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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, March 28, 2016

MYTHCOMICS: "ORIGIN OF DOCTOR DOOM" (FF ANNUAL #2, 1964)

I've opined here that the only mythopoeic element in Jim Shooter's SECRET WARS was his attempt to elevate perennial arch-villain Doctor Doom to godhood via his association with Galactus. I've already analyzed the Galactus mythology here, so Doctor Doom is the logical next choice.

Unlike Shooter and some other fans of Classic Marvel, I never cared that much for the series of Lee-Kirby stories in which Doom became a virtual deity thanks to stealing the powers of the Silver Surfer. Doom was always most interesting as an arch-schemer whose devices were forever being undone by his egotism and his self-confessed inability to empathize with other human beings. An early comics-history, whose title I forget, compared him blithely to Shakespeare's "Richard III," probably because the English monarch also combined scheming and disfigurement-- though only belatedly did Lee and Kirby conceive the idea that Doom might also be a ruler in his own right.




Prior to FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #2, Lee and Kirby had published about half a dozen FF-stories pitting the group against Doom, as well as farming him out to titles like SPIDER-MAN. Clearly the collaborators realized that the character had struck a chord in their readership, though Lee and Kirby often tended to treat the character as little more than a gimmicky, Republic serial-villain. They were particularly slow to build upon the intimations of Doom's status as an over-reacher, as seen in his first appearance in FF #5:



FF ANNUAL #2, in addition to reprinting the first Doom-tale, finally expanded on Doom's past, as well as making he villain the ruler of his own postage-stamp realm of Latveria. Just as a guess, I'll speculate that Lee and Kirby may have started out with the bare idea of having Doom trap the FF at an embassy function as the subject of the annual's longest original story, the 25-page "Final Victory of Doctor Doom." After that, at some point the collaborators decided that Doom himself would become the ruler of his own country-- which may have sparked the rewriting of FF #5, and the genesis of a distinct 12-page origin for the super-villain.

Prior to this tale, there had been comics-features built around villains, but I'm not aware of any super-villains who were featured in a non-continued "origin story:" that is, one not literally under the aegis of the hero's series of stories. Doom is seen in his childhood, at a point when his mother is already deceased and his father, a gypsy healer, is indirectly slain by one of the petty lords of Latveria. Young Victor receives an early schooling in the apparent impotence of his father's goodness against the ruthless power of evil, and on one level at least, vows vengeance on the cruel world by becoming cruel in turn.



However, the lack of parental supervision leads Victor to find a cache of his mother's sorcerous possessions. As seen in FF #5 as well, this delving into the occult somehow serves to make the adult Victor into a scientific genius, able to make things like freeze grenades and robots.



Victor's facility with science not only makes him a power to be feared in Latveria, it causes him to be scouted by a rep for an American college.  Lee and Kirby then brilliantly re-write the loose continuity they'd tossed out in FF #5. Now, instead of Reed simply having heard the story of Von Doom, the two have formed an instant antipathy upon meeting. This serves not only as a foreshadowing of later conflicts to come, but as a myth of the encounter between the Old World and the New.



In my essay on the Doctor Strange origin, I remarked upon the opposition between the respective representatives of American and Eastern Europe, but the Doom origin-tale is far more incisive in depicting the gulf between the moody European vs. the cheery, unconflicted American.  Despite Von Doom's rebuff, Reed blithely trespasses on his future rival's space and tries to warn him against a perilous enterprise: the Faustian experiment of contacting "the nether world." Later iterations of Doom's backstory will assert that the scientist hoped to contact his dead mother, but there's no trace of this motive in Lee and Kirby. It seems more likely, given the egotism assigned to the character, that Doom hoped to gain some form of power from the nether world, presumably without actually signing his soul over to Satan.



Though the "Final Victory" tale in the same issue shows Doom regarding Richards as his foe of foes, the last three pages of the story-- during which Doom is disfigured, takes on his "Man in the Iron Mask" persona, and ascends to the throne of Latveria-- do not reference Reed Richards at all, either as Doom's ultimate foe or as a betrayer guilty of sabotaging Doom's project. Only Doom's forays against the FF and the world as a whole are mentioned, for it's the villain's story. On the final page he's shown at his parent's gravesite, devoting his life to the cause of becoming "master of mankind," in a moment just as iconic as any superhero's oath to devote his life to protecting humanity. And the last scene, in addition to suggesting that Doom's rule may be somewhat more benevolent than those he replaced, creates intrigue as to what new and devilish wonders the tormented genius will next evolve.





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