Okay, Dr. Doom’s name still causes the uninitiated to snigger a little.
It remains the name of the greatest super villain in comic book history.
A clear inspiration for Darth Vader, the metal-masked, cloaked and hooded schemer cuts an unforgettable brooding dark-green figure, thanks to artist Jack Kirby. And writer Stan Lee invested Doom with a personality more nuanced that that of previous super villains, one dominated by overweening vanity.
Doom will reject even a victory if it would somehow offend his pride. That same vanity can trip up his plans and even make him amusing when he’s not being murderous and merciless.
Given to grandiloquent “You dares!,” Doom observes matter-of-factly that his every utterance must be recorded for posterity because he is, of course, the most important thing that ever lived.
Lee also gave Dr. Doom the unique status of being a national ruler. Though a despot, Dr. Doom is not utterly evil like Captain America’s Nazi archenemy Red Skull. He’s sly and devious, but also admirably courageous, unblinkingly facing down even Galactus or the Man of Steel in his quest for unlimited power.
Unimpressed by the Superman’s threat to peel him out of “that tin suit,” the menacing monarch drily replies, “Bah! I am standing here on Latverian soil! Here, I am the LAW, alien! Are you not sworn to uphold the laws of men?”
The villains in immensely popular superhero movies are now routinely given understandable and even sad motivations for what they do, a practice that can be traced directly to Fantastic Four Annual 2 (September 1964), featuring the origin of Dr. Doom.
Lee and Kirby pretty clearly borrowed the story of Doom’s early life from the legend of another alliterative wonder worker, Count Cagliostro — specifically from the 1949 film Black Magic starring Orson Welles (an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s novel Joseph Balsamo).
The scenes in which the boy’s Gypsy parents are falsely accused of practicing witchcraft and condemned to death are markedly similar to the comic book story, and both boys grow up to be vengeful, power-hungry masterminds for reasons with which the audience cannot help but sympathize. In both cases, the audience is swept right up in the emotional power of the melodrama.
Doom’s mother was a sorceress executed when he was small, and his kindly Gypsy healer of a father died protecting him from exposure while fleeing from a vengeful baron who blamed the elder von Doom for failing to save his terminally ill wife.
The murder of his parents galvanizes the boy, just as it did Bruce Wayne — but in the opposite direction. Seeing where his father’s compassion had gotten him, young Victor vows to obtain power over his enemies, and everybody else.
The lab accident that disfigures von Doom puts him on the final leg of his transformational, on the same route that Dr. Strange took — to Tibet, long a central clearing house for super powers in the comics.
It’s tragic irony that this greatest of all super villains has not yet been portrayed effectively on screen.
I mean, Hollywood producers DARE?