The politics of Doom
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:
- The kingdom of Yugoslavia was established from provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s like so many others …
- … 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.
- 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:
- 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.”
Posted on February 28, 2015, in Politics dammit, The great ultravillains and tagged Cold War, Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four, fascism, Josip Tito, Latveria, Magneto, NATO, Stan Lee, Unaligned Movement, WWII, Yugoslavia. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.