Wednesday, May 14, 2014

EMPEROR DOOM

Even the cover design looks like it was pounded out with a copy machine over a cup of coffee.

I had the distinctly unnerving experience recently of seeing this book – Emperor Doom, a one-shot Marvel Graphic Novel written by David Michelinie and illustrated by Bob Hall, and bearing all the hallmarks of a “major event” book, if just in terms of its packaging – discussed online by folks I know as though it were actually any good.

I was hearing it described as “a great idea” and “well-executed” and having an “innovative ending” but wasn't hearing anyone pledge to “do all things imperfekt” or paying coal to see the film negatives of a movie, so I suspected I wasn't on Bizarro World.

In pursuit of due diligence, I indulged myself in a re-read of the book and came to the only reasonable conclusion; clearly a second version of Emperor Doom was produced down the road somewhere and everyone else read that one while I read the one that stank on ice.

There’s a policy I prefer to maintain on this site, that I don’t write articles about books or characters which I didn't enjoy on SOME level – I USED to post articles about books I straight-up loathed, but I kicked those reviews off the site as they seemed uncharitable at best, and had a certain artist's fans and family members writing me angry letters, at worst.

Also the colorist for this book was a blacklight.
I choose to cover books in which I find something of merit, even if they’re poorly executed, poorly actualized, or are built around the emotional gravitas of the Red Tornado – anything, from stylistic lettering to attractive art to plain ol’ sufficient weirdness to be worth the attention. As far as goes Emperor Doom, I guess --- I guess I finally memorized how to spell “Emperor” correctly without relying on spellcheck, so that’s something.

The plot of Emperor Doom is straightforward – Doctor Doom, perennial and possibly preeminent Marvel baddie, would-be conqueror of the world and self-impressed technological tyrant - wins. He conquers the world, and establishes himself as the sole ruler of the Earth. Ta-da.

Doom accomplishes this by plucking a pube from Killgrave the Purple Man, an ages-old enemy of the swinging superhero Daredevil from so far back in the day that he might show up on Mad Men. Killgrave the Purple Man (not to be confused with Killellea the Pink Man, Kilpatrick the Chartreuse Man, Killgore the Plaid Man or Killkearny the Paisley Fella) has super-powered pheromones which allow him to mentally dominate anyone who, um, can smell him. Doom encases the mauve mesmerist in a giant gem (I guess he had one lying around) which weaponizes his stupefying stink for Doom’s benefit, and broadcasts his B.O. of mass destruction across the globe.

A little casual spousal abuse before the big game.
WHOEVER HAS A NOSE BOWS BEFORE DOOM, more or less, except anyone with a conveniently strong will. Namor the Sub-Mariner, as a for instance, is liberated from the effects of the world-blanketing ray of compliance (at first) and so, as his part of a bargain with Doom for control of the world’s oceans, becomes Doom’s errand boy. His task: Slap some science discs on a bunch of robot super-heroes and super-villains (who don’t have noses and therefore can’t be controlled) to bring them under control, i.e. “pad out the page count”. None of the robots put up much of a fight and then, later on, Doom mind-controls Sub-Mariner anyway, so you could be forgiven for sleeping through those bits.

Everything about Emperor Doom seems to cry out “inventory issues”, and the whole thing reads as a two-part adventure for the West Coast Avengers. For one thing, it’s super-fluffy. For the second, the West Coast Avengers star in it. Plus, at one point in the second half of the story, we’re treated to a flashback and a recap of the first half of the story, which certainly seems to imply this was intended as a multi-parter over at least two months.

Despite Doom’s name being in the title, the story is more about Simon Williams, Wonder Man, part-time stuntman/actor and ion-powered superhero who enters the story by being cheerfully dunked into a sensory-deprivation tank where he sleeps it out in a coma for a month. When he awakes, he happens to be one of those people who doesn’t bow to Doom’s mind-control ray (ionic beings can’t smell? I don’t know) and he leads a meandering, page-padding journey of self-discovery before he finds the impetus to rally other superheroes to his side.

My favorite scene.
I know it’s a sin to critique the story you wished you’d read instead of the one you did, but the device of Wonder Man’s induced coma is presented like a subplot in the book, when you would think it would be the primary gimmick of the story: The tale opens with Wonder Man going into the tank, you have a few panels of darkness, he comes out and Doom has in the blank interim become the beloved emperor of the world! Then you have a satisfying sixty-some-pages where Simon Williams – not exactly a detective, historically speaking – has to piece together what happens and mount a rebellion. Instead, we the readers are taken by the hand along every step of Doom’s plan as he does it, and when Wonder Man emerges from his coma, we get to walk through it all over again for the benefit of catching him up to speed.  Add to that the flashback recap which I mentioned earlier, and you have here a graphic novel which literally tells the same story three times.

And then there’s the conclusion – in the end, Doom allows the heroes to overthrow him because he didn’t expect there’d be so much paperwork involved in ruling the world. That’s the actual conclusion. Dr.Doom has mind-controlled an entire planet into immediate obedience and, by way of that obedience, eradicated disease, war, crime and famine, but he can’t mind-control anyone into taking care of his paperwork. He can’t mind-control a personal secretary; it’s the ONE FLAW IN HIS PLAN.

The ending is particularly dumb in the pants because you have to wonder about the character arc – the heroes of the story reestablish the status quo, Killgrave is freed, Namor is freed, all the robots are freed, everybody goes back to the world the way it was, as does Doom but didn't Doom just learn that he really doesn't want to rule the world? Didn't he just learn that his expectations and ambitions were wrongly engineered, that his entire life's goals have been a frivolous misunderstanding of his true dreams and needs? This story should have changed the nature of Doctor Doom forever, but it didn't, it's a blip and an oddity which clearly belonged in the monthly schedule somewhere but was wisely elevated to the Graphic Novel line where some level of non-canon deniability could be maintained, or so is my theory.

Anyway, in conclusion, Emperor Doom is not a well-done story and Tumblr should stop suggesting it is, the end.

"Also I clank when I need to pee."


2 comments:

neofishboy said...

"My favorite Marvel superhero is Wonder Man!"

I suppose it's possible that this sentence has been said out loud by someone somewhere, but I doubt it.

Also, any chance of the more Uncharitable columns resurfacing someday? Maybe with authorship credited to "Catastrophe Ron Norris" or something ... I dunno.

bmcmolo said...

This was fantastic, thank you. I haven't read this in years but recently looked over some West Coast Avengers and you're spot on saying this seems like the sort of thing that should have popped up over there.

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