Blind Byrne Worship

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Doom

I’ll bet you thought it couldn’t get worse than Galactus, huh? Well think again.

Dr. Doom, of course, is one of the greatest villains in the history of comics. One of the unique things about him was that he was actually the ruler of his own nation, the fictional Latveria. But back in Fantastic Four #200, there was a big showdown between Doom and the FF that saw the dictator deposed and the rebel leader Zorba take the throne. It was a great way to celebrate the two-hundredth-anniversary issue, particularly in the way it pit Reed against Doom mano a mano. The heart of the FF-Doom conflict was always the rivalry between Reed and Doom, and Marv Wolfman did a great job with his emphasis on that in this ish. (Kudos also to Keith Pollard on the art.)

Now at its center, Byrne had good motives for what he did with FF #246-247—he wanted to restore Doom to the Latverian throne. He just picked the worst possible way to go about doing it.

Without getting into the minutiae of it, Doom manages to escape from Liddleville (where he was left trapped in ish #236) and his first order of business in issue #246 is to capture the FF and bring them to Latveria, where it is revealed that Zorba has run the nation into the ground. Picking up the cliffhanger in #247, Doom explains that crime has returned to the land in the wake of his ouster. Of course, crime was nonexistent when Doom was running things—then again, so were free will and human dignity. But the FF (and Byrne) seem to have forgotten this paltry detail and agree to help put Doom back in charge.

This is, of course, completely ludicrous. But as usual, Byrne isn’t going to let that stop him from telling the story he seems dead set on telling.

Doom paints this picture of himself as a benevolent dictator, which any longtime reader knows is an outrageous distortion of reality—and if the reader knows this, then the FF certainly knows it. But they end up buying the whole story. The implication being that Doom’s b.s. is somehow true; like all that we’ve seen before was a mass hallucination or something.

Dr. Doom: cuddly & lovable dictator?
Dr. Doom: cuddly & lovable dictator?

 

Later is this ish, Doom even saves a young boy after his mother is killed. He then effectively adopts the child. By issue #258, he’s hoisting the kid up in his arms like a proud papa.

Daddy Doom?
Daddy Doom?

 

I guess Comtois is going with the hallucination theory, as he notes: “riffing on hints scattered from FF #84-87 and other past sources that the Dr. Doom character wasn’t all evil tyrant, writer/artist John Byrne added shades of gray by depicting him as a benevolent father figure to his people, who were grateful for the safety and prosperity his genius has bestowed upon Latveria…. As he did with Galactus, he [Byrne] managed to… restore Doom to the top of the villainous heap” (p. 67).

Being a “father figure” and figuratively bouncing a kid on your knee bumps you up to the “top of the villainous heap”? How do you figure?

It’s also amazing to me that Comtois would point to the pages of FF #84-87 as some kind of a justification for this portrayal of Doom, when these are precisely the issues I would offer up as evidence that Byrne’s portrayal is a complete perversion of the true Doom. I’ll let the pictures speak largely for themselves:

FF084_08

FF084_09

FF084_25

FF084_29

Clearly, the “freedom” and “happiness” Doom offers his subjects is a grotesque charade. As the team later observes…

FF085_07

The following page, Doom (who’s been secretly observing) responds: “He dares compare me to a slave owner?!! History teaches us that slaves have been known to escape–! But here, in my kingdom, none can escape! I am the master– they are the subjects– forevermore!”

Then the coup de grace:

FF085_18

There’s a “benevolent father figure” for you—willing to wipe out an entire village of his people for the sake of a test of his robots. Lest anyone think I’m cherry picking here, by all means, go back and read FF #84-87 for yourself. Show me where these “hints” of Doom’s benevolence are so cleverly hidden.

On more than one occasion Byrne has characterized his approach as “back to basics.” (In fact, that Diablo story that started this FF run was cheekily titled “Back to the Basics.”) So what I want to know is: Does Byrne have some kind of learning disability when it comes to reading comprehension? Or did he simply grow up reading comics published on the Bizarro World? Because his version of Doom is not only NOT a return to Lee-Kirby form, it is, in fact, once again, the exact opposite of that form.

It’s true that Doom is not a black-and-white adversary; that, there are, in fact, shades of gray to him. It’s not like he’s evil for evil’s sake; he’s not some moustache-twirling villain, tying damsels to railroad tracks just for kicks. He’s a tragic figure, a man who was made into a monster (at least in part) by circumstance—but he’s still a monster nonetheless. He’s a supervillain, not a #$^*@!# teddy bear!!

At different points Comtois acknowledges that Byrne “did make a handful of serious mistakes” (p. 57); notes that the break-up of Alicia & the Thing (and Alicia’s subsequent pairing with Johnny) was “ill-advised”; laments the importation of She-Hulk into the strip; and even admits that the quality of Byrne’s art had begun to erode later on (pp. 100-101). Well these things take up nearly half of Byrne’s run on the strip—so how good could this run have been? Even if you loved everything that came before, we seem to be in agreement that (at the very least) the back half of Byrne’s run is terrible. So the quality of the run overall can’t possibly be better than 50/50. That equates to a failing grade in any school on Earth.

If only Byrne’s reign of terror had begun and ended with Fantastic Four. Sadly, it did not.

NEXT: The End

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2 thoughts on “Blind Byrne Worship”

  1. Fully agree with your take on Byrne. I loved his art on Iron Fist & X-Men and his other collaborations with Chris Claremont, but his writing tended to put me off and while I’d been collecting the FF regularly for about 10 years when his run on that title started, about a couple of years into it I stopped. Admittedly, by the mid-80s I’d stopped buying a lot of titles I’d been getting regularly since 1973. Simonson’s Thor I stuck with, even after he stopped drawing it, because I loved his stories and when Sal Buscema took over on the art he actually adopted a reasonably good approximation of Simonson’s style. But over on Byrne’s FF (and Alpha Flight), however good the art was and while I did like the “Terror in a Tiny Town” anniversary special, so many of his stories just felt wrong to me and I really didn’t like the reveal that Ben’s Aunt Petunia was a beautiful young woman who just happened to be married to his much older uncle. On reflection, it seems a bit of a replay of the MJ scenario over in early Spider-Man wherein Peter Parker thought she must be a dog from the way his Aunt May kept trying to set him up with her but even though Ditko never showed her face he did very much provide evidence that she was a very beautiful woman so that famous panel by Romita wherein Peter finally does meet MJ face to face was not a shocker to anyone paying attention except to Peter! There was never any indication by Lee or Kirby that Ben’s Aunt Petunia was anything but his elderly aunt who had a lot of whimsical sayings ingrained in Ben’s memory from when he was a young child. It just doesn’t work that she is a generation younger than he is and married to an uncle who is a generation older (and I’m speaking a 55 year old man with a 37 year old stepmother (she’s about 40 years younger than my dad). And the Galactus story???? After all the fuss about Phoenix having to be punished because when she was out of her mind due to the manipulations of Mastermind she destroyed one planet full of intelligent beings but now Galactus, who has destroyed numerous such planets must be saved? It is absolutely ridiculous and seems akin to the idiotic notion that Captain America, created to be a super-soldier to fight in World War II, never ever purposely killed anyone in combat under any circumstances, well, aside from the time he decapitated Baron Blood in a classic Stern/Byrne story. And as for re-establishing the status quo in Latveria with Dr. Doom in charge, I missed that particular story but it seems out of character that the FF would help Doom restore his absolute dictatorship or that Dr. Doom would even want or need their help to do so. I entirely missed Byrne’s run on West Coast Avengers and have no regrets about that.

    1. “Admittedly, by the mid-80s I’d stopped buying a lot of titles I’d been getting regularly since 1973.” Sounds like you jumped ship at just the right time, Fred. I could weep when I think of all the money I wasted on crappy comics in the late 80s & 90s that were never read more than once– and I can’t get rid of them now because their resale value is literally zero. On the flip side, I find that I can re-read nearly all of my classic Bronze Age comics again and again without ever getting tired of ’em.

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