Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Wacky Lord of Latveria

Ah, the Good Doctor. The undisputed leader of Latveria. Voted Big #1 more than once on Marvel Comics' all-time most villianous list, his list of recorded grievances agianst humanity if compiled would be longer than my arm. There is much I could write about the vexed son of a gypsy and sorceress...the complexity of his tortured character, or the cold darkness that surrounds his soul --or maybe even that he's marched straight into Hell more than once to retrieve his mother's soul, or that he's been one of the few mortals on earth to have ever had (albeit momentary) control over the Silver Surfer's power cosmic!
Yeah, I could... but that stuff wouldn't be nearly as good a goof as some of these incidents...

Victor Von Doom! Introduced to the world by the team of Lee & Kirby in the pages of Fantastic Four #5 as the ultimate armored arch-villian. An old schoolmate of the FF's leader Reed Richards, he became the perfect Professor Moriarty to Richards' Holmes. The indesputable and and aboslute Monarch of the Universal-Studios-looking Latveria, located somewhere in the heart of the Barvarian Alps. He would often stride around the tiny kingdom like Walt at Disneyland after closing. The genius of Doom can only be matched by his ego --and both are reported to be off the charts. (And yet he has at times been misused and miscast, his character maligned with overwritten hackneyed monologues and psuedo-scientific gobblety-gook.) It's a green-faced Doom that stares down at our heroes, dwarfing them on this, his very first appearance and comic cover.

...And right off the bat, the indignities ensue. For at virtually the same time that FF #5 was on the stands, this crazy Space-monkey made off with Doom's mask and ran amok in the pages of Tales of Suspense #31! (The really sad thing here is the Monkey got the better, more Doom-y color scheme. Oh, the unimaginable insolence... grumble...infantile mockery of it all!

(Off-topic FYI--More often than not...If it was a Jack Kirby monster from this period of time more often than not it wound up being colored orange (--Unless it was a that case it was usually grey.) An orange critter practically guaranteed a colorful (yet still limited) panel balance. That's also why Ben Grimm be orange.)

Meanwhile there's the unmatched audacity of that smug son-of-a-bitch Reed Richards. Ever the fate-of-the-world-in-the-balance prankster Reed (reportedly the world's smartest man) has bested Doom on a number of occasions, but usually not by out-thinking him per se --he just tricks 'im! (In fact a lot of FF stories end with Reed just having to bluff his way out of whatever danger faces mankind.) Here's one of my particular faves, where Reed challenges Doom to a test of the death! (basically)... But not before he drugs poor Vic with a hallucinigen during a phoney toast beforehand. (...from Fantastic Four Annual #2)

So, (I love this part) Vic goes home to Latveria and never picks up a newspaper or listens to the radio or watches tv again. No more plans for world domination or ultimate power schemes. No more time machines or tidal wave makers or phone calls to the devil. Nope. It's time to use his unlimtied power to sit on his ass and play host to kind of a Latverian "Who's got talent? " with himself in the Simon Cowell role. When an aspiring magician inadvertantly breaks the "spell" that Richards put him under months ago...(...from Fantastic Four#39)

Yeeeeah, Gidda loada dem apples Mudda-fugga! You just been Punk'd --Fantastic Four-style!
And what great reward awaits the magician who helped Vic see the light? Bestowed! --Buddy Rich-style! (As in "...I got the backa my hand for yer effin' brain is what I got for ya!")

You gotta hand it to Richards for sheer audaciousness. Here's a man who's smart enough to know that when the fate of the universe hangs in the balance, it's time to roll up your sleeves and take scissors to your comic books! Reed embraced this philosophy from very nearly the beginning as demonstrated here way, way back in Fantastic Four #2 when he and the rest of the FF report back to the Skrull Hi-commander --as Skrull soldiers "in disguise"...

I can only guess that being drawn by Kirby to begin with must make it harder to differentiate between photographs and panels clipped from a newsprint comic book...(Sheesh! That's some plan, Stretcho!) So ol' Reed musta hung onto those old comics with the missing panels because years later when the chips are down and Doom has gotten all Superfied and is running around in a giant-size form, guess where Reed turns for strength and inspiration? (No, not the Bible!)
(from World's Greatest Comic Magazine #12)
Yup, Reed goes right back his stash of clipped-up Strange Tales and Journey Into Mystery comics. (Okay, I honestly don't know what's weirder here...the fact that Reed knows all these obscure "comicbook" monsters by their names and subtitles, or that Doom does. ...Okay, Doom.)

So, both these guys read the same "comicbooks", eh?

The audacity! The insufferable insolence! But such indignities don't end just with the accursed Fantastic Four. A multitude of super-powered interlopers have managed to be a thorn in the side of the Latverian Godfather. Daredevil himself has been a irritant more than once...There was that time that Doom managed to switch bodies with ol' Hornhead for a spell. (...from Daredevil #38)

Hey, it's lots easier to snap your fingers when you're not wearing metal gloves...

Later when Doom's Henchmen grab who they think is Daredevil in the street, their out-of-body Boss let's 'em know who signs their paychecks in fairly short order.

Hornhead eventually has to (as Doom) basically declare war on the countries bordering Latveria to get Doom to cooperate...and cooperate he does! In fact he comes a-runnin'...especially since one of Latveria's neighbors is allied with Red China and he's way-afraid of being "overrun in hours by Red Chinese!"(In fact, that's all He thought about during the cab-ride over!)

It amuses Doom to be beaten? Hyok! Wotta riot!
Of course, I love Wally Wood art from the ground up...But when Doom first faced off against the Red Skull in Astonishing Tales #4, Wally gave us an unusual glance at some of Doom's noctural habits. Nothing like a soft beddy-bye when you're wearing body armor.

Ahhhh, he had it comin'... (So, Vic takes off the gloves but sleeps with the mask on?)

Okay, I saved the best for last...There was this time in 1973 (that just happened to coincide with zenith of blaxploitation cinema) when Doom came up agianst Marvel's premeire jive-talkin' Superbad-ass Luke Cage, otherwise known as Power-Man! Cage virtually hijacks one of the FF's aircraft to go and beat on VVD in his own castle no less. And why you ask? Simple. Doom owes Cage money...two hundred big ones...yep...two hundred big-buckaroonies... 200$!! (...From Hero For Hire #9!)

Say, how much was jet fuel in 1973?

(I should note that this is the the only time I can ever remember a large black man calling Dr. Doom "Honey".)

So Cage was just startin' to clean Doom's clock when the
Big Orange here shows up to do Vic in. Cage knows he can't get dough from a corpse, so he shifts gears and keeps Orangey from blowing out Doom's ...uh...pilot light.

Doom laughin'?...And nobody danglin' over a lava pit or nothin'? Creepy. Plus it looks like all the furniture in Castle Doom is chock-full American currency (much like the furniture in the Addams Family house was.)

Perhaps it was incidents like these that had a direct effect on prompting this next out-of-character royal endorsement.

Bah...That's quite enough indigination and contemptuous impudence for now!
Doom turns and heads back to his castle...walking under the curved archway visible in almost every Frankenstein movie...

(All characters copyright Marvel Comics Group.)
(Which reminds me --I've always thought that Jack Kirby's Latveria looked a helluva lot like Universal-International's fictional Frankenstein village of Vassaria. We know at least some of Jack's inspiration came from stuff he saw on the TV set he left on all night while he was working...and a good number of the Universal Horror films were on NYC Television all the time when he was working on these early concepts. (Not to mention Jack saw villages like that for real in WW2.) In fact, the very name Latveria seems almost like a combination of the words Latvia ...and Vassaria! Coincidence?...Y'never know...)
But here's to Stan, Jack, and their Pinnacle of power and pomposity... Long may he reign.
(Maybe next time we talk about what's under the mask...and according to whom.)

My thanks to Robert Pope & Tony Aguirre for supplying some of the comics and insights used in this post.


Blogger Robert Pope said...

Bee-you-tee-ful! You could almost have made another post out of Reed's boners over the years; remember that we're talking about a super-genius who was fooled not once, but TWICE by THE SAME VILLIAN (the Mole Man) into two seperate deathtraps disguised as real estate transactions! Didn't he have sense enough to call a realtor?

12:25 AM

Blogger Tom Ray said...

Wow! Great post!
You gotta love that artwork.

3:29 PM

Blogger C. Martin Croker said...

Thanks Tom & Pope...One reason the art looks so kick-ass here is that all the pages that were scanned for this post (with the exception of the one Wally Wood page) were from the ORIGINAL PRINTING of that story...Marvel reprints almost NEVER got the level of care or detail that a new story would have gotten. Plus, few (like none) original pages were still hanging around Marvel by the time they would've been reprinted anyway, so old stats or xeroxes would have been used. Most of the art and color palettes on these pages still blow me away!

5:07 PM

Blogger John Rozum said...

Thanks for including that "Latverian Express" ad that I wrote and which Mike Mignola did the art on.

This ad in turn inspired a moment in "Damage Control" vol.1 issue #2, in which Dr. Doom has to write a check and a character based on me, asks him to show I.D..

I'll try and scan the art and pass it on to you.

One of my very favorite goofy Dr. Doom moments comes from the animated "Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends." In one episode Dr. Doom is whispering (I think to Aunt May of all people) and it sounds like someone talking into a tin can. It was pretty funny.

5:34 PM

Blogger Robiscus said...

Luke Cage and Dr. Doom together in one post! its like when that hot blonde dropped her chocolate bar in my jar of peanut butter.

when i was twelve i acquired the 70's FF comic when Dr Doom replaces Reed as the leader of the Fantastic Four. a comic that i remember learning was very valuable long after another kid on my school bus preyed on my ignorance and swindeled me out of it with a lopsided trade. he was Latverian too.

its nice to see that Luke Cage left Doom's compound without being molested.

3:34 AM

Blogger Matthew I. Jenkins said...

Fantastic post! Some great tid-bits that I never knew about my favorite villain. Now I know, if I ever get in a fight with Doom, just punch him in the chest a few times in the same spot! Can't wait to see a post about the whole "what's under the mask" controversy!

2:34 PM

Blogger Robert Pope said...

Rozum brings up an delicious sidebar; Doom's even-wackier appearances in other forms of media! The "Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" episode mentioned is pretty shameful (Dr. Doom loses out on Galactus-level power when the Spider-Buddies bump ol' Vic off his "stand here for magical transfer" spot, inadventently imbuing a harmless little old man with reality-bending mystic might!) But that's NOTHING compared to the late 80's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float, where a live-action Doom slinks around a cheesy cityscape float in silvery-gray SPANDEX fighting an assortment of Marvel Heroes...

3:33 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Doctor Doom had become a Hero, he would have had to appear in those abominable one-page "comics" flogging Hostess Snack Cakes.
(Oops, I meant, "Delicious Hostes Snack Cakes"!)

1:04 AM


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