You know, Niles Caulder wasn't always a
manipulative megalomaniacal jerk.
Of course, the Watergate scandal certainly wasn't solely responsibility for the American people's loss of confidence and trust in government and authority, but it surely symbolizes it. As a result of this growing cynicism, the world was ready for a less than flattering portrayal of the Doom Patrol's authority figure, Niles Caulder.
Once upon a time (1963 in fact), there was a very smart character named Niles Caulder. He was created by zany Bob Haney and Arnold Drake. Who were they? Zany Haney, well, let's just say he was a man who had his own perspective on the DC Universe, a view now dubbed the Haneyverse; if you're curious about that, just go here and search for Haney. Arnold Drake did many cool comic book things but all you really need to know is he wrote O.G.Whiz, which means I love him, and you do, too.
Arnold Drake wanted to create a character kind of like the ineffably cool Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter, older brother. Bob Haney liked to write, well, weird stuff about weird people. Behaving weirdly. Put them together and you got: The Doom Patrol.
The central figure they created to hold the Doom Patrol together was Niles Caulder, an inventing genius. Niles liked his work so much that wasn't quite picky enough about who he did it for, and it came back to bite him in the butt. Just like Leni Riefenstahl; but that's a different story.
Anyway, his one employer tended to confuse Quality of Life with Quantity of Life: General Immortus. Immortus wanted to live forever, possibly because it's really embarrassing to die when your name's "Immortus". He and Niles has a disagreement while Niles while working on making him an immortality serum. The disagreement was probably over the fact that Immortus had planted a bomb inside of Niles to keep him compliant. That's often a sticking point in union / management negotiations.
Niles managed to get the bomb out, but crippled himself in the process, leaving himself wheelchair-bound. But Niles was a great guy, with a great mind, so he wanted to help himself and other people like him, other great people whose greatness had been hampered by unfortunate accidents.
Daredevil race-car driver Cliff Steele, beautiful athlete and movie star Rita Farr, and hotshot test pilot Larry Trainer all become freaks after, um, freak accidents. Niles helped them cope with their conditions and find new purpose in life. They became not mere celebrities but heroes, using their new freakish conditions to help regular people and save lives.
Niles was a noble man, who not only overcame his own handicap, he helped others who might have otherwise wallowed in self-pity become saviors and inspirations to the world. And, after only five years on the comic scene, their final ending (in 1968) -- knowingly sacrificing themselves for a small group of total strangers -- was the capstone to their epic tale of rising above adversity.
UNTIL... two of most damaging blows ever dealt to the American psyche:
Watergate and Grant Morrison.
When the original Doom Patrol (more or less) were reunited in the late 1980s, Grant Morrison at liberty to write Niles Caulder cynically as a vicious, manipulative murderer. Since Morrison's re-start of the DP, we've learned that Niles orchestrated the accidents that gave the DP their powers, that he killed superhero Joshua Clay in cold blood, that he manipulates and lies to the DP and the entire superhero community. Lately he's been in cahoots with the evil President Cale of Oolong Island, the nation of villains, has commandeered a Kryptonian body and used it to attack the Doom Patrol and begin a takeover of the world.
Now, if you're a kid and never read any comics written before, oh, 1988, you might never know that this now-accepted version of Niles Caulder is just a cynical shellacking of a once great character with a modern disbelief in the idea of authority figures who truly wish to help change the world for the better while maintaining their own morality as well.
Once upon time, Niles Caulder (along with his teammates) was an inspiring model of devotion to the greater good, the human ability to overcome tragedy, and the power of avoiding self-pity through helping others. Now, he's a symbol of modern conspiracy-theory paranoia, distrust of authority, and anti-intellectualism.
The real Niles Caulder is still out there, kids; in fact, he recently guest-starred on the Batman: Brave & The Bold series. It's time you demanded to have him back as arole model, as my generation had, rather than the twisted mockery of him that your disillusioned elders have shafted you with.