Publisher: DC Comics
First Appearance: My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963)
Created By: Bob Haney, Arnold Drake, and Bruno Premiani
Rita Farr was already an Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer and famous actress when she was exposed to strange volcanic gases on a film shoot in Africa. Suddenly she found herself with the ability to grow tremendously tall or shrink to microscopic heights. Shunned by the world as a ‘freak,’ she was recruited by Dr. Niles Caulder, a.k.a. ‘the Chief,’ for his Doom Patrol, a team of superheroes whose powers rendered them outcasts.
As Elasti-Girl, Rita thrived on the Doom Patrol. Even once she got her powers under control and was approached to return to the movies, she refused to leave her new ‘family’ or give up helping others. She even wound up marrying one of the team’s allies, Mento (Steve Dayton), and adopting another, Beast Boy (Gar Logan). However, thanks to the machinations of the evil Madame Rouge, the entire team (minus Steve and Gar) was seemingly killed in an explosion when they sacrificed themselves to save a small fishing village.
Gradually it was revealed that some members had survived and others had been resurrected, but Rita did not return until Infinite Crisis and its aftermath. The Chief, it seemed, had regrown her from a bit of her skull that he had salvaged in the explosion (and can I just say: ew?), but this new Rita was docile and unwilling to question the Chief’s authority, even when he was being creepy and amoral. It wasn’t until Steve confronted the Chief that Rita, too, was able to break free from the Chief’s control and announce that she would be called Elasti-Woman from now on, thank you very much.
So What’s So Great About Her?
Sometimes when talking about a female character, you have to make allowances for how she was depicted in the Silver Age. Though Sue Storm and Lois Lane are awesome now, they’re often relegated to the damsel-in-distress role in comics from the 60s.
Not so with Rita. One of the reasons her early adventures are a delight to read is because she’s always been right there in the thick of things. Her power is a much more corporeal one than women usually got in the Silver Age; instead of invisibility or telekinesis, she spends her time slugging it out with giant robots and catching rockets, or shrinking herself down to defuse bombs from the inside. She’s determined to share the danger with her male teammates, and saves them as often as they save her. Plus, she’s smart, and gets to share the zany banter. Pretty groovy, daddy-o!
Furthermore, she’s a woman who knows her own mind. When the fairly douchey Steve Dayton starts courting her, she’s not impressed by his money, brilliance, or goofy helmet, but (eventually) by his good heart. She marries him against the wishes of her teammates, but refuses to give up superheroing when Steve asks her to, because she can’t see someone in trouble and not help. She’s the only one who sees that Gar is a troubled kid in the clutches of a murderous, thieving guardian, and insists that Steve uses his resources to help. She’s surrounded by loudmouthed, domineering men, but is determined to go her own way and do what she believes is right, no matter what. Even her death is awesome: a heroic sacrifice shared with her ‘family,’ and not a fridging.
Sadly, it’s only since her resurrection in the twenty-first century, for crying out loud! that she’s been portrayed as being under the thumb of, alternately, Steve and the Chief. Come on, guys. A weakwilled, subservient woman manipulated by her sketchy father figure and whackadoodle husband? Rita was too good for that hackneyed kind of depiction even in 1963. Hopefully when the Doom Patrol returns in the DCnU, Rita will be present, and as kickass as she was in the Silver Age.
The title of the Doom Patrol’s starring vehicle, My Greatest Adventure, was changed to Doom Patrol with issue #86. The original run has been collected in both Showcase and Archive editions.
My Greatest Adventure #80-85
Doom Patrol v1 #86-121
Doom Patrol v4 #1-18
Doom Patrol v5 #1-22