November 14, 2008

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Fantastic Four: Books of Doom

Written by Ed Brubaker
Illustrated by Pablo Raimondi and Mark Farmer
Marvel Comics

You know, for a person who says he tends to dislike retconned origin stories, I certainly have read a lot of them this year. Oh well. Perhaps it's because sometimes in amongst the shoe-horning and the making stuff fit there's a time when the writer just expands upon what's already there. In those cases, an origin story can be made to work, even if that story is now nearly fifty years old.

That's the case here in Books of Doom, where Ed Brubaker, who writes spectacular comics--just not always how I'd write the character, does an amazing job of taking all the hints and guesses from over the years and puts them all into a cohesive, six part story. This is the history of Victor Von Doom, with very little changed from the way Stan and Jack first proposed it all those years ago, or the additions made by Byrne, Englehart, Waid, and the rest of the folks who've taken the time to do the Doom.

This is a Doom who starts from nothing, but has always been cursed, as witnessed by his mother who is now not so much the innocent victim as we may have been led to belive in this past. (A slight change, but a strong one, I think.) Victor comes to America, where his ruthlessness is favored by the American military, who have no idea what they're helping to create. While this is probably the most stretched part based on prior evidence and is strongly influenced by the Bendis-Millar Ulimate Doom, it makes perfect sense when you stop and think about it. After all, we got into space thanks to the ex-Nazis--why would we reject a kid from a possible communist land when he could help us best the Russians?

The standard Doom accident is still here, of course, with the usual rantings about Richards and his interference. From here, it's all downhill (or on to greatness, depending on your perspective), as Brubaker keeps the scientific monks, the return to glory, and even his liberation of the Latverian people. In fact, Doom's amazing duality--he's a horrible dictator and yet also the man who set his people free--is captured better here than I think in any other comic portrayal I've seen of the man. This is partly because of another tweak to established canon, which also fits the story and the man we know from the stories that have come before.

The explanation for why we get to learn so much of Doom is a bit of a letdown, but I don't think there was any other ay for that part of the story to go. Besides, since Brubaker has compelted what I previously thought impossible--an in-continuity reimagining of an iconic character without destroying all we knew about him--I can forgive a framing device. I'd have even forgiven bad art work, but the pencils of Raimondi and inks of Farmer are top-notch.

Marvel did right by this one, and you'd do well to read it. Superhero comics nowadays tend to either try to ape themselves too much or stray too far from their roots. It's rare for someone to strike the balance this well. Any fan of the Fantastic Four--and heck, any old-school Marvel fan--needs to get this into their reading pile right away.