Doctor Doom is a Dysmorphic King and I Have No Choice But to Stan

The latest DLC for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is now here, and it features a Fantastic Four-focused storyline with the team’s longtime nemesis Doctor Doom as a boss encounter. I have never played Ultimate Alliance 3. Neither have I read many Fantastic Four comics. And I hardly know anything about Doom himself. But the little I do know is this: Doctor Doom is a dysmorphic king, and I have no choice but to stan.

Let me back up a little for those not versed in Marvel comics or clinical psychology. Doctor Victor von Doom is a long-running villain who got his start back in 1962 and has gone on to become one of the most recognizable evildoers of the Marvel world. Doom is complicated — he grew up a Romani orphan and later attended college with his frequent enemy Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic), but left when a scientific experiment went wrong and terribly scarred his face. Cue travel to Tibet, forging of an iron mask permanently bonded to his head, and vowing revenge on those who wronged him.

Here’s the thing, though — in comics legend and Doom co-creator Jack Kirby’s take on the Fantastic Four in the 1970s, Victor von Doom wasn’t a monster under his iconic mask. Rather, his college accident left him with only a small scar on his cheek. But Doom is nonetheless so upset by this minor imperfection that he hides his face away not just from the world, but from himself. (In some renditions, his face is subsequently disfigured by donning his mask just after it is forged.)

Doctor Doom

Scarred For Life

That’s textbook body dysmorphic disorder, a psychological affliction marked by preoccupation by imagined or minor imperfections. The politics of diagnosing an obsession with beauty in a culture that equates it with worth is — needless to say — complicated, but people with BDD suffer major impacts to their day-to-day life that go beyond what most people experience. It is, in fact, a kind of obsessive disorder, marked by endless rumination about flaws and compulsive checking and grooming behavior. The latter is aimed at appeasing sufferer’s negative thoughts, but like the person with OCD who compulsively checks locks to deal with their fears, these actions only end up feeding the problem.

Obviously, Doom’s case is unique. His obsession becomes a part of his villainous motivations, factoring to a greater or larger degree depending on who is writing him at the time. Most people with BDD suffer in more quiet, mundane ways that range from difficulty socializing to job loss to suicide attempts. No amount of reassurance, physical change, or checking can solve the core issue. That hasn’t stopped Doom from trying, though. In addition to seeking reconstructive surgery, he sets himself up as one of the most powerful players in the Marvel world to garner adoration and security from those he rules over.

In doing so, Doom has achieved the BDD sufferer’s dream — not having a body at all. While he’s a capable combatant, as a villain he’s best known as a strategic type, an unseen force steering the world towards whatever outcome he prefers. Thus, Doom satisfies his need for control of both his environment and his image.

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Doctor Doom

Doom, Eternal

The problem, of course, is that you can’t fix a psychological problem rooted in control issues by trying to control everything around you. Treating BDD usually involves a combination of antidepressant drugs and therapy aimed at retraining the brain and directing attention away from one’s appearance. By learning to see her body as just a body, the BDD sufferer can reduce her preoccupation and distress. In theory, anyway. BDD is so hard to treat because it can reach the level of delusion — sufferers literally see the world differently than those around them.

That’s one way to account for the depictions of Doctor Doom as hideously scarred — these images are simply how he sees himself. It may seem outlandish, but many BDD sufferers exhibit similar levels of disconnection from reality, whether they’re aware of these discrepancies or not. So when Doom sees himself as a monster or somehow less than human, I get it, because those are the things that immediately come to mind whenever I see myself in a mirror. And I’ll be honest — wearing a face mask these last couple of weeks has given me a taste for the 24/7 masked lifestyle.

If I could put on a suit of metal armor and menace a bunch of superpowered do-gooders all day, I probably would. But, like Doom, it probably wouldn’t fix my problems. Hiding from the world only increases feelings of shame, and it certainly doesn’t address any trauma at the root of your problems — in Doom’s case, having his parents die at the hands of a vicious dictator. But as a comic character who will continue to appear as a villain in new stories until the end of civilization or Marvel comics, Doom’s issues can’t ever truly be resolved, as to do so would be to change the character’s entire role.

And maybe that’s poetic in a sense, as problems like BDD are rarely “cured” in any conventional sense. Rather, trauma and its resultant disorders have to be faced, worked on, and integrated into a person’s everyday life. This kind of work is grueling, painful, and can go on seemingly forever. It’s exhausting, and not nearly as fun or easy as I imagine it might be to shake an armored gauntlet while vowing to get that Reed Richards once and for all. Nonetheless, Doom is close to my heart — he refuses to work on his own issues, has to be in control at all times, and works endlessly to be admired in a desperate and misguided attempt to feel worthy of love and validation. He is the dysmorphic supervillain within us all, and I have no choice but to stan.