The Villain Roundup: Doctor Doom

Doctor Doom: When one makes a list of the best Marvel Comics villains, only a classless fool would rank him below first place. Doom stands above them all as the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of a supervillain that the comic genre has ever seen. For casual superhero-film fans, he isn’t a second choice; he isn’t even a tenth. He might not even be on the list. Doom would find this fact obscene, and so should we. 

Fortunately for those people who don’t know who he is, his basic deal is actually quite simple: He’s the dignified and megalomaniacal ruler of a small country, and he’s a genius at both technology and magic. Created by writer Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby in 1962, Doom speaks well; he has tremendous pride and a firm sense of honor; he hides his face in a mask due to a disfiguring accident in a hubristic experiment; and he hates the leader of the Fantastic Four, the brilliant Reed Richards, because Doom has a little bit of an inferiority complex. He’s motivated both by that complex and by an almost altruistic belief that he can and would rule the world better than basically anyone else.

That’s really it. His gist is both elegant and internally consistent, as well as wholly unique. He isn’t a boilerplate money chaser, he isn’t an overcomplicated supernatural being, he isn’t a blindly murderous monster, he isn’t just the resentful rival of a hero. He’s his own thing, and he’s been a perpetual part of the Marvel Comics legacy for 55 years. There, he is an A-list character, but on screen, he’s been stuck in poorly constructed Fantastic Four movies from 1994 (played by Joseph Culp; the movie was produced but never officially released), 2005 (Julian McMahon), and 2015 (Toby Kebbell). The actors always do their best to infuse their performances with pomp and ostentation, but there’s only so much you can do if the story surrounding you is not good.

Luckily for comics readers, Doom has been in many terrific stories over the decades, ones that have demonstrated what makes him work so well as a supervillain. The first factor of which is his nobility. In both a literal and figurative sense he is noble. He has regal qualities and is very charismatic, but he is also the leader of a nation. Through this, he stands apart from the other Marvel big shots. He is a conqueror, and has already succeeded in that.

Doom’s nation, Latveria, is actually a pretty great place to live. Sure, you can’t criticize the guy in charge, but everything else is actually pretty great. In 1989’s Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, written by Roger Stern, Doom takes Strange on a trip to the land he rules, where the people cheer for him in the streets and a little girl offers him flowers. “Do you begin to see, Strange?” he says. “Other nations may curse me under their breath, but no modern leader is more beloved by his people than I.” 

We further see this in 2015’s Secret Wars mini-series, written by Jonathan Hickman (perhaps the greatest writer to portray Doom and his voice). After a multiverse shattering series of events, Doom uses his magical and scientific abilities to defy entropy and create a new Earth; one that he can completely control. While it has some problems, it holds its own, and provides a haven for the human race. Doctor Strange becomes Doom’s right-hand man, and when Reed Richards asks Strange how he could stand beside the villain, Strange replies, “It’s easy to explain, Reed — he is very, very good at playing God.”

Doom exudes majesty. He has some of the best dialogue and monologues in the business. Few villain monologues on the big screen even come close to being as fascinating and compelling as Doom can be. When written right, his message is seductive. This allows writers to portray him as a morally compromised hero at times, and it works well in his favor. It’s cliche to say that every villain thinks they’re the hero, but with Doom, you actually believe it. This is in part due to his honor. He allows people to live if their deaths would violate his code of honor. Even letting the Fantastic Four get away if they have aided him in any way.

However, this also makes it all the more terrifying when he decides to be evil. In the Fantastic Four story arc “Unthinkable,” Doom finds his long lost childhood love, declares his affection for her, then murders her for part of a ritual that requires the sacrifice of something irreplaceable. Then, to rub salt into the reader’s wounds, sends Reed Richards’ son to be tortured in Hell. Doom can come across as good at times, but the underlying issue of needing to destroy and besmirch Reed will always drag him back down into villainy.

There are many other reasons why Doom stands apart as one of the most iconic Marvel villains of all time. His outfit designed by Jack Kirby (a full-body metal suit with green robes and a hood) is legendary. And the name “Doom” is the rare title that actually sounds ridiculously cool when he uses it to refer to himself in the third person.

Basically everything about Doom in a well written story is utterly fantastic (no pun intended). The odds that we see Doom in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are looking fairly decent. With the Fantastic Four slated to be released in the future, we can only hope that the third time’s the charm when it comes to this iconic villain being portrayed in a good light. Only time will tell, and I for one, am so very excited for it.

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