I write comic book reviews that NOBODY has ever asked for!
Doctor Doom. The name alone says it all.
There's no denying that Doctor Doom is one of the most iconic villains in comic books. From his great costume design to his over-the-top third person megalomaniac dialogue, Victor Von Doom is a classic character that has stood the test of time.
BUT. . .
To tell the truth, even though I find his appearances really entertaining, I don't know that much about the character. . .mainly because I'm not a Fantastic Four fan and most of his appearances have been in conflict (or occasional cooperation) with Marvel's First Family.
SO. . .
When I came across this set of six comics bundled together for five lousy dollars, it was a Longbox Junk offer I couldn't refuse. . .a modern origin story for one of the all-time classic comic villains by one of my favorite comic book writers for a laughably-cheap buy in of five bones for six issues?
Why yes, thank you. I'll go in on that deal AND write a review that nobody ever asked me for. Let's do it!
BOOKS OF DOOM
SCRIPTS: Ed Brubaker
PENCILS: Pablo Raimondi
COVERS: Paolo Rivera
The Legendary Victor Von Doom relates the experiences of his early life to an unseen interviewer, beginning at the age of three years old living in relative happiness with a band of poverty-stricken gypsies in the country of Latveria.
Victor's beloved mother is killed as a witch after she dabbles in the dark arts and destroys a village that had been persecuting the gypsy band. This fateful day set Victor on his own path of darkness.
Moving forward to the age of 11, Victor falls in love with a girl named Valeria against the wishes of her parents, but his new happiness is short-lived after he and his father are forced to flee the Latverian Baron's men, leading to the death of Victor's father.
Victor then becomes obsessed with vengeance, using his prodigious intellect to delve into the dark magical arts and trying to combine them with science. Due to his growing powers and intelligence, at age 16 Victor becomes the leader of his gypsy band, who he turns into partisans fighting against the Baron of Latveria.
After a chance encounter with one of the Baron's men leads to Victor's first killing, he becomes so wracked with guilt and shame that, when offered a chance by the United States Government to work for them, he immediately abandons all he knows in order to flee Latveria.
To be continued. . .
As you can see from the (extremely condensed) description above, there's a LOT of story packed into this one little issue! There's more background here than most headlining heroes EVER get. . .and there's five more issues to go. Ed Brubaker is one of my favorite comic writers and he doesn't disappoint here. This first issue is very well written, moving from one stage of Doom's early life to the next in a smooth and natural manner.
The story is also very nicely illustrated, with a realistic, detailed style that fits the tale at hand perfectly. As Doom relates the details of his strange and chaotic early life in a matter of fact way, the art shows the events described in a similar manner. One thing that I really liked about the art was the choice to show present day Doom as if he were observing the events unseen as they occur. . .
Overall, this is a very good first issue, giving me more information on a character I don't know much about than I ever knew I wanted, backed up by some fantastic artwork.
It's not perfect, though (but what is?)
This feels less like an actual story and more like an illustrated Wikipedia entry, with a "This happened and then this happened and then this happened" narrative. It's interesting and very nicely presented, but it sort of feels like I'm studying Victor Von Doom for a book report. Brubaker gives it his best effort, but it seems like the large amount of information he's giving the reader is more important than a compelling narrative.
Following Victor Von Doom's acceptance of an offer to work for the U.S. Government and fleeing Latveria, he throws himself into both his university studies and his top secret government projects. Unknown to the government, Victor is using the resources they freely give him to desperately seek the connection between Magic and Science he feels is the key to rescuing his mother from the afterlife and bringing her back to the world.
It is during this time that he meets his future nemesis, Reed Richards, as a fellow advanced student that the government is also trying to get to work for them. They form a bit of a student rivalry, but Doom claims to have not really taken much notice of the future superhero, as his attention was focused on other more important matters.
After almost killing a girl at a party, Victor realizes that normal relationships will never be for him, and this sets him into an anti-social frenzy of experiments and projects that result in him believing he has learned the secrets he needs to combine science with magic and a fateful night where he finally attempts to cross dimensions and save his mother.
His experiment succeeds, but unfortunately for Victor, he realizes to his horror that he isn't nearly as prepared as he thought he was as he finds his mother enslaved to a powerful demonic creature and being tortured in a hellish afterlife. Von Doom's intrusion into the Demon's realm is noticed and Doom barely escapes with his life and soul intact. . .but the explosive results of his escape permanently scars both his face and his mind.
After destroying all trace of his projects for the U.S. Government, Doom once again flees. . .this time exiling himself to Eastern Europe.
To be continued. . .
Like the first issue, the description above is extremely condensed. There's a LOT going on here in the space of a single issue. Brubaker gives the reader quite a bit more of the familiar brutally honest, cutting dialogue one expects from a Doctor Doom story in this issue than in the first as Von Doom grows older and more convinced of his superiority over his fellow students, and that helps a LITTLE with what is really the only problem I have with this mini so far. . .the feeling that I'm reading an illustrated version of Doctor Doom's Wikipedia page.
The art continues to impress. The page where Doom wakes up in the hospital after his failed attempt to rescue his mother and realizes how badly his face has been damaged is a particular standout, but the dark, realistic art through the whole issue is a perfect compliment to the story at hand.
Overall, this was another good issue. It's interesting and very nicely illustrated, but I can't help but feel that the somewhat dry "this happened and then this happened" narrative line makes this more of a Doctor Doom study guide than anything. Maybe it's just me, but "It's interesting" isn't really what one should think about a comic focusing on such an over the top villain as Doctor Doom. . .
The third issue follows Victor Von Doom as he lives in anonymous self-exile in Eastern Europe, consumed with despair over his failure to save his beloved mother from the demon that torments her.
The Soviet Union attempts to force Doom to work for them, but he handily dispatches their "messengers", wanting only to be left alone. A short time later, Doom is unexpectedly reunited with his childhood love, Valeria. They rekindle their relationship and for the first time in many years, Victor is happy and at peace with himself.
Unfortunately, Valeria's arrival was the result of a ruse. . .a traitor in her gypsy band working for the Latverian Baron, in turn working for the Soviet Union, and sending her under false pretenses to Von Doom in order to gain leverage on him and blackmail him into the service of the Soviets.
When the plot is revealed, Doom reluctantly agrees to work for the Soviets in order to keep Valeria safe, but a stranger with mysterious magical powers suddenly intervenes, killing the Soviet agents, and in the process being critically wounded. As he lays dying, he tells Doom that he is an agent of a hidden temple in Tibet, and that they are convinced that Doom is the "Master" that their prophecy has foretold, and that he must go to Tibet and fulfill his destiny by learning the secret of fusing science and magic.
Upon hearing this, Doom turns his back on Valeria, realizing that his love for her was a weakness that could be exploited. . .and Doom will no longer be exploited. At the same time, he swears vengeance upon the Baron of Latveria for meddling with what was left of Doom's heart, then leaves for Tibet.
To be continued. . .
I liked this issue more than the previous two because it really took Doom on a roller coaster ride from low to high and back down to low again. The shifting emotional states of Doom are written quite well by Brubaker and this is my favorite issue of this series so far. Because of the emotional narrative, there's less of an "Illustrated Wikipedia Entry" feel to this issue, which is a welcome change that I hope continues on in the remaining issues.
That said. . .
The "Mysterious Stranger from Tibet" seems a bit forced and out of place. . .I suspect it's something already established elsewhere as being part of Doom's background that Brubaker had to jam in there somehow, but other than that, this is the first issue of this series that has been more than just "interesting".
The art remains as consistently strong in this issue as in the previous two, with the final splash page of Doom leaving Valeria behind and swearing vengeance on Latveria's Baron being a very nice standout with present-day Doctor Doom looming over the past events he is relating. . .
Overall, the more emotional narrative of this issue makes it my favorite so far, and it gives me hope that the remaining issues will be more than illustrated versions of the Doctor Doom Wikipedia page.
After leaving his love, Valeria, and Eastern Europe behind, Victor Von Doom searches the mountains of Tibet for the hidden sect of monks that hold the secret of merging science and magic. As he searches, he nearly loses his life to not only the harsh elements, but to the strange creatures that stalk the hidden paths he travels.
Finally, at death's door, he is rescued by the monks he is seeking, who accept him as a leader that has been foretold. Doom spends 5 years in Tibet, learning the secrets of the monks and improving on them. As he becomes Master of the temple, Doom knows that his destiny lies away from the Temple, and so begins to learn about the current world situation. . .and is disgusted by what he discovers, wondering how such a superior being such as himself could have ever been born among common humanity.
Determined that he will become the ruler of all mankind, Doom creates a suit of armor infused with science and magic that will protect him from harm as well as block out any emotional or mental weakness. When he puts on the mask, hiding his face forever from humanity, it is the moment that Victor Von Doom becomes. . .DOCTOR DOOM!
To be continued. . .
This was a sort of strange issue. It didn't really feel like it matched up with the rest of Doom's history, which I understood to be mostly of a European nature. I have the feeling that Doom's time in Tibet is something that was already established somewhere else that the author felt had to be shoehorned in. I like the idea of Doom's power being a product of European sorcery, Western science, and Asian mental discipline combined, but the Asian part of it feels a bit forced to fit.
And then. . .YETI ATTACK!
Out of nowhere, there's suddenly a Yeti to throw a little action into an issue otherwise filled to the brim with exposition. To me, it was sort of funny the way it gets tossed in randomly, but I DO have to say that the artist does a stellar job of illustrating the monster in one of the best pages of the comic. . .
Other than the unintentionally funny random Yeti attack, this issue continues back down the straightforward documentary path of "this happened and then this happened" narrative that I was hoping to see less of, based on the previous issue.
There were some nice moments scattered here and there. . .Doom's disgust with humanity. His nightmares of his mother in . Doom forging his armor and donning the iconic mask for the first time. . .but those few moments mixed in among panels cluttered with wordy exposition didn't really make this anything more than "interesting".
Victor Von Doom, now calling himself Doctor Doom, leaves Tibet with a handful of followers to begin his quest for world domination. He decides that the place he will start will be in his home country of Latveria.
Doom returns to Europe and enlists the Gypsy band he was born into as messengers and recruiters among the people of Latveria, spurring them on to revolution against their tyrant king. He knows that he could easily defeat the king himself, but decides that the better path to power is to become the beloved liberator of his oppressed people.
And so, with his plan in place and set into motion, Doom's forces grow and slowly push against the king until the day is at hand for Doom to destroy the man responsible for the death of his father.
To be continued. . .
The penultimate issue of Books of Doom moves along at a pretty brisk pace, compared to previous issues. It's mostly concerned with Doom and the citizens of Latveria fighting against the forces of the Latverian king, so there's less exposition to be found.
There are also some nice emotional moments where Doom's longtime love (Valeria) tries to reconnect with him and discovers to her horror that he has completely shut himself away from humanity. These things make this issue read less like an illustrated version of the Doctor Doom Wikipedia page and give the lead-up to the final issue a bit more narrative drive.
The artist also seems to be a bit energized by the approaching end of the series and a more active narrative, which is a change from what I'm used to, where the art usually seems to fall off somewhat as a series goes on. There are quite a few really nice pages of art in this issue, showing some great images of Doctor Doom as he starts down his path of power toward fulfilling his destiny. . .
All in all, this is one of the better issues of the series as the author and artist both seem energized by the more active narrative push into the final issue.
AND FINALLY. . .
Doctor Doom gathers his forces for a final assault on the Latverian King's castle, but traitors within the king's army make it possible for Doom to win the battle without a single shot fired and enter the castle to take his vengeance upon the man who was long ago responsible for the death of Doom's father.
After strangling the King with his bare hands, Doom is crowned the ruler of Latveria, but his victory is hollow as Doom struggles with the knowledge that despite all his power, his beloved mother is still tortured in by her demonic master. Doom strikes a bargain with the demon so that once a year he will be able to fight to free her soul. . .but at the cost of becoming more hated by the world with each defeat.
At the end of it all, the reporter who has been interviewing Doom convinces him to show her his real face, and is imprisoned forever in his castle once she learns the terrifying secret of what is behind his mask.
And here we are at the final issue! I have to say that the ending of this issue makes it my favorite of the series. Brubaker ends things with a one-two punch of a double twist that took me by surprise on the last 3 pages and somewhat redeem the plodding and documentary nature of previous issues.
Doom's final ploy to depose the king who killed his father was interesting enough, but at the end of it all, we finally see the reporter interviewing Doom (the behind the scenes frame to Doom telling his history through the series) and learn that she's actually been interviewing a DoomBot with the help of one of Doom's lackeys, Boris.
And THEN, as the reporter finishes up and leaves Castle Doom, Boris tricks her into a cell and slams the door, letting her know that now she knows too much, she will never leave. Her anguished cries on the final panel give this story a chilling end!
The art REALLY shines in this final issue as well, giving the reader a real feast of awesome images of Doctor Doom. Standouts include the King's son pledging allegiance to Doom after watching him strangle his father in front of him. . .
And the reveal that the reporter has been interviewing a DoomBot the whole time. . .
Overall, a fantastic end to the series. A double twist punch backed up by some of the best art of the bunch. Brubaker and Company took a while to get a fire lit under them, but when they did, they ended things with style. Nicely done.
If I had to describe Books of Doom in one word, that word would be: Interesting.
To me, this series is a bit of a strange thing. To my knowledge, I don't think any other villain has gotten such a comprehensive origin story. Certainly not one spanning 6 dedicated issues. The closest I can think of is maybe "The Killing Joke" and that was only 1 double-size issue for The Joker!
This series, if nothing else, stands as a testament to the popularity of Doctor Doom. . .so I'll give it credit where credit is due. It's an interesting read with a lot of background information on a popular and entertaining character, Brubaker does a good job of writing it, and there's some REALLY good art to be found here. On the surface, Books of Doom seems to be a winner in every way.
BUT. . .
Yeah. There's always a but.
When I say this series is "interesting", that's not necessarily what I WANT to say about a mini-series focusing on an over-the-top megalomaniac supervillain like Doctor Doom. Yes, it's well-written. Yes, the art is great. Those are the saving graces of this series because truthfully, 80% of it reads like an illustrated version of the Doctor Doom Wikipedia page. In the hands of a different creative team, this probably would have been a disaster.
There are stretches of extremely wordy exposition that feel like the information being presented and compiled into a single comprehensive form is more important in the long run than any story being built around it. The narrative for most of this series is "This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened".
In other words. . .it's interesting.
So overall (in my extremely humble opinion), this series is great for learning the background of Doctor Doom. Unfortunately, it isn't a great Doctor Doom story. Knowing that coming in just makes it better all around. Books of Doom isn't bad by any means. I found the ending to be fantastic, and there are good moments scattered throughout, backed up by consistently great artwork. Just know that most of it reads like a well-written illustrated research paper on a fictional character.
Up Next. . .
THIS WAS POST #175 FOR LONGBOX JUNK!
I missed 25, 50, 100 and 150. . .so I feel like celebrating somehow on this one.
I KNOW! I'll take a page from Marvel and make the NEXT entry #1!
That's right! The next post will be LONGBOX JUNK #1!
With a selection of extremely collectible variant covers. . .including a 1:5000 super-premium blank cover! Awwww, yeah! Get your pre-orders in, folks.
Be there or be square!
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