Sunday, 24 November 2013
Books of Doom
For me one of the greatest characters ever to appear in comics is Doctor Doom. I can't imagine there's anyone reading this who's unaware of him but just in case... Doom is the arch enemy of the Marvel supergroup the Fantastic Four (specifically he is the nemesis of Reed Richards) who has a deliberately obscured and contradictory backstory. He's the monarch of his own nation, Latveria, wears an imposing metal mask (which used to express emotions before Marvel, sadly, grew up), is a master scientists, practices magick, and used to love referring to himself in the third person.
I could write hundreds of words elaborating on all of these points but I won't. The point is that Victor Von Doom is one of the most intriguing, entertaining, and well-rounded characters in the Marvel Universe. As with many of his contemporaries (in fact all well-written bad guys everywhere) Doom has understandable and justifiable motives for his actions. He doesn't see himself as a villain. He sees himself as a genius and a hero.
All of this meant it was completely natural for Marvel to give him a starring role in his own comic. He's actually had several at this point, and Books of Doom is not the first. But it is (probably) the most prominent.
Books of Doom is a four issue mini-series that tells the (perhaps it's more accurate to say "an") origin story for the character. It presents various aspects that have been involved in stories of his early years before, but does contradict takes that have appeared in the pages of Fantastic Four comics. Magick, gypsies, humble beginnings and Tibetan monks are among the things that have played a part in shaping Doom's personality.
The fashioning of these disparate themes and ideas into coherency is left to Ed Brubaker. He does a fine job, getting Doom's focus, motives and speech patterns (yes a comic book character can have speech patterns) exactly right. The plot is less of a triumph, mostly because he's retreading old ground. He's very loyal to what's already been established and manages to put his own spin on things but when so much is already known it's tough to have much of an impact or surprise the audience. He sticks to the Jack Kirby approach of not showing Doom's face after a certain point, which is incredibly pleasing.
On art duty is Pablo Raimondi (which is a great name). He too does a fine job, capturing the sense of imperialistic righteousness that characterises Doctor Doom at his best and ensuring that the supporting cast don't fade into the background, which would have been all too easy with a bombastic creation like Doom in the starring role. A minor complaint regarding the artwork is that a lot of the book is set at night, leading to a lot of purples, browns, greys and blacks. It can make the book a little drab to look at in places.
Books of Doom is an essential read for any fans of Doctor Doom. It's not the greatest comic ever written, it's not even the greatest comic to make use of Doom, but Brubaker and Raimondi do a great job capturing the spirit of the character and do an put an entertaining, fresh spin on his origin tale. For anyone more concerned with plot than Doctor Doom there's a wonderful twist in the closing pages which is a real delight. All-in-all it’s something worth a look at, but not something that’s likely to make anyone’s top reads list.