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Marvel doesn’t need the Fantastic Four. It needs Doctor Doom.

Doctor Doom.
Doctor Doom.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The dust had barely settled on Marvel's big news about an Ant-Man and Wasp sequel and its rejiggering of its Phase 3 schedule, when another, bigger story came crashing down out of nowhere. Marvel, according to unnamed sources, had re-acquired the film rights to its Fantastic Four franchise.

Fox and Marvel have denied the rumor. But that didn't stop fans from daydreaming about the possibilities of Marvel's first family rejoining the club. Some are still holding out hope that maybe a reporter flubbed the specifics and there's still a deal in place.

A lot of that excitement is because Fox (which also owns the rights to the X-Men) has never really figured out a way to make a serviceable movie with the Fantastic Four. Moving to Marvel Studios, which has a proven record of spinning the weird and esoteric into box office gold, would give the family a new shot.

While a First Family reunion and subsequent integration into the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be a sentimental and feel-good story, the Four aren't what Marvel needs (or, at this point, likely wants). What Marvel needs are good villains, and it just so happens that one of most iconic Marvel villains ever created is actually bundled into Fantastic Four's film rights.

That's right: The best part of the Fantastic Four is actually Doctor Doom.

Villains, like heroes, were split up among studios like Sony and Fox

The stories about how Marvel sold the film rights to its most bankable superheroes are often the same: Marvel was financially unstable in the '90s and, in a series of deals, sold properties like Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four to studios including Sony and Fox. Those film rights are the reason we don't have crossover events of the sort we see in Marvel comics, and why the X-Men and Avengers can never be friends.

Thinking about those rights in terms of heroes doesn't tell the full story, though. The original 1993 agreement between Fox and Marvel is sealed, but thanks to a 2001 rights dispute between the two companies, we got a glimpse of just how comprehensive the rights were [emphasis Vox's]:

Paragraph 6 of the Agreement, entitled "Granted Rights," states that Property to which Fox obtained rights included (i) certain characters specified in Exhibit A to the Agreement, (ii) the so-called "origin stories" of those characters appearing in the story or screenplay of the film, (iii) all individual storylines from individual comic books other than the origin stories, and, in a catch-all provision, (iv) "all other elements relating to the Property and the Characters."

Exhibit A to the Agreement limits the characters which Fox may exploit to (i) certain "Initial Characters," comprising the principal and featured characters in the approved story, screenplay, or Marvel's publications, as well as 15 other "Core Characters" from the X-Men Universe of comics, and (ii) certain "Additional Characters," who are among the characters from a limited "X-Universe" of seven comic books, which Fox may add by written notice to Marvel.

Phrases like "catch-all provision" and "all other elements" point to how vague these agreements were. Even the specifics like "15 other core characters" and "seven comic books" are still extensive. It's simple: Marvel signed away entire universes to Sony and Fox.

Villains were also dispatched in those universes. Villains like Venom and Magneto are very specific to Spider-Man and the X-Men. But when it comes to the Fantastic Four's Doom, the situation is a bit different, in that these he's had more of a presence in the stories of the properties (Doctor Strange, the Avengers) that Marvel retained.

Doctor Doom is the kind of villain the Avengers deserve

While Magneto has the lore of being Malcolm X to Charles Xavier's Martin Luther King Jr. (it's even cited in the 2001 legal dispute above) and Thanos has the omnipotent Infinity Gauntlet going for him, Doom is the only villain in the Marvel Universe who literally has a permanent RBF (resting bitch face):

New Avengers No. 24. (Marvel)

Doom — going by the comic books and ignoring the garbage fire that was the most recent Fantastic Four movie — had his face burned in an explosion while working on a machine (which he blames Reed Richards for). So he's fashioned a mask for himself. Its eyelids are perpetually half open, a preemptive judgment of resentment at whomever he graces with his presence. The mouth is a sharpened frown, evincing outright disdain for the world around him.

There's a school of thought — originated by Doom's creator, Jack Kirby — that Doom is not actually disfigured but is instead overreacting to a small scar. (There's a variation on this that says Doom reacted to a chin scar and put a red-hot iron mask on his face, but Doom is not an idiot and would never do this.)

While comic book fans vary on that idea, what Kirby was getting at is that Doom is a perfectionist who is also stricken with terminal arrogance. His overreaction isn't one of vanity as much as it is one of fear of a visible imperfection. This is a guy who believes he's superior to every person on the planet ("We were born better"), so even the tiniest imperfection would seem catastrophic.

Doom's Byronic arrogance and thirst for godliness fuel his actions. He's attempted to take over countries, created an army of robots, and fed the soul of the woman he loved to netherdemons who wanted to grant him power (Fantastic Four No. 67). He's also teamed up with superheroes (AXIS) and saved the world on more than one occasion. What drives Doom isn't an adherence to good or evil, but rather how much he can gain. It's this pure, unabashed fidelity to his own being that's made him bigger than the foes he's fighting. (Well, that and he is a master of the dark arts and makes some scary-ass robots.)

Marvel has a villain problem that needs a cure

Doctor Doom toots as he pleases (Marvel)

Doctor Doom toots as he pleases. (Marvel)

If there's any flaw in Marvel's seven-year clinic on how to make superhero movies, it's that its villains — save for Bucky Barnes and Loki — are largely forgettable. Characters like Ultron, Red Skull, and Ronan the Accuser are still playing integral roles in the comic books, but don't feel particularly consequential or all that different in the movies.

There's no comparing them with the X-Men's longstanding battle with Magneto, Superman's endless fight with Lex Luthor, or Batman's eternal battle with the Joker. Magneto is a Holocaust survivor — this crafts his worldview and utter disdain and distrust of humans. Lex Luthor displays the egotistical side of a hero complex that he shares with Superman. The Joker is determined to convince Batman that they're two sides of the same coin.

Marvel's movie bad guys all want to destroy the world. They're all very powerful. But there's nothing compelling to them besides their evilness. And they all ultimately become one-movie stands.

Doom has the gravitas to be better than that. Pair up Doom with the right actor (Mads Mikkelsen, please), and he could be as charismatic as Loki, as ruthless as Ultron, and miles better than anyone we've seen in Thor's two movies, Guardians of the Galaxy, or Ant-Man.

Doom feels like a villain who matters, and Marvel's cinematic universe is in desperate need of one of those.

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