Environment or Genetics?
For centuries, scientists have struggled with this question in trying to determine how an individual's personality is formed. And while there has been no definitive conclusion on this matter, I think it's safe to assume that if you're born with a last name like Doom, odds are against you growing up to receive the Nobel Peace prize.
Naturally, I'm talking about Dr. Doom, one of Marvel's most powerful villains. While most readers know the character's origin in a nutshell, it seems there is quite a bit more to the man than just an iron mask. This November, Ed Brubaker ("Sleeper," "Captain America") will be cracking that nut and lay out his origin in a way never seen before in "The Books of Doom," a six issue miniseries. CBR News sat down to chat with Brubaker about his plans for Latveria's monarch, and also managed to get a few details on other upcoming projects.
THE BOOKS OF DOOM
To begin with, how does a writer get the job of retelling one of Marvel's most important characters? Simple-- your editor asks you. "Tom Brevoort called me up and asked if the life story of Dr. Doom was anything I might want to do," Brubaker explained to CBR News. "Then he said, 'But we want to do it like some kind of vast Russian epic, like a Tolstoy or Dostoevsky thing. I don't want it to just feel like a comic book, I want it to really be this big thing.' So I said 'Yeah, that sounds great.'
"Going into each issue, I'm trying to make sure there is a literary basis to it and the plot - it's not an action-oriented series. There's action in it, but it's not about that really. It's about this tragic life story of this guy who, from his perspective, felt that life was against him from the start and he has yet to surrender to it."
As you can tell from Brubaker's description of the story, this book goes way beyond the Doom origin most fans are familiar with. However, the writer isn't changing the character's origin. He said he's taking what was basically there, filling in the gaps, and delving into the layers of the tale where possible.
"If you're familiar with the origin of Dr. Doom, issue one isn't going to be like 'Oh, I never heard of any of this stuff before.' But it's all in one place for one thing, and it's got this cohesive idea that hangs it all together. I think the way that we brought this story together with these themes and motifs and narration makes it feel like, even though you might know this story, you don't know it the way he knows it. The things that he did have different meanings for him than they did for other people.
"Our story adds some really messed-up twists, but I found them within the stuff that was already there. And I just was like, 'How could someone have seen this story and not notice this enormous earth-shattering thing that would destroy someone's childhood and possibly drive them insane?' There are these things that just seem so obvious.
"For example, nobody ever explained why he wants to put on a giant suit of armor. That's going to be addressed in the issue with the Tibetan monks when they make him the suit of armor and why he wants it. It has a lot to do with stuff that's even discussed on the first few pages of the first issue."
The character of Dr. Doom has been around since 1962, when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby first created him. Therefore, his origin could potentially cover quite a bit of ground. Brubaker clarified the time period of the miniseries and said, "It goes pretty much from his birth until he takes the throne of Latveria-- it's that whole story. The first issue is his life up until he leaves for America to go to college. Then the second issue is all his years in America, which in all previous comics was always covered in a page or two.
"Tom and I discussed it pretty early on that, obviously, it's the cold war when he's going to college in America. And he's not just off at State U. Some General showed up in Latveria and offered Doom a scholarship, so he's working for the military, too. So, obviously, the military has equipped him with a private area where he can work on his experiments at school and he's got access to all sorts of stuff because he works at secret military labs. We basically play up that whole cold war angle."
Brubaker also teased about one other interesting twist that readers would see in this part of the story: "In the second issue, Victor loses his virginity!" And for those who think the writer said this as a joke, from the details he told CBR News, he is as serious as Doom himself on this matter. Brubaker then proceeded to lay out information about the rest of the series.
"Issues three and four contain the stuff that hasn't been covered very much. In all the stories that have been told about Dr. Doom, he leaves America and the next thing you know he's wandering for years around the world, he's in a snowstorm in the mountains in Tibet, he finds these ancient monks that live there who he goes to to learn from and ends up becoming their master, and they make him his iron suit. So, I was like, stuff had to happen between his face being blown to ribbons and Doom getting his iron suit. So, issue three is all about him traveling around Eastern Europe with bandages on his face, being miserable, before he decides to go find the Tibetan monks. And then issue four is his search for the monks and his time with them. Then issues five and six are him returning to Latveria and taking over the country."
Joining Brubaker on this book are penciller Pablo Raimondi and inker Mark Farmer. The writer is excited about their collaboration and is very enthusiastic about the pages he's seen thus far. With regards to the art though, one important question poses itself when writing a book about Doom: how do you portray his facial scar?
"I heard Jack Kirby talk about it once, and in Kirby's comics you never saw his face," Brubaker responded. "He smashes the mirror when he looks at it. Kirby, I heard, said that he thought it was just a tiny scar but that he was so vain that he felt his face was destroyed. But in the John Byrne version, he's got this big scar down the side of his face, but it's still nothing that cosmetic surgery couldn't probably fix. Then he puts the mask on his face before the metal is cooled and melts the rest of his face, because he doesn't want anyone to see his face anymore. I'm not dealing with that as much. I'm going with the Kirby version to some degree, but I'm just not showing his face. We don't see it."
When writing classic old school villains, the evildoers almost always refer to themselves in the third person in that crazy, Dr. Evil-like way. Asked if we can expect "third-person speak" from Dr. Doom, Brubaker said, "He doesn't do it that much in the series. However, he's just one of those characters where you're writing him and suddenly he goes, 'But Von Doom will not be denied! ' He's like a sports guy that way: 'Little Reggie Johnson has gotta do what's best for Reggie Johnson.' It is weird though. I tried fairly hard not to do it that often. Like, when I'd see it I'd ask myself, 'Is that jarring?'
"I did the same thing with Red Skull in the first issue of 'Captain America.' In my original script, everyone was a fairly modern realistic character except for the Red Skull. I'd just read all these old Essential Captain Americas, and so I had Red Skull sounding like that crazy old Red Skull. I then had to go through the script and rewrite half of his dialogue and narration because Tom (Brevoort) told me, 'It's great old hackneyed, silver age Red Skull crazy-guy talk, but it doesn't fit with everything else in the comic at all. It just leaps right out at you.' And I was like, 'Oh. I kinda meant it to. But I guess you're right. It does kind of break the mood.'
"The Doom story is all narrated through his words, and once you get his voice, it's easy to write him very seriously because he's such a serious guy. One of the whole points in the second issue is about how frivolous he finds all of America and how fucked-up everybody here is."
As this is a book about Dr. Doom, readers may wonder if a certain foursome will be making an appearance during the miniseries. Well, wonder no more: "Reed Richards is all over the second issue. And we'll see the Fantastic Four in the last couple of issues to some degree-- not Doom interacting with them though. Mostly, it's just Doom in the series. It's kinda cool not having to do all that (superhero) stuff."
It's been said that the key to writing interesting villains is to create a character audiences can sympathize with. Point of fact, George Lucas took this notion and created one of this summer's biggest blockbusters. That said, Brubaker faced a decent-sized challenge in mustering feelings of sympathy for an evil monarch.
"The first issue, I think he's totally a sympathetic lead character because you're watching this little kid grow up in these tragic circumstances. It's understandable that he becomes this really bitter teenager. Once I was halfway through the second issue though, I noticed that it was harder for him to seem all that sympathetic because he's really doing messed up things. He hates everybody else because he thinks he's superior to them. He's kinda evil and he even questions his own humanity.
"It was weird, because I totally intended for him to be a sympathetic lead through the whole story. And then I realized at a certain point in the story, 'Okay, I'm going to be the only one feeling sympathy for him now and that's because I'm writing it and I have to.'
Although sympathy for Doom may not be an emotion that will come easy to most, Brubaker hopes to at least impart some of the character's complexities. "Doom feels that he, above all others in the world, has a personal destiny and the rest of the people are just cattle," said Brubaker. "It's almost like a mental disorder. It's like he's this sweet little kid who basically goes insane. He's a total genius whose mom was some crazy witch doctor.
"Growing up, he doesn't want to rule Latveria. It's only later in life he decides that that's something he needs to do to take revenge for his parents, whose deaths were both due to the ruler of Latveria, basically.
"He's a really weird, compelling and sort of tragic-but-hateful kind of character."
While Brubaker gets to write about the darkness that exists in people in the retelling of Doom's origin, he also gets to tell monthly tales about the best humanity has to offer in "Captain America." For those who have been following the series, it appears that Captain America's WWII sidekick, Bucky, has returned in the guise of a new character, the Winter Soldier. Internet forums have been ablaze with debate regarding whether or not the Winter Soldier is actually Bucky or simply a red herring. Brubaker wouldn't comment on the controversy, but did promise that Captain America #11 will answer this question definitively. He also said that the end of the Winter Soldier arc will take place in issue fourteen, and that the ending is "..going to be different than anyone is expecting. So far, I haven't seen a single person who's predicted it."
X-MEN: DEADLY GENESIS
In addition to "The Books of Doom," Brubaker has another high-profile book coming out this November - "X-Men: Deadly Genesis." Like the Doom book, this is also a six issue miniseries. Trevor Hairsine will be providing the art for this story which the solicitation calls "a mysterious blend of horror and superheroics." Brubaker clarified this description.
"It's kind of a horror story, but it's mostly an X-Men story," said Brubaker. "However, the way that the story gets to them is through having these terrible memories pushed to the surface in all of them. It's like the worst thing that you ever did in your life and you walk into your room, and suddenly, you're reliving that moment for a second-- you know, weird little 'their worst fear' kind of things."
Since the story is about a secret from the past, one may wonder what time period is used as the miniseries' setting. Brubaker explained, "It's kind of complicated-- part of it is told back in the time period of 'Giant Sized X-Men' #1, but most of it's modern. Most of it is stuff happening over the course of a couple of weeks now, but has ties back to this thing that happened that most of the X-Men didn't know about (and the few that did kept their mouths shut about it all these years)."
Writing the X-Men is a dream come true for many writers. With a convoluted origin and a cast of hundreds though, this dream can quickly become a nightmare. Thankfully, this was not the case for Brubaker, who has had experience writing a team book on Wildstorm's "The Authority." However, the writer did note some differences between telling tales for the two groups.
"With the Authority, you kind of have to use every single one of them in every issue to some degree. If not, then it has to be very deliberate that you're not. With the X-Men, they're set up in a way that you don't actually have to use any of them that you don't want to use, because there's so many of them, for one thing. I found it's more like writing a book about a huge cast of characters, and whatever ones you need to be in a certain scene you just throw in there.
"It was probably a little bit easier than I thought it would be," continued Brubaker. "I had been an X-Men fan as a kid to some degree, but I wasn't a hardcore X-Men fan like a lot of people were. I think that was because I thought the plotlines would go on and on and on. But I went back and I was rereading some of the Essential X-Men and I realized, as a kid, I always thought the John Byrne stuff was so much better than the Dave Cockrum stuff, but the early Cockrum stuff - like the first twelve-fourteen issues of 'Uncanny X-Men'-- that stuff was great. The Byrne stuff is still really good, but the Cockrum stuff was so great.
"Rereading the old ones and then working on it, I was eight pages in and I was writing a scene with Nightcrawler and Colossus and I was like, the idea of the X-Men is really cool. You know, writing these characters is actually fun, because there's so many of them that if you know the basic way they all deal with each other, the dialogue really just writes itself. The characters, at least the ones I'm using in this, are so well-realized that it's easy to write them."
This past summer, the mutants of the Marvel world have been kept particularly busy in the company-wide "House of M" crossover. When asked if this miniseries will tie in to the mega-event, Brubaker replied, "It comes after 'House of M.' After 'House of M,' lots of things are different for the mutant universe of Marvel. We really just have to deal with that new status quo, more than anything. There is one sort of big element from the end of 'House of M' that we're following up on more than any other book-- one big mystery from the end of 'House of M' that gets resolved in this.
"So if you read 'House of M,' you have to read this," the writer said with a wry smile.
To encourage readers to try this miniseries, Brubaker went so far as to add:
"If you like the X-Men, you should read this.
"If you like superheroes, you should read this.
"If you like comic books, you should read this.
"And if you just like good things, well, this is for you, then."
I guess I know what I'm reading this November.