Sometimes it takes awhile for great art to be appreciated.
Take John Carpenter’s The Thing, for instance. A remake of the classic b-movie The Thing from Another World, the 1982 version held an unrelentingly grim tone and shocking scenes of body horror. Both critics and fans railed against the movie, and it didn’t help that it opened beside Spielberg’s warm and fuzzy E.T.
This response is unthinkable now since The Thing is considered a classic, but back then it was branded a disaster. It was only years later when people rediscovered it on video and television did opinions slowly shift.
That’s just one example out of countless others, but time is the great equaliser and work of exceptional quality will eventually rise to the surface. This brings us neatly to the Doom comic from 1996, a promotional tie-in that few read and even fewer liked. The comic was initially a free giveaway at a gaming convention, before being included in an anthology boxset from iD Software.
At first sight, the Doom comic should be easy to dismiss. After all, it was just a cheap tie-in for a game and the artwork is hardly exceptional. But wait, don’t turn away just yet, for awaiting each reader is sixteen pages of glorious insanity. It’s a plotless, excessively violent descent into madness featuring the most incredible dialogue ever crafted for a comic.
While the comic remained obscure for years after it was published, it slowly started finding a fanbase who were drawn to how unhinged it is. Just like the game, the “story” follows Doomguy, who is portrayed as a hyper-macho, one liner spouting death machine.
The term “So Bad It’s Good” gets thrown around so much it’s nearly lost all meaning, but if it ever applied to anything it’s this comic. It’s either a sly parody of childish action fantasies or the best example of one, but in a way it doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters is it’s delicious fun to read.
Page one has Doomguy in the midst of a Berserk rage – which Doom players will know is the power up that lets you punch monsters into red paste – and is seen ripping out a demon’s spine. His inner dialogue reads “Who’s a man and half? I’m a man and a half! A Berserker packin’ man and a half!” On the next page, he’s gripping the severed spine, his face distorted with pure fury. He mocks the dead demon with “That’s your spinal cord, baby! Dig it!” before promptly kicking down a door.
The third page – where he confronts a Cyberdemon – has sealed the comic’s place in history. He states his desire to rip the creature apart, screaming furiously “YOU ARE HUGE! THAT MEANS YOU HAVE HUGE GUTS! RIP AND TEAR!” He tries to punch it, only to realise his power-up has worn off. Then he flees in search of a gun, while the monster just stands and laughs.
That’s just a small taste of the craziness within, and it justs keeps getting weirder from there. To the comic’s credit, it does a decent job of recreating Doom’s basic structure. The Doomguy’s quest is to find the BFG 9000, and along the way, he gradually gathers more powerful weapons; from a chainsaw to a shotgun, and all the way up to a plasma rifle. It also features a line-up of classic Doom monsters like zombies, cacodemons (or as Doomguy calls them “BIG MOUTHED FLOATING THINGIES!”) and imps.
While Doomguy in the game has no real personality to speak of, in the comic he’s an absolute gem. He’s a Frankenstein’s Monster of every beefed up eighties action hero you can think of, and his dialogue ranges from corny to downright sublime. Throughout the story he appears to be in the grip of a severe breakdown, where he switches from internal to external monologues, even narrating a change of scenery with “Wow! Now I’m in a completely different place!”
The credited writers – billed as Steve “Body Bag” Behling and Michael “Splatter” Stewart – were either high off some quality stuff while writing it, or they were going for a very specific meta tone. It often draws attention to its own absurdity and dials the madness all the way up. The best example of this is the moment Doomguy falls into a pool of radioactive waste.
He climbs out and ponders who left an open-pit of waste there – which is a fair question really – before exclaiming “Now I’m radioactive! That can’t be good!” He then gives a heartfelt speech about the environment and wonders what kind of world his children, and their children, will inherit. It’s a tangent that wouldn’t look out of place in Steven Seagal’s eco-thriller On Deadly Ground, and the randomness of it only adds to the fun.
Reaction to the comic is split within the Doom fanbase, with some feeling it’s an embarrassment whilst others embrace its campiness. Surprisingly, the comic has even made an impact on the games. Brutal Doom – a mod that upped the gore to apocalyptic levels – took a few cues from it, especially in the way you can literally rip and tear enemies apart.
Doom II for the Xbox 360 named achievements after dialogue from the comic and the most recent game includes the line “Rip and tear” in the opening narration. It’s fair to say the comic has had an interesting journey, going from barely read obscurity to beloved meme even non-fans are aware of. Every day new fans are drawn to it, and grow to love it for the exact reasons they probably shouldn’t.
Doom the comic may not technically be great art, but for sheer page, to page lunacy, it’s hard to beat. If that sounds fun to you, why not give it a try right here? It’ll send your testosterone levels through the roof, but it’s worth it.