Doctor Doom is, without a doubt, one of the best villains in comic book history. Arguably, he’s the best; he has menace, style, wit, flair, power, and even when you defeat him, he’s still the ruler of an entire country and untouchable by the law. (Even better, when he loses control of Latveria, the writer gets to do a story where he crushes his enemies and regains power. Nothing keeps a villain menacing like a story where he wins.)
But like all comic book characters, he’s been handled by literally dozens of writers over the decades, and some of those writers have dealt with him better than others. Doom is actually the poster boy for the TV Tropes “Actually a Doombot” trope, where all of his more embarrassing stories are explained away as being the work of Doombots masquerading imperfectly as him. Some writers, on the other hand, have developed a reputation as handling the character so well that he almost becomes a second protagonist…but in a fandom that comments obsessively on the best writers and the best runs for heroes, the best writers of recurring villains often go overlooked. This essay attempts to rectify that by answering the question, “Who are the best Doom writers?”
5. Steve Englehart. Englehart’s main Doom credentials are his long run on ‘Super-Villain Team-Up’ and his slightly less-well remembered, but still interesting run on ‘Fantastic Four’ (he had the bad luck to be in between John Byrne and Walt Simonson, both of whom will be on this list.) His SVTU run showed Doom going toe-to-toe with Namor, the FF, and the Avengers, and coming out on top more often than not; in addition, Englehart’s Doom goes into battle directly, something that isn’t often seen even among the other writers on this list. When Englehart writes Doom, you remember that he built a suit of battle armor every bit as tough as Iron Man.
He also wrote the story where Doom was deposed by his own adoptive son, which was interesting and showed a side of Doom we hadn’t seen, but is also the reason he’s #5 on the list; Walt Simonson elegantly showed that a man smart enough to plan for his own death by brainwashing his adoptive son to replace him is smart enough to have countermeasures for that, too. A Doom that has problems with a ten-year-old kid is a Doom that gets bumped a few notches down on the list.
4. Walt Simonson. He’s #4 because he only wrote one Doom story in his brief-but-spectacular FF run, but it was a doozy. In the span of two short issues (okay, one double-sized issue and one short issue) Doom retakes Latveria from Kristoff, brainwashes Ms Marvel into fighting the Thing, imprisons the FF in perfectly-designed traps, and then battles Mister Fantastic in one of the most innovative issues ever written. (It’s a time-travel story, with a clock at the bottom showing the progression of “real time” and time-teleportation effects showing when Reed and Doom are traveling to each time they leap through time. So you can read it front-to-back to experience the story in real time, or jump around from page to page to experience it as Reed and Doom do.)
Simonson’s Doom is slightly different from all the others, almost an older and wiser Doom. (Some have speculated that this is Doom after returning from the “Doom 2099” series, a speculation supported by his altered armor.) He’s calmer, almost melancholy at times, but no less intimidating and powerful. Definitely worth reading, and it’ll make you wish Simonson wrote the character more often.
3. Jim Shooter. A surprising choice, as he never wrote an issue of ‘Fantastic Four’, but Doom’s appearances in the Shooter-written ‘Secret Wars’ and ‘Superman vs. Spider-Man’ are truly wonderful. Shooter writes a bombastic, almost-comic Doom who’s utterly megalomaniac, so convinced of his greatness that he literally tape-records his every utterance for posterity. (That’s right. You ever wonder who Doom is talking to when he delivers all those monologues? Motherfucker’s talking to history, bitches.)
And yet for all that his egotism is played for laughs, Shooter’s Doom is a character of terrifying intellect and deadly cunning, winning not just the Beyonder’s prize but the Beyonder’s power as he outwits an omnipotent god. In the end, the only thing that can defeat Shooter’s version of Doom is his own fatal imperfections. That’s a pretty deep take on a kid’s character.
2. Stan Lee. He created Doom, of course he’s getting a high spot on the list. Sure, there were some cheesy elements in the early Doom stories; in retrospect, it’s a little silly that he invented a time machine to force the Fantastic Four to steal Blackbeard’s treasure. But it was a sillier time, and it’s not like Lee and Jack Kirby (who deserves just as much credit as Lee) didn’t give us some of the iconic Doom moments, like the “Battle of the Baxter Building” (Doom vs the Thing in an absolutely unforgettable sequence.)
Also, they developed Doom’s unique aspects; his code of honor (there’s a wonderful scene where Doom has the FF trapped in his castle, but he lets them pass through the art gallery unscathed because it would be barbaric to risk damage to the paintings) and his downright mythic origin story. And, of course, Stan Lee’s dialoguing style is so distinct that even decades later, you can still tell when Doom is speaking without needing tails on the word balloons. Really, he’d almost be #1 worthy…
1. John Byrne. Except that Byrne didn’t just write half the classic, definitive Doom stories, he practically cared more about the character than he did about the FF. When Byrne wrote Doctor Doom, you could tell he was fully able to understand that in Doom’s world, he is the hero of the story and Reed Richards is the villain. It’s Reed who has to admit that Doom rules Latveria better than his successor, and that he is sincerely beloved by its people. It’s Sue who’s able to detect a Doombot by realizing that Victor would never be so uncouth as to strike a woman. And it’s Byrne who gave Doom his own issue without the FF even appearing, to show what the world is like from behind Doom’s metal mask. John Byrne “got” Victor von Doom, and after reading his comics, you will too.
Those are my top five. Anyone else got opinions? Feel free to put them in the comments!