “This one died!” column we can try a different character with a better claim than Madam Xanadu.
Let’s talk about Elasti-Girl. And I do not mean the one in The Incredibles. Pixar actually asked DC for permission to use the name, and it was granted so long as the name was never used in the marketing. If you get that action figure from The Incredibles line, her name will be listed as “Mrs. Incredible”.
But let’s talk the original.
In June of 1963, DC launched a new superhero team in My Greatest Adventure #80. They were the Doom Patrol, and they’ve been called–quite accurately–the best Marvel book DC ever did.
There’s good call for that. Most DC heroes did right because it was right. Marvel heroes jumped into the fray because of tragic backstories. The Doom Patrol were three people who’d suffered tragic accidents and were then saved by a wheelchair-bound genius called “The Chief” by turning them into freaks. Race car driver Cliff Steel had his brain transplanted in a mechanical body and became Robotman. Pilot Larry Trainor’s exposure to radioactive stuff made him unstable, so he was wrapped in special bandages to contain the radiation, but he could release a negative energy version of himself for no more than 60 seconds at a time or else he’d die. He became Negative Man.
And then there was big time movie actress Rita Farr. Her body could grow, shrink, or stretch any part of her body to any size, so she was dubbed Elasti-Girl. Mostly she made herself a giant and swatted things.
If a guy in a wheelchair helping a group of disgruntled freaks become accepted by the greater society in order to find acceptance sounds familiar, just be aware The Uncanny X-Men would premier in September that same year, three months later. Some people think Stan Lee might have…borrowed the idea for the X-Men from the Doom Patrol.
But in many ways, the Doom Patrol were better than a lot of the stuff Marvel was putting out, and here’s where Jenny should pay attention. Unlike Silver Age Marvel heroines like the Invisible Girl/Woman, the Wasp, the Scarlet Witch, and Jean Grey, Elasti-Girl was not useless in a fight. While it wasn’t uncommon for the Marvel heroines of that same era to be in near constant need of rescue or have powers that were pretty much useless, or both, Elasti-Girl was treated as an equal of the boys on her team. During the Silver Age, exactly one time was there a mission where the Chief and the two guys thought it might be too dangerous for Rita to come along, so they left without her.
In the end of that issue, Rita ended up having to save them.
The Doom Patrol were a team that regularly battled oddballs. Their arch foes were the Brotherhood of Evil, which was composed of an immortal military genius, a stretchy French woman, a surgically enhanced intelligent gorilla (also French), and a brain in a metal jar. It was a good time to be a freak. Though why Elasti-Girl was considered a freak is hard to say since she could easily pass for normal unlike the two men on the team.
Yes, Elasti-Girl had it all. She even had a stalker she ended up marrying. It was a different time, and Mento is a whole different ballgame.
Then she died.
Actually, the whole Patrol died, sacrificing their lives to save innocents to the complete surprise of the villains who were sure the Doom Patrol weren’t that selfless, and to the readers who probably never expected something like that in a million years. That was a hell of a way to end a Silver Age series.
Then it turned out the Chief survived.
Oh, and Robotman’s brain was just given a new body.
Negative Man also came out OK.
Really, Elasti-Girl seemed to be the only one who didn’t come back right away.
Then along came John Byrne. You can pretty much guess that this one is going bad. He rebooted the Doom Patrol as new characters. Suddenly no one knew who they were. There were a number of problems there.
For one, Teen Titan member Beast Boy had been adopted by Rita and her husband. So now his backstory was messed up. Plus, he’d started his superhero career as a member of the group, a sort of kid sidekick to the Doom Patrol.
For another, most of the Patrol had been appearing off and on for many years in different series and incarnations. Robotman especially was a prominent member of every incarnation of the Doom Patrol, from various Vertigo incarnations to mainstream DCU titles. The Chief’s own backstory was altered big time during the Vertigo run by Grant Morrison where it was discovered the benevolent Chief was, in fact, a lot less benevolent and he had, in fact, caused all the accidents that made the Doom Patrol the freaks they were. I’m not even sure why DC felt a reboot by Byrne was necessary, but there they were again like they were brand new, and without a Crisis of any kind to start them off.
Writer Geoff Johns would use the Infinite Crisis to fix that. Superboy-Prime punching the walls of another reality brought them back. I wish I was making that up.
Later, Johns clarified the only really screwy one, Rita, by saying the Chief had managed to bring her back by using a skin sample to grow her back to full size.
So, she’s back, the only Silver Age female superhero from any team that wasn’t a knock-off, a sidekick, didn’t need constant saving by the men, wasn’t a Golden Age holdover like Wonder Woman or Black Canary, and didn’t have a costume that showed off too much skin, what with her classic look being basically something from the 60s, and so forth. She has been seen in animated form on Teen Titans and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (which recreated the original team’s death), plus her real name got namedropped on the CW’s The Flash.
Now, of course, some of the more modern runs have suggested Rita is a bit damaged mentally, as are the rest of the Patrol, and are easily manipulated by the Chief to stay on his team, but that may not always be the case. They’re on to him now.