A Marvel Comics legend who made his début in July, the diabolical Doctor Doom is perhaps the most imperious of the super-villains from the House of Ideas, overshadowing pretenders like the Green Goblin, Magneto or the Red Skull.
Armoured like some medieval spectre of death, Victor Von Doom brought Kirby’s entire arsenal of sci-fi gadgetry to bear against his opponents. In his first appearance, the masked super-genius dispatched the Fantastic Four on a quest through time itself. Then having stolen the entire Baxter Building, on betraying his sometime- ally Namor the Sub-Mariner, Doom was apparently lost in space.
In his third appearance, the Most Dangerous Human of All Time actually broke the fourth wall to menace Lee and Kirby in their Madison Avenue studio! Struck by his own reducing ray, the wily Doom went on to conquer the subatomic kingdom in which he subsequently found himself.
Recently, I’ve been listening to the Bronze Age Fantastic Four radio series which dramatised The Micro World of Doctor Doom. The villain has a synthesised voice like a Dalek or a badly tuned radio. Bill Murray delivers a stoned-sounding Human Torch; other curiosities are the throaty, “Marge Simpson” voice of Alicia and the blatant Mae West impression for Princess Pearla of the Micro-World.
Doc Doom was swept into outer space again at the climax of his next “master plan” and was rescued…by himself! Certainly, that was the egotistical conclusion that the armoured villain came to when he encountered the time-travelling Rama-Tut.
In 1964, Doom gained one of Lee and Kirby’s most compelling origin stories. In a moody, Universal Pictures world of barons and peasants, a handsome young gypsy sacrifices everything for occult power as a response to prejudice and oppression. Doom is almost a distorted version of Bruce Wayne, with the loyal Boris as his Alfred.
After turning their own HQ against them and attempting to ruin the wedding of Reed and Sue by dispatching every villain in the Marvel Universe circa 1965, Doom embarked on his most audacious scheme. He stole the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic and went on a rampage, riding Norrin Radd’s surfboard like a winged demon.
This storyline, with cameos by the Black Panther and the Inhumans, was the quintessence of Kirby’s imaginative peak in the Sixties. I first read it in the album pictured above.
Doom ended that decade with Lee and Kirby’s homage to Patrick McGoohan’s Prisoner. As captives in Latveria, the FF discover this “Bavarian rhapsody” is under total surveillance and Doom is quite prepared to let his robots rampage through it as an experiment. Doom gets deliciously black comic dialogue too: “It is not a simple matter to be a worthy monarch-to rule with justice and with love! But, I try!”
Doom was popular enough to have his own one-and-done “Showcase” fighting the alchemist Diablo and introducing romantic interest Valeria. In the early 70s, I followed his clash in Astonishing Tales with Wally Wood’s bubble-headed Nameless One. This was one of the oddest split-books in Marvel history; I was really reading it for Barry Smith’s otherworldly Ka-Zar.
Vic sleeps with his gloves on!
During the Seventies, Doom was eclipsed by Marvel’s “kozmic” villains, Kang and Thanos and by pulp arch-fiends Fu Manchu and Dracula. Fortunately, John Byrne revived the majesty of the arch-schemer in his FF run in the early 80s.
While they may have had their flaws, Marvel’s FF movies delivered a charismatic Doom in the shape of Julian McMahon .The modernised Ultimate Marvel version of the Noughties was a Victor Van Damme, a descendent of Dracula with goat-hooved legs. Comics! Fortunately, the teen FF has gone away. Doom, as ever, gets the last word: ” I am the gentlest, the most unambitious of monarchs! My only desire is to…further the cause of peace and of brotherly love!”
Another would-be world-conqueror who debuted in summer comics is Batman’s exotic nemesis, Ra’s al Ghul ( pronounced “Ray-sh” ) voiced in cool, clipped tones by David Warner in the 90s animated series.
Beside Kirby’s Darkseid, Ra’s was the major new villain of the early 70s. Essentially a Bondian version of Fu Manchu with slinky daughter Talia playing the Fah Lo Suee role, Ra’s has always been able to escape certain death through the restorative properties of his Lazarus Pits. After his low-key incarnation as Liam Neeson in Batman Begins, I’d hoped Ra’s might be in the new DK movie but nae luck. It’s ludicrous luchador Bane of course.
Coming soon: King of the Gotham Jungle
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