🔍 BEHIND THE MASK 🔎 Robotman

Welcome to this week’s discussion of BEHIND THE MASK, in which we welcome our resident armchair psychologists to ponder and muse, our literary detectives to theorize and question.

We invite you all to pull back and discover what screws are turning behind the mask of Doom Patrol’s ROBOTMAN.


We’re only one episode in, and already we are seeing our misfit friends of the Doom Patrol in a whole new light.

Let’s discuss the “who’s”, the “why’s”, the “what were they thinking’s”?
Let’s pull up a chair and dig a little deeper. Join the full discussion below, explore only the questions you’re interested in, or simply chime in with your own thoughts and theories!


Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is often cited for incorporating Dadaistic themes, from its artistic inspiration to Mr. Nobody’s The Brotherhood of Dada. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at Robotman through the lens of the Dadaist theme of “meaninglessness”.

Let’s dig deeper into the meaninglessness that seems to have swallowed up Cliff Steele and spat out Robotman.

:mag_right: What is the meaninglessness that governed Cliff Steele’s life?

:mag_right: In what ways might he have been searching for meaning before the accident?

:mag_right: Could becoming Robotman have set Cliff down the path of finding meaning?

:mag_right: What do you think Crazy Jane offers Robotman that he seems to be looking for?

:mag_right: When Crazy Jane first meets Robotman, she asks him if he is a toy - right outside of his toy train room. What significance do you think this ““toy”” theme might have in Robotman’s previous and current life? Where do we see the theme of toys, idle playthings in Robotman’s life? Do they add meaning or deprive him of meaning?

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Share all your thoughts, theories, and additional questions below! :point_down:


“What is the meaninglessness that governed Cliff Steele’s life?”

After only one episode, it is hard to tell much about his character. Clearly though, he was searching for more sexual experiences from women other than his wife. Fidelity seems to have been at least one thing that was meaningless to Cliff Steele.

“In what ways might he have been searching for meaning before the accident?”

Being a race car driver is a risky profession for adrenaline junkies. As someone who loved to drive fast in my youth, I know the need for speed and what having a led foot feels like. Some even say I used to take corns so fast that only two wheels were touching the ground sometimes. I sure miss that car, but maybe I am safer with my 6 cylinder Toyota these days.

The meaning of existence and out place within it. Are we meant to be here, no matter what risks we take? What really is the meaning of our life? Is there any meaning at all? Perhaps all of these things and many more would be something a Cliff Steele would be searching for.

“Could becoming Robotman have set Cliff down the path of finding meaning?”

Definitely. At the very least, that radical of a life change would have made him either hate still living, or love every moment that he is still alive, on borrowed time.

I had a heart attack and triple cardiac bypass operation back in 2010, and I know that my life means more to me now than it did before. Imagine loosing far more than a couple arteries out of your forearms, and a large vein in the chest, but loosing your whole body. Now take someone addicted to sex and driving at high speeds, suddenly, not even having the equipment for having sex, or skin or real hands and feet to feel with, but just a brain stuck in a tin can, and then having to take many years to even learn how to walk again.

Ya, I would be searching for new meanings for my life.

“What do you think Crazy Jane offers Robotman that he seems to be looking for?”

This I am not sure about yet. I remember reading a few Doom Patrol comics a long time ago, but I do not recall a Crazy Jane character. She may have came into the scene later on, or I have simply forgotten about her.

I could guess that a friend that tells it as it is would be something Robotman could apprentice though. It does get tedious when people are over polite and try too hard to protect your from reality, too much so. Someone that tells it as it is, may come as a slap in the face, but also be refreshing at the same time.

“When Crazy Jane first meets Robotman, she asks him if he is a toy - right outside of his toy train room. What significance do you think this ““toy”” theme might have in Robotman’s previous and current life?

This question is rather obvious. Women were toys to Cliff Steele in the past, now, he can only be the toy. There are other levels to this though. The race car set connects him to his past as a race car driver, he can still dream about what once was and what could have been. And although sex is no longer possible, the desire is probably still there. Imagine the frustration of having a friend who might otherwise have been willing, but you are unable to do anything about it.

“Where do we see the theme of toys, idle playthings in Robotman’s life? Do they add meaning or deprive him of meaning?”

They could only add meaning to his life. It give him something to do, when so many of his abilities have been taken from him. If taken too far though, then yes, and obsession could detract from someone meaning if they are taking that obsession to such a level that they are blocking out other life experience that they could still be having.



I like where you are going with this @MACJR. Cliff definitely lead the rock and roll lifestyle and becoming Robotman will make him have to reflect on the past.

I feel like Cliff uses toys now to try to recreate and remember the past and the feelings that came along with those experiences. Time will tell if I am correct. I cannot wait to see more of Cliff tomorrow in episode 2 of Doom Patrol.


I still wish for an edit my post button here. :wink:

I tend to type fast and think to edit only after I post.



Very thoughtful response!

I agree – It is a little early on, but I also think it is fairly clear that forms of frivolity and excess pretty much govern his life. You can tell he cares about his daughter a great deal, but to what extent did he care about other things more? Especially considering he allowed himself to get to the point at which his child is apparently more accustomed to having parents who are rarely there.

I am always leery of the decision to expand a home so much to the point that it becomes more of a “house” than a “home”.

So, I think it would be safe to assume that “family” wasn’t as important as I imagine most would agree it should have been – neither was marriage/love. Clearly.

We see just as clearly, on the professional circuit, that neither is having character.

When one lives in “excess” for so long, I would think certain things begin to lose their meaning, which only serves to propel that person further into the search for meaning in life.

I might also venture to say, after running that circuit lap after lap, one might also be quite notably prone to experiencing frequent frustration and a mania of sorts.

To me, this seems to be the point at which Cliff Steele had arrived just before the tragic car accident that cost him everything.

The night that everything changed.


@KittyKrawler, yes, that is all there to see as well.

When I used to really let loose with my led foot, it was on back country roads, not on an endless loop track. Which was also rater crazy and showing I had issue of my own in my past. Driving that country road, at the speeds I use to go, was nuts. Many people have died on that road. My parents crashed on that road a while I was still an infant. And later, my mother crashed another car on that road. My Dad’s best friend would one day die on that road.

I guess many of us try to outrun our problems in one road or another, allegory or metaphorically. At least on a back country road, you are not going in circles while you try to outrace your problems and trying to find yourself.

At least I drive sane these days. Not to say I have worked out all of my issues, because I have not. But with age, comes some calming and acceptance. But watch out for the grumpiness of middle aged men.



For sure.
There will always be problems. What matters is how you perceive them and how you deal with them.
Life tends to fall more into perspective as we grow older.
In our younger years, problems seemed more insurmountable and so many of us understandably tried our best to escape them.

Unfortunately, the ability to see things more in perspective as well as the ability to respond productively to our issues comes with wisdom, moreso than age. And so not everyone outgrows that inability to see things in perspective.

And if they do, perhaps it is fear that continues to feed the desire to escape. Whether it is immaturity or fear - or a mixture of both - I believe one of the major goals in life is to grow and transcend ideas that negate life (such as fear, doubt, etc.), in efforts to find true meaning in life.


In his past, Cliff was a thrill seeker. Whether it be the thrill of infidelity, the rush of racing, the satisfaction of vengefully bludgeoning his friend, or the excitement that can come from a tumultuous marriage. He liked to push it to the limit for that biological rush you get in intense situations. He lived by flesh and sought happiness through its senses, even pain (he later tells the Chief it was bad of him to take away his pain). As many spiritual disciplines have discovered, sensory thrills are rarely the path to happiness. It’s a selfish path, which rarely carries meaning (and many believe that meaning is the key ingredient for happiness).

When he made that phone call, maybe he had glimpsed that truth, but he was still swigging on the bottle, and textually, I think that shows that he wasn’t quite there. To get there, he had to hit rock bottom. He had to get knocked senseless, literally.

If we are to believe the pilot as it was seemingly presented, Cliff spent several years after the Chief revealed the fate of his family to him in essential isolation and stillness. Some might even define it as a long-term meditation. We could imagine that he spent that time in pure mental misery, but that kind of stillness devoid of sensory input would leave you alone with your thoughts (although he clearly has sight and some version of proprioception). If you spend enough time only noticing your thoughts you are going to eventually see them as they are, something that isn’t created by you, but something that happens to you. You can eventually see that you don’t have to do anything about them. So, why be miserable?

You can also see the cause and effect of the world around you in a clear way that isn’t so easily seen otherwise. You can see this even standing in a window for years.

But what Cliff didn’t have at this point was a goal. Larry gave him that in the form of a race car kit. It gave him a small goal that allowed him to see his affect on the world. It gave him a sense of agency and location in the world. It was his little island of meaning.

Crazy Jane presented a momentary threat to that, but she also provided the kind of unpredictability that was thrilling, something akin to the thrills he sought in his former life. Her invitation to go into the town put Cliff on the path to merging his past self with the new self he had become. He could seek a thrill but in this new nearly senseless form.

When contemplating the moment when Cliff was faced with the choice of leaving town with the patrol or staying to protect the town, one might wonder why Cliff wouldn’t leave town in order to seek out his daughter. I think it is because Cliff has undergone a fundamental change in his years of meditation. He sees the importance of one’s effects on the world. Maybe even understands the differences that could have been had he acted differently in his past life. He also has a kind of clarity and self acceptance (“robot fingers”). He’s not going to let his actions doom more people. He’s going to take responsibility for his actions. So he goes into town alone.

Going into town is the ultimate risk and adventure. It’s something his old self would have done, but for the wrong reasons (for a good fight or something). This time he has a new perspective. He’s going into town with the perspective that only a contemplative could have. He’s going to do good. But man things are going to get much crazier than the normal rules of cause and effect. And even a simple dude who spent years in contemplation isn’t prepared for all that. But man he’s in the moment, “what the f-—?”


My, oh my, oh my. You should let @BatmanOfZur-En-Arrh come out and play more often!
I absolutely love how you broke all of that down and addressed each bit with such intriguing insight.

I invite you to pull your chair wayyy up. :smile:

While there are many things I would like to dig into with your response, the part that really jumped out at me was your commentary on Crazy Jane.

I really had not that of that!

Your response to the meaninglessness that governed Cliff’s life was similar to my own, but more precise, in that it highlights what exactly Cliff was chasing amid his “excess”. What really is chaseworthy anymore, when you have already chased and caught everything there is worth chasing?

Thrill would definitely be an answer. And I think I would definitely have to agree that this was the answer for Cliff.

And that thrill did indeed come by way of the senses (as thrill often does).

So when you look it all “through the lens of” Thrill, it makes a lot m ore sense that he would latch onto Crazy Jane. If there is a person in the cast that could provide a mental thrill that could rival that of the senses, it would be Jane.



So much yes.


I had not thought** of that… and all of the other typos. :expressionless:

@KittyKrawler, welcome to my universe, of typos and noticing them too late. :wink:

I really like edit buttons.



@BatmanOfZur-En-Arrh You’re so right! Thrill is definitely what governs Cliff’s life. Everything seems to get old so quickly to him. Even the things that people are normally passionate about (his wife, his daughter, even his thrilling-by-nature career choice!) seem to give him no thrill emotionally until he does something to upset it. Like @macjr.1962.50796 sort of insinuated earlier, It does make you wonder whether or not he caused the chaos in his life all for the sake of “thrill”.

But what I really love is how you completely delved into Robotman’s mental world, starting with the painting the mood of his mental reality. He was devoid of all sensory input. However played down this may be in the show, it’s really the basis of everything in Robotman’s story. Being a very sensual person myself, I literally can’t imagine my life without it. To go from being a person whose entire world was built upon sensory input and sensual gluttony to being a person with zero ability to receive any input whatsoever, sensory-wise sounds… traumatic. To say the least.

And that’s just the BACKDROP to his new existence!

Then we learn that he lives his life against this backdrop for years. Long-term meditation is an amazing phrase for it. So you can imagine the mental/spiritual benefits of something like this. I would definitely say becoming a “robot man” benefited Cliff GREATLY. I’m sure the “long-term meditation” helped him to become aware that he has been searching for meaning all along, enabling him to take more informed steps towards finding meaning in life.

Silence has a way of expanding one’s awareness in ways that can be quite unexpected but so very relevant. Armed with years’ worth of awareness expansion and armored with the inability to receive input sensory-wise (I would image there is definitely a protective upside to not being bombarded with both voluntary and involuntary sensory input on a regular basis!).

Everything definitely becomes a lot clearer - less muddied by things that are not you.

Robotman is a superhero in that he is a robotman - so impenetrable and strong and such - but also in that he has become so in tune with himself spiritually and in tune with the world around him.


I had to stop myself before I wrote a book.

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@KittyKrawler and @LadyWonder I am glad you enjoyed my take. I am excited to see how episode 2 affirms or refutes the line of inquiry (won’t be able to watch until tonight or this weekend).

It seems that Cliff has hearing, vision, and a version proprioception. But I don’t think he has any other senses. Also, the input these robotic sensory apparatus provide is probably at different spectrums than the human equivalent.

I hope they explore the impact that an altered perception like that can have in addition to demonstrating the benefits and consequences of such a long-term meditation.

In a way, Cliff and Crazy Jane are the most equipped to handle the dadaistic and surreal chaos that Mr. Nobody is about to rain down on them. They’re a pair like Larry and Rita are clearly a pair.

I’m excited to see how the half-man, half-robot, Cyborg, bridges the gap or doesn’t for these two pairing.

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I think most of our thoughts on Cliff and Jane still hold up after episode 2. Don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll wait a little before I try to expound.

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Looking forward to it!

I know one thing… The effects of that long - term meditation seems to be getting old.
Cliff Steele seemed to pop back up, with the donkey scene and persisted with Vic’s introduction to it all.

@LadyWonder Yeah. Mr. Nobody and his antics really damage Cliff’s calm.

One of the things I found most interesting was how calm Cliff was when handling Jane this episode.

I liked that he flashed on his daughter while making the sandwich, and Hammerhead shut that down quick. It almost felt like the writer’s objecting to that theory, saying this is not that.

There’s so much going on now. It’s difficult to even figure where to stark unpacking.

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I know! It is chock FULL of great discussion points!
Cliff’s ability to handle Jane and his the super rude things she says sometimes is amazing.