The politics of Doom

Gee, what's it doing there?

Gee, what’s it doing there?

Victor von Doom debuted in Fantastic Four #5, in July 1962, and his origin and general depth of character were presented in January 1964, in the FF Annual #2. This identified him as the ruler of Latveria almost immediately in the history of the character, unlike the political history of Magneto for instance, who first appeared in September 1963 and was retconned into being a survivor of the Holocaust in 1981.

So you know, that makes the published Doom a couple years older than me, and Magneto one year older than me exactly. I read the above-named issues in the pages of Bring on the Bad Guys by Stan Lee, in the late 1970s. I also owned some of the Tales to Astonish issues from 1971  by Roy Thomas and Wally Wood, an unfortunate pair of surnames in retrospect, but such talent, and such awesome work in those Doom stories – the very first villain-only stories in comics, unless you count the aforementioned annual. The character burned into my brain; it’s clear who was the protagonist of the comic misnamed The Fantastic Four.

Possibly more relevant than that last tidbit, let me tell you about this place called “Yugoslavia,” and this guy:

"Josip Broz Tito Bihać 1942" by Marxists Internet Archive. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons -

“Josip Broz Tito Bihać 1942” by Marxists Internet Archive. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons –

  • The kingdom of Yugoslavia was established from provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s like so many others …
Yugoslavia 1933

Yugoslavia 1933

  • … which was then squeezed internally by internal/monarchic disputes and externally by surrounding fascist states and Stalin’s USSR, culminating in both Italy’s and Germany’s armies invading in 1941, occupying and splitting up the region, and massacring nearly a million people.
1943: invasions and occupations

1943: invasions and occupations

  • After 1945, a lot of the communist resistance forces (“partisans”) of fascist-occupied regions had to get face-lifted to become the new major political parties, ranging from the “leftist? what leftist?” of DeGaulle to the outright destruction of these parties and re-installment of effectively Nazi/fascists with shiny new grins, as in Italy. The Yugoslavian resistance actually expelled both the Reich’s and Mussolin’s forces by 1944 with little external assistance, and its biggest party, the pan-Yugoslavian  group led by Josip Broz Tito swiftly turned into its own communist state, and then into its own dictatorship when Tito refused to resign.
  • He divided it into six more-or-less ethnically-defined republics:
1945 republics

1945 republics

  • Initially, Yugoslavia was included in the Soviet-dominated Cominform (Communist Information Bureau), but withdrew (or was expelled, accounts differ) in less than a year, and severed alliance with the USSR. This was very confusing to Americans who were now convinced of an “eastern bloc” with a shadowy central intelligence at its heart, and remained so. Relations resumed in the 1950s after Stalin’s death, but Yugoslavia did not enter into any organizational unity with the Soviet-centric states.
  • Tito’s regime was … well, where it says dictatorship in the dictionary, Tito’s pic is the illustration. “Authoritarian” doesn’t begin to cut it.
  • In 1961, the term “Third Way” was posed for nations belonging neither to NATO nor to the Warsaw Pact, with the implication that they did not need to be coerced or instructed by either. The official effort, the Non-Aligned Movement, was led by President Nasser in Egypt, prime minister Nehru in India, President Sukarno in Indonesia, President Nkrumah of Ghana, prime minister Nu of Burma, and Tito, with the only European participating nation.

That’s 1961. That’s where Latveria is, in the Carpathian sector of Yugoslavia proper. And that, FIY, is Victor. Von. Doom.

Sure, dressed up in a monarchic reversal, and sure, given the only ethnic identity any American ever heard of from the region (gypsy), but these flips are merely details of this very device. We have a “bad kind” of government, somewhere in the confusing web of Balkan byways never explained in history classes, run by a dictator, the very bugaboo of U.S. rhetoric (overlooking its friend Franco, just for perspective), contemptuous of the U.S. and NATO, yet fiercely steadfast against the Soviet Union, thus by no stretch of the imagination included in the Great Foe. It’s the Third Way all over – specifically, not yours, Yankee.

See, the Cold War wasn’t this Manichean us/them free/slave thing you hear about. Every detail you learn changes everything about that kindergarten image, which at the time in the early 60s, was pumped at my older brothers’ generation through every candidate’s speech, every class, every civic organization. Only science fiction bucked it, under cover of its tentacles and rayguns and planets, and at that time, only in prose. But then comics did the job with a vengeance. The pop culture consensus says Marvel’s early power came from the angsty characterizations, and I say bulllll-shit. Lee had a talent for finding sore spots in the Kennedy rhetoric (which was the same as Nixon rhetoric, Eisenhower rhetoric, Truman rhetoric) and barely disguising them in gaudy costumes, giving the whole thing weight which he wisely never mentioned outright.

When I say an ultravillain means something, I mean it. There is no such thing as “not political.”


About Ron Edwards

Game author, publisher, consultant, teacher

Posted on February 28, 2015, in Politics dammit, The great ultravillains and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Ah hah, very nice! Equating Doom with the Yugoslavian region certainly makes more sense than the alternatively Bavarian/Bohemian portrayal that he seems to get visually in the comics. (The Latverian commoners in their lederhosen are pretty suggestive in this regard.)

    I remember Doom’s role as a sovereign head of state with fondness myself. The FF stories published around here in my childhood revolved around the dictatorship angle a lot – the Fantastic Four getting stuck in the suspiciously prosperous and happy Latveria, Doom being immune to conventional prosecution thanks to his diplomatic status, the Latverian embassy as a sort of a free base out of which he’d peek into New York, only to run back to safety when the superheroes catch him doing something or other. I could easily see myself taken by a Doom with less emphasis on his nebulous genius and plotting, and more on his role as a monarch. What else do you need, anyway, to be a supervillain?

    I presume you’ll interpret Namor next, considering the royal angle 😀


  2. I was going to mention all those green shorts and feathered hats among the Latverians, but my take on it is not that it was any specific cultural option, merely the prevailing image in U.S. culture of the time. Not England, not France, not Italy, not Greece? Oh – then it must be sort of German, and in the U.S., all of Germany and any mountains “over there” are Bavaria.


  3. Lee and Kirby were like a sponge that absorded everything to use in the comics, see the way Latveria became a copy of “The Village” in 1969:

    But even before, the characterization of Doctor Doom was all over the place… at the beginning his castle was in the USA! (later retconned as a sort of “country house” he had moved in the Adirondacks from Europe), he was a more typical “mad doctor”… that FF annual was a real turning point for the character (and Marvel strip-mined that story for decades…)

    As an example of the confusion surrounding Europe geography in the Marvel bullpen… in Daredevil 38 ( ) – that was, by the way, the very first Marvel Comic Book I brought in my life (in the italian later reprint, obviusly), Daredevil-in-Doom-body declare war to all of Latveria’s neighbouring countries… and Doom panic because “one of them is allied with Red China”.
    In the middle of Europe, in 1968? They probably had heard about the Maoist elements in the ’68 manifestations in France and thought that China was conquering Europe…


  4. Oh, are we showing off, Moreno? Let me throw a lateral at you: there wasn’t any “characterization.” It couldn’t bounce around because there was no ball. We’re talking about eight issues of appearances prior to the origin story, in less than a year and a half, in the absolutely insane context of launching the first half-dozen major titles at Marvel – the process is best described as throwing a thousand eggs at a wall. In that context I’d say Doom settled into place remarkably fast, more so than most of the heroes, and whatever jiggles it took is exactly to be expected.

    That’s how all of it worked. Nothing at all like 80s Marvel Universe territory, in which the characters’ locations, personal histories, powers, and psychological profiles are all listed, double-checked, notarized, and taped to the inside walls of junior editors’ cubicles.

    That Latveria-borders-China instance is great. There’s content even there … “bordering on Red China” had more than a little bit to do with a certain U.S. war theater in 1968. Therefore that phrase was weighty no matter how much the precise details made crazy-spaghetti out of any map. More of that!


  5. Latecomer to the article, but couldn’t the “one of them is allied with Red China” be an entirely accurate for 1968 reference to Albania?


  6. Mark Kusenberger

    quibble: the Thomas-Wood Doom series was in Astonishing Tales, not Tales to Astonish. why anyone at Marvel bothered to change it up is another, entirely fair question.
    I definitely have enjoyed your series quite a bit, Ron. I’ll be staying with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words! I’m currently trying to figure out how to make this content into something more permanent and useful – any thoughts of yours about that will be appreciated.

      Over the next few Doom posts, I finally managed to get a few titles correctly cited. In the blog’s early stages, I often threw up my hands and said, “well, I’ll sort it out in the eventual edits.”


  1. Pingback: Time travel trippin’ up | Doctor Xaos comics madness

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