“Doom Is No Man’s Second Choice”: Great Doctor Doom Stories the MCU Needs

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Doctor Doom in action in Marvel Comics

Credit: Marvel Comics

There’s no denying it: the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in rough shape, and it needs Doctor Doom to save it.

The cover of Doomwar #3
Credit: Marvel Comics

After over a decade of unparalleled, historic box office dominance, Marvel Studios has begun slipping. The Marvels (2023), the much-touted return of Brie Larson as a potential Iron Man replacement, turned out to be its biggest box office flop to date. Much anticipated Disney+ series like Daredevil: Born Again have been delayed and retooled a concerning amount of times (once is enough), while others, like Secret Invasion, were met with a somehow deafening shrug.

But worst of all for the MCU, Jonathan Majors, the actor who had been chosen to portray Kang the Conqueror and have the unenviable task of following up Thanos (Josh Brolin) as the central antagonist of the franchise, just plain didn’t work out. While it seems very apparent that his conviction on counts of assault and harassment were a huge part of it, Marvel Studios now seems to be trying to claim it had already been pivoting away from the actor after the disappointing reception of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023).

Jonathan Majors as Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania
Credit: Marvel Studios

Related: Ricky Gervais Vies for Role in Marvel’s ‘Fantastic Four’ Reboot

So Marvel is left with bad financial prospects, waning creative power, and no central bad guy to tie everything together. Into this breach must stride Victor Von Doom, AKA Doctor Doom, arguably the single most iconic villain in Marvel Comics history.

But is he a villain, really? Part of the lasting power of Doctor Doom as a character is that nearly from the beginning, he was more nuanced than your average super-guy who wanted to rob Fort Knox or take over New York City or whatever. Doctor Doom first appeared in 1962, arguably the height of co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s (plus a lot of later additions from John Byrne) ability to give emotional depth to characters, and he hasn’t let readers down since.

The official cast announcement of Fantastic Four, featuring everyone enjoying themselves in a living room
Credit: Marvel Studios

Now that Marvel Studios has finally confirmed a cast and yet another release date for The Fantastic Four, it is certain that Doctor Doom will eventually join the MCU, even if most likely not in that movie. But Marvel really, really needs to get this character right from the beginning, and we are here to humbly suggest the studio takes a look at some of the greatest Doctor Doom stories ever told to get some idea of how the monarch of Latveria needs to be treated. Much like classic storylines like Infinity War (or Infinity Quest, if you prefer) and Civil War, these don’t need to be followed exactly to every detail, but each contains elements that show the best and worst of the character.

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR AWESOME STORIES FEATURING DOCTOR DOOM TO FOLLOW

‘Fantastic Four Annual’ #2: “Origin of Doctor Doom!”

Part of the origin story of Victor Von Doom
Credit: Marvel Comics

Obviously, at some point, the MCU is going to need to get into the backstory of Victor Von Doom, if only because it is one of the most iconic of all Marvel Comics villains. It doesn’t need to be in his first appearance, we aren’t saying to put the cart before the horse, but it is a simple fact that the origin of Doctor Doom, originally told in 1964’s ‘Fantastic Four Annual’ #2 is one of his most iconic tales.

If nothing else, it is a fascinating choice by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to tell this story in Doom’s own memories rather than a discovery made by the Fantastic Four or some kind of global expose. Everything that we see in “Origin of Doctor Doom!” is the man’s own musings on the eve of the anniversary of his mother’s death (more on that later), which makes it somewhat unreliable and all the more fascinating.

We see Victor Von Doom as a young Romani man in a fictional country named Latveria, whose father is killed by a cruel king and then does the obvious thing: become a master of sorcery and a technological genius and start building robot duplicates of himself. Eventually, he goes to America to attend Empire State University, meets Reed Richards and Ben Grimm but refuses their friendship out of his own supreme sense of superiority, builds a machine to talk to the dead, has his face scarred when it blows up, move to Tibet to learn even more magic from monks, and eventually seal himself in a suit of armor that horrific burns him even more when he refuses to let it cool down. That’s how you get to become a supervillain, kids.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: Doom’s origin reveals not only his genius and tragic beginnings but how, again and again, it is his own arrogance and need for recognition that turns him into a monster.

Related: MCU Star Gets Second Chance, Could Play Doctor Doom in ‘Fantastic Four’ Reboot

‘Fantastic Four’ #5: “Prisoners of Doctor Doom!”

The Thing smashing a Doombot
Credit: Marvel Comics

Doctor Doom’s first appearance in 1962 gave us a few pieces of his above origin, including that he had been expelled from university for messing with the great beyond, but also gave us a few pieces of key lore about the character. For one, he has already mastered time travel (which Tony Stark wouldn’t get to in the MCU until decades later), and, for another, he has a whole bunch of Doombots masquerading as him, making it impossible to know whether you are ever truly facing the actual Victor Von Doom or just a duplicate. Further stories would even show that Doombots themselves do not know and frequently think they are the actual real deal.

But aside from those key elements, Marvel Studios could take a note from “Prisoners of Doctor Doom!” Namely, don’t be afraid to get goofy with the character sometimes. Doom is often (and rightly) treated as a figure of terrifying gravitas, but let’s not forget that his debut had him sending the Fantastic Four back in time to steal Blackbeard’s treasure chest (which was supposed to contain jewels enchanted by Merlin of Arthurian legend, just for another layer of silliness), which ends up with a predestination paradox in which the Thing was Blackbeard all along (silly!), and then ends with a chase scene in the sky.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: In addition to the elements of time travel and Doombots, it’s okay to show how the utter seriousness of Doom can sometimes actually be pretty ridiculous.

‘Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment’

Doctor Doom standing before a fire with Doctor Strange
Credit: Marvel Comics

Now that we’ve got the potential for Doctor Doom silliness out of the way, let’s focus on perhaps his greatest source of suffering: his lifelong inability to rescue the soul of his mother, the witch Cynthia Von Doom, from Mephisto, the Marvel Comics equivalent of Satan.

Mephisto has not yet been introduced to the MCU, but it has to happen eventually. And once it does, adapting some element of Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, a standalone graphic novel featuring top-notch art from Mike Mignola, should be a no-brainer. The story begins with sorcerers all over the world being called for a mysterious contest, including one Doctor Stephen Strange and Victor Von Doom. Although Doctor Strange wins the battle, it turns out his reward is that he must grant a boon to the runner-up…guess who?

While we’re making light of that, Triumph and Torment is actually a remarkably somber affair in which Doom, for the sake of his mother, does what he insists that he will never do and acknowledges the superiority of anyone else in any way. In this case, he studies the mystic arts under Doctor Strange, and the two eventually travel to Hell to face down an infinite number of demons and, against all odds, finally free his mother from bondage to Mephisto.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: Although Doctor Doom looks like a metal-encased gargoyle (and often acts like one), he is still a human with emotions and regrets. This story, focused on his unceasing, unwavering love for his mother, can show audiences some heart under the armor.

‘Astonishing Tales’ #8: “…Though Some Call It Magic!”

Doctor Doom being defeated by a villain
Credit: Marvel Comics

“…Though Some Call It Magic!”, a 1971 story in the anthology series Astonishing Tales, is actually something of a prequel to Triumph and Torment. Doctor Doom spent much of his life trying to battle Satan (before Marvel Comics retconned him to Mephisto to avoid angering Christian conservatives); every year, he is allowed the opportunity to summon the Devil and fight him for the soul of his mother, and every year, he fails.

This story is just one of those years in which Doctor Doom faces off against Kagrok, one of the sons of Satan, and despite all his might, his technological genius, and mystical power that allows him to go toe-to-toe with the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, and basically anyone, is easily, crushingly defeated.

It is a rare story to see Doctor Doom so utterly vanquished. His refusal to admit failure and his constant scheming are definitive parts of his character; even when Earth’s heroes manage to defeat one of his plans, it is just a temporary setback. But this is a true moment of terrible loss for him, and makes him that much more tragic even in his villainy.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: Doom’s eventual victory to free his mother’s soul is a key element to his ongoing story, but even he must be defined by his losses. The MCU needs to show that he is not an invincible villain, but someone who has been defeated many times and does not let it stop him.

‘Fantastic Four’ #258: “Interlude”

Doctor Doom threatening Kristoff, his ward
Credit: Marvel Comics

Often regarded as one of the best issues of Fantastic Four, there is something odd about “Interlude.” It does not actually feature the First Family at all; instead, it transforms into Doctor Doom Comics for an issue. While the FF is off recuperating from a battle against Gladiator of the Shi’ar Empire, Doctor Doom is in Latveria, overseeing reconstruction efforts after the country was devastated in a recent war.

“Interlude” is an important story to the lore of Doom and his eventual MCU characterization, because it sees him both at his best and his worst. Earth’s heroes are constantly bewildered that the people of Latveria do not see Doctor Doom as a terrifying tyrant but as a caring father to the country who protects them from a world that has only ever shown them brutality and dismissal.

The story sees him in that mode, helping his beloved people rebuild their lives. In particular, it focuses on Kristoff, a young boy who has become his ward and who has managed to actually create feelings of individual affection and connection with Doom rather than the generalized love he has for Latveria. This is the best of Doctor Doom: a brilliant, flawed man who uses his power to protect his people.

The worst is when Kristoff unthinkingly suggests that fellow supervillain Magneto might be Doom’s peer in power. Instantly, all affection is gone from the monarch of Latveria, who rages at the child and nearly physically harms him before ordering him away. Doctor Doom’s ego, even in all his brilliance and power, is so fragile that he cannot tolerate a suggestion from a child without almost flying into a violent fury. That is not a Shakespearian tragedy. It’s just sad.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: For all of the tragedy and hidden nobility of Doctor Doom, Marvel needs to understand that this is a person who is absolutely, completely self-absorbed. While he has glimmers of heroism in him, his ability to even almost hurt a child to salve his ego is the true heart of his moral rot.

‘Secret Wars’

An iconic image from Secret Wars (2015)
Credit: Marvel Comics

Here it is, the ultimate Doctor Doom story. Secret Wars, the 2015 continuation of the earlier Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, shows Victor Von Doom having achieved everything he ever wanted.

The universe has been remade into a mash-up of various continuities like the Age of Apocalypse, 2099, and the Spider-Verse. God Emperor Doom is all-powerful, beloved, and unthinkingly obeyed. Reed Richards is nowhere to be found, Ben Grimm has been transformed into a huge, mountain-like shield wall, and Johnny Storm is the new sun. Sue Storm is Doom’s consort.

This tangled world, created through the wreckage of various universes, shows Doom at his most powerful…which only reveals that, even in omnipotence, Doom is self-defeating. When it finally comes down to a fight between him and Reed Richards, as it always does, Doctor Doom finally admits that he knows that Mister Fantastic is better than him. Despite being the creator of a new universe, he can only envy the family and companionship he has. If Marvel doesn’t replicate that in some fashion in the upcoming Avengers: Secret Wars, it just plain wants the MCU to fail.

WHY THE MCU NEEDS THIS: Doom is all-powerful. Doom cannot help but fail. You get it.

What is your favorite story involving Doctor Doom? Tell us in the comments below!

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