RETRO REVIEW: Marvel Graphic Novel #27 – Emperor Doom (1987)

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Or -”The Grand Experiment.”

Marvel’s Graphic Novel series was designed to allow creators to tell stories that were too grown-up, too off-beat, or too out-of-universe for the regular titles.  Starting with ‘The Death of Captain Marvel,’ big-name creators were allowed to tell stories that otherwise might not have been told.  Though there are many strong tales in the range (She-Hulk, Revenge of The Living Monolith and The Death of Groo are all quite fun reads) arguably the crown jewel came when Marvel’s greatest villain finally got everything he had ever wanted…

MARVEL GRAPHIC NOVEL #27: EMPEROR DOOM
Scripter: David Michelinie
Penciler: Bob Hall
Inker: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Bob Hall
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $5.95 (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $12)

Previously, on Emperor Doom:  The Avengers had fought off the Kree, the Skrulls, the machinations of Kang and the manipulations of the Molecule Man, but their worst failures came from within.  Not so long after Hank Pym’s legendary breakdown (and it should be noted that Hank struck his wife in continuity precisely as many times as Peter Parker struck his), the Vision attempted to take over the world’s computer systems, which (eventually) led the team to regroup stronger than ever, even opening a second branch of the team to cover the western coast of the United States.  Things have been a bit quieter for the Avengers of late, but events on a small island in French Polynesia are about to start a chain reaction to end that tranquility…

Zebediah Killgrave, aka the Purple Man, a three-time loser who lost against Daredevil is abducted by a mysterious someone (although the title of the book might give you a clue, here.)  Some days later, another fringe-dweller makes his way through the streets of New York City on his way to a rendezvous with destiny.  At 4th and Drucker he turns left, at Drucker and 4th he turns right, he crosses MacArthur Park and walks into a fancy-schmancy restaurant…

Say what you will about Doom, he’s not afraid to make an impression.  The not-so-very-good Doctor has a proposition for the Prince of Atlantis, a renewal of their old partnership (dating waaay back to Fantastic Four #5) with a new wrinkle:  Doom is using the Purple Man’s powers to control the minds of those who would oppose them.  Namor is intrigued by Doom’s newfound powers, especially given that they are completely ignored by the authorities (and the patrons of the restaurant who just watched Doom fire an energy blast in their midst, but isn’t sure of all the details…

Writer Michelinie ably sets the entire Marvel Universe as his stage, and his cast of characters shows it.  At this point in Marvel history, it was unusual to see Doom not facing the Fantastic Four, while Namor was in an anti-hero phase, and rarely used.  The origami-like folding of the plot continues in the California compound of the newly-formed West Coast Avengers, as Tony “Iron Man can rock a sweater vest if he wants to” Stark investigates the ionic powers of Wonder Man…


“What could possibly happen in a month?”  Weeeelllllll, now that you mention it, Victor Von Doom might finally put together the perfect storm of brilliance and inspiration and TAKE OVER THE $&@#ING WORLD!

Namor’s role in all of this is to travel around the world with Doom’s smaller psycho-prism, taking out those who are not susceptible to Purple Man’s control (The Vision, Ultron and Machine Man, in a nice touch of completist continuity.)  Unfortunately for the Avenging Son, carrying the smaller prism around allows Doom to overwhelm even his legendary willpower with Killgrave’s stolen pheromones.  In a very interesting sequence, Killgrave taunts Doom that he doesn’t deserve to rule, that only Killgrave’s own power allows his plan to succeed.  Doom channels a little Jules Winnfield, and waits for the moment when he is allowed to retort.

This is one of many really intriguing scenes in the book, as the perspective changes, but it is Doctor Doom who occupies most of the screen time, and acts almost as our protagonist, while the Avengers are played as supporting players.  The East Coast team is overtaken by Namor’s subterfuge, but the West Coast Avengers receive a message from the Vision and confront Doctor Doom in his lair.  It does not go the way you might expect…

And with that, Victor Von Doom becomes the undisputed leader of the free world.  His lieutenants anticipate a reign of terror, blackening the skies with burning capitols, raiding the centers of industry for their treasures, destroying society as we know it!  Doom calmly replies, “You have no imagination whatsoever,” and proceeds to…

MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE!

I believe it was John Byrne who wrote the story wherein we find that Latverians love their beloved monarch, that he keeps everyone fed, the trains running on time, and all they had to give up were their petty freedoms and lack of fear of disappearing in the night.  Over the next few weeks, Doctor Doom ends crime, hunger and inequality, bringing about a new age of peace and prosperity.  Then, Wonder Man awakens.  He is confused to hear Iron Man talk about refitting Quinjets as Imperial transports, to see The Wasp preparing for a visit from the Emperor, to hear Tigra talk about her busy schedule of benefits now that The Emperor has ended crime…

Bob Hall is one of the underrated names in 80′s comics to me, as his work on Squadron Supreme and Spider-Man is top-notch stuff, but here he really pulls out the stops.  Check out the shock on Captain America’s face in panel five.  Hall creates great cinematic camera moments, presaging the current fad for “Widescreen” comics action, and makes everyone so happy in the Doom-led world that Wonder Man seems like the villain.  Without his boot jets, Wondy is forced to steal Hawkeye’s sky-cycle and make a run for it, but finds out quickly that the Avengers aren’t the only ones acting crazy…

Michelinie uses Wonder Man’s 80′s rep as “lovable but invulnerable screwup” to great advantage here, as Simon flees the madding crowd long enough to put on a disguise and disappear, rather than foment any kind of rebellion against the Emperor.  For his part, Doctor Doom seems happy to have someone who might fight against him, finding world domination to be a crushing drag of administrative work and such.  (It sounds like my day job, only with capes.)  Using the Graphic Novel line’s new opportunities, Doctor Doom is left in charge of the world for WEEKS, as Wonder Man walks the earth like Caine in Kung Fu.  Simon encounters a blind woman named Ellen, and has a quiet discussion about how he has lost his mojo and given up…

The use of the ‘magical blind woman’ is one of the few moments that doesn’t ring entirely true for me in this entire book, but as a plot hook, she’s not as intrusive as she might have been.  Breaking into the Avengers compound, he finds out the truth about Doom and Killgrave, and finally has his heroic moment.  He outsmarts and overpowers (!!) Captain America and forces the Star-Spangled Avenger to view archive footage of the truth about Doctor Doom…

That, by the  way, is the only appearance of the Fantastic Four in the issue, something I greatly appreciate.  It always seems so contrived when villains are only opposed by their regular heroic foils, and seeing Doom up against the Avengers was still neat at this point.  (These days, it’s a lot more commonplace, but still ends up being underplayed as a storytelling device.)  Tricking their strongest-willed teammates (Hawkeye, The Wasp and Iron Man) into viewing the tapes as well, Captain America and Wonder Man begin their rebellion in earnest…

Of course, Hawkeye can’t resist trying to save his woman (a nice character touch) and Doom is alerted to the Avengers plan.  Namor is puzzled that Doctor Doom seems happy to have foes to face, but Doom merely replies that he feels alive for the first time in weeks.  The Avengers discuss Doom’s positive reforms, but Captain America handwaves it all, stating that peace must be a CHOICE, and they attack Doom Island in full force.  But remember Iron Man’s confusion above?  Could it be that his addictive personality is a sign that he is NOT quite as strong-willed as Captain America thought he was?

PSYCHE!  And great work on Michelinie’s part addressing Tony’s feet of clay and working it into a ‘big damn hero’ moment for Iron Man.  Too bad Civil War had to come along and make him so intolerable for so long…  The fighty-fighty continues, and Namor comes within a hair’s breadth of KILLING The Wasp, when Jan uses her wits and blasts open a tank of water, revitalizing the Sub-Mariner and returning him to his senses.  Doctor Doom moves to set off his nerve gas dispensers, but hesitates as he remembers the nightmare his dream of control has become, while an enraged Namor sets his sights on the crystal itself…

It should be noted that Killgrave dies there, only to somehow show up again in the pages of Alias a few years later.  While that story is awesome, I still quietly resent the fact that Bendis doesn’t even consider giving us an explanation of character resurrections, just throwing them around willy-nilly.  (The Hood’s villain army was full of dead guys too, including one whom we clearly saw skeletonized during a Captain America story years earlier…  Bygones.)  Doom makes with the splitsville, and Captain America realizes that their victory seems a bit TOO easy, though he’s certain they’ll never know why.  The Avengers fly away from the scene of what might be their greatest victory…  or IS it?

I’ll say it right now:  Emperor Doom ends on a HUGE downer, but still works for me.  Doctor Doom is played at just the right level of menace, the Avengers get their little moments of awesome, and Marvel continuity is present, but not overwhelming.  You don’t spend the story wondering where the Fantastic Four or X-Men are, you don’t get caught up in the ‘What If’s', you just enjoy the story.  As Marvel GN’s go, it’s one of the ones that gets it right, showing us a bigger canvas but keeping the action on a personal level throughout.  I still maintain that this book is one of the reasons that the West Coast Avengers title lasted as long as it did, and it’s gratifying to see my fave-rave Iron Man suit in action in these pages as well.  This is a fine piece of storytelling with a very simple through-line, and it ranks up there with my favorite Avengers stories of all time.  Marvel Graphic Novel #27:  Emperor Doom pulls out all the stops, and gives you a damn-near-perfect reading experience (save for little bits with Ellen and some ham-fistery regarding human foibles, including the inevitable Hitler reference) earning 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  When anybody asks why I like Wonder Man as a character, this is my first response…

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Bucky isn’t dead anymore.  Wolverine will soon lead the X-Men.  Spider-Man’s life has been rebuilt by De Debbil.  Does the ‘No Holds Barred’ wild-and-crazy attitude at Marvel actually lead to WEAKER storytelling in the long run?