Having murdered gods, stolen their powers and almost taking over the world on several occasions, Doctor Doom is easily one of the Marvel Universe’s most intelligent, dangerous and capable supervillains, carrying out schemes usually fueled by his gigantic ego, ruthless demeanor and out of control megalomania. Doom wasn’t always driven by a lust for power, however. Before he donned his suit of high-tech armor and set his sights on taking over the world, Victor Von Doom was young man who wanted nothing more than to liberate his dead mother’s soul from the infernal prison of Hell. This November, writer Nick Spencer and artist Becky Cloonan take readers back to Doom’s earliest attempt to free his mother in “Victor Von Doom.” We spoke with the creators about the four-issue project.
Cloonan is perhaps best known as the artist of “Demo,” the creator-owned miniseries she worked on with writer Brian Wood. Beyond those two series, Cloonan has worked on self-published projects and provided art for a variety of titles from a number of different companies, including Vertigo, Dark Horse and Tokyopop. She contributed to Marvel Comics’ anthology series “Strange Tales” and “Nation X,” and it was her desire to do more, very specific Marvel work that lead to the birth of “Victor Von Doom.”
“It’s funny; around 2004 I had this thought that if I were working for Marvel, I’d want to do a teen Doctor Doom series. I kept thinking about it, and then in 2006 they came out with Ed Brubaker’s ‘Books of Doom’ miniseries. I bought that when it was coming out, and I thought I would never get to do my teen Doom comic because they just did it. So I just gave up on the idea,” Cloonan told CBR News. “Then last year, editor Alejandro Arbona was tweeting about how he’s doing all these villain books. He was doing ‘Osborn’ and ‘Red Skull,’ so it seemed like everything he was doing was a villain book. I tweeted back, ‘Please tell me one of those titles is a teen Doom comic!’
“He immediately e-mailed me and said, ‘If you’re serious about this, I could get a writer on board.’ I was like, ‘Of course I’m serious. Why would I joke about something like teen Doom on Twitter?'” Cloonan said with a laugh.
Arbona didn’t have to look long for the writer for what would become “Victor Von Doom.” Nick Spencer eagerly agreed to do the assignment once Arbona told him who he’d be working with.
“This book really exists because of Becky — I’m a part of it because it was an opportunity to work with Becky. She’s easily in my list of top five artists working today She’s somebody who I dreamed of working with for years and has defined the kind of artist that I like to work with,” Spencer told CBR. “Because of ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’, I got to work with some real giants like Howard Chaykin, George Perez and Mike Grell. Those guys were a massive inspiration to me, and now I’m having another really cool experience with another creator who influenced and inspired my work. I can still remember sitting on the floor of Barnes and Noble reading ‘Demo’ and thinking these were the kinds of comics I want to make. To now be scripting something for Becky Cloonan is pretty surreal.”
The other draw for Spencer was, quite simply, the title character. “This was a fun opportunity to do story that you don’t often get the chance to do in a Big Two superhero universe book; one that’s irreverent and non-continuity constrained. We’ve all read ‘Books of Doom,’ and the Doctor Doom/Doctor Strange graphic novel ‘Triumph and Torment’ by Roger Stern and Mike Mignola. So we know the story of Victor’s attempts to rescue his mother. We’ve heard it told, but what I found interesting about it is, we’ve always seen this story as told to us by Victor as Doctor Doom later on in his life,” Spencer said. “One of the things that struck me about ‘Books of Doom’ is, you’re very much getting Doctor Doom’s side of the story many years later. You’re getting the propaganda speech. A guy with the arrogance of Doom is recounting the things he’s been through and is always going to cast himself in the most powerful and competent light possible. I thought it would be fun to show what he’s really like as a teenager, and like a lot of angry, Napoleonic figures, maybe Doom’s teenage years weren’t as smooth a running machine as he likes to claim. So it was this fun opportunity to do a story of this grand, temperamental, smug kid as he, in youthful arrogance, attempts to undo the laws of nature and make things the way he wants them to be.”
Cloonan, too, finds the adolescent Doctor Doom to be a rich and intriguing character. In fact, part of the reason she wanted to draw a teen Doom story in the first place was to get a chance chance to look at who the character was before he became the Marvel Universe’s greatest villain — and what he might have become if things had worked out differently.
“When you look at the character of Victor Von Doom, he’s always very evil. He’s a megalomaniac, a narcissist and a dictator, but at the same time, I feel like there are qualities in him that could have led him down the path of being a superhero. He’s very smart, he’s talented, he’s driven and he’s charismatic. You don’t get to be a dictator without being charismatic and people liking you for some reason — even if you trick them into liking you and you turn out to be evil,” the artist remarked. “When you’re a teenager, you’re going through so much stuff. You’re making all these decisions and your life is changing. You’re growing up and figuring out who you are as a person. Doom’s teenage years are especially interesting, because I think Doom could have gone either way.
“‘Triumph and Torment’ is one of my favorite books that Marvel ever put out,” Cloonan continued. “In that story, Doctor Doom and Doctor Strange got to Hell rescue Doom’s mother. It’s a great book with beautiful Mike Mignola art. Doom descends into Hell to rescue his mom — there’s no more noble cause than that. Even though [Doom is] evil, Doctor Strange still teams up with him and they go to Hell to battle Mephisto. I feel like there’s a quality in Doom that’s really sad. He’s a tragic character. He’s King Lear or Richard III. He could be amazing and do great things, but he’s so bent on destroying Reed Richards that he gets sidetracked. As a teenager, he is really interesting; you peel back these layers to find that before he was a supervillain, he was just a punk kid. But he had potential.”
“Victor Von Doom” #1 picks up a thread from “Books of Doom” which explained that Doom’s enrollment in New York’s Empire State University came about because the U.S. government wanted to further the brilliant young scientist’s studies in the hope that he would create advanced technology for them. “This story meshes up with ‘Books of Doom’ for the most part,” Spencer said. “Doom’s sequestered education on the part of the U.S. government is certainly a key part of the story. That’s really where we begin our story. That will play a big role in where we’re headed. As far as the connection to the other stories in ‘Books of Doom,’ this is a bit of an ‘arms length’ continuity. You can take it or not. It’s sort of your choice. Nothing in it, though, contradicts ‘Books of Doom.'”
Doom arrives in the U.S. with his own agenda, and in “Victor Von Doom” #1, he begins using his vast scientific and fledgling occult knowledge to begin pursuing it. “We’re telling the story of Doom’s first attempt to rescue his mother from Hell. This is something that he’s been preparing for and working towards for a long time, and we’re going to see exactly how it plays out with no filter of narration and no benefit of hindsight,” Spencer said. “It’s a fairly linear story, but it is me, so it’s never going to be completely linear. We’ll bounce around a bit, but for the most part, this is a fairly straightforward story.”
Part of Spencer and CLoonan’s story unfolds on the character’s college campus, so Doom’s classmate and future archenemy Reed Richards will certainly play a role in the tale. “We have fun with the Reed-Victor relationship from the get go. Obviously, you can’t do a young Doom story without doing a young Reed story, and they are a blast to write off of each other,” Spencer said. “Again though, the fun thing about this story is that it’s Doom’s book. For once, Reed has to be a supporting cast player and take a back seat.”
The cast of “Victor Von Doom” will be rounded out by a combination of new and familiar faces from a variety of Doctor Doom and Fantastic Four stories. Spencer couldn’t reveal if the infernal being Mephisto would be included, but the Hell dimension that Doom enters will at least feel like Mephisto’s realm.
“Creating the look of Hell has been a lot of fun because, like I said, ‘Triumph and Torment’ is one of my favorite books. There will be some call backs and homages to that in this series,” Cloonan said. “This is the first time Doom goes to Hell, so I’m looking at the way Mignola depicted Mephisto’s realm, with all the tentacles, crazy fire and floating eyeballs. I don’t want to just recreate that, but it’s serving as inspiration for the world I’m creating in this series.”
As much work as designing Hell is, depicting Doom’s college life has proven even more challenging. “At the beginning, I was struggling with the time period that this story takes place. It’s Marvel chronology, so it fluctuates, and though it should take place in the past, you don’t want to date the comic, either,” Cloonan remarked. “We decided to drop it vaguely in the ’80s, but not so much that it’s a period piece. I put little hints here and there that this could take place in the ’80s, but there’s so much fashion that’s coming back from that decade that it won’t feel too out of place. Plus, I can have fun with the types of posters they’re going to put on the walls of their dorm rooms, stuff like that.”
Spencer’s scripts give Cloonan a lot of freedom when it comes to depicting both the collegiate and infernal scenes. “Like every writer I’ve worked with, Nick has been phenomenal. I can tell he really trusts me with these scripts. He’ll put in ideas for things like panel layouts that he sees in his head, but there’s not a whole lot of art direction,” Cloonan said of their writer/artist collaboration. “His scripts are hilarious! It’s not often that a script will make you laugh out loud when you’re reading it, but Nick’s scripts are great. They’re really witty and very funny.”
Readers may not expect a story about an adolescent Doctor Doom descending into Hell to be ripe for comedy, but Spencer saw that the story could and needed to be funny in places. “You don’t get the opportunity to do humor too often in a Doctor Doom story, and this is a fun story. It’s an adventure/horror comedy. We end in a fashion that is so ’80s movie fantastic that I think people will enjoy it,” the writer said. “I feel one of the best ways to scare people is to make them laugh first. So it’s going to be a pretty epic story with some dark under currents, but at the same time, this probably the broadest comedy I’ve written since my ‘Jimmy Olsen’ story for DC. There’s a lot in here to make you laugh. Becky is so great at drawing comedy and so great at characterization — I didn’t want to waste that. I think this book is very close to ‘Jimmy’ in some ways, but because it’s Victor, you’re painting it black all over!”
Spencer’s scripts for “Victor Von Doom” have helped Cloonan realize her dream of a teen Doctor Doom series, making it better than she ever expected. Indeed, the artist is having the time of her life working on the project and can’t wait until November when fans will get their first look at the series.
“This really is my dream Marvel job. I don’t know what that says about me, but I’ve been thinking about it for years,” Cloonan said with a laugh. “It’s fun to finally get a chance to draw it. It’s one of those things you never think is going to happen, that one stupid remark on Twitter turns into my fantasy Marvel book. If I could go back in time and tell my 21 year old self that I get to draw teen Doctor Doom, I wouldn’t believe me. I might even punch myself for being a liar.”