In this feature, "Things That Turned Out Bad," I will spotlight plotlines by writers that probably weren't a good idea at the time and have only become more problematic in retrospect. I'll try to stick with stuff that's more ill-conceived than flat-out offensive (like racist stereotypes of characters during the 1940s).
Today, we look at Doctor Droom, the superhero who gains his powers from...turning Asian?
I wrote about this many years ago in a Comic Book Legends Revealed, but I somehow never got around to featuring it in this column, despite it fitting in really rather well.
By the start of the 1960s, even before Marvel became, you know, MARVEL, Stan Lee had been trying out a few new serialized stories in the pages of Marvel's anthology series. Essentially, the idea would be that it is easier to come up with new stories with the same character than to come up with brand-new characters in each issue. Most of them did not go very far. However, a new series, Amazing Adventures, was launched with one of those new serialized stories and it was a bit of a...well, ill-considered idea.
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko put together the introduction of Doctor Droom in 1961's Amazing Adventures #1, which debuted a few months before Fantastic Four #1.
The story opens with Anthony Droom heading off to visit an ancient lama who needs medical help. He finds himself forced to undergo a sort of trial before he can actually even get to see the lama to treat him. However, being a noble sort, he will do whatever he can to get to his would-be patient...
Having successfully proven himself, Droom is awarded special magical powers, but the magical powers require him to be transformed into an Asian man (in all of the sketchy caricature depiction of an Asian man that a 1961 comic book entailed) and, of course, gain a mustache...
The mustache is almost the oddest part of it all. The interesting thing, besides the racial stuff, is that we see that Lee and Kirby have come up with a hero's journey that is very different from the ones that they (and Ditko) would put together in the very near future. While Peter Parker and Stephen Strange (as an aside, I'll get into the Doctor Strange origin similarities in a later column or columns) started in selfish positions and the Fantastic Four literally stole a rocketship, here Droom is just a truly heroic person who goes out of his way to save a lama's life.
Now, Droom inherits the deceased lama's assistant and he is now ready to set up shop as a superhero, of sorts.
Where does he go from here, though?