Brubaker on Books of Doom

[Updated 10/27: Marvel was a little light in previews for books shipping November 16th, releasing a 6-page preview only of Books of Doom #1, so we've updated our recent interview with writer Ed Brubaker to include the now lettered pages.]

Six issues to flesh out the life story of one of comics’ most well-known villains. Sure, we all know that the machine exploded in Victor von Doom’s face during his college years (and he blamed it on Reed Richards), and Doom later opted for encasing his body in a full suit of armor, taking over a country, and has tried to take over the world on a number of occasions, but what about L’il Vic? What about the young adult with a horribly scarred face? What about the monk in training in Tibet?

It’s those parts of Dr. Doom’s story that Ed Brubaker and artist Pablo Raimondi get to explore in the six issue Books of Doom miniseries kicking off in November. 

“It's the epic story of Victor Von Doom's life, from birth until he takes the throne of Latveria,” Brubaker said when asked about the miniseries big picture. “My goals were really to take the key points of his biography as they're known, and weave them together into one big narrative, fill in all the blanks, and try to provide motivation and explanation for things that were always a bit unexplained. Like, why does he go right from college to some snowy mountain tops? What happened in-between? And I also wanted to really create a lyrical tragedy, to show that while this guy may be evil now, at one point, he was just an innocent kid who's world got destroyed around him.”

To tell his story, Brubaker said he’s going back to the original material – canonical works by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as well as places where other creators have touched upon Doom’s early days, such as John Byrne during his Fantastic Four run. Given that Doom wasn’t the headliner in the Fantastic Four, there are gaps – periods in Doom’s life when the camera shifted, and Doom was out of the spotlight for...well, sometimes for years. Sure, other writers have gone back in and filled in some blanks, but Brubaker is looking to fill in large swaths of Doom’s history – things like explaining why a Eastern European was enrolled in an American university during the Cold War, among other things.

So – once he started looking, how much room did he have to play in?

“There was actually a lot, especially once I started to figure out the themes of his life story that I'd hang everything around,” the writer said. “But just for an example, in Books of Doom, #2 is all about his college years in America, whereas in the Fantastic Four comics, this part is generally covered in two or three pages. I used the expansive nature of this project to really get into Doom's head, and to peel back some layers and show what was really happening during that time. I mean, the military doesn't bring a kid like Victor over here during the Cold War just to send him to college, right? They’ve got him working on their projects in a special area, with access that no other student has.

The trick has been to expand on the key events in his life without conflicting with the previous versions of them.”

Case in point, Brubaker has found himself lightly dancing around period of Doom’s life that were most recently shown in the “Unthinkable” arc in Fantastic Four by Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo. “Victor’s mom was a witch, and he grew up with gypsies, so he wasn't the average kid – that’s already been established, so has the idea that he was a whole helluva lot smarter than most everyone he came in contact with. But still, the first issue is all about his childhood, and I think I found some things in it that no one has yet really explored.”

Obviously, in going back to Doom’s earlier, undocumented days, Brubaker has been afforded the opportunity to add or expand upon any number of moments to the life of the future villain, and of course he has some scenes and events that he’s quite proud of in how they fit both with in the molding of Doom and how fans know the modern-day Doom.

And of course, Brubaker’s not about to tell you what they are. “Let's just say, the story of Victor and his father fleeing the Baron's soldiers will never be thought of the same way again once people read the first issue.

“Breaking the timeline of the miniseries down, issue #1 is his younger days, until he leaves Latveria for college in the US. Issue #2 is his time in the US. Issue #3 is the lost time between leaving the US and going to the monks on the mountaintop, showing what he did and how he learned about the Tibetan monks. Issue #4 is his time with the monks, and how he came to be their leader, and decided to encase his body in a metal suit. And issues #5 and #6 are the tale of his return to Latveria and how he takes over the country.”

And explore his past is really all Brubaker is trying to do – he’s not looking to pant any seeds that could be used later, or have any major, life-altering “aha!” moments in Doom’s life, such as a Mrs. Doom and a clutch of kids in Fresno who will soon show up in Fantastic Four, demanding half of Latveria.

“I was really just trying to create a narrative that stood completely on its own. If you've ever had any interest in Dr. Doom and how he came to be what he is, this is the one-stop shop for the story.”

The miniseries will also provide Brubaker the chance to weigh Doom on the “nurture versus nature” scale – in other words, was Victor von Doom destined to be Dr. Doom by forces outside of his control, or did he end up in his role due to choices that he had control over, yet chose the darker path, regardless.

“It's a strange twist, actually,” Brubaker said. “He makes a lot of choices in his life because he believes he's got a destiny, and that that destiny makes him more important than other people. He's not completely sane for much of his life, though, so you can't really blame him. [laughs]”

Brubaker’s answer is pretty indicative of how much the character has affected him as he’s been sharing the same headspace with him. During the course of writing the miniseries, Brubaker said that as a character, Doom has become both more sympathetic and more evil in his mind.

“He's a fascinating character because of his motives and obsessions,” he said. “There were definitely times he could've gone the other way, become a real world leader, a good guy, but ultimately, his ego, his sort of insane sense of destiny, push him the other way. He's definitely one of my favorite characters after writing him in this, though.”

Obviously, given a movie that came out this past summer, Brubaker knows that throughline of Books of Doom may be compared to the rise and fall of another armored (and some argue someone who was inspired by Doom) villain – Anakin Skywalker’s journey to become Darth Vader.

Though he admitted that some may make the comparison, Brubaker was quick to point out the major difference between his story and that of George Lucas: “This one doesn't suck.” [laughs]

“Seriously, I don't think this is really like that much there between the two at all. It's not like Doom was ever a hero. From the time he was about 12, he's been an ego-driven maniac, basically. This is more like that movie Max, starring John Cusack last year, about the Jewish art dealer who was friends with Hitler, where we see the young, pre-evil Hitler, struggling to be something else than what he became, I think. Not to make a Hitler comparison, but...if the shoe fits…”

While making a comparison to one of the worst real-life villains of the 20th century may seem over the top to some, to Brubaker, it’s a credit to the work of Lee and Kirby, in that they created a character that can stand up to examinations and expansions 40+ years after his creation, and still remain vital to a larger mythology, thanks to its commonality to both the real world, and larger ideas.

“Like many Kirby/Lee creations, Victor von Doom took on mythic or Shakespearean proportions almost instantly,” Brubaker said. “His back-story in the Fantastic Four Annual, where we finally see his origins is one of the saddest and most tragic origins of any Marvel character, in a lot of ways. I think he stands up, big time.”

And when pressed about Doom’s face and the armor – will this miniseries finally pull back the curtain and show Doom’s scarred face? Nope.

“Following Kirby's example, I think it's better not to show it. Although, that said, I do something else with his scarred face that no one else has ever thought of yet, though, that I think readers will really dig.”

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