Halt and Catch Fire co-creator Christopher Cantwell is no stranger to dark, complex characters - but he's taking his penchant for anti-heroes to a whole new level in his newly-launched Doctor Doom ongoing series alongside artist Salvador Larroca.
In this new series, Doom goes on the run as one of the most hated people in the Marvel Universe - with none other than Kang the Conqueror at his side for what Cantwell only somewhat jokingly compares to a Bing Crosby/Bob Hope "road movie".
While the exact circumstances of how Doom becomes the Marvel Universe's top fugitive are still to be revealed in Doctor Doom #1, out now, Newsarama spoke with Cantwell to set the stage for this unlikely story, delving into his history with Doom, the challenges an ironclad super-dictator faces, and his love of a good villain.
Newsarama: Christopher, this new Doctor Doom series puts Victor Von Doom in a different light. What can you tell us about where we find him when this series kicks off?
Christopher Cantwell: Doom is in many ways very much status quo at the beginning of this story. He’s large and in charge, reigning in Latveria, but he’s been fairly outspoken about a new international effort to remove carbon from the atmosphere. The plan involves actually creating a black hole near the surface of the Moon in order to use it as a waste depository. Doom thinks it’s a disastrous idea, but most people on Earth chalk that up to his vanity - he didn’t think of it, so of course he thinks it’s a bad concept.
He’s also dealing with a more volatile southern border than usual. Symkaria has often been an ally, but right now things are tense. Other than that, Doom is in a very reflective, isolated place. Recent events in Fantastic Four have informed that emotionally. He’s at a place in his villainous career where he’s at a crossroads, maybe privately asking the question: “So who am I? What’s next? How did I get here?"
Nrama: So how did you get here to be writing a Doctor Doom ongoing with marvel? What's your history with Doom?
Cantwell: My history of Doom dates back to me playing with my Secret Wars Doctor Doom action figure so much as a kid that all the black lines on his chest came off.
But more recently, I’ve been working in comics - doing a couple of creator-owned books with Karen Berger and The Mask with Dark Horse - and from that work I was introduced to some folks on the Marvel team.
Wil Moss brought me in to do a 10-page story about Doom for War of the Realms: War Scrolls #3, so we could see how Victor was handling the Dark Elf invasion. It was a blast and a dream come true, and I suppose everyone liked it enough that Tom Brevoort let me pitch an idea for a full Doctor Doom series. From there, we were off and running.
I immediately went back and probably read a hundred or so issues of Doom stories dating back to the early 60’s. "Research,” I told my wife.
Nrama: Your background is primarily in film and TV. How do you find those skills translating to comic books?
Cantwell: Both are visual storytelling mediums. You have to be specific and clear in TV and film, drilling down to the most important elements of a scene and removing everything else that’s not absolutely essential. Comics are that but even more so… now you’re talking single images, maybe a handful of lines. But both mediums have to use those scenes collectively, and let them build on each other for a kind of powerful cumulative effect.
Nrama: Doctor Doom is one of the greatest villains of the Marvel Universe. How do you challenge a guy like that?
Cantwell: My tell with characters I love the most is that I absolutely beat the heck out of them dramatically. I’ve done that with characters in my other work, and I’ve come to love Doom so much that I can’t stop thinking about ways to really upset and ruin his life. It’s so much fun.
With any character, you’ve got to hit them where it hurts. Doom has an entire country… so what if he didn’t? Doom doesn’t love that everyone hates him so much… so what if they hated him even more? It’s things like that.
Nrama: On that note, what can you tell us about the supporting cast for this series?
Cantwell: This was probably the most fun for me, finding people to populate this story around Doom.
Victorious is a heavy player in this story. I think she’s a genius character. Doom has always been on his own but now he has this kind of second-hand lieutenant. I think there’s a great loyalty there, between both of them, that I try to explore in this series. I also am trying to give her more agency, maybe even more than she’s ready to deal with.
I’m also focusing a lot on Doom’s potential future in the story, so I bring back various key figures from his past: Morgan Le Fay, Mephisto, Dr. Strange.
And then other times I’m just having fun… like, here comes M.O.D.O.K.
Also, I have a very special, very soft spot for Kang the Conqueror. He was my other most worn down Secret Wars figure. And his relationship to Doom is unique, complex, and kind of confusing, in that funny comic book lore way.
So I brought him in to the story in a way that I really enjoy. There’s an honor among thieves thing between him and Doom in this tale, and Kang has been so “comic booked” (time traveling everywhere, multiple deaths, etc, etc,) that I’m kind of calling attention to that.
I also went deep on my baddies, and did a lot of research into the back catalog. I have some fun pulls there. And I was greedy with cameos. Hey, it’s a big toy box, you want to pull everything out.
Nrama: Doom’s had heroic turns in the past, but that’s not necessarily what’s happening now. How would you describe his outlook here, as a protagonist?
Cantwell: It’s a worn-out term now, but he’s an anti-hero when he’s the most interesting, in my opinion. But that doesn’t mean he can’t be a full villain. I want people to read this and be with him, empathize, and then remember, “Oh yeah, this guy’s a majorly bad person.” It’s fun to try to get the audience to forget that, then blindside them with the truth. Kieron Gillen did this really well with his Darth Vader series.
Nrama: And speaking of that, the artist on Gillen's Darth Vader, Salvador Larroca, is drawing your Doctor Doom. What’s it like working alongside a Marvel vet?
Cantwell: Nothing short of incredible. Salvador translates what I’m trying to say and makes it better. He rearranges, divides up panels differently, but still conveys what I’m trying to do on the script side.
He’s also incredibly fast. I’ve worked with fast artists, but wow. And none of the work suffers because of that, either. It’s all just absolutely gorgeous. What’s coolest about working with him is that it feels like we’re making “our” Doom. Like I can feel myself start to write toward’s Salva’s style, and his interpretation of Victor… when he’s scary, or in battle, or alone and emotive and vulnerable, in his armor and out.
Nrama: What’s your favorite thing he’s drawn for Doctor Doom so far?
Cantwell: Oh man. That’s so hard. There’s a large panel very early in #3 that is a new reveal of Doom given his, uh, current, uh, situation (no spoilers), and I think what Salvador did with his look in that issue is astounding.
Nrama: Bottom line, what can fans expect from Doctor Doom?
Cantwell: The character is over 50 years old. These characters are our modern myths now, I really believe that. But that doesn’t mean they’re staid and locked in tradition. They can be reinterpreted, restated; they’re malleable spirits.
The reason you have some movement in what you can do is because the character foundation is rock solid. You have dozens of the greatest comic book writers lining up behind Doom over the decades and making him what he is. As long as you don’t betray that, and stay true to the character’s defined cornerstones, you can then reach in other areas.
For instance, it sounds small, but how does Doom sleep at night? And I don’t mean on a moral conscience level, I mean, literally, how does the guy sleep? What's Doom’s gallows humor like? What amuses him when he’s alone? And then you can go deeper… what does this person really want, even if they would never, ever admit it to themselves out loud? What do they love? Can they at all?
I think people will find this a good barn-burning page turner. I hope they have fun. I hope they’re able to laugh at times, and also find themselves caring more deeply about a guy named Doctor Doom than they ever have before. I hope they dig all the little easter eggs. I should do a compendium podcast like Craig Mazin did for Chernobyl. I’ve hidden so many references to classic Doom stuff in here!
But ultimately? Well… a healthy portion of this series is also a Doom / Kang road movie in the style of the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby pictures. I wanted to call it Road to Latveria but Brevoort said no.
I’m only 73% kidding.