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True Lies

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After trudging through so many issues of "Secret Wars" and "Beauty And The Beast" it's a huge relief today to get to a comic that is actually thoroughly enjoyable to read. It's yet another of John Byrne's attempts to stamp his mark on Doctor Doom, with a re-telling of his origin story that doesn't exactly change it, but is definitely a re-interpretation. There are also developments for his supporting cast that ask a question central to this whole blog - what makes Doctor Doom Doctor Doom?

It kicks off with a very John Byrne-ish splash page, featuring a great image of Doctor Doom and a high-faluting quote from Cicero - I wonder if Byrne had a collection of "A Quote A Day" calendars that he went through to find all these? Hang on, isn't Doom supposed to be dead though? We won't have long to wait to find out what's going on, but first we follow Doom as he pops into the classroom to pick up Kristoff. When I analysed the Doctor Doom survey a while ago I found that Kristoff was the third most-mentioned member of Doom's supporting cast (excluding The Fantastic Four). This was a surprise to me as he really doesn't appear very often, at least in this era, and certainly doesn't turn up as often as Boris or Valeria, both of whom also show up in this issue.
I love the way that Byrne explains how Doombots work here - they're programmed to think they really ARE Doom, unless in the presence of either other Doombots or Doom himself. It's a great, simple explanation that not only sets up the rest of this story, but further reinforces Byrne's retcon of Uncanny X-Men #145. We saw that version of Doom thinking and behaving in a very Doom-like way, but that's fine, he can still be a Doombot because that's what they're programmed to do! The Doombots strap Kristoff into some sort of machine and explain that this is all part of Doom's plan. It turns out that he recruited Kristoff as his ward in order to replace him as Master Of Latveria if anything ever happened to him. We've seen Doom set up a succession before of course, with various clones, and as in those cases it's not a simple matter of passing the torch on to the next generation. Doom being Doom means that his successor must also BE Doom, and so Kristoff gets given a mind transfer to fill his brain up with Doom's own memories and personality. This memory transfer is mostly an excuse for John Byrne to do his own version of Doom's origin story. Incredibly, nearly four years into his run on the title, this is the first time Byrne has done Doom's origin, apart from a brief mention of his takeover of Latveria in This Land Is Mine, but he more than makes up for lost time here. We get a whole heap of the usual John Byrne image quotations as he re-tells the story from Fantastic Four Annual #2, using the additions from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 and adding some tweaks of his own. For instance, we get another look at the scene where young Victor's father dies, and the misgivings of the other gypsies as seen in the previous two version. Then we see Doom opening his mother's box of magic potions, with Valeria added as she was in Marvel Super-Heroes #20 and the same box design once again. This time Valeria is able to explain her misgivings a bit more, and Doom responds rather more politely than just "Quiet girl!" Next we get a deeper dive into their relationship, and it all goes a bit "Christmas Carol" as Valeria finally decides to give up any hope for a life together and Doom replies that he's quite happy on his own. The story settles into a familiar groove for a while, with Doom heading off to America, meeting Reed Richards and having the accident that scarred his face, with yet more scene quotations. However, at this point Byrne does the unthinkable - he shows Doom's face post-accident!! This has never happened before, ever, and doing it mid-page rather than as a full splash page is, to my mind, audacious storytelling that makes the reveal even more shocking: he wasn't really that badly scarred at all! Byrne being Byrne, he takes care to make this part of the usual version of the story by next directly quoting the panel which came straight after the crusty old dean one. This is a way to say "See? This is exactly the same story you've always known, I'm just showing you an extra bit between the original panels."

The idea that Doom's scarring wasn't actually hugely disfiguring originally came from Jack Kirby, but Byrne is now making it officially canon. He then gives it a twist of his own explaining why people have always been so horrified whenever they've seen his face, by showing Doom at the Himalayan monastary demanding that the monks put the mask on his face when it's still hot. It wasn't the accident that made Doom a monster, it was his own vanity and haste to become Doctor Doom! I am, as you may have noticed, a big fan of Byrne's run on "Fantastic Four" and especially the way he writes Doctor Doom, so I am fully on board with this re-interpretation. COR!

As we've seen before, Byrne is a stickler for Continuity As It Happened, and so when we next see Doom going through his first encounter with the FF (oddly skipping over the whole "conquering Latveria" part of his backstory) he does so in the same costume that he wore then, rather than having it retrospectively revised as has happened elsewhere. Just as it looks as if we might be getting all of Doom's old adventures re-told, Kristoff/Doom presses pauses on the remote control. Disappointingly, he isn't just doing it some he can get some snacks and pop to the loo, but because he reckons he's seen enough for now and has come up with a Genius Plan. Aside from wishing he'd carried on for a bit longer (I'd have liked to see Byrne explain The Lizard Men Of Tok!) this makes perfect sense - if he really is being imbued with Essence Of Doom then the extreme arrogance of that earlier version of the character would also come through. Of course he'd think he has all the answers - he's Doctor Doom! We then catch up with the FF and some various sub-plots. Johnny and Alicia (now a couple) are wandering around New York, where they find a chipper young lad joyfully putting up some Extremely Racist posters. These are not the usual Marvel metaphors, they contain genuine actual racist language which I'll not repeat here - it gets the point across, that this is something evil, but it doesn't sit well to a modern eye.

Less problematically we then drop in on Sue and Reed carrying out yet more tests on Franklin, before seeing She Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot out on a date, having a bit of an old snog in a lift. I always liked this relationship during Byrne's run, as they seem like a jolly pair. It's not without its own problems - in the original comics, Wyatt's skin tone was always a bright red to reflect his indigenous American heritage - but I loved the fact that a male character always portrayed as big and strong was happily unthreatened in a relationship with a woman who was much bigger and much much stronger.

The pleasantries are broken up, however, when the Baxter Building suddenly takes off into space after someone lobs a Super Science Building-Floating BRICK into the lobby. "Not again" thinks Johnny Storm, because this happened before way back in Doctor Doom's second appearance, and it soon becomes clear that Doom is behind it again. Or is he? Reed Richards has doubts, partly based on the change of armour but also because the real Doom would never repeat something that failed the first time around. This is a really interesting question for all of Transmedia - how differently can a character look and act before they stop being that character? Here Doctor Doom is definitely not Victor von Doom, but he does have the same back story, supporting characters, and status as ruler of Latveria. He's also using TV screens to communicate! We might also expect this version of Doom to have the usual costjme too, if he's supposed to be exactly the same as the original, but I think this is Byrne signalling the Not Quite Rightness of this Doom. Removing most of his main signifiers, like the cloak, hood and disk clasps, means that his overall Doom-i-ness (technical term) is significantly weakened. The final pages sees the Baxter Building being destroyed, leading to a rather cheeky next time box: Well yes, it's clearly going to be continued next time, where we;kk get some more musing on The Nature Of Doom-i-ness, along with some rather fabulous FF action. See you for that next time!

link to information about this issue

posted 16/4/2021 by Mark Hibbett

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DOOMBOT FILTER: an animal that says 'woof' (3)

(e.g. for an animal that says 'cluck' type 'hen')

A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett