Andrew Belonsky

Remember Doom Patrol's Queer Characters, Rebis and Coagula?

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | September 05, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: DC Comics, Doom Patrol, Grant Morrison, Rachel Pollack

While gay and lesbian superheroes are building their ranks with characters like Batwoman or Rictor and Shatterstar, there's a dearth of trans or otherwise gender-bending heroes on the comic scene. Not so in the 1990s, Rebis.png.jpegwhen the Doom Patrol opened its narrative to a slew of queer characters, including Rebis and Coagula.

The Doom Patrol was never a "super-hero" team: they were outcasts, misfits thrust into a superhero position by their meta-human status. First by DC Comics in 1963, The Doom Patrol went through various incarnations through the decades, reaching an editorial peak with the introduction of Grant Morrison as head writer in 1989.

Morrison has always been a "bad boy" amongst comic book writers: a genius whose cerebral wit often fly in the face of traditional "hero" stories: he's responsible for turning Animal Man into a champion of animal rights and vegetarianism and taking the X-Men in a dark direction with the destruction of Genosha.

Upon taking the reins at Doom Patrol with issue #19, Morrison used a massive alien invasion to relaunch the series and its characters, sending then in a surreal, often absurd direction that explored the limits of reality, and sexuality.

Part of Morrison's far-seeing mission included original Doom Patrol member Negative Man, an Air Force pilot named Larry Trainor who was possessed, I guess, by an immortal, sentient energy being called "Negative Energy."

In the wake of the aforementioned invasion, Trainor was weakened, and the Negative Energy took the opportunity to merge Trainor with his female doctor, Eleanor Pool. The three entities become one, Rebis. "My race is mixed, my sex is mixed. I am woman and man and light and darkness, mixed," Rebis said of itself. "I am nothing special."

In fact, Rebis, who wore high-heeled boots and a man's trench, was the most "mainstream" of hermaphroditic characters in comic history. Most importantly, Rebis lacked the brooding introspection so many LGBT characters, like Rictor and Shatterstar, embrace. Rebis also helped birth the Doom Patrol's other queer "hero," Coagula.

Frustrated by the Doom Patrol's direction, Rebis eventually left the team; so, too, did Morrison, who was replaced by transsexual writer Rachel Pollack. After picking up in 1993, Pollack revisited Rebis via a trans prostitute named Kate Godwin, who suddenly developed coagulation powers after sleeping with Rebis. Apparently some of its negative energy rubbed off on -- or in -- Gowdin, who started calling herself Coagula.

rebiscoagula.jpeg

Coagula tried to join the Justice League, but that team, composed of straight-forward heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, sent her away. "I suspect they liked my powers, but couldn't handle me," she tells a friend in Doom Patrol #70, her debut.

Coagula stumbled upon the Doom Patrol by accident: she walked into an attack by a villain called "Codpiece," who took his insecurity over a small penis out on the world with a phallic canon. Coagula, wearing a makeshift costume, a frog mask, made short work of his weapon, perhaps Pollack's nod to heterosexist fears of lesbian emasculation. With that castration, Coagula became a full-fledged member of the Doom Patrol.

Coagula.png.jpeg

Sadly, Coagula was killed off toward the end of the series, which, I admit, needed to be canceled, for Pollack, for all her queer contributions, took the title in a far too nonsensical direction, even by Doom Patrol's standards.

Doom Patrol has since been revived by a score of writers, all of whom trashed the trans and queer additions made by Morrison and Pollack. It's too bad, too, because though Rebis and Coagula didn't fit the superhero archetype, they were champions in their own right.

It's worth noting that Morrison also created another queer character, Danny the Street. Like Rebis and the rest of the Doom Patrol, Danny Street wasn't a hero in the common sense. In fact, Danny Street wasn't even a person -- he was a street, a gay one that performed "drag" by hosting traditionally masculine shops, like a gun store.

Danny Street, which teleported around the globe, would become the Doom Patrol's headquarters for a spell, before launching off to an alternate dimension. He's since been destroyed and now exists only as "Danny the Brick," a commentary on how Morrison and Pollack's queer contributions have been dismantled in the years since.


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I've never read the original Doom Patrol, thanks Andrew! I'll put it on my reading list. :)

Danny the Street was a play on Danny LaRue. In the end, Danny became a passage to an entire majestic fantasy realm accessible to everyone, which was sort of a metaphor for being able to step out of the closet into something wondrous, even if it implied that it was all sort of illusory. That bit at the end of 62 with Dorothy Spinner (who stayed behind and didn't witness Danny's transformation), where she says "take me to the real world" was supposed to be irony, and Rachel either didn't get it or chose to rewrite it. :( Rachel lost me from her first issue, starting with that.

Grant's run (#s 19-63) was pure genius, and Rick Case's art captured the revelry in diversity and visually added incredible additional levels to the metaphor streaming throughout the series. Rebis wasn't the only trans metaphor, although zie was the most obvious, being a fusion of a man, a woman and a gender-neutral spirit. But Rebis was more a metaphor for rebirth and change; it was Crazy Jane who always seemed to me to be TS metaphorically, even if nothing was ever obvious about it.

After Grant left DP, he wrote The Invisibles, which sort of paved the way for anarchic counter-culture stuff like Transmetropolitan and the like. Lord Fanny was probably the most out-of-the-closet transsexual in comics ever. But unfortunately, the series never quite recaptured the magic of his Doom Patrol -- even though The Invisibles was designed to be able to go where he wasn't able to in DP.

The last story arc from about 54 to 63 remains my favorite comics run. But you have to be prepared for strange. The promo blurb they used at the time was, "Are you weird enough for Doom Patrol?"

And it fit. Definitely recommended for folks who've never read the series, if they can find it.

DC under the Milestone banner had a mini series called DeathWish which had a transwoman cop looking for a serial killer of transwoman. It was co-written by a transwoman (the late Maddie Blaustein). I felt that this was the best portrayal of a transwoman within mainstream comics.

On the independent side there's "How Loathsome", kind of a slice if life within a trans/queer/goth/etc subculture in SF. Its been collected in hardback for a number of years now so it can be easily found. The art is by Ted Naifeh.

I wanted to like Rachel's run of the Doom Patrol, but yeah, it had its problems. The Invisibles was interesting but I wasn't for its portrayal of a transperson (which I felt was superficial). Looking back at much of Grant Morrison's work I'm of two minds. Yes it was interesting, but on another level I felt that he was taking elements from existing subcultures and repackaging it for a typical comic fanboy audience (straight, white male). Much like how early music created by black musicians were repackaged by the music industry for white audiences by using white singers.

As for the death of Kate Godwin (Coagula), since when is a comic book death ever permanent. Someone could easily bring her back, I'm hoping for Gail Simone.

I remember Doom Patrol, I think I even have some trading cards somewhere. More comic texts please!

Pollack had a great -- really great -- short story in the May 08 magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction (the venerable F&SF) called "Immortal Snake". She has her nonsensical moments, and her writing isn't always as crisp as one might wish, but this recent story had none of those faults -- it was superb.

I liked Coagula a lot, although I don't recall if she was queer or heterosexual?

Comics needs more trans characters, IMO.

She was lesbian at the start, but had a relationship with Robotman later.