Hello Boys in the Backroom. In case you are having a rough start to your Monday morning, never fear. Andy’s back with another review of a comic that was released decades ago, in hopes of either spurring some of you with thoughts of fond nostalgia, or galvanizing some of you to stop at your local comic book store tonight and pick up a copy for your own reading pleasure.
Although this particular graphic novel isn’t really in modern printings any longer, you can still pick it up as one of many excellent stories included in Marvel’s current “Epic Collection” line of trade paperbacks. This one in particular is volume 17 entitled Judgement Day, and contains a ton of awesome Avengers stories all in one nice book. Not only do you get the story that we’ll be discussing today, but you also get the original Avengers vs. X-men Mini Series from the mid 80s (which should have been just called “The Trial of Magneto“), a two part battle royal between the Avengers vs. the West Coast Avengers courtesy of another one of the Grandmaster’s cosmic games, and finally Roger Stern’s swan song arc from the tail end of his run on the Avengers in which the Earth’s Mightiest take on the ancient Greek gods to save Hercules. All that. but I digress.
Getting back to the story that’s the subject of this particular blog, I’ve been meaning to get around to reading Emperor Doom for a really long time. I can remember seeing it at the comic shop with my older brother, Dave, when I was a wee one, and thinking Dr. Doom has gotta be the ever lovin’ boss among bosses to fight so many super heroes. I think it was that moment, plus the Secret Wars action figure line that really cemented old Victor Von as the top banana of the super villain hierarchy in my mind.
Years later, I was reminded of the fact that I hadn’t read this story yet, when I saw it was somewhat adapted for the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes episode entitled “Emperor Stark“, which if I haven’t gushed all over the place about how that’s the finest Marvel cartoon series ever made, well I just have. (ooooh…good idea for another blog). Of course that cartoon glosses over the entire Doom part of the story line in favor of telling a story about Tony Stark going all “1984” on everyone in an attempt to protect the entire Earth through controlling it. But now that I’ve finally read this story, I can definitely say that Chris Yost who wrote the episode really did a bang up job of capturing the main themes of the source material and working it to the preexisting story lines that were already happening in that cartoon, such as The Vision rebuilding himself and Iron Man struggling with being a control freak due to his inherent need to plan for the future before it occurs.
But again, this post is not about that cartoon episode, just like it’s not about the other stories in that Epic Collection. It’s a story of Dr. Doom capturing the Purple Man aka Kilgrave, and using his power of controlling people’s thoughts and wills to subjugate the entire world, and place himself as it’s sole emperor. Yes, for those of you out there that have watched the first season of Jessica Jones on Netflix, you should be well aware of the terrifying power that Kilgrave possesses, things like making people put their hands in blenders, or stabbing themselves to death etc, all while done with a fantastically British accent by David Tennant (yeah, maybe Kilgrave wasn’t British in the comics, but after the 10th Doctor played him, do we really want any other venison?)
So again, think of that raw power, to influence people’s minds without them even knowing or questioning it, and then give it the ultimate bad guy in the Marvel universe who has wanted to rule the Earth since Day 1. And for those of you that will initially scoff and say this is far fetched in terms of why doesn’t Kilgrave just control Doom the same way he controls everyone else, the answer is simple. Kilgrave may be able to bend ordinary wills to under his boot, dominate lessers with impunity, but Doom does not possess an ordinary will and he is definitely not Kilgrave’s lesser. He is the superior in every sense of the word and he wastes no time in making sure Kilgrave knows his place in Doom’s grand design.
And that place is nothing more than one of a double AA battery, a power source for one of his machines, and to see that kind of raw strength on display, to place the one who naturally controls anyone he comes into contact with on a short leash and tell him to heel, is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve read in recent memory. If 6 year old Andy thought that Emperor Doom was one of those books that set Doom apart from the rest of the pack and made him the ultimate baddie just by looking at the cover, 39 year old Andy confirms that belief to be held true in the below exchange.
And it’s not just the way that Doom deals with Kilgrave that cements that status, it’s all the little things he does along the way in terms of his careful planning and meticulous attention to detail that make this book the story of the day that everything came up Milhouse for old Dr. Doom. How he first convinces occasional ally, Namor, to join up with him in return for ruling the oceans after he’s taken over (which had a lot of “Marvel Super Villain Team Up” throw backs for me for those of you that loved that series).
Namor in turn acts as his hired goon essentially, by tracking down and eliminating “mechanicals” who would be immune to the effects of a boosted Kilgrave. Of course, he handles my boy, Machine Man, with no problems but it’s neat for Aaron Stack to get a cameo in this adventure. Then the fight between Ultron and Namor is brief, but also worthy of inclusion. But it’s the scenes with the Vision that are really the best, as Namor shows up and forces Vision to submit or else he’ll get a mind controlled Starfox to snap Scarlet Witch’s neck like fresh celery. Although Namor is doing the mind controlling in that scene, it was the one that most reminded me of those creepy parts from Jessica Jones, in which Kilgrave would make friends shoot each other or other horrific things.
And then Namor shows back up at Doom’s headquarters, expecting his reward of control over 70% of the Earth’s surface, and Doom just goes “Nah, you’ve been played, sucka.” And it’s true, as although Namor had a strong enough will to resist the Kilgrave initially, prolonged exposure to that power through the device Doom gave him to control others like Starfox, as made Namor susceptible too. Like puppets on a string, Doom lets those other would be conquerors play their roles before yanking them back to the reality that they only serve him.
And with that the switch is flipped, and I can say with all honesty, that the rest of the book is the story of Dr. Doom winning. Yep, his ship came in. After countless foiled plots and defeats over the years, Doom does take over the world in this story. Not many books out there were the villain wins, and for good reason. That’s usually the game over, the end result we all want to see not happen because the dire consequences of letting the bad guys win. But Emperor Doom paints a much different picture.
Things don’t get worse under Doom’s universal rule, they actually get better. Remarkably better. We often poke fun at the notion of Doom’s Latverian paradise, and how those he ruled there gave up freedom for a better life, but it turns out that it’s actually not a bad trade. With logic, intelligence, and the lack of anyone to oppose him, Doom goes full on Sim City with the Earth, solving all its major problems with a deft touch and calculated precision. He breaks down artificial barriers to increase food production, halting famine in the Third world, he demilitarizes everyone as there’s no longer any need for war, he even ends apartheid in South Africa given it’s also the logical thing to do. Interest rates drop, stocks soar, everyone’s life gets better, and it’s all thanks to Doom.
The story of course has complications eventually, as Wonder Man who was sleeping in a sensory deprivation tank for the past month wakes up, 28 days later style, sees the world inhabited by Doom’s “zombies”, and immediately tries to fight back. Of course, Doom over looked Wonder Man’s ability to resist Kilgrave’s power because he’s actually made of pure ionic energy, but personally I think it was because nobody, including Doom, really gives a shit about Wonder Man, so he’s easily overlooked to begin with. From there Wonder Man rallies some of the Avengers he thinks have strong wills like Cap, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Wasp and breaks them free of Doom’s influence. Of course, Hawkeye then tries the same trick on Mockingbird, and after failure, has to resort to some good old fashioned spousal abuse in an off screen display.
If Jim Shooter was writing it, we would have seen the backhand, and Hawkeye would have been a social pariah for years, Hank Pym style.
Anyways, The 5 Avengers go to confront Doom and stop his “evil” world domination, but in the end, it’s not because of their efforts that they ultimately succeed. That’s the trick of this book. That’s the brilliant gem in the end, that like Thanos and the Infinity Gaunlet, Doom ends up being Doom’s undoing. But it’s not through hubris or inferiority complex any of those other common super villain tropes, but just through sheer boredom.
Yep, Doom ends up losing because after taking over the world through sublime mental conquest, he is totally and utterly bored! Like any Type A personality, once Doom got what he always wanted, he realized that the reality of having it isn’t all that’s its cracked up to be. Despite being really good at it, Doom at his heart isn’t an administrator, he’s a conqueror. He doesn’t want to solve the world’s problems even though he can. He’s just more happy being the world’s problem and all the excitement and high stakes that comes along with that. He needs the thrill of the hunt, the careful planning, the anticipation of victory, the combat and vanquishing of foes, etc. And now, he’s got a Superbowl hangover of the worst degree, the inevitable comedown after the high of winning it all…and I mean winning…it…ALL!
So he pretty much lets the Avengers win. He welcomes it. He basically gives them free reign to wake up Namor from his trance and let the Avenging son smash his Kilgrave machine. He then escapes with his normal threats that “Doom will be back! AND BETTER THAN EVER!” before twirling his villainous mustache, content in the fact that there will be even better schemes, the thrill of greater victories, and the notion that the Avengers themselves will even question whether the world was in fact better under Doom’s control, which in fact they do in the final scene. That’s a pretty great ending for Doom, as he got to have his cake for a while and eat it to. Living the dream, going out on top because it was your choice, not because a bunch of clowns in spandex showed up to spoil the party.
After reading this it also made me think about the end of Hickman’s Secret War in which Doom admits that Reed Richard’s is his better and gives him all that sweet Beyonder power. Maybe all that Battleworld stuff, and trying to be Reed by taking his family, and everything was also subconsciously Doom saying:
“Hey, I really don’t want to rule this planet of garbage so what can I do to make sure Reed comes along and willingly takes this mess of my hands, without making me look like I wanted him to do it. Ooohh…I’ll start f*cking his wife…yeah that will definitely piss him off”.
In fact, after reading Emperor Doom, I am never going to look at any failure of Dr. Doom’s again in the same light. I’m always going to look through the lens of he secretly wanted to fail, because success isn’t really what makes him happy. He’s much more content in just stirring the pot, and I sort of admire him even more for that. It’s so much more human. It’s like wanting that $300 Castle Grayskull playset, dreaming about it, fighting tooth and nail with your wife to get it, and then you finally get it and for a few seconds you are the happiest man on the Earth. A day later, it’s collecting dust in your basement. We all do it. Don’t lie.
And now we know Doom does it too. He’s just like one of us.