Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The King Is Dead! Long Live The King!

The fortunes of Victor Von Doom had certainly changed, once his scheme to install his "son" on the throne of Latveria had backfired in Fantastic Four #199. Soon after, in the FF's landmark 200th issue, his bid to take control of the delegates of the United Nations would also meet with failure--and his nemesis from the Fantastic Four, Reed Richards (a/k/a Mister Fantastic), would triumph over him in pitched battle, rendering Doom catatonic in the process. Effectively deposed, Doom was eventually succeeded on the throne by Zorba, the heir to former King Rudolfo--and Latveria took her place at last as a free nation.

It's hard to imagine Doom ever suffering a more devastating defeat. How would he possibly recover from this--even if his mind were still functional?

Yet Doom would rise to power again--and the first seed to that end had already taken root with the election of Zorba, former leader of Latveria's underground but a man with no real experience as an administrator, let alone as a ruler. And so the economics of ruling a nation would prove daunting to Zorba, whose democratic and perhaps idealistic style of governing was far different from the methods of his ruthless and iron-fisted predecessor:

As for the second seed, that took the form of Doom himself. For Zorba had made the unbelievable blunder of appointing Hauptmann, Doom's former cowering head scientist, to oversee Doom's care. And when Zorba's affairs of state began to foment rebellion, the day came when his paranoia would reveal another potential threat to his rule:

Ironically, Zorba had been a victim of Latveria's new underground movement--this one committed to reinstalling Doom as ruler. And so Hauptmann, working with Doom's faithful retainer, Boris, brought Doom's near-mindless body to a remote laboratory--eventually fitting it with his armor, stolen during a raid on the castle. Zorba, understandably frantic at this point, had a spy locate the hidden lab--but it was too late:

(You'd be hard pressed to find a more fitting artist to portray a secret laboratory procedure that uses bolts of electricity to bring an armored fiend back to life than Tom Sutton.)

It's then that Zorba's troops arrive--but they find that their opposition needs no army to brutally deal with them. Doom lives--and there was little doubt from anyone, perhaps even Zorba, that the day would come when he would rule Latveria again.

So it would seem Zorba's days in power are numbered. Which brings us to our current story, where, in another ironic twist, Doom would use the Fantastic Four--those whose involvement made Zorba's movement to oust Doom possible--to turn the tables on Doom's usurper and bring his rule to an end. And it would begin with a bold, unmistakable declaration:

If you read this story in its entirety, it wouldn't take long for you to form the impression that writer and artist John Byrne is making a strong case for Doom's reinstatement as Latveria's ruler, with even the Fantastic Four being swayed by the evidence of Zorba's abuse of power which Doom brings to their attention. Of course, with their role in Doom's fall, to say nothing of their prior experience of knowing Doom as a power-mad despot, the FF aren't ready to take Doom's claims at face value. But Doom ingeniously lays much of the blame for what's happened to Latveria at the FF's doorstep:

But the real evidence that gives the FF perspective comes in the form of a young villager, who (almost conveniently) arrives on the scene and provides a first-hand account of Latveria's decline under the rule of Zorba.

However, once the woman has recounted her tale, she's assassinated by Zorba's robotic "secret police" for simply violating curfew. Doom, outraged, strikes back, followed by the FF--and the robots are dealt with efficiently and swiftly, with Doom delivering the final blow thanks to a deactivation unit he retrieves from his person. Reed then wonders aloud why Doom has waited until now to utilize the device, an observation which Doom swiftly shuts down. Do we smell a rat yet? If the FF are indeed being played, Byrne won't confirm or deny it here, though our suspicions won't be allayed with further reading.

Instead, Byrne again makes his case for Doom, focusing on Doom's method of governing while almost cannily omitting the various atrocities (as Zorba put it) which Doom committed on his own people, particularly when events spiralled out of his control. At times it almost seems that Byrne is trying to convince the reader of Doom's merits more than any of the story's characters--either by way of Doom himself, with the FF dealt into the discussion:

...or through one of Zorba's officers, who has a very selective memory of the frequency with which Doom inflicted punishment on his subjects:

Zorba clearly has gone off the deep end in his fervor to retain power, invoking the same action which Doom once did--unleashing a murderous army of deadly robots to lay waste to the populous areas of his kingdom. But where Doom did so with the intent of flushing out the FF (while noting the "sacrifices" of his subjects who got in the way), Zorba's motivation is pure retribution. And the Fantastic Four, at last, chooses its side.

While the FF are dealing with the turmoil in the streets, Doom has slipped away to rescue his faithful retainer and confront Zorba, who feels his rule slipping away from him minute by minute. It doesn't take long before he runs out of time altogether.

Once Zorba meets his end, it only remains for Doom to conclude matters with the FF--and from an undeniable position of strength. It's anyone's guess whether Doom really needed the FF's help to deal with the forces Zorba would send against him--or if he simply wanted the FF present when he reclaimed the reins of power. Perhaps one way to decide is to look at the change we've seen in Doom in this encounter. For instance, where Marv Wolfman's Doom would have shrieked his victory to the heavens, Byrne's Doom savors the moment, and takes the opportunity to make clear to his foremost enemies that he's once again a force to be reckoned with--and that he is coming for them.

Though in keeping with the spirit of Doom's deadly threat, I might have made a slight alteration in the punctuation of that final panel:

Either way, Reed seems to be done making veiled threats against Doom, eh?

Fantastic Four #247

Script, Pencils and Inks: John Byrne
Letterer: Jim Novak


Edo Bosnar said...

This is a really well-done issue, one of my favorites from Byrne's run. It's precisely the many ambiguities you mention that make it so good, and the fact that Byrne pretty much gets reader to sort of root for Doom, even though you know he's evil, and Latveria is just trading one tyrant for another.

Anonymous said...

What a coincidence, I was recently looking at Tom Sutton's art from the Alaric stories in Planet of the Apes and I couldn't remember if I'd seen his art anywhere else in Marveldom but here he is ! The Byrne story is a real classic and I much prefer this interpretation of Doom than the raving lunatic and "pantomime villain" that he was previously.

Anonymous said...

Byrne's paean to authoritarianism.

Anonymous said...

Byrne had quite a few good Doom stories during his run. This one, the Mask Of Doom one and the one where Reed and Victor do the Freaky Friday thing.

I think one of the issues I had, and not just with Byrne's run but during the entire Fantastic Four, was what exactly is the age gap between Sue and Reed. I've always imagined it in the 8-10 year range.

The removal of the exclamation mark makes Doom's pronouncement such a calm statement of fact. When your enemy has a time machine, I guess anything and everything is possible.

The Prowler (outta luck outta time).