After you’ve written reviews of more than a thousand comics, it becomes clear that #1 issues tend to be more divisive than any number that follows (or, perhaps, that’s always been obvious). The first issue of a comic book series isn’t just going to attract the most readers, it also has the biggest task set before it: to pitch an exceedingly long story well enough to maintain interest for at least one month, usually in only 20 pages. Big ideas, cliffhangers, and loads of characters pack first issues with potential that can go very well or disastrously wrong. However they turn out, there’s almost always something worth discussing, which is what makes Doctor Doom #1 so odd. It is a first issue featuring a bigger-than-life character in the midst of the Marvel universe, yet it seems unsure of how it should present itself. It’s a perfectly fine middle issue, spinning a variety of plates, but an unconvincing pitch as the start of a new series.
There are certainly plenty of plot threads introduced in Doctor Doom #1, but nothing is presented with the conviction necessary to create a hook. There’s a brief flirtation with exploring climate change, but this ultimately tumbles into providing a high-tech plot device. International intrigue arrives with no clear motive or antagonist, leaving little interest in a mystery. Visions of an alternate life are delivered in such a clunky fashion that confusion threatens anything vergining on insight. Even the twist of the issue is so familiar to any reader that has read a Fantastic Four comic before, that it is difficult to recognize as an actual twist. There are lots of things happening in this issue, but it’s impossible to say what Doctor Doom #1 is about.
Each key element of the comic lacks any clear sense of stakes, partially stemming from the series’ unmoored nature within the Marvel universe. A potential globe-threatening catastrophe tied to some of the most important characters in comics goes seemingly unnoticed by these same characters and the many series surrounding Doctor Doom #1. It demands to be seen as an event without investing readers in its own character and narrative or even bothering to borrow investment from another title. Given the wild shifts in Doctor Doom’s characterization over the past decade, it’s unclear whether he should be read as a hero, anti-hero, unreliable narrator, or some mix of these and others. The dialogue and narration of Doctor Doom #1 does nothing to clarify itself on this account. Events simply continue to occur, unconcerned with presenting a strong tone, characterization, or perspective. This sort of vanilla storytelling can be fine with a straightforward superhero comic, but the ambitions and nature present here make it a confusing approach.
The best thing that can be said of Doctor Doom #1 is that it utilizes Salvador Larrocca’s unique style to maximal effect. While his work on Star Wars spiraled into the uncomfortable nadir of the uncanny valley, Doctor Doom’s design makes him every bit the appealing subject that Vader was before him. This Ribic-infused approach to Doom’s armor is imposing and austere. Splashes don’t feel wasted, even when used on small moments, because Doctor Doom delivers such an impressive pose on the page. It’s unfortunate that the power wielded in some of these panels is undermined with a poorly conceived action sequence that make Doom appear shockingly harmless.
Doctor Doom #1 is the sort of middle-of-the-road effort that plagues comics midway through runs with only diehard fans paying attention. It is competent and borders upon being interesting at points, but it lacks any clear identity. The action is obligatory and the big ideas feel small. This paint-by-numbers approach fails to provide the gusto of a great issue or even the audacity of a terrible one. Doctor Doom #1 opts simply to be fine, perfectly okay, not too bad, even. However, it’s worth remembering that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference.
Published by Marvel Comics
On October 9, 2019
Written by Christopher Cantwell
Art by Salvador Larrocca
Colors by Guru-eFX
Letters by Cory Petit
Cover by ACO