69 years ago - Cliff Steele is born.
51 years ago - 18-year-old Cliff becomes a stunt driver.
43 years ago - 26-year-old Cliff suffers a catastrophic accident. Niles Caulder moves his living brain into a robot body.
17 years ago - 52-year-old Cliff's body is destroyed in the same explosion that "killed" the original Doom Patrol.
13 years ago - 56-year-old Cliff has his brain digitally uploaded into a new robot body by Will Magnus. He joins Arani Desai's new Doom Patrol and begins searching for Niles Caulder.
11 years ago - 58-year-old Cliff & the rest of the Doom Patrol locate Niles Caulder. Cliff's digital memories are used to jumpstart Chief's memories.
10 years ago - 59-year-old Cliff first meets Kate Goodwin when she contacts the Doom Patrol to help her control her powers.
2 years ago - 64-year-old Cliff & Rita Farr joins the Justice League after the death of Niles Caulder.
1 year ago - 68-year-old Cliff Steele is damaged during the battle against Maggeddon. He goes to the island of Doc Magnus for repairs, staying on to lead the Metal Men.
The fact that a lot of classic comic characters were invented in the middle of the mid-century boom of science fiction is sometimes a very fun fact to remember, when you start comparing these stories to movies that were happening at the same time. Robotman is such a fantastically era-specific concept; a human brain trapped in a robot body. It immediately evokes so many vintage schlocky sci-fi serials, which is very much the world the early Doom Patrol has always occupied. Then of course we get the more modern (or at least... from the 80's forward) Doom Patrol. creators like Morrison of Gerald Way have used characters like Robotman to ask questions about the nature of humanity and identity. Our challenge becomes to find a way to take these weirdly dispargent takes on a character, fold them into our timeline, and at the same time try to do this classic character justice.
Robotman's Comic History
The character Robotman first appeared in 1942 in Star Spangled Comics #7, an invention of Superman creator Jerry Siegel. He was a World War 2 era scientist named Robert Crane whose brain was put into a robot body after he was shot. This is the character that appears in the 1993 elseworlds series Golden Age.
When Arnold Drake first created the Doom Patrol in 1963 in the pages of My Greatest Adventure #80, He redesigned a classic golden age character (very similarly to the way Stan Lee used the Human Torch two years earlier when he created the Fantastic Four) and created a new Robotman; Cliff Steele. He was a racecar driver that was in a horrible crash, and boom... brain inside a robot body again.
Cliff has the distinction of being the only character to serve in every single incarnation of the Doom Patrol, no matter how obscure. This means tons of series that often contradict each other, that have wide disparity in tone, and that have a constantly shifting relationship to the mainstream continuity. Because he's essentially the face of the team, he'll often pop up in other series as a representative of their corner of DC.
Our Robotman Story
Without drilling down and picking apart the many adventures of the Doom Patrol, the biggest changes we're making is expanding the influence of Cliff Steele outside of his main team. First, we're actually making his accident happen long before the Chief ever started putting together the Doom Patrol. He actually has a whole history as a member of the All-Star Squadron. This is meant as a send-up of the classic Golden Age Robert Crane version of Robotman. He then is recruited by Caulder for his team of adventurers, and serves with them right up until the apparent deaths of the entire team.
Oh, right... I didn't mention that the entire team died in an explosion way back in 1968, decades before killing off characters was a thing comics even considered doing. Every single Doom Patrol story that's happened since then has had to deal with this absolutely lunatic event in their history, and we want to use that as well. Cliff becomes a member of a new group of adventurers deliberately set up to hunt down the surviving members of the original team, and we used his connection to the Metal Men to explain his new body. This team is meant to be transitional for us, to represent the weirder eras of the 80's Doom Patrol.
Sadly, we can't really follow the 80's Doom Patrol books too closely, even though they're some of the best comics out there. Grant Morrison (and then later sci-fi writer Rachel Pollack) took over the series and drove it into DEEP metafiction, creating weird, bizarre new characters whose entire existence were rooted in their own fictional nature. It was an absolutely awesome read, but for a book that started out crossing over with the Teen TItans and Superman, it became something completely different and impossible to translate into an ongoing DC Continuity.
What we can do, however, is use some of the ideas that relate specifically to Robotman. We got to see Cliff deal with the emotional trauma of losing his humanity and becoming a robot. This is where the iconic visuals of him wearing his black coat and staring mournfully off into the middle distance as he contemplates his own existance come from. This is the Robotman that would come to love transgender hero Kate Goodwin in an era when trans representation in media at all was virtually impossible. This is the Robotman played by Brendan Fraser in the Doom Patrol series...and it's the Robotman that we decided would go on to join the Justice League.
This is maybe our biggest stretch with the character, but Robotman really is such an incredibly iconic and long-serving character in the tapestry of DC's characters, and he really does deserve a chance at the big stage. We want to show this new characterization for him after he's been confronted by his own lack of mortality in our timeline and have to deal with his own crisis of humanity, but moving forward, as Beast Boy takes over the Doom Patrol, it just seems like it's time for Cliff to take his place with the other icons.
Unlike his fellow Doom Patrol veteran Elasti-girl, who we really believe would thrive with the Justice League and become one of their main members, Cliff really isn't a person who would be up for that level of attention for long. We wanted to give him a chance to be on the big stage, but when that story is over, we wanted to give him somewhere to retreat to that feels more purpose-built for his actual personality.
The answer, we decided, was with another obscure team of DC heroes, the Metal Men. Cliff has already had a connection with their creator Will Magnus in the creation of his replacement body, so it makes sense that he would go to WIll's new private island laboratory for repairs. From there, it just seems like a perfect new chapter for this longtime comic hero.
There's a long legacy of heroes working on their own private island in DC, going back to Iron Munroe or even the Blackhawks. With Will Magnus getting one of his own, and with Cliff joining him on the island to protect it, it starts to suggest the beginning of a new story that could actually lead in some very exciting new directions. While our version of Robotman is no longer with the Doom Patrol, we love giving him the opportunity to have some new adventures of his own.