We've had a number of Phoenix Forced characters on What If?, but for the first time in issue #22, we get the opposite. What if a villain had become a hero? Why did it take so long? Are we perhaps more ready to accept corruption as a force for evil than redemption? Heroes are born good, but can be corrupted, while villains are born evil and tend to remain so? Once you go bad, you never come back? Whatever the answer, What If? #22 dares to say that Victor Von Doom was not always evil and that circumstances made him a villain. Even Fantastic Four writers have been split on the issue, so you'll have to decide for yourself. Here then, is a case for the defense...
What If Vol.1 #22 (August 1980)
Based on: Fantastic Four #5/Annual #2
The true history: When they were university students, Reed Richards tried to warn Victor Von Doom that his calculations were wrong. Doom didn't listen and went ahead with an astral projection experiment designed to find his mother's soul in the afterlife. It exploded. He was scarred for life. Bitter and full of vengeance, he wandered the Earth, and was taught sorcery by Tibetan monks who forged his armor. He went home to conquer Latveria and plague Richards and the Fantastic Four again and again.
Turning point: What if Doom listened to Reed Richards?
Story type: Side of the Angels
Watcher's mood: Baked couch potato
Altered history: On this Earth, Doom listened to Richards' warnings and asked him to help revise his calculations. His experiment is a success and he learns his mother's soul in hell's grasp. As a bonus, Richards manages to shut down the machine before it blows up and destroys Doom's face. He still leaves university, looking for a way to spring his mother's soul from the netherworld. Once again, he reaches the monks, but this time, he is a good man, not filled with bitterness and hate at humanity and Reed Richards. They make him a golden armor more fitting to his outlook.
Doom is born. Yes, because "Doctor" was the word filled with evil connotations in his original moniker. His first order of business is practising a ritual that saves his mom's soul (he seems to have found the answer during his travels, perhaps thanks to a prettier face and friendlier attitude). Armed with both science and magic, he then flies to Latveria to depose the evil Prince Rudolfo who put his mother to death in the first place.
Wounded, the Prince doesn't accept Doom's mercy, and Victor becomes Latveria's new ruler. He immediately busts the gypsies out of the dungeon, including his beloved Valeria, who has no reason to turn away from him. Wedding plans start being made, while Doom also creates a better life for the relatively primitive Latverians.
Unemployment? What unemployment? However, Mephisto isn't too happy about having lost Doom's mom down there, so he threatens to take all Latverian souls unless Doom either gives up his own life OR that of the love of his life.
Tragedy only really requires one ingredient: Hubris. Doom figures the world cannot suffer the loss of a brilliant mind such as his, so he let's Mephisto have Valeria. But from then on, Doom locks himself away to find a way to get her back from the devil's clutches. Once a year, at midsummer, there's an opportunity, but each year he fails. How many more, asks the Watcher. How many more?
Books canceled as a result: None, and had Mephisto not intervened, Doom might have ADDED a series to the early Marvel.
These things happen: John Byrne attempted to make Doom at least a little bit noble, in his way, as he continued to try to free his mother's soul from hell. Mark Waid upended that by having him murder Valeria and sell his soul to the devil. She had it coming on both worlds, I guess.
Next week: What if the Hulk had become a barbarian?
My guess: An axe the size of Texas