Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Doctor is In. Not Dre, not Doolittle, not Demento... but Doctor DOOM!

When pondering the list of the greatest comic book villains of all time, a few names naturally spring to mind. The Joker, Magneto, Lex Luthor, and even The Red Skull, depending on your preference. For me, there's a name that tops the list, even if I understand the case made for other characters. That name is Victor Von Doom. I've already outed myself as primarily a Marvel Fanboy, so the fact that my favorite is a Marvel Villain shouldn't come as a huge shock, but why, of all the classic villains in the Marvel Universe, do I favor Doom so heavily? Wasn't he that lame European astronaut guy from the Fantastic Four movie?

Dammit Hollywood! THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.

I've got a few reasons, specifically: depth of character development, character impact on the setting, successful completion of difficult-to-achieve goals, and general aesthetics (the “cool” factor.) While some of these are a function of how the character is written, some weight has to be given to the consistency over the years of his portrayal, and how that affects an average fan's view of the character. Any comic writer can write a villain that is ultra-powerful and wins all the time and is super-strong and super-smart BECAUSE THE WRITER SAID SO ARGLBLBLBLBL..... However, that doesn't make a villain great. Doom is a great villain.

Any well developed character has a consistent motive for their actions, a method of doing things, one or more character flaws, and the ability to grow in the context of a story. Doom's goals flow from his motives, and his primary motivation contains his defining flaw. As the son of a gypsy sorceress whose life was unfairly stolen and whose soul was damned in a deal with Mephisto, Doom spends his life in pursuit of revenge. He learns early on that having power over others allows you to do things others cannot, and pursuit of redress against any real or imagined slight is one of those things. He uses his intellect to develop both sorcerous might and scientific prowess, and turns those powers to accumulation of political and military power as well. His inability to tolerate perceived insult or wrongs perpetrated against him sets up his rivalry with his nemesis, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Despite all this, he has adjusted his outlook over the years, even teaming up with Richards to protect or fight for something he wants even more.

He's intimidating even when he's not being actively evil.

I talk about character impact on a setting, in particular the Marvel Universe in the context that most superheroes participate in one, and only one facet of the world. One of these facets is the standard “crime and politics” level where most of the heroes and villains such as The Avengers, X-men and Spiderman, as well as the Fantastic Four and Iron Man operate. Another is the supernatural world of gods, demons and magic where Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider and even Blade typically do battle. The final “major” facet of the Marvel Universe is on a Cosmic level, Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock and other heroes and villains who operate on a galactic or even multi-dimensional level have their stories set here. Dr. Doom has proven time and time again that he is one of the greatest threats and most powerful figures in ALL of these areas.

Doom's success in each of these parts of the Marvel Universe is accompanied by his completion, at one time or another, of each of his goals, and he didn't exactly aim low. Dr. Doom has been driven primarily by three goals: Rescue the soul of his mother from damnation, best Reed Richards (and by extension, the Fantastic Four), and rule the world. Doom's facial scarring, sorcerous might, pursuit of science and start as a villain all came from trying to rescue his mother from Mephisto's clutches. This goal was finally accomplished when Dr. Doom entered a sorcerous contest to become Earth's Sorcerer Supreme. Doom defeated all challengers except Dr. Stephen Strange, and revealed that he was actually playing for 2nd place, as the runner up earned the right to ask a boon of the winner. Doom named his boon, the assistance of Earth's Sorcerer Supreme in a team-up to rescue his mother's soul from Hell itself, an operation that was ultimately successful.

Oh yeah, still going even in the future.

As for his other two goals, Dr. Doom frequently bests Richards, if only temporarily, and has sent the Fantastic Four away in defeat more than once. In fact, in more recent confrontations, Doom insists that whatever rivalry or accounts there were to settle with Richards are long since closed. This isn't all that unusual for a comic book villain, but the completion of his third goal is a little more unusual. Dr. Doom has been successful in his bid to rule the world at least twice in two worlds (He ruled Counter-Earth with Storm as his queen.)  He has outsmarted and stolen (and later lost) the powers of such mighty cosmic beings as The Beyonder and Galactus, rules his home country of Latveria, and commands an army of robotic duplicates... and a time machine. One of his greatest triumphs was the successful domination of Earth through mass mind control, when he solved most of the world's problems with lessons he'd learned as a ruler, until he found the mindless servitude of a mind-controlled world unfulfilling, and essentially just let it all go. He ruled the world, and DEFEATED HIMSELF BECAUSE HE WAS BORED.

As for cool factor, the crimes against his character perpetrated by the Fantastic Four Hollywood film notwithstanding, he's a tough one to beat for character design. Originally inspired by images of the Grim Reaper, with cowl and cape, and vaguely skeletal mask with a suit of armor that also gives him a bit of a medieval look. His look has remained consistent, virtually unchanged since his first appearance in 1962, which is a feat all its own. He also holds the singular distinction of being one of the primary visual inspirations for another of the most important villains in popular culture...

...this guy.

Any other amazing villains out there? They won't take the title away from this guy in my mind, but I'd still like to hear some opinions. Sound off in the comments. Special Note: many thanks to the Marvel Wiki and Wikipedia for filling in the gaps in my memory. I did most of this from the top of my head, but rechecking details is always nice.

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14 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Technically not a villian but I've always liked the Punisher who is a vigilante and who has taken on bigger and better and come out the other side.

DocStout said...

Considering that The Punisher started as a one-note Spider-Man Villain who initially executed people with a sniper rifle for jaywalking and littering... I'll allow it.

Joe said...

I'd have to say, from the tv series, Wild Wild West, Dr. Miguelito Loveless as portrayed by Michael Dunn. Something about the villain that's got the brains and can out think his opponents that's nice. I guess he's along the same lines as Professor Moriarty.

Henry Fonda portrayal of Frank in Once Upon a Time in the West is pretty dark, "People scare better when they're dying."

Lemmiwinks said...

great post as always

Jay said...

hitler. or are you just talking about fiction?

Biff Tanner said...

Dr Doom would kill "that guy".

Conspyre said...

Doom's pretty fantastic... It's a pity he's saddled with the Fantastic Four as his nemeses. I'd be much more likely to read about him more if he appeared up against Captain America or the X-Men more often.

G said...

Vader was always it for me...just evil

Alpha said...

I wonder how Vader and Doom would get along.

DerpFiles said...

He is ruler of an entire nation. I mean, most supervillains aren't in charge of shit, at least he's got one place checked off on his list for world domination.

Moobeat said...

eh

Grafted said...

Trying to pick a fav villain in general would make my mind explode, so I'm sticking with the Marvel Universe. Moonstone

Kamau said...

Maui here stopping in to comment on my friends excellent blog. Doom is an excellent choice. He has always in my mind been the most successful villain in comics. I would pause to call him the best however. Mainly due to the fact that he has never really scared me. He has never given me that chill down the back of my neck or made me hesitate to turn off the lights before bed. I realize that there are plenty of other criteria by which to judge "best villain" but for me that is what really stands out for me besides how well written a character is. Now there are some powerful images that I remember as scary (I believe it was Major Force that stuffed Kyle's girlfriend in a refrigerator) but when it came down to it the villain failed to connect for me in a sustainable way. I have been mulling this over for while and I was trying to stay away from the obvious answers but something or rather someone kept drawing me back. The Joker. He has genuinely disturbed me time and time again. Sure there have been times where he has been rendered impotent by campy writing but what comic icon hasn't. My honorable mention however would be The Shade as portrayed in the James Robinson's Starman purely because of the writing. He wasn't even villainous in it it, he was fantastically well done. Showing what a villain cared about (Opal city) and the lengths he would go to for its preservation was just fantastic. So there you go Doc. Hope I see you Saturday and keep up the great work

D3 Blogger said...

Never heard of this character before. Interesting stuff

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