This might be hard to believe given that the early buzz on 20th Century Fox’s big “Fantastic Four” reboot has been overwhelmingly negative, but the “Fantastic Four” comic books the movie is based on really are
It cannot be stressed enough how influential the “Fantastic Four” comics kicked off by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee are. Writing them of is a terrible mistake that’s unfortunately very easy to make, thanks to their apparent inability to crack into the wider pop culture consciousness, but that doesn’t change the fact that almost everything you love about modern superheroes (and Marvel in particular) started with “The Fantastic Four.”
And that doesn’t change the fact that the villain at the center of the new movie, Doctor Doom, was always going to be the biggest challenge this or any “Fantastic Four” movie was going to face.
If it’s hard to believe that the comic books from which the Fantastic Four sprang to life are enduring classics, trying to convince you that a guy named “Doctor Doom” (real name: Victor Von Doom. Not kidding) is one of the best villains in comics isn’t that far off from asking you to perform a trust fall over a pile of broken glass. It sounds preposterous!
“Victor Von Doom? A great villain?” You might say. “Yeah, ok — and Dirk Dastardly is a deviant mind that inspires fear in even the bravest of hearts.”
The fact that he wears this getup probably doesn’t help.
Look, you’re not an unreasonable person if you do think this.
I thought this, until not too long ago. But then I read some Fantastic Four comics featuring Doctor Doom, and they were some of the best superhero books I’ve ever read.
One of these comics is “Fantastic Four” #67 by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. It’s the prologue to a story called “Unthinkable,” (an early highlight of Waid and Wieringo’s now-classic run, well worth reading in its entirety). “Unthinkable” is a great, hard-to-put-down read that does a lot to sell Doctor Doom as Greatest Villain Ever, but if you only have time to read a single issue instead of five, read “Fantastic Four” #67.
It will surprise you, mostly because the Fantastic Four aren’t really in it. Instead, it’s about Victor Von Doom travelling incognito in search of his lost love. Interspersed between scenes of his ongoing search are moments from his youth and how he fell in love, which goes a long way towards making Doom sympathetic, but don’t sacrifice the arrogance that is integral to his character.
It ends with one of the most chilling twists in Marvel comics — a ruthless act that cements Doom’s place as one of the best Marvel villains for being both shocking and completely in character.
One of the things that makes Doom such a great character is that he isn’t straight-up maliciously evil — he just believes that he is above everyone else with every fibre of his being. He would be the world’s greatest hero, if it meant that it would prove that he was better than everyone alive. But because that’s something that people he considers beneath him spend their time doing — like Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four — he’d rather devote his time to destroying them in order to prove that he is a man of superior intellect and fortitude.
Probably the best moment to ever illustrate this was in “New Avengers” #24 by Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato, Jr, in which one character, humbled by the utter failure of his last-ditch attempt to save the entire universe, turns to Doom for help.
That’s one of my top five pages in all of superhero comics, because it’s
such a perfect encapsulation of Doom’s character, and why he’s unlike anything else in all of fiction. “Doom is no man’s second choice” is a line so good, I want it tattooed on my forearm so I can read it every time I pick up a comic book.
All of this serves to illustrate how there’s a certain purity to Doom’s character that is utterly compelling for a villain to have. That he’s the ruler of a sovereign nation while being both a brilliant scientist and master sorcerer whose machinations have often brought him within reach of godhood (a goal he’s achieved in Marvel’s big “Secret Wars” epic that’s going on right now) just serves to amplify these traits and make him a frighteningly formidable foe.
Whatever the new movie portrays Doctor Doom as — at this point it’s probably a spoiler to talk about in detail, other than the fact that it looks like the movie’s really off-base — chances are that we won’t see this Doom onscreen. It requires too much faith in Doom as a character and a concept, something that a studio trying so very hard to make the Fantastic Four “dark” and “cool” isn’t likely to do.
Which in turn, is probably while we’ll never get a good version of the heroes he faces in theatres, either.
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