Submariner vs. Doctor Doom: What Makes A Supervillain?
By: Julian Munds
This issue marks the the six month anniversary of the Fantastic Four’s debut.
In that time we have been introduced to each character and their major character themes, the Skrulls and other lesser space peoples who would continually invade the Earth, and finally, the two greatest supervillains of the early Silver Age. However, as you may recall, these two supervillains had vastly different debuts.
Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was given a complete issue that ably introduced what fans could come to expect from that under water monarch. The Doctor’s debut, however, was less telling of his later genius, as very little paneling was devoted to his establishment.
We did learn one good lesson from that first issue: Doom does not get his hands dirty. He’d rather use robotic facsimiles of himself to do his bidding.
Extravagant multi faceted conspiracy is his major tool.
Given these two prime examples of early antagonists, what do they show of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s thoughts about the role of the supervillain?
This issue delves into that very question, as it pits both characters up against one another. The Fantastic Four gets caught in the middle.
I have written at length countless articles about Namor. I know many of you may be becoming a tad bored with how I do go on about him; but in the beginning years of Marvel he was the one antagonist that was fully developed.
I have taken the wild claim to task that Namor is a villain.
He does terrible things, yes.
He invades the United States three or four times in just the first few years of Marvel. But as I have written before, he is justified to do so. The US destroyed his home through ignorance and arrogance.
His back story makes him an enemy, yes, but not a villain.
‘Villain’ is a word often tossed around in modern discourse and many who use it do not understand its roots.
‘Villain,’ in the Medieval period literally meant “one who lived in a village setting.” When the word was used by the educated elite of the period, or the noble classes, it was a derogatory insult meaning “one who is classless.”
To have high class, or a lot of class, meant that one was a polite, God-fearing and a refined individual. One who acted by that false etiquette code of chivalry, that was thought to govern human interaction.
Now, I won’t waste your time in discussion of the all the classism and politics behind the term. Frankly, this is something you will learn in any detailed study of early English lit, which is totally worth looking into; it will give your reading all sorts of spice, but I will say the modern sense of the word is grossly inaccurate. Many use the term interchangeably with antagonist.
An antagonist is one who acts as a foil to the hero. Just because he or she attempts to defeat the hero does not make her or him a villain.
Villainy is in short and, perhaps simplistically, acting without regard for anyone but oneself. In Shakespearian terms, there is a difference between Tybalt from Romeo and Juliet: who is an antagonist, because despite his violence he still cares for his Capulet family, and Richard III or Iago who cares only for themselves.
Villain is a word that can be more ably and accurately interchanged with vice.
Running by the strict definition of the word, the character that best resembles the vice and, therefore the more villainous, is Dr. Doom.
Perhaps, the reason for the lacklustre debut of the Doctor was because his second appearance was going to expand heavily on just how far Doom would go to destroy the Four.
In the story, Doom seeks out Namor in an effort to ally with him. He appeals to his common goal of getting revenge on the Four for the many slights that their past interactions have caused. Doom promises the Sea Prince that once the Four have been dispatched, he will bestow dominance of the sea over the land.
Convinced that this will occur, Namor willingly enters the Fantastic Four’s headquarters and places a magnetic “positron” in the water tanks. He then attempts to join in with the FF in their war against Doom.
The Four being extraordinarily naive, with the exception of Ben Grimm, welcome their new partner.
When Doom uses the positron to drag the full building into space, with the final goal of throwing it into the Sun, we soon find out that Doom has no intention of working with Namor and that this whole ‘olive branch’ was a ploy to get rid of all special abillitied people from the planet.
What we thought, by the example of the title, to be a birth of a new terrible team of villains, turns out to be a double cross. Doom manipulates Namor for no reasonbut to consolidate his black magic dictatorship.
Sub-Mariner once again proves that though he loathes the men of the Four, and this could just be out of jealousy of their relationship with Sue Storm, his aim is to restore and get restitution for his wronged people. Doom wants the complete destruction of the Four and is willing to double cross anyone who stands in his way.
Once again, Doom is the only thing that matters to Doom.
Now, I am conscious that as time went on, Doom’s character became more varied. Perhaps, influenced by the political machinations of his home nation. In this period, he was narcissistic.
Narcism is a major trait of the traditional villain. The following Marvel characters, that later debuted, that are called supervillains are, in many cases, not villains but antagonists in their own right.
Take a look at Magneto or other characters of his ilk.
You will often find that in a character stream there is only one actual villain.
A yin to the yang.
I have mentioned Baron Mordo’s relationship Dr. Strange and so far that’s the only relationship that is bares resemblance to Doom/Fantastic Four.
I look forward to examining this further in later articles.
(It is interesting that in the more black and white world of DC, you will find more of these characters. Superman’s Lex Luthor, Batman’s Joker and Green Lantern’s Sinestro come to mind. Because or Marvel’s ‘reality’ outlook, this character type is much rarer in their issues and this proves that Marvel is a far more evolved form of Comic Fiction.)
Story I Read: “Captives of the Deadly Duo” (Fantastic Four #6 Sept. 1962)
Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Character development of both Sub-Mariner and Doom. The moral conundrum that Thing finds himself in. The final space battle that is so absurd it is awesome.
Cons: The rather whacky plot is dangerously close to campy exploitation. The rather convenient way Sub-Mariner can fly.
Previous Review: “Banished to Outerspace/The Magician” (The Incredible Hulk #3 Sept. 1962)
Upcoming Review: “Return of the Ant-Man” (Tales to Astonish#35 Sept. 1962)
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Posted on December 20, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged Baron Mordo, Doctor Doom, Doom, Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby, Lex Luthor, Marvel, Namor, United States. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.