In the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, critics lobbied one consistent complaint against the franchise: no good villains. Sure, there was Loki and the Red Skull, but who else? Iron Monger was just Jeff Bridges’ head floating atop a CG robot, Maliketh the Dark Elf absolutely wasted the magnetic Christopher Eccleston, and the less said about Whiplash the better. Over the years, that complaint has diminished somewhat with the additions of Black Panther baddie Killmonger and the universe-destroying Thanos.
But even as the MCU continues to improve its roster of villains, there’s one irreplaceable bad guy fans are dying to see: the ruler of Latveria, Dr. Victor von Doom.
Doom’s Marvel Origin
Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Doctor Doom made his first appearance in 1962’s Fantastic Four #5, immediately establishing himself as a formidable threat, with his green tunic and metallic mask. The six decades that followed only further established the greatness of Doom, keeping intact his melodramatic, third-person speech and penchant for robotic clones, while adding rich backstory and moral complexity. In short, Doom is the greatest villain in comics, if not in all of popular culture.
That complexity plays out in the fact that, for all of his totalitarian tendencies, Doom is beloved by his people, and is considered an effective ruler in Latveria. Furthermore, Doom has shown himself willing to help others, even heroes, when it suits him, as when he worked with the X-Men to help Kitty Pryde recover from a ghost-like form in 1986’s Fantastic Four vs. The X-Men, or when he delivered Reed and Sue’s younger daughter Valeria during a difficult pregnancy. Sure, he only did those things to best Reed, but still – good things got done.
Sadly, cinematic portrayals have failed to match the greatness of the comics. While the no-budget Roger Corman-produced Doom (played by Joseph Culp) in 1994’s The Fantastic Four has some cheesy charm, Julian McMahon played the character like a petulant investment banker in the 2000’s movies directed by Tim Story. The Cronenberg-like version played by Toby Kebbell in 2015 is certainly scary, but one note. Given its excellent casting so far, the MCU seems poised to finally give Doom his due.
Doom in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever?
Over the years, Doom has interacted with his fellow leaders of Marvel countries, including Wakanda. Driven by his massive ego and classist instincts, Doom often approaches Black Panther with respect, admiring T’Challa as a fellow good leader who rules his country well. And yet, it’s that very respect that makes Doom such a bitter enemy of Black Panther.
In the modern era, these hostilities began in earnest during the Doomwar storyline, a six-issue miniseries written by Jonathan Maberry, drawn by John Romita Jr., Will Conrad, and Scot Eaton, and colored by Dean White. The 2010 miniseries, and its various crossover issues, took place during the Siege storyline, which saw Norman Osborn running the Marvel Universe after destroying the Skrulls in Secret Invasion.
In retaliation, Doom assembles his own team called the Cabal and extends an invitation to T’Challa. When T’Challa refuses, Doom is so insulted that he sends Namor and the Atlanteans to attack in revenge. Badly beaten by the attack, T’Challa has to pass the mantle of Black Panther onto his sister Shuri, who leads a team consisting of Wakandans, the Fantastic Four, and various X-Men in a counter-attack.
More recently, Doom was part of a team who attacked the Avengers in their base on Avengers Mountain (the body of a Celestial, frozen in the Arctic, not unlike what we saw in Eternals). Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by Juan Frigeri, and colored by David Curiel, the four-part story “The Death Hunters” in Avengers #51-54 (2021-2022) sees the team divided between fighting off a Multiversal team of Mephisto variants, the murderous Kid Thanos, and Doom. To meet the villain, T’Challa designs a red costume from Wakandan science and magic, temporarily taking the name Red Panther. This mix of will, magic, and technology makes Red Panther a match for Doom, furthering their grudge.
It’s impossible to think that Doom won’t play a part in the Phase Six starter Fantastic Four coming in 2024. But his comic book past with Black Panther could suggest we’ll see Doom even earlier. We already got a hint of the character when the Mr. Fantastic of Earth 838 joined the Illuminati via Doom’s time portal in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the official synopsis for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever definitely leaves room for interaction with Doom’s nation Latveria.
According to the synopsis, the leaders of Wakanda band together “to protect their nation from intervening world powers in the wake of King T’Challa’s death.” As the trailer reveals, the main nation in opposition with Wakanda will be Atlantis, led by the haughty Prince Namor (Tenoch Huerta), and that plot point sounds a lot like the story from Doomwar. Could Latveria be another world power featured in this movie, and possibly even the nation that’s truly pulling the strings in this conflict between Wakanda and Atlantis, just like in the comics?
Wakanda Forever would be a great way to introduce the world to a complex character like Doom. With his name and menacing look, Doom initially seems like a one-dimensional bad guy. But Wakanda Forever would show him to be a world leader first, someone primarily concerned with the welfare of his people. Furthermore, because the movie shows a nation in distress without its king, it would highlight the fact that Doom is a good leader, beloved by his citizens. Even if the movie ends with Doom betraying Wakanda, forcing the new Black Panther to join forces with anti-hero Namor (a constant tension in the comics), then we’ll still get the most complex live-action villain to date.
We’ll know for sure when Black Panther: Wakanda Forever comes to theaters on November 11, 2022