Right now we're being assaulted by two heavy hitters: Marvel and DC Comics. Both are providing a series of events that threaten to change and reshape their galaxies and continuity. They no doubt will be heavy, bleak and expensive. That's why I've decided to start a new column called: Great Comics You're Not reading! If you're looking for a break from the regular main stream comic events, capes or just need a good story, this might be the place for you.
One of my favorites that I feel is flying under the current radar is Triumph and Torment. This is actually a reprint of an 80-page story first published back in 1989 by Roger Stern, with art by Mike Mignola (creator and illustrator of Hellboy) and Mark Badger. I can’t deny the rush of excitement that I felt when I saw this as a trade. Growing up, this story was kind of like an urban legend amongst my comic book friends- we had heard stories of this comic, but none of us had ever actually seen it! I grew up reading Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (over and over) and fell in love with Mignola’s dark, gritty take on Victorian Gotham, and I could only imagine how he used his art to interpret the characters from the Marvel Universe. I didn’t even really know what the story was about – all I knew was that it involved Dr. Strange and Dr. Doom on a road trip to Hell to fight the Devil. SOLD.
Let me tell you: even after all the years of hype build up in my head, this story delivers. We are treated to back-stories of both Dr. Strange AND Dr. Doom; contests in sorcery; betrayal; and, finally, salvation. Without a doubt, this is a character study of Dr. Doom, with Strange just along for the ride. Mignola’s art with Badger’s colors bring to life a dark and heart-breakingly beautiful examination of the villain’s past.
As a continuation from an issue of Astonishing Tales #4 (by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan), this story tells us about the driving forces behind Victor Von Doom. We learn that every Mid-Summers Eve, Von Doom prepares himself to battle with the forces of hell. His aim is not to accrue demonic power and control the world (though that would be a nice bonus); his real intention is to free the spirit of his beloved Mother. That’s right – Mommy Von Doom! Who knew the Tin Man had a heart? (Sidebar: Mignola’s art is at its best in the moment in which Cynthia Von Doom loses her soul to Mephisto. The art puts you inside Doom’s mind, forever replaying this fall from grace. I won’t give away what Cynthia did to end up in the Devil’s pocket – but the art tastefully handles the horror of her realization.)
Despite Von Doom’s power and intellect, the forces of darkness holding his mother’s soul captive are just too powerful for him year after year, and the project ends in an annual stalemate. His ambition does not falter; he is SO focused on freeing his mother that he actually (briefly) considers swallowing his pride and asking Dr. Strange if he needs a ward, so that he may learn the secrets of the talented sorcerer. Of course, that plan would require Von Doom to admit that someone out there in the world is better than him.
With that option ruled out, Triumph and Torment focuses on Von Doom traveling around the world to gain enough knowledge and power to combat the darkness. Eventually, he reaches Tibet, were he encounters the Ancient One, an old man with supreme knowledge and powers of sorcery. However, Von Doom is deemed unworthy to train with him and must move on to find another teacher. In those mountains, Victor Von Doom encases himself in armor and becomes Dr. Doom. (Stern does a nice job here of reminding readers what led Doom to this path, as well as introducing the uninitiated.)
Out of options, the new self-proclaimed Dr. Doom forms a desperate alliance with Stephen Strange. That unlikely combination begins with a tournament designed to bestow the title of “Sorcerer Supreme” on the winner and a boon (whatever the hell that is!) on the runner-up. Those with magical powers from all over the world come to participate in this contest, including – to everyone’s dismay – Dr. Doom (think of him as the Uncle Buck of Marvel’s wizards and sorcerers). Shocker: Dr. Strange wins the title, but don’t worry – the runner-up prize goes to Dr. Doom (now think Cool Runnings). As the newly appointed Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Strange must present the boon to Dr. Doom; in this case, he must aid Doom in his quest to free his mother from Hell. Thus their crazy, wacky, polar-opposite-buddy-comedy road trip to hell begins! (And finally, think Planes, Trains and Automobiles.)
We are shown throughout how the Doctors Strange and Doom, hero and villain, share so much in common. As the story develops through flashbacks, we see how Strange and Doom have walked a similar path. We learn that both were men of science who, through their arrogance, each suffer a tragedy that physically alters them. They each travel the world to right the wrongs that have been inflicted upon them, and to avenge their father-figures who, in their own unique ways, were both healers.
The story offers plenty of hair-raising moments in Hell, with beautifully gothic art from Mignola and excellent story-telling from Stern. In only 80 pages, we have excellent moments of character, great trials, and tests of will. Most importantly, we are forced to reevaluate Dr. Doom. Stern has added complexity to the supervillan, which makes him more interesting and allows the character to stand the test of time. And apparently I can’t help but think he’s the John Candy of the Marvel Universe. Now that’s a scary thought.