11:52am PT by Graeme McMillan
Why It's the Right Time for a Doctor Doom Movie
Doom is ready for his close-up.
In a surprise announcement at San Diego Comic-Con Thursday, Legion showrunner Noah Hawley revealed that he is developing a movie based on Doctor Doom, the arch-nemesis of Marvel's Fantastic Four, for 20th Century Fox. It would be the third time the character has appeared on the big screen — he was the antagonist in both of Fox's attempts to turn Fantastic Four into a movie property — but the first time in which he would be taking center stage… which, as most comic book fans would admit, is where he's belonged all along. The film would be part of Fox's strategy to rehab the Fantastic Four — and given Doom's popularity, it just might work.
Doom — full name Victor Von Doom — first appeared in 1962's Fantastic Four Vol. 5, in a story called, with an appropriate lack of subtlety, "Prisoners of Doctor Doom!" Although many details about his particular and peculiar backstory had yet to coalesce, the very first panel of his first story surprisingly contained everything you need to know about Doom as a character.
In it, he muses melodramatically to himself, "The Fantastic Four!! Hah! Little do they dream they are naught but pawns in the hands of Doctor Doom!" while, on a table in front of him are two books marked "Demons" and "Science and Sorcery." (There's also, somewhat inexplicably beyond the sheer evil of it all, a vulture hanging out beside him; it's probably best not to ask what creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were thinking at the time.)
That one image features almost all of the hallmarks of who Doom is: given to overly flowery soliloquies where he refers to himself in the third person, he's a man in an iron mask and flowing green robes whose expertise mixes the seemingly contradictory fields of magic and hard science. (There's nothing he can't do, if he puts his mind to it, the combination appears to promise.) Not too shabby for a bad guy intended to threaten the F.F. for an issue.
There are other important elements that would debut in that story: A penchant for robot duplicates, for one thing, and an origin story in which an experiment as a college student into "the nether realms" would scar his face so badly that he decides to forever hide himself behind his mask; that he was a college friend of the Fantastic Four's leader Reed Richards, and now someone dedicated to the destruction of all Richards holds dear, just somehow felt appropriate in an utterly over-the-top fashion.
After that debut, Doom would return on a number of occasions to face off against the superteam, with subsequent appearances building his appeal in ways both intentional and accidental. There was the reveal that he rules an Eastern European nation called Latveria, thereby granting him diplomatic immunity for his crimes in the U.S., and a backstory that involves a mother trapped in hell due to witchcraft. His constant return from seemingly inescapable death somehow made him appear more threatening, underscoring his competence and mastery of various skills in a way that his repeated failures to defeat his accursed foes never could.
The appeal of a character who mixed a great visual with a personality that took full advantage of the bombast of early Marvel comics made Doom a popular villain, and his storylines (and villainous schemes) became more and more ambitious: he would steal grand cosmic powers yet become undone by his own pettiness time and time again, constantly illustrating the morality plays at work in ways that were more enjoyable than they arguably deserved.
His consistent popularity has made him a recurring figure in Marvel's comics outside of the Fantastic Four series. Indeed, not only has he faced almost every Marvel superhero at one point or another, but he's survived the shelving of Fantastic Four as an ongoing publishing concern, instead jumping to the popular Iron Man franchise in 2015, and eventually, last year, becoming Iron Man himself in the Infamous Iron Man series. He's too much fun to abandon for any true length of time.
Doctor Doom's appeal as a comic book character lies, ultimately, in just how comic book-y he actually is; there's little "realistic" about him, and the more he's played as a larger-than-life character (with the ego to match), the better fans respond to him. It's important to note that both of Fox's previous big screen Doctor Dooms have suffered from being grounded in a cinematic reality that felt too small for the character. If Noah Hawley is to make the third time a charm, he'd do well to look at the more outre elements of his Fargo and Legion work, and ramp that up, just a little.
After all, Doom deserves no less.