Saturday, March 31, 2012

Marvel Legends: Doctor Doom

As you may know, I'm a sucker for a well-characterised villain, and when it comes to well-characterised villains, or rather super-villains, there are few better than Victor von Doom, arch enemy of the Fantastic Four and especially its leader, Reed Richards. A perfectionist with a monstrous ego, he craves power - power which he has demonstrated to be able to competently wield for the good of society in the case of his homeland of Latveria but which he believes he should wield heedless of the choice of others. Perhaps he is right, because when Latveria has been under the rule of Doom it has generally prospered, but the rest of the world isn't so willing. On the one occasion in which he did successfully conquer Doom found himself bored and frustrated by the tedium and minutiae of administration, as he constantly desires challenge and, in a sense, adventure. Hence his repeated clashes with the Fantastic Four. Much like Marvel's other great villain, Magneto, he comes from an oppressed minority, in this case the travelling Gypsies of Eastern Europe, and their harsh treatment has greatly motivated his desire for a just and prosperous society. Coupled with the accident which caused him to hide his body from the world and the loss of his mother to the demon Mephisto and we get a character who wants what's right but really has a bone to pick with the world. In another parallel with Magneto, he too recently found it advantageous to join his erstwhile enemies, and became a member of the Fantastic Four when they expanded into the Future Foundation. This has lately provided the opportunity for a lot of good character interaction between Doom and his opponents, although it's not the first time he's formed an alliance with the Fantastic Four in pursuit of the common good.
This brings us to the figure. Like the other Toybiz Marvel Legends figures I've encountered, this is a very detailed toy which is sure to please enthusiasts of the character. One of the fortunate things about Doom is that he wears armour over his limbs, so there's no need to disguise or worry about joints for the articulation of the figure. Nonetheless he's not quite as poseable as Magneto or the other figures I have, Captain America and Red Skull, but I can make him to an extent looking like he's haughtily crossing his arms so I think that's still pretty good. The cloth of his tunic is very detailed, as are his belt and mask. His hood and cloak are completely removeable and indeed easy to take off. His face mask is removeable too; this figure utilises Jack Kirby's original conception of the character in which he greatly exaggerates his own disfigurement; he actually only has one scar across his right cheek, which is still too much of a marring for the perfectionist Doom. I believe there's some kind of Fantastic Four combo pack in which Doom's face is completely ravaged but I kind of think I prefer this version; it's more subtle. The mask has its own set of eyes sculpted on so you don't have to worry about the face and the mask not matching up; it's maybe a bit of a cop out on ToyBiz's part but I think it works nonetheless.
The other accessories with which Doom is equipped are a Luger in a holster at his belt, which I can only really associate with the laser pistol he uses occasionally in Marvel vs Capcom 3, and a turret stand presumably from Castle Doom in Latveria. Like Magneto's stand it can be hooked onto the wall if for some reason you want your action figures to hang from the wall and it too is very nicely detailed. There's a prominent crest featuring the sombre visage of Cynthia von Doom, his mother, she of the character backstory. This way you can have Doom so that he's brooding or plotting or, depending on how you like your villain, speculating hopefully on the future of Latveria and the world, probably while concocting a zany scheme which will bring the ire of the Fantastic Four.
The paint on the figure's a game of halves. In principle, in a perfect world, the paint scheme itself is extremely impressive. The armour's given a wash so that it looks a bit battle-worn and not excessively polished and shiny. The texture on the tunic is very strong, with lighter highlights on the folds. The cape, while of course darker, has this too, along with gold on the clasps. However that being said, it's not a perfect world, and on my Doom there are a few slightly sloppy bits on the face, the pistol and in one spot on the skirt of the tunic. They're hardly dealbreakers, however. Doom's face under the mask is extremely detailed, with individual teeth and haughtily cocked eyebrows. One other nice detail is that behind his cape, on his back and sticking out from his tunic are the two little booster jets that let him fly. They really didn't miss a trick with these figures. His joints are a little stiff but he has been sitting in a plastic clamshell for ten years so I can't really begrudge him that. If I'm going to make any particular criticism it's that on his arms and legs the armour's not especially detailed. It gets the job done, but it lacks some of the ridges on the gauntlets and feet with which Doom is normally depicted.
As I mentioned earlier he's pretty poseable. The cape and tunic skirt obstruct some potentially wilder positions but he's advertised as having twenty-seven points of articulation, which isn't too bad. He's got ball jointed shoulders, hips and neck, swivelling upper arms, wrists, waist and upper legs and hinged fingers, toes, knees, elbows and feet. He's not quite at the level of Magneto because he doesn't have the hinged chest, double-jointed elbows, knees and shoulders, swivel ankles or hinged wrists which are kind of commonplace, but this is due to his unique design with the tunic and armour. It's not really a great loss. You can still pose him pretty well; some of the articulation on the really heavily jointed ToyBiz figures is kind of extraneous to be honest. He's certainly not up there with the insane levels of a toy like Face-Off Cap, who has individually poseable fingers. As I say, it's more than compensated for by the wealth of accessories and the level of detail.
It's also worth noting that like all ToyBiz figures from this era Doom comes with a complementary comic showcasing the character at his finest. In this case it's a reprint of Fantastic Four Vol 1 #247, written and illustrated by John Byrne and originally published in 1982. In support of my brief discussion of the character above it's a famous story in which Doom enlists the help of the Fantastic Four to assist him in overthrowing Zorba, the very monarch the Fantastic Four helped into power to replace the apparently-tyrannical Doom. Upon arrival they discover that Zorba's actually a good deal more unpleasant in power than Doom ever was. It marks the first appearance also of Kristoff Vernard, Doom's ward and heir apparent. I think the ending's a bit rushed but it has some interesting character moments, such as when Sue Storm the Invisible Woman notices what a dangerously competent and charismatic natural leader Doom is when he's put in charge, and when Doom remarks that the only freedom he denied his subjects is "the freedom to commit evil." It really colours Doom in an ambiguous way, culminating in his murder of the defeated tyrant Zorba.
In case you're wondering, the chase figure for this is a Doombot. As far as I'm aware the only difference is that under the mask it has a metallic, mechanical robot face rather than Von Doom's own appearance. I've heard from a couple of places that ToyBiz's original plan was to release the figure with the mask on, so that you wouldn't be able to tell if you were getting Von Doom himself or a Doombot. This was meant to mimic the recurring situation in the comics in which the Fantastic Four or whichever heroes are present, thinking they have defeated Von Doom himself, discover that it was only a robot duplicate: it was often difficult to discover which armoured, green-clothed baddie in the area was the real Doctor Doom. The Doombots were therefore going to be the main production and Von Doom would be the rare chase variant. One source I've read claim that the complaints of overly-entitled fans dashed this plan. Personally I think I'm more willing to believe another account I've heard, which was that simply common sense ruled the day - people want Von Doom himself, not a robot duplicate, and making it impossible to tell was either cruel or a money-grubbing endeavour in itself: how many figures would you have to buy until you found a real Von Doom? I know I'm the kind of slightly obsessive-compulsive person who wouldn't have been satisfied with a Doombot even though they look identical with the mask on. As intellectually clever as I think the idea is of emulating the comic scenario with the distribution of the figures, it makes no business sense. You'd either be seen as greedy, encouraging multiple purchases of the same toy, or it would backfire and people would stay away for fear of getting the one they didn't want. Buying an action figure shouldn't be a gamble, and it makes sense to me that his face is visible.
It's probably worth mentioning that once Hasbro took over the Marvel Legends franchise they produced their own version of Doom which a quick Google Image Search will swiftly reveal. While this certainly has some better or at least more accurate detailing around the legs and feet and has a perhaps slightly more standard face plate design (without attached eyes) the level of detail on the tunic and cape is significantly less and compared to this Doom the cloth looks overly smooth, shiny, plastic-like and ultimate cheap. I've avoided Hasbro Marvel Legends because their paint jobs and level of detailing are simply not up to the standard of the earlier ToyBiz figures. Despite lacking a torso hinge the ToyBiz figure is also superior in terms of articulation to the Hasbro Doom. The addition of the cracking Latveria turret stand and a nice showcase comic compared to getting a build-a-figure piece for some guy I've never heard of means that this figure, the ToyBiz one, peps the Hasbro Doom to the post completely. The thing I like about the good ToyBiz Marvel Legends, and this Doctor Doom figure in particular, is that the level of detailing in both the sculpting and the paint are combined with good accessories and articulation to produce figures which comfortably exist in the worlds of both collectable statue and toy. I see that a lot of people online think the Hasbro Doom is better but I can honestly say that when it comes to ToyBiz Doom vs Hasbro Doom, unless you like cheap-looking stuff the ToyBiz Doom has got to win the day. Maybe some kind of hybrid of the articulation and paintwork of ToyBiz Doom with some of the better details and design choices of Hasbro Doom would create some kind of ultimate Doctor Doom figure but until that day comes this one is my pick.
One last remark I'll make about the figure is that it has some very nice detailing on his head, especially the rivets of the mask and the many layers of the neck armour. Overall, like all the Toybiz figures I've encountered, I must say I'm impressed with this figure. There are quite a few floating around on eBay and they're not too expensive, all things considered. I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who's a fan of the monarch of Latveria. Your shelf will assuredly look a bit more snazzy with a touch of Doom.

UPDATE in 2015
This is really late but I've meant to write this down for ages and I only just got around to thinking this would be the best way to do it. You see how up there I said that a Doom figure with the paintwork of ToyBiz plus the design of Hasbro would be good? Well in 2013 Hasbro released a re-issue of their 2007 Doom figure (the one I didn't have and thought looked cheap) with an updated paint job closer to that of ToyBiz Doom. This solved the main problem with the Hasbro figure and I bought it. It's a good one, and a fitting take on the character in my opinion. It's probably not too hard to find these days so if you want Doom, get the 2013 re-issue with the better paintwork from Hasbro if you can't find or don't want the ToyBiz one. There was a variant in Doom's white Future Foundation outfit from the Hickman run on FF but I could never find it in Australia and it's incredibly expensive online. Nonetheless, Hasbro did well by Doom in the 2013 re-issue so I guess that proves I have the power of accidental prophecy.

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