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Friday, July 31, 2015

Panel Vision - Emperor Doom

100th Post, hurray for arbitrary milestones.  To celebrate I’ve decided to take a look at a forgotten Marvel classic from the late ‘80s entitled Emperor Doom.  Emperor Doom was the 26th installment in a now forgotten Marvel imprint known as Marvel Graphic Novels.  Marvel Graphic Novels was a line of super-sized one-shots that lasted throughout the entire ‘80s.  Though it started with things grounded in the Marvel universe like Emperor Doom, The Death of Captain Marvel, or The New Mutants it eventually branched out to more non-superhero fiction like Jim Starlin’s Vanth Dreadstar or Steve Gerber’s Void Indigo.  Despite having faded into relative obscurity now Marvel Graphic Novel was a great series and I’ll probably come back to it again in the future, however for right now we’re here to talk about the amazing insanity that is Emperor Doom co-starring the Mighty Avengers.  

The fact that the Avengers are getting second billing to Dr. Doom should tell you everything you need to know about Emperor Doom.  Mark Grunewald and Jim Shooter developed the central concept while David Michelinie did the writing.  That concept is essentially “what if Dr. Doom conquered the world?” which admittedly pretty basic as far as ideas go but Emperor Doom has a unique spin on things.  In this story Dr. Doom gains control of the planet Earth by enslaving a C-list villain and using his abilities to create a sort of doomsday weapon.  That villain is Zebediah Kilgrave or as he’s known in some circles: The Purple Man. 

Purple Man’s connection to this comic is a big part of why I chose Emperor Doom to review just now.  Purple Man is mainly a Daredevil villain, originating in that comic before kind of fading out of memory in the Marvel universe.  His role in Emperor Doom is sort of an in between moment for the character.  By this point he’d faded out of memory as far Daredevil was concerned but had yet to appear in the groundbreaking comic Alias.  His role in Alias is the only reason anyone remembers Purple Man nowadays, a role we’ll see in live action this October in the Netflix show Jessica Jones where he’ll be played by David Tennant of Doctor Who fame.  Purple Man’s power is mind control, initially the idea was that the shock of seeing a purple human was so intense it rendered people immensely susceptible to his suggestions.  That was eventually dropped for the idea that his pheromones force people to find him incredibly likable and charismatic and do whatever he wanted.  The very creepy nature of his powers and the pervy applications of it are probably why Purple Man languished in comic limbo for so long, but that’s a topic for another day. 
In Emperor Doom the story is that Dr. Doom kidnaps Purple Man and using a device called a Psycho-Prism to amplify Kilgrave’s power while also bending it to his own will.  The first third of the book goes heavy into Super Villain Team-Up territory, with Dr. Doom joining forces with Namor to try and deal with the various superheroes that aren’t impacted by Kilgrave’s pheromones.  Where the comic really hits its stride is the mid section where Dr. Doom…basically wins.  He successfully takes care of anyone strong or inhuman enough to resist his will then assumes control of the world.  What’s so amazing about the comic and why it’s so great is that it doesn’t do the obvious choice and have Dr. Doom rule as a brutal dictator of a dystopian world, instead he’s a great ruler.  Under him the world improves, hunger and crime dwindle, hostilities diminish, it’s amazing.  That’s another reason why I chose to review Emperor Doom now, it’s actually shockingly similar in basic plot to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Wars comic that’s still running.  

Also like Secret Wars, the third act of the comic revolves around a small band of characters that managed to escape Doom’s control mounting a small rebellion.  What ultimately brings Doom down however is his own disenchantment with the life of a successful conqueror.  That’s part of why Emperor Doom is the quintessential Dr. Doom story; it understands the character perfectly.  Dr. Doom is the ideal super villain in every sense, his power is immense and ranges across all disciplines including science and sorcery, he has his own nation and a castle named after him, he can refer to himself in the third person and swirl his cape without breaking a sweat.  However, above all of that there is the understanding that Doom is the perfect embodiment f perfection without choice.  Emperor Doom is such a wonderfully uncompromised vision of this truth. 
More than Battleworld’s patchwork universe under Dr. Doom’s thumb and its numerous diluting one-shots and tie-ins, Emperor Doom cuts straight to the heart of the fact that Doom would be an incredible world ruler, capable of legitimately making the world so much better.  However it also understand that Doom can never achieve that success without forcing his will on the world, that the price of Doom’s order and perfection is choice and free will and not just our own.  That’s the significance of Doom inevitably allowing himself to be defeated, that conquering the world doesn’t just require us to give up any control over our lives, it requires the same thing of him and that’s something he’ll never allow.  It really cuts straight to the heart of Dr. Doom’s inherent tragedy, appeal, and villainy; that the man most deserving to rule could never bring himself to do it.  

The fact that Emperor Doom is so forgotten is a massive shame.  Aside from being excellently paced and a great character study of a superb villain it’s beautifully drawn and wonderfully composed by Bob Hall.  Hall does a lot of fine work in the panel design, breaking up pages in uniquely asymmetrical manners.  Still despite how unremembered it is Emperor Doom is available for purchase on Amazon for a pretty solid price, pick it up and rediscover this lost gem. 

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