‘Tis now the very witching time of night, when churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world. Now could I drink hot blood and blog such bitter business as the bitter day would quake to look on.

I started this morning with no idea what I was going to write.  There isn’t much new to report with respect to my stories.  Progress on Unanimity and on Penal Colony goes on at a steady pace.  I haven’t started any new projects, and I don’t mean to do so until at least Penal Colony and In the Shade are both finished.

On the other hand, today is the last Thursday before Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.  Last October, as a celebration of the season, I wrote the first draft of Hole for a Heart, a quite Halloween-ey tale.  The story actually takes place in late spring, but its atmosphere is decidedly redolent of Halloween, and I pay lip-service to that fact during the story.

I’m not entirely sure why Halloween has always appealed to me so much.  Part of it probably has to do with its arrival shortly after my birthday, but that annual milestone hasn’t pleased me for quite some time, and I still like Halloween just as much.  Similarly, when I was younger, there’s little doubt that the acquisition of candy had no small influence on my holiday joy, but I’m not that big a candy person anymore, yet I’m still very much a Halloween person.*

Part of the attraction is that this is the most quintessentially autumnal of the holidays, and autumn has always been my favorite season, entirely unrelated to candy, to birthdays, and to any other more parochial concerns.  I simply love the feel of this time of year, especially as it is up north.  The changing of the colors of the leaves in southeastern Michigan, where I grew up, remains one of the most magical spectacles of nature.  Also, I was one of those supposedly rare kids who really liked going back to school after summer vacation (I think there are more of us than we’ve been led to believe).

Autumn has also almost always been the time of year when I restart the Tolkien cycle, beginning sometimes with The Silmarillion but often with The Hobbit, and always proceeding to The Lord of the Rings.  The fact that Frodo begins his adventure in the autumn surely contributes to my associational joy with the time of year.  That happy connection has only been bolstered by the fact that the Harry Potter books begin on Halloween (albeit on a tragic note).

Deeper than this, though, is that I’ve always felt an affinity for dark stories (in case you couldn’t tell) and Halloween is the holiday of the shadowy tale; I don’t think I’m anything like alone in this.  It’s not a coincidence that Stephen King is one of the most enduringly successful authors the world has yet seen.  Halloween is a time when huge numbers of people, at least in America, indulge their inner King, and embrace stories of the dark, the supernatural, the otherworldly.  For some people, it seems to be the only time when they use their imaginations at all.

Oddly enough, I’ve never really found Halloween scary, not even when I was a young child (no, not even the movie).  It’s just too much fun, frankly, and that’s true even of most scary movies and stories.  Weirdly, although I love most of Stephen King’s work, only two of his novels have ever frightened me (The Shining, and, more prominently, Pet Sematary).  It’s odd, but horror stories in general seem to affect me much the way Halloween does:  I feel them deeply, when they’re good, and I enjoy them; they resonate powerfully with me; but I don’t usually find them frightening.

The exceptions to this rule are interesting, and probably instructive.  Only a rare few books have literally made me feel afraid for any noticeable period of time, including the two listed above, as well as Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and—the long-reigning champion—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which has perhaps the best opening and closing paragraphs of any spooky story ever.  A few Lovecraft short stories, and more Stephen King short stories—as well as some Orson Scott Card stories, surprisingly enough—succeed in this area, as do intermittent others (most notably, the bone-chilling story Nadelman’s God by T.E.D. Klein).

In movies, the phenomenon is rarer still, with crowning glory going to the original Alien (Event Horizon was pretty darn spooky, too; also—though lamentably stupid as a science fiction story—as a horror movie, Signs really and majorly creeped me out…possibly because I first watched it in a hotel room, alone, at night, far from home).

Obviously, I like writing stories that might make other people frightened, but I don’t approach the writing with the idea of doing anything calculated to build a scary atmosphere, to make people feel uncomfortable, to surprise them, to worry them, etc.  At least, I don’t do it consciously.  It’s the darkness, rather than the scariness, that seems pivotal to me, both in my writing and my reading.  The same holds for my enjoyment of other literary forms, from plays, to movies, to video games, to TV shows.

And, of course, autumn is that time when darkness is gaining ground, with Halloween its most prominent celebration.  After Frodo’s and Bilbo’s birthday, which is roughly at the equinox, the days in the northern hemisphere grow ever shorter, and darkness is ascendant.  In the shadows, where there is less blinding, glaring, external input entering the mind, the imagination can be brought more readily into play.  The mind’s eye sees most clearly in the dark.

Well, it seems I did have a fair amount to write today, after all.  I could probably go on and on about this topic, but that might be truly horrifying, and not in a fun way; the “Chinese water torture” isn’t very dramatic as torments go, but it does sound maddening.  I’ll spare you such erosion and hold off further discussions of darkness and stories for later times.  In the meanwhile, please enjoy your Halloween (those of you who observe it).  If you get a chance, dress up for it.  Have some candy.  Laugh at and about scary things.

But you might want to avoid going out by yourself too long after night falls.  Even the darkest of entities like to give themselves treats from time to time, and a solitary human is a juicy morsel indeed.

TTFN


*This isn’t quite the same—nor is it as bad—as being one of the Autumn People, à la Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it’s not entirely orthogonal, either.

Come what come may, time and the hour blogs through the roughest day.

Well, Thursday has caught me off-guard again.  This really shouldn’t happen, considering that it comes every week at the same time—like clockwork, or at least like calendar-work—but I guess I’ve got a mental block in that area.  The days do all seem much the same, with very little that stands out from its surroundings; certainly, there exist plain few inherently exciting events.  Goodness knows the news cycle is too depressingly idiotic to vouchsafe much attention without losing IQ points each time; it’s probably worse for your brain than sniffing glue, though I’ve never tried the latter, and I don’t intend to do so.  If glue-sniffing is worse than paying attention to popular and social media—well, then it is very bad indeed.

Of course, there are exciting things coming in my personal future.  The writing of Unanimity proceeds well, with the story arcing gracefully (I hope) toward its climax, but it continues to be longer than I expect.  I’m pretty sure the first draft is going to be over half a million words before it’s through!  But I do expect it to be complete before the end of the year, and then rewriting/editing can begin, leading ultimately, in the fullness of time, to the release of the novel.  So that’s fun.

I also finished rewriting the original portion of In the Shade, that short story I pulled out and decided to complete.  I am not, however, going to finish writing the story until after I’ve completed at least the first draft of Penal Colony, which is going more quickly now that I’m not splitting my secondary writing time between it and In the Shade.  I expect that both short stories will be complete, rewritten/edited, and released well before Unanimity is ready to go.

I have a tentative plan to put together a new collection of short stories before long, since I write them with some frequency, and release them as the equivalent of “Kindle Singles.”  I know there are people out there who prefer to read physical, paper-and-ink books, and sympathize strongly with that point of view (though I do love being able to carry my library around in my pocket).  Since publishing even my short stories (which tend to be long) in paperback individually just makes for a product that’s probably too expensive for what you get, I like the idea of releasing a new collection of stories, like Welcome to Paradox City, but with more stories than that collection.  I’ve even started playing around with title ideas, like Dr. Elessar’s Cabinet of Curiosities, or something along those lines.

And just now, literally, as I wrote this, it occurred to me that—going in the other direction—I could also publish the individual short stories from Welcome to Paradox City as Kindle additions.  These would be The Death Sentence, If the Spirit Moves You, and of course the titular Paradox City.  Interesting.

Of course, if I release these as individual works, it might be tempting to produce audio versions of the stories, which could be fun and rewarding, but which could reinstantiate the trap in which I use a lot of my spare time recording and editing.  I really need to find a way to dedicate more of myself to writing, and its associated pursuits, in the rapidly diminishing (and highly unpredictable) life that remains to me.  Maybe I should set up a Patreon account or something.

Discussing audio leads to an amusing little side-note.  As I think I’ve commented before, I have a longish daily commute, and I like to listen to podcasts and audio books during the trip.  Well, recently, I was fiddling through my phone and found the old, unedited recordings of some of my short stories and the early chapters of The Chasm and the Collision.  I listened to one of these on the way home the other day, and it was quite amusing to hear all my mistakes and retakes, and the inevitable copious profanity that went along with them.  But it was also surprisingly fun simply to listen to myself reading my stories, so last night I opened up the YouTube app on my phone and listened to the first part of Hole for a Heart on my way home.  I don’t know if this is the most narcissistic thing that’s ever been done, but it certainly ranks right up there in my personal experience.  It was, however, honestly enjoyable.  I wonder what, if anything, that says about me, but it’s at least reassuring in that I still find the story to be a good one, and it makes me want to write more.

I just wish I could finish Unanimity more quickly.  Sometimes I think I’m never going to live to see it published, or even to see the finished first draft.  Probably that’s too melodramatic—I do tend to be a bit dark, but then again, if you read my writing, you know that already.

And that’s pretty much it for today, on this surprisingly unexpected Thursday.  I hope I haven’t shortchanged you, but then again, if you enjoy my writing, there’s plenty of it available commercially.

TTFN!

They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time blogs many parts

Well, you wouldn’t think it would catch me by surprise—it’s something that happens every month, after all, in an entirely predictable fashion—but I didn’t realize until this morning that today was the second Thursday of October and is thus the “official” day for me to write an episode of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Obviously, since I wasn’t thinking about it, I haven’t given a second’s thought to what villain I should discuss today.  Rather than pick a random baddie from my memory’s hat and produce an off-the-cuff essay on him or her, I’ll push that project back until next week or next month.  I apologize if anyone out there was looking forward to a new episode today.  Then again, if there are such people, I haven’t heard from them; I’d be quite gratified if you’d make yourself or yourselves known.  I can exculpate myself a bit for my oversight by admitting that I’ve been rather worn down, tired, and slightly ill, this week (see my IoZ entry here for a brief discussion of the nature and effects of my troubles with insomnia), so I’m behind my mental curve.

Even as I wrote that last sentence, I realized that I’ve often made comment in these, my public venues, about being under the weather.  Now, I don’t think that I’m too whiny and hypochondriacal, as a general rule, but I certainly don’t seem to operate at my physical optimum much of the time.  It’s a problem that I need to keep in mind, going forward.

I will say this, in tangential reference to the above issue:  I’m glad that I decided to put my audio productions on indefinite hiatus.  It’s a melancholy gladness, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, because I really do like those audio productions, and if you’re interested you’re welcome to partake of the ones I’ve made, either here, or on my YouTube channel.  But making them requires a lot of mental energy and physical time.  Since putting the audios on pause, I’ve gotten more writing done on Unanimity, and I’ve worked steadily on my two other short stories during the the hours I would have spent recording and editing the audio, leading to an increased total output of about five pages a day versus only three on average (or roughly 2500 words versus 1500) before.  This is a serious improvement.

It would be nice to be able to do all this full-time, instead of in the interstices between actions of daily necessity required to put food on the table, so to speak.  Then I could write just as much and still make my audio files, which would be a lot of fun.  I hope someday to reach that state, but I obviously haven’t done it yet.

Unanimity goes well, though, and is honestly approaching its climax and resolution (I swear!  No, really!).  I still expect—if I work on it as steadily as I ought—its first draft to be finished before the end of the year, and probably well before that long novel is ready to be published, I’ll release one or both of the short stories I’m working on, Penal Colony and In the Shade.

It’s amazing how something can take so many hours, so much effort, and yet yield a product that can be consumed within the course of, say, a few days for a novel, or at most an hour or two for a short story.  It would be nice if I could give the readers of my work as much lasting entertainment as I get durable engagement from producing them, but I guess that’s the nature of all creative arts.  Even a small, independent film is created through untold hours of effort by astonishing numbers of people, to be then enjoyed within the space of two hours.  A great painting or sculpture can take perhaps less total work, but is then enjoyed in mere tiny, minutes-long chunks by even the most passionate enthusiasts of the arts.

I wonder how many people would have to read my books to make the “man-hours” of reading surpass the man-hours of production; it’s a hurdle I’d love to cross with all my stories.  I don’t know if anyone’s done the math on such a question—I assume that the numbers would be different for different people and different works—but if they have, I’d love to know about it.  I’m sure that Stephen King, for instance, passed that milestone decades ago.  He probably passed it with Carrie, and I doubt that he’s ever caught up in the time since, despite the staggering pace at which he writes.  To match such an outcome is a high bar for anyone to set, but as I’ve long said, only those who attempt the impossible can achieve the unbelievable.

And now, I think that will just about do it for today.  I’ll say, tentatively at least, that I’m going to put off the next episode of “My heroes have always been villains” until November, unless I receive any complaints or protests from those who don’t want to wait.

I’ll close with an exhortation—probably preaching to the converted, but there it is—that you all be cautious of falling prey too much, too often, to the easy distractions of videos and memes and other short-attention forms of entertainment.  Keep reading.  Read “real” books, read e-books (they’re just two forms of the same thing), read fiction and nonfiction, read articles and blogs, read poems, read plays, but do keep reading.  Written language is the lifeblood of civilization, and stories are the default mode of human thought (or so it seems).  To read, and to write, are affirmations of and contributions to the health and longevity of the human project and are well worth anyone’s time.

So I am convinced.  I may, perhaps, be biased.

TTFN

He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not blog upon his like again.

 

Hamlet:  My father—methinks I see my father.

Horatio:  Where, my lord?

Hamlet:  In my mind’s eye, Horatio.

-Hamlet, Act I, Scene 2

 

It’s Thursday, October 4th, the day of my father’s birthday.  He would have turned seventy-nine today if he were still alive, but he died just under two years ago.  I don’t remember the exact date of his death, and I see no reason to memorialize it.

My father and I didn’t always get along; in many ways we were too alike to avoid butting heads, especially since one of the ways we were alike is a deep stubbornness.  But my father was an admirable man in many ways; he always took care of his family to the best of his ability, which was usually very good indeed.  He and my mother were married right up until the day he died, which is more than I can say about myself, and I admire them both for it.  That they were best friends and constant companions is an unarguable fact, and they got along as well as any long-married couple I’ve ever known.

It was from my parents—both of them—that I got my love of reading, and more indirectly, my love of writing, of making stories.  It was my father who received as a gift, and who proudly wore, a tee-short quoting Erasmus in saying, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.”  This wasn’t quite my parents’ literal attitude, but it was damn close.

I didn’t quite realize how proud and supportive my parents were of my love of reading and writing until in college I came to a point of crisis.

I had always intended—for as long as I thought about it—to become a scientist, though I’ve also always written stories, books, plays, and even screenplays (the latter too laughable to discuss).  By the time I was ready for university, I had decided that I wanted to be a physicist.  I went to Cornell as a Physics Major, and in my first year did quite well in all my physics and mathematics coursework (while also thoroughly enjoying my freshman seminars, first Fantasy and then Writing About Film).  But then, during the summer after freshman year, I underwent open-heart surgery to correct an atrial septal defect (quite a large one) that had only been discovered that year.

In later times, in medical school, I learned more about some of the central nervous system effects of open-heart surgery, and I even wrote a review paper on the nature of the (usually temporary) cognitive decline that heart-lung bypass in heart surgery frequently causes.  Its effects in triggering mood disorders such as depression (something for which I already have a familial and personal predisposition) are probably more widely known than the temporarily diminished mental capacity that comes to most people who have undergone such surgery.  The state of the art may have improved since 1988, but I doubt the problem has been eliminated.

Anyway, I returned to college at the beginning of sophomore year (only two weeks after my surgery!), and over the course of that semester and year, with the combination of a low-grade-sometimes-veering-into-high-grade depression and a dip in my mental acuity, I had a hard time keeping up with the higher level math courses (and the physics was getting into the intro to serious quantum mechanics and other areas, with matters requiring vector calculus, tensors, partial differential equations, and all that fun stuff).  I think if I’d just had the temporary cognitive impairment and not the depression as well, I might have muscled my way through, and brushed up on things once my mental clarity improved.  Alas, not only was I not so lucky, I also had no idea why I was having such difficulty; I felt merely that I was an intellectual and moral failure as a Physics Major.

I didn’t fail any classes or anything like that—I don’t think I got anything below a low B—but I could see myself having more and more trouble as I went forward, if things remained as they were.  At the time, I was already close friends with the woman I would eventually marry, and she had read some of my writing (and really liked it).  She talked to me long and hard about my options, and with her help, I came to the decision to switch majors to English.

I was mortified about this.  I felt that I was failing myself in some important way, and worse, that I was letting my parents down, but I didn’t see any alternative.  So I called them, and I very nervously told them the decision I had made…

They were practically ecstatic.  My father in particular said that he just thought that English suited me better, because I loved reading and writing so much, and was good at it.  They’d always been supportive of my love of science, too, of course, and had been behind me all the way in my goal to become a scientist, but they’d apparently thought that such a career wouldn’t fulfill me…though they were wise enough not to try to change my oh-so-stubborn mind.  I think my parents—and particularly my father—would have been prouder of having a son who was an author than of having a son who won the Nobel Prize in Physics.  I hadn’t ever thought of that before.  But the fact that they were so supportive of, and even excited by, my choice was an incredible, tremendous relief and encouragement.

I’ve occasionally wistfully looked back and wished I’d gone farther in my formal studies of physics and math, but…well, those are things I can study on my own, and I do so when the mood strikes me.  But as an English Major, I realized my deep and abiding love of Shakespeare (at one point I took two Shakespeare courses at the same time; that was fun!), and I learned of the works of Spenser and Mallory and Milton.  I read Paradise Lost (my personal nomination for the greatest English language work of all time), and innumerable other great works beside, ancient and modern.  I’ve never regretted those exposures.  Who would?  I also learned how quickly I can write at need, when I discovered that I’d mis-marked the due date for my honors thesis, and I had to write the whole thing in one weekend.  That was pretty stupid, but maybe I can blame it on the residua of my cognitive impairment, which thankfully seems to have faded completely in the intervening years.

Anyway, it was thanks to my parents’ support, and my father’s words—and the example he set—that I was able to feel good about my choice.  We had some pretty serious interpersonal problems in subsequent years, but eventually we put them behind us, and though I didn’t become an “official” writer directly after college (I went to medical school instead…go figure) I am finally now finally fulfilling my destiny, as the Jedi and the Sith are prone to say.*

I’m tremendously happy that my father lived long enough to see me publish my first few books, though I wish he’d been alive to read The Chasm and the Collision, since his advice had real, beneficial impact on its style.

And now I have my own version of his tee-shirt that reads, “When I get a little money, I buy books.  If any is left, I buy food and clothes.” It was a gift from my sister, and I come as close to embodying the words as my parents did, if not closer.  I’m more like my father, probably, than I am like any other person I’ve ever known.  I’m a little more playful than he ever was—he was quite a serious man most of the time, and he was exceeded in stubbornness only by his youngest son—but he’s still the only other person I’ve known who had the patience and desire to spend as much time in zoos and museums as I do.  He always loved to learn new things, and I consider that shared love (which also came from my mother) perhaps the greatest gift that I could ever have been given.

I miss him terribly, and my mother as well.  But as Arthur Bach said in the original movie, Arthur, “I was lucky to know him at all.”


*If there is such a thing as destiny, then surely it’s impossible to do anything but fulfill one’s destiny.

Methought I read a blog cry, “Sleep no more!”

It’s Thursday again, and we’re in the middle of the first week of Autumn (in the Northern hemisphere).  For the next six months, the nights will be longer than the days.  As someone who tends to write about the darker side of possibility, I don’t think that’s so terrible…or it’s terrible in all the best ways.

My writing has been steady but rather slow this week, mainly because I’m struggling badly with insomnia.  I’m not referring here to the Stephen King book by that name (though coincidentally I’m in the middle of rereading it at this very time), but to the chronic, and occasionally incapacitating, sleep disorder.  Over the previous two nights (before last night) I slept for a rough total of three hours; this is, obviously, not adequate, and it has a noticeable impact on my ability to concentrate and to think clearly.

Nevertheless, the writing continues.  Hopefully, when I go back to rewrite and edit, I won’t be dismayed by how horrible my work product from these past few days is; I don’t honestly expect it to stand out as either better or worse than average.  As I’ve said previously, the way I feel when writing something is poorly correlated with how good the writing turns out to be.  Sometimes when I feel lofty and inspired and superhumanly gifted, I produce nothing but great, steaming piles of oozy excrement.  The converse is also occasionally true.  It’s unpredictable.  Thus, we will always need to edit and rewrite.

Today, for the first time in quite a while, I’m riding the train in to work, due to certain vehicles being in the shop and matters of that sort.  It’s nothing to worry about, just routine maintenance, despite an event I obliquely mention below.

It’s curiously nostalgic to be taking the train, and not entirely unpleasant, though it’s far less efficient—time-wise, anyway—than driving.   I’ve been inspired to write at least one story (Prometheus and Chiron) while waiting for a train, and I see many interesting people when using mass transit.  Little of note happens on the Interstate, especially when one rides a vehicle that is fundamentally solo.  One can have occasional exciting, even life-threatening moments on the road, such as one I had three days ago, but they don’t make very good stories.  Not to me, anyway.  I suppose I could throw some details of such an occurrence into the midst of an action scene to add to the realism, drawing from my personal experience of feeling my right leg squeezed against the passenger door of some idiot’s car, which is changing lanes without the driver looking, but it happens quickly and—thanks to the fact that I don’t tend to rattle easily—is rapidly over, with no harm done.

I’m having a peculiarly good time working on three stories at once, as I mentioned in my previous post.  Of course, my primary work right now is still Unanimity, which is grudgingly proceeding toward its conclusion, but I’m enjoying both the writing of my new short story and the rewriting of the older, uncompleted story, In the Shade.  I remember when I wrote it originally, and more or less why I stopped—I just lost steam, I wasn’t inspired by what was happening, and I had other projects awaiting my attention, to which I turned (with good results, I think).  But rewriting it now, I have to say that I’m pleased with what I made then.  I think it could turn out to be quite good, even if it is just a gonzo horror story.  We shall see.

Skipping to a non-sequitur:  I must say, I’ve so far been consistently disappointed by the lack of response and feedback to the “My heroes have always been villains” episodes.  From my point of view—admittedly biased—I would think people would find such posts particularly interesting.  I wonder if my title for the series throws people off, making them wonder just what kind of horrible person I am, but it’s honestly just an ironic play on the title of an old Willie Nelson song, “My heroes have always been cowboys.”  I don’t actually idolize villains, in the sense of wanting to be like them, though they tend to have character traits that, in the right place, in the right amount, would be quite admirable.  That’s just the nature of the tragic character with the tragic flaw:  Much of what makes a villain a villain would, in proper measure and in the proper circumstances, make them admirable and even heroic.

Likewise, many attributes we admire in our heroes, real and imaginary, can be terrible drawbacks in the wrong circumstances or in different proportions.  Harry Potter, for instance, is one of the most admirable, inspiring, and pure-hearted heroes in modern literature.  Nevertheless, Professor Snape does occasionally have a point when he decries Harry’s reckless disregard for rules and his difficulty controlling his emotions (though I think he’s completely wrong when he calls Harry arrogant).

Oh, well.  I’ll continue to write those episodes roughly once a month, even if they find no readers other than myself, at least until I work my way through most of my most prominently beloved malefactors.  Hopefully there’s someone else out there who enjoys them, but since I think a writer must write primarily for him or herself, and only secondarily for the outer audience, it will only be a moderately devastating heartbreak if there isn’t.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll continue to write my weekly postings in both of my blogs, and more importantly, I’ll keep writing my fiction.

TTFN

Life is as tedious as twice-told tale, vexing the dull ear of a drowsy blog.*

Good day, all.  It’s Thursday again, and time for another incarnation of my weekly blog post.  Rejoice!

It’s been a relatively eventful few weeks with respect to my writing.  As stated before, I’ve put the production of the audio chapters of CatC on indefinite hiatus.**  This is partly due to an apparent lack of public interest (if you are a counterexample to that, please let me know).  Mainly, however, it’s due to a combination of factors within me and my life.  Specifically, the production of the audio takes a lot of my spare time and mental energy, and without any obvious feedback, I’d rather put those resources into doing what I love most:  writing new things. Continue reading

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.