A Tribute to Cliff Steele

Another year, another birthday. I feel like it’s time I do another character tribute post. Last year, I focused on my favorite comic character of all time, Swamp Thing. So it feels only right that this next one should connect to my favorite comic book team. Especially since the Doom Patrol TV series came to an end last year. That show was my first exposure to the team, so I can’t say I’ve been a longtime fan. But that show did push me to check out as many Doom Patrol series and issues as I can. And there is one character that has become my favorite, the only one to be in every incarnation of the team. Ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between…let me tell you the story of Cliff Steele.

He was once a famous racecar driver and a daredevil until one day, an accident occurred during the Indianapolis 500 that destroyed his body. The only part of him that remained was his brain. But after some experimental surgery, performed by Niles Caudler AKA The Chief, his brain was placed inside a robot body and Cliff took on the name Robotman. He accepted Niles’s offer to join him and the Doom Patrol, alongside Larry Trainer AKA Negative Man, and Rita Farr AKA Elasti-Girl. This new team at DC was unique at the time because they became known for their quarrels with each other and dealt with personal problems. A recurring issue for Cliff was adjusting to his robotic body, struggling with the fact his senses were gone and he no longer felt like himself. Both Larry and Rita had their own issues as well that regularly popped up, but Niles was the one who pushed them to be superheroes and to fight for the common good. Even though all three were seen as freaks and felt isolated from the rest of society, The Chief felt that this was the best way to reconnect with the larger world and to get everyone else to accept them.

While the team had its fair share of struggles, there was plenty to be happy about too. They would have new members join, Steve Dayton AKA Mento, and Logan Gar AKA Beast Boy. Rita and Steve will later marry and adopt Logan as their son. So despite the struggle the team faced regarding accepting themselves and trying to get others to see them as more than freaks, they would all bond with each other and create a family. They took on many strange missions and took on bizarre foes. But then one day…they took on a challenge where there was no escape. Madam Rouge, one of the members of the Brotherhood of Evil, initiated a plan that would bring the Doom Patrol to their knees and would result in their deaths. Trapped on an island, they were given a choice - either let a small village full of strangers die or let them be destroyed along with the island they are on. On September 4th, 1968, within the pages of issue 121, all members of the Doom Patrol chose to sacrifice themselves to protect the smallest pocket of humanity. Because that is the choice that heroes will always make.

Years later, it would be revealed that Cliff Steele survived that terrifying day. Mainly thanks to his robotic body, which got replaced with a new body that Will Magnus created for him. He would then be convinced to join a new version of the Doom Patrol led by a woman named Arani Desai, the secret wife of Niles Caulder. Along with several other members, Arani would have the team focus on finding Niles Caulder who she believed survived the island as well. It would later be revealed what she said was true and Larry Trainer also survived, meaning the only death was Rita Farr. During the beginning of this new team, Cliff was focused on making sure all of the younger members of this lineup were safe and to try and help them out when he could. However, he struggled to come off as a supportive member due to him still struggling with his trauma and the fact he is still in a robot body. But it was also clear he took a liking to the other members and it was never in doubt that he cared about their well-being.

Unfortunately, the early days would end on a sour note. A big DC event at the time resulted in the deaths of two members, including Arani. Two other members were sent to the hospital, one of them in a coma that she wouldn’t come out of until much later. Another member, Joshua Clay, would stay on but step away from fieldwork and focus on being the team’s physician. As for Cliff Steele, he ended up committing himself to a mental institution. The trauma of watching so many of his friends die and the fact he has spent the last several years without any of his bodily senses had him dealing with grief, depression, and isolation. Will Magnus would try and talk to Cliff while Niles focused on rebuilding the Doom Patrol, but it was clear that Cliff had suffered too much mental and emotional damage to simply snap out of it.

In an effort to get Cliff to find any sort of connection, Magnus introduced Cliff to Jane, another patient at the institute who has over 60 alternate personalities with varying metahuman abilities. Both of them would join Niles’s new Doom Patrol, taking on even more bizarre threats than ever before. It was also during this time that Cliff started to slip more and more into existential despair and depression. It’s important to remember that before his accident, Cliff wasn’t exactly a stand-up guy. He loved the thrills of racing and death-defying stunts as well as the celebrity status he had. It could be argued that he views the accident and his situation as some sort of cosmic karma for his behavior. Despite growing close to Jane, he struggled to see any purpose to being around or holding onto hope that things would improve.

Even though there are plenty of moments where he struggled, he was still holding on. Despite everything that was being thrown his way, the incomprehensible threats the Doom Patrol were tasked to handle, Cliff felt a duty to stand by those he considered his family. He refuses to allow the villains to win because it would mean that Cliff has nothing left to live for.

The good news is that things would get a little better. But they are going to become worse first. The crash that destroyed Cliff’s body was no simple accident. It was orchestrated by The Chief himself to prove that humans can become better people if enough trauma was inflicted on them. The realization that the worst thing to ever happen to you was planned by one of the few friends you have left…I can’t imagine what was going on through Cliff’s head at that moment.


The Doom Patrol put a stop to The Chief’s grand plan, but it came at the cost of Cliff’s brain. The last remnant of Cliff’s body was destroyed, briefly replaced by a disc, then replaced with a magically created empty brain to house all of his memories. At this point in his life, could he even claim to be the original Cliff Steele and not just a copy? Could he even consider himself human anymore? It was during the lowest point of his life that Cliff made a connection with Kate Goodwin AKA Coagula. The newest addition to the team, Kate is a lesbian trans woman who knows very well the kind of issues and questions Cliff is tackling internally. Not feeling at home in his body, unsure of his own identity. The two would become closer than expected and would help Cliff focus on the one thing he has been able to do since the crash - protect his new friends and family.


The next several years would see Cliff return to different incarnations of the team. Making sure that they had some kind of protection, someone that he hoped they could rely on. Even if it meant that he had to put up with the return of Niles Caulder. Eventually, Niles would disappear from the team and Cliff would assume leadership. This did nothing to improve his self-esteem and how he sees himself, especially when a new friend would meet his death under Cliff’s leadership and he started to fear he was going down the path that would turn him into someone like The Chief.


The New 52 would have no book focused on the team. The only appearance they had is just a condensed re-telling of the team discovering The Chief’s role in all of their “accidents”. But the Rebirth era would have the team come back in full force, old members and new members joining together. Including the full resurrection of Rita Farr! While a clone of Rita was briefly used in a previous book and a version of her existed in the New 52, this was the original Rita back from the dead. After the joy of the reunion passed and Cliff managed to regain his human form, he felt it was time to revisit his old family. Cliff never married, but he still had relatives. He reunited with his brother for a moment in the 2000s and they were on good terms. But when he decided to finally visit his mom, it wasn’t a happy conversation.

When looking back on Cliff’s history, it can be easy to interpret Cliff’s days of being a hero as him trying to not focus on his situation, thereby not dealing with the consequences. It took him many years after the crash before he reunited with his brother and he is only just now standing in front of his mother. Cliff enjoyed his celebrity lifestyle, indulging in his selfish desires and impulses. While he lost so much, he was still focused on how he was trying to live and on his new family as opposed to keeping his connections to his old family and trying to make amends with them. So seeing him being a hero, going around the world and stopping global disasters could be seen as the new version of him soaking in the spotlight. I would argue that this perspective isn’t accurate. But there is a kernel of truth to it. Cliff has become so focused on helping others, making sure they are safe, that he never had enough time to process everything that’s happened to him and heal. Now, for the first time in a long while, he can finally take some time to reboot.


In the most recent book, Unstoppable Doom Patrol, Cliff has a stronger sense of purpose than ever before. Years ago, the original Doom Patrol gave their lives for a small town of people and no one outside that group acknowledged their sacrifice. It’s become clear that the world at large will likely never treat them as regular people or give them the same respect as other superheroes of the community. It became clear that the team’s purpose should be to find others like them and give them a home. Train them to fight and help others. Those who join the Doom Patrol may have fantastic abilities, but they are still people and feel the pain inflicted on them by those who hate them or want to use them like tools. And chances are, they might not come back from the dead. After all, only a few people from the team’s history have defied death. Cliff knows this and will stand to defend his team from those who threaten them. But he will never forget those that have fallen.

Cliff is more confident and assertive. But the memories of his fallen friends still haunt him. And every once in a while, the memories would feel overwhelming and he can’t help but blame himself for all of their deaths. Thankfully, he now has the wisdom to listen to those reaching out to him.

Cliff is not trying to become a beacon of hope like Superman. He’s just trying to be a little better today than he was yesterday. Which is something I think a lot of us can relate to and be inspired by. He is in many ways a regular guy trying to be a better version of himself. All of this is why I’ve grown to love him.



Happy birthday @edt!! I also really enjoyed your tribute. It was a fun read.


The Doom Patrol is my favorite super team and Cliff my favorite Doom Patrol character. You really did him justice.