My heroes have always been villains, Episode IV: Victor von Doom

Hello and good morning.  It’s time at last, after a month-long hiatus, to give you the latest iteration of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Today I discuss one of my personal favorite villains:  Dr. Doom.  The fact that he is a comic book villain may make him seem a less than respectable choice of character to discuss, but the popularity of movies depicting such villains—including situations in which these depictions have been critically acclaimed (e.g. Health Ledger’s role as The Joker in The Dark Knight), and the immense success of movies involving villains such as Loki and Thanos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—makes me feel that Doom is a worthy subject of discussion.

Those of you whose only exposure to Doctor Doom comes from the theatrical versions in the Fantastic Four movies could be forgiven for thinking that he isn’t very interesting, but those movies did no justice whatsoever to the character.  I liked the casting choice in the first two movies (I didn’t see Joseph Culp’s version), but Julian McMahon was simply not given a good script with which to work to portray this most riveting (and riveted) of all comic book villains.

One difficulty in discussing a comic book villain is that the characters, especially long-standing ones, are written and interpreted by many different people over time, often with wildly varying quality and depth.  I will here focus primarily on Doom as portrayed by such greats as John Byrne (probably the best of them all) as well as such stand-outs as Jim’s Shooter’s Doom in Marvel Secret Wars, Chuck Dixon’s Doom, and, of course, the work of Doom’s creators, the inimitable Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Over the years, I’ve come to see Doom as a sort of anti-Batman.  The two have similar back stories.  Differences in their life courses seem dependent almost entirely upon specific details of the events which shaped them, but the events and outcomes are similar in many senses.  Doom’s parents, like those of Bruce Wayne, were killed when Victor was quite young, and at least one of them died in his presence.  Of course, Doom was a gypsy, and Bruce Wayne was born fantastically wealthy; perhaps these facts are fundamental to their different specific career choices.  Doom was a member of an oppressed and marginalized minority, his family hounded by, and his parents (at least his father) killed by, the “powers that be”.  Wayne, in contrast, was born into power, and his parents were killed by a low-level criminal.  So, perhaps predictably, Wayne became a protector of the order of society against elements of chaos.  Doom, on the other hand, grew to seek vengeance against those in power, to strive always to take that power for himself, and if possible, to assume control over fate, to become more powerful than anyone or anything else in the world.  Of course, in comic books, all things are possible, and Doom has achieved this goal on an occasion or two, only to lose it…largely through the tragic character flaws that made him a villain in the first place.

One central aspect of Doom’s mystique is the fact that his features are terribly scarred, certainly from his own point of view, and are always covered by his baleful gray armored mask.  But really, I don’t want to dwell too much on the issue of Doom’s visage.  As has been insightfully said about Bruce Wayne’s identity as Batman, the mask is the character’s true face.  The flesh and blood beneath is the façade.

One thing that’s always intrigued me about Doom is that, like Batman, he has no superpowers.  His “powers” are all self-created, the products of his incomparable mind and (apparently) unlimited will.  Yet, despite being an “ordinary” human in a universe populated by beings of almost unimaginable power, Doom remains one of the most potent forces in the Marvel universe, and he has challenged the good and the great on many occasions, defeating those who should be far beyond his power through cunning, intelligence, and nerve.  This is another trait he shares with Batman.

Also like Batman, Doom is pretty screwed up in the head.  It’s hard to see how he couldn’t be, given his childhood experiences, but at least some of Doom’s mental dysfunction seems to be inherent.  He is intensely egotistical, and this is probably congenital to at least some degree, though it’s perhaps also a learned defense mechanism against the chaos that he faced in his formative years.  It’s also somewhat justified, for Doom is a fantastically brilliant scientist and inventor.

One could be forgiven for speculating that Doom might have at least a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome.  He certainly has difficulty connecting with other people emotionally, almost always preferring the company of his robots to that of any lieutenants, sycophants, or courtiers, let alone comrades or friends.  His only close human contact is with Boris, his father’s friend, who took care of Victor—to the degree such a notion has meaning—after Werner von Doom died.  Certainly, there is no one else in the world that Doom trusts, and he doesn’t even trust Boris in the sense of relying on him.  He also doesn’t connect well with his subordinates as real human beings with feelings and identities, killing some of them if they make even trivial mistakes, or if they accidentally question his genius and infallibility.  “Doom needs no one,” he says, quite typically, before destroying an errant robot, practically quoting “Another brick in the wall, Part 3.”

Also fitting the Asperger’s model, Doom definitely qualifies as having restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests.  His life centers almost completely around three basic goals:  1) to free his mother’s soul from Mephisto’s Hell; 2) to conquer and rule the world; and 3) to destroy the Fantastic Four, especially Reed Richards.  Even the possibility of restoring his own face is a distant afterthought—the mask, even to him, really is his true face.

Another interesting aspect to Doom’s character is that he’s not actually that terrible a villain in terms of what he does when he achieves power.  He’s willing to do almost anything to achieve his ends, and God help you if you get in his way (though he has a weird code of honor:  he misleads, deceives, tricks, and otherwise manipulates people in endless ways, but he seems allergic to telling any direct, blatant, knowing lie, at least a petty one, and he will never, ever break his word of honor; if Doom makes a promise, he’ll keep it or die trying).  Once he achieves power, however—as in his control of his native country of Latveria, and on those occasions when he’s achieved temporary dominion over the world—he treats his subjects well, and almost always makes things better than they were before.

I don’t know if this is an expression of benevolence on his part or is rather a function of his insatiable ego:  if he’s going to do something, then you’d better believe he’s going to do it better than anyone else ever could, and that includes running the world.  The average citizen in the Marvel universe could be forgiven, frankly, for hoping that Doom would triumph over all those stupid, wishy-washy heroes who keep everything messy and violent, under the control (if one can dignify the state of things with that word) of lesser minds.  Doom is not one of those villains who wants to watch the world burn.  He wants to put out the world’s fires; he just thinks he’s the only one good enough to do it.

He may be right.

Doom is a complicated character, certainly, and that’s one of the things I like about him.  Though insane, violent, and dangerous (certainly!), and with an arrogance that is only acceptable at all because he lives up to at least some of his own hype (eat your heart out Kanye West), he is very human, and very tragic.  Though certainly evil by most sensible definitions of the word, he is not Evil, if you take my meaning.  He is self-reliant to a fault, with absolute conviction in his own point of view and in his personal capacity to achieve any goal on which he sets his sights.  In focus, willpower, determination, and related synonyms, he is unmatched by any character except, again, Batman.  Like Batman, in Doom this attribute is central to his success, and is also not uniformly good, even for him.  It is, in a way, terrifying.  Doom makes the Terminator look like a vacillating dilettante.  He absolutely will not stop, and he will never, ever, give up.

This is not a good thing.  Sometimes the only sane, reasonable, logical thing to do is to call something a bad job and let it go.  Great deeds can be done by those who set their sights on their goals and never waver from them; also, terrible deeds.

The inhabitants of the Marvel universe might really be better off if Doom were in charge, but the cost of achieving that state would be gargantuan, not least to Doom himself.  But, of course, the nature of comic book villainy is such that Doom is never likely to be allowed to mellow out and settle down, get married, have kids, write his memoirs, and make unsurpassed scientific contributions along the way.  On behalf of the characters involved, we can call this a shame.  But for those of us reading—at least for me—we will be endlessly grateful.

I’ll blog to thee in silence.

It’s Thursday again, and time for another of my weekly blog posts about my writing.

There’s not much new to discuss today, but there are a few updates for the imaginary reader who cares about such things.  First, I think I’m going to take at least a temporary break from doing the audio for The Chasm and the Collision.  I had been toying with that possibility for a while but had decided (yesterday) just to go ahead and do the next chapter.  When I had finished the initial recording of the first portion of Chapter 10, though, I discovered that some technical problem had occurred during the recording.  I don’t know exactly what caused it, but the playback sounded echoey and tinny, with uneven volume.  I didn’t deviate in any obvious way from what I’ve done for the past two or three chapters (which were recorded by a different method from preceding chapters and audio stories), and I don’t see any way to salvage the recording and make it pleasant for the listener.

I’m not someone who thinks that the universe sends messages or omens to people in the real world, even though I write stories about the fantastical and the “supernatural,” but I nevertheless took this as a cue—accidental though it was—to take a break.

It’s not as though I think a lot of people have been listening to those stories or chapters, in any case.  I haven’t received a single comment or any other feedback, either here on the blog or on any of the YouTube versions of the audio stories, so I doubt that a hiatus is going to bring heartbreak to any human.  And I sincerely doubt that any non-human is listening to the stories or is capable of responding to them, so leaving the audio aside should obey the dictates of the Hippocratic Oath and do no harm.

I took two days off from writing this weekend, not for any deliberate reason, but the holiday here in America (Labor Day) contributed.  The occurrence of a tropical storm (mild for South Florida, but still rainy and dreary for a long stretch of time), also dampened my enthusiasm.  I guess, technically, I took three days off, now that I think about it, because I wrote the first draft of my latest post on Iterations of Zero last week, in response to something that I had seen.  I just did the editing and rewriting on Tuesday morning, after which I carried out the recording debacle described above.

Then, yesterday, I wrote again on Unanimity, which was productive.  I’m lucky enough to enter easily into a state of “flow” when I’m writing, especially when writing fiction, so even when I’m gloomy or tired, I’m at least able to produce something.  Whether that product is good or not is probably highly debatable, but the audience of one that consists of me at least always finds it tolerable so far.  So that’s good.

On a tangentially related matter, I recently started a trial of “promote mode” on Twitter, but I think I’m going to discontinue it.  The idea was to try to get word about my books and audio and podcasts out to a greater number of people through that venue, but unfortunately promote mode is not discriminating.  It “promotes” every tweet one twits, so one encounters such bizarre phenomena as when a tweet expressing a feeling of profound depression and discouragement becomes my most “liked” and “retweeted” post since I’ve been on the site.  That’s not the boost I’m looking for.  Also, to my surprise and disappointment, my number of followers on Twitter has dropped since I began the trial; I’m getting a net negative return on a not-insignificant investment.  It may be that I should give the experiment more time, but it’s not as though I have money and Twitter followers to burn.  I think I should probably just let things proceed and grow—if they in fact do—organically.

And with that, there’s not much else to say today.  My wittiness, limited at the best of times, is in the lower reaches of its curve, so I’ll wait for an upward swerve before trying to put out anything more entertaining.  I do hope you’re all well, and continue to be so, and if anything, that you get ever better over time.

TTFN

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 9: “The Tree by the Lake” – the audio

Here it is, right on schedule:  the audio for Chapter 9 of The Chasm and the Collision, read, as always, by me.

 

As always:  You may feel free to listen, to download, and to share as often as you wish, by whatever means you wish, but you are not authorized to make any money by doing so.

If you’d like to listen to any other audio that I’ve done, you can just go to the categories list and select “audio.”  Alternatively, you can go to my YouTube station, here.

Enjoy!

So is my blog, Octavius, and for that I do appoint it store of provender.

Guten tag!  Today is the last Thursday of August in 2018, a day that will never come again (unless it turns out that time is recurrent and the universe is closed in the fourth dimension, which I suppose is possible).

I hope you’re all well.  I myself am in a better mental state than I have been for the past few weeks, something for which I’m intensely grateful.  I imagine that anyone reading my blogs with the hope of enjoyment is probably also at least mildly grateful.  Reading something written by a person in a gloomy mood can occasionally be powerful, but it’s rarely much fun.

Speaking of fun, I got an amusing email from Amazon this week.  It’s something that’s happened to me once or twice before, and I might even have written about it here; apologies if I’m being redundant.  Anyway, the message came because, a month or two ago, I ordered a copy of my book Welcome to Paradox City to give to a friend of mine at work.  Of course, Amazon has the very nice feature that, if you buy a product from them, especially a book, they encourage you to rate it and, if you’re so inclined, to review it.  I thus received a request to give feedback about a book that I had written. Continue reading

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable seem to me all the uses of this blog!

Hello, good day, and welcome to yet another Thursday.  Next week will be the last Thursday of this month, so three weeks remain (if my calculations are correct) until the next planned episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Hopefully, I’ll be in an appropriate state to write that when the time comes.

I’ve been troubled by a certain issue for some time now, and I think I’ve mentioned part of it here before:  I’m having a hard time reading new fiction.  I’ve also, probably as part of the same problem, had trouble getting into and enjoying the rereading of fiction that I’ve always enjoyed reading previously.  This includes the single most reliable work, The Lord of the Rings, to which I’ve always been able to turn hitherto.  Ever since the first time I read it, I have, like Christopher Lee, read LoTR pretty much at least once a year every year.  This isn’t atypical behavior for me; when I like a work of fiction, or even non-fiction, including everything from books to movies to comic books to television series, I tend to consume them repetitively.  I’m not the sort of person to be thrown off by spoilers, obviously, because on the second reading of a book, there aren’t going to be any significant surprises.  My memory and recall seem somewhat above average; I’m certainly not going to forget major plot developments in stories I’ve encountered previously.  Nevertheless, as far as I can recall, each rereading of The Lord of the Rings, for instance, has always brought me nearly as much joy as it ever did before.

No longer.  In recent months to years, I cannot seem to take pleasure in books that have always been reliable in the past.  I’ve tried to reread the Harry Potter series recently, and even to re-listen to them on Audible, but I can’t seem to do it.  I lose interest quickly, and find the attempt unpleasant.  The same thing happens with The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The Shining, The Stand, The Dark Tower, Floating Dragon, the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, of Terry Pratchett, Isaac Asimov, Anne Rice, Robert E. Howard…even my beloved Shakespeare.  As Pink Floyd said in the song, One of My Turns, “Nothing is very much fun anymore.” Continue reading

Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal bloggings in me.

It’s Thursday again, the third Thursday of the month, and as you may know, I did not write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains” last week.  I considered writing an episode this week, but I think I’ll just push that off until next month; I’m just not in the mood to do it.  Writing those posts is something I do for fun.  It may seem perverse to take pleasure in writing about and celebrating my favorite villains; perhaps it is perverse.  But I really do enjoy it, and I want to do it when I have a mind-frame of playfulness.  If I write about villains when feeling negative, I’m liable to enjoy the villain more for the villainy, rather than on terms of the character as it contributes to a work of fiction.  That’s not a state in which I want to encourage myself, so I’m going to write a more ordinary blog post; indeed, as you can see, I’ve already begun.

As you can also see—if you’re looking—I posted the audio for Chapter 8 of The Chasm and the CollisionThe Chasm and the Collision yesterday on my blog, here.  Within the next day or so, I expect to post the “video” of that audio on YouTube as well, so for those of you who prefer that venue, it will be available soon.

I’m pleased to note that my new regimen for writing Iterations of Zero is working well.  I’ve produced two IoZ posts in the last two weeks (on Tuesdays), and though this is too small a grouping to be considered a pattern, I expect that I’ll continue to follow that schedule.  Similarly, despite that commitment, I haven’t lost ground on my primary task, which is fiction writing, since I find it easier to write fiction on the weekend than to write nonfiction.  When I write a blog post, I expect to produce a final, more or less polished, work, and to publish it that day, whereas with fiction I know I’m writing a first draft, so I don’t have to think of the whole process from beginning to end on each day of the writing.  This is a quite freeing, and it encourages me and makes the process easier.

Of course, I could give myself that freedom with my blog posts as well, but I find that if I write a draft for a blog post and then plan to come back to it and edit it later, I tend simply not to return to it.  Other things steal my attention, and enterprises of great pitch and merit lose the name of action.  That habit would probably be surmountable, but the way I’m doing it now seems to be the most straightforward one available, given the constraints on my schedule.

Unanimity continues to proceed well under my slightly modified writing regimen.  In fact, it’s probably going a little faster than it was before.  Terrible events are occurring or are about to occur in it, but that’s only to be expected as a horror story draws to its climax.  I can’t believe how long it is, though.  Seriously, it’s a bit mind-boggling.  It’s not Proustian by any means, but it’s certainly the longest book I’ve ever written.  In its current form, it’s already longer than most Stephen King novels.

I expect to hone it down quite a bit, of course, before it’s ready to be published, but wow.  I sometimes wonder if the book will ever reach its end.

One thing I’m enjoying about it is that a character who did not seem very promising—he’s socially awkward and lacks a certain amount of imagination and motivation—is going to be the one who will rise to the occasion and “save the day.”  This was not what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t what he expected, but that’s the way stories go.

I feel as though I ought to have more to write about here today, but whatever it is that I thought I needed to say isn’t springing out at me.  I think I’m just extremely tired, in a non-ordinary, non-trivial sense.  This has nothing to do with my writing, of course—although I can become fatigued when writing, I never seem to tire of the process in any fundamental way.  The same cannot be said of so many other things in life.  Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep for a year…or a century…or indefinitely.  Perchance, to dream.

Oh, well.  Life is dukkha, after all; you can’t always get what you want.  (And though the Rolling Stones respond with the rejoinder that, if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need, implicit in their use of the word “sometimes” is the fact that, quite often, you get neither what you want nor what you need.)

C’est la vie.  Sometimes it’s hard to see why anyone bothers with it.

TTFN

The Chasm and the Collision, Chapter 8: “Death and Escape” – the audio

Here it is, slightly earlier than I expected:  the audio for Chapter 8 of The Chasm and the Collision, read, as always, by me.

 

My usual disclaimers, restrictions, and permissions apply:  You may feel free to listen, to download, and to share as often as you wish, by whatever means you wish, but you are not authorized to make any money by doing so.

If you’d like to listen to any other audio that I’ve done, you can just go to the categories list and select “audio.”  Alternatively, you can go to my YouTube station, here.

Enjoy!