Villain books. They usually aren’t the best.
All too often books focusing on antagonists of famous heroes are unrelentingly grim and pointless. Yet, I had to check out Doctor Doom #1. Doom is one of few classic Marvel characters whose camp edge hasn’t been sanded off completely. More interesting is his modern history, since he’s now become more of an anti-hero (see Bendis’ very solid Infamous Iron Man). So the question was, can this series make Doom compelling?
Well, not only does Doctor Doom #1 have compelling characterization and plot…it’s damn funny. Christopher Cantwell hasn’t been on my radar, so I didn’t know to expect such effective levity. From the very beginning, Doom embraces camp by going full Ben Shapiro on a news network, calling his opponents “picnic ants” before storming off. In fact, many jokes come from placing Doom within the current world/political climate. For instance, after Doom punches out a British superhero, he quips: “Brexit stage left.” I won’t spoil any more jokes, but expect to have fun with this.
The plot concerns a space station that could fix climate change by turning the moon into a black hole. Doom opposes the idea, but doesn’t act out. That is, until nukes are mysteriously launched and Doombots attack the station—without Doom’s approval or knowledge. Now the free world aims their sights on the villain who, for once, didn’t do anything wrong.
Doom remains a blow-hard tyrant, but he’s stunted and oh so lonely. Cantwell lets us peek at his daily routine of drudgery, whether he’s managing petty border disputes or entertaining Kang the Conqueror. Doom is a villain without a nemesis or overwhelming bad intent. When the good guys come in to attack him for supposedly blowing up the space station, he orders Latveria to lay down their arms to his subordinate’s surprise. He’s ready to be captured. Even after besting some attackers, he tells them he’s ready to surrender. It’s remarkable character work, tapping into this tragic figure’s odd place in the current Marvel Universe.
A running motif involve visions of Victor as a young, handsome buck with a wife and children, enjoying a peaceful, loving life within the castle. But once they dissipate away, Doom is left alone in the cold confines of his empire (in a green bathrobe, of course).
Sadly, the art does not fit. In fact, I’ve never been clear what book Salvador Larroca would be good for. Always an enigma, he draws characters bordering on photorealism, their bodies like traced photos. Yet, it’s not realistic enough to be impressive like, say, Lee Bermejo. Instead, Larocca’s figures and landscapes are thin and weightless. Without color, his pages are shockingly sparse. On that note, the colors are functional, but nothing beyond that.
While the flat art is a hinderance, the script turns Doctor Doom #1 into an excellent first issue and a damn solid comic in general. The plot and characterization could go in any number of ways, bringing a sense of urgency to the proceedings. I haven’t looked forward to the next issue of a series like Doctor Doom in a while, and it feels great.