Data and Doctor Doom Review

By | Wednesday, April 03, 2024 Leave a Comment
A few years back, I heard that Mark Hibbett was doing some of his doctoral research on Dr. Doom, trying to define what makes Dr. Doom as a character regarless of what medium he appears in or who is creating it. I wrote about some of his findings back in 2020. Well, he now has a book out detailing out his research in greater depth, called Data and Doctor Doom: An Empirical Approach to Transmedia Characters.

I think there are two reasons a person might consider buying this book. First, it's about Doctor Doom. Maybe you want to learn more about him or you're already a fan, but you want to read more about him. Second, you might be more interested in the subtitle here: an empirical approach to transmedia characters. I suspect this is a smaller initial group than the first, and it's composed almost entirely of academics. If you're just a fan of Marvel, that angle probably doesn't matter to you very much, if at all. But let's tackle that part first.

Hibbett has constructed a repeatable methodology for identifying and getting to the key elements of any given character, regardless of which media they might appear in, even if the appearances are across multiple media venues. There have been versions of this type of methodologies before, but after pointing out some of their limitations, he tries taking the best aspects of several of them to combine into something more cohesive and more readily accessible. This could be especially useful if you've got a character like Doom who appears sporadically over a long period of time with a number of different creators contributing. Is any single appearance out of character or is that prt of a larger formula that you might be unaware of? Hibbett points out several elements that he had not considered until looking at the data and, more interestingly, breaking it down over a period of time to show an evolution of the character.

Much of the first two chapters is devoted to outlining his processes, where he borrowed from existing models, and what he had to modify or invent. The third and fourth chapters show a detailed, functional application of the model using Doom as the focus. And to showcase that the model isn't uniquely useful to one character, he runs through the model again in the fifth chapter focusing on both the British and American characters called Dennis the Menace. In all three use cases, he does point out where he ran into complications or challenges from his initial attempts, and how he was either able to address them as he was conducting his research or, in some cases, ways he might address them in future studies.

Despite being pretty data and analytics heavy, Hibbett does an excellent job keeping the language grounded. It's part of a trend I've seen more broadly in academia, where people are writing more with an eye to non-academic readers and avoiding the unnecessarily convoluted sentence structure and obscure terminology that has long been encouraged. (Primarily, I believe, as a gate-keeping measure, i.e. "If don't already hold a PhD, you shouldn't read this. We don't want you in our club.") All of Hibbett's data, too, is collated and presented in highly legible charts and color graphs, making his text that much easier to understand quickly.

Now, as far as learning about Doom. I think a lot of the elements in here are probably not what you might expect. While Hibbett admits to being a fan of the character, this is not a typical fan discussion of a character where specific issues and stories are cited like editorial footnotes. Rather, this is very data-driven; he tracks, for example, how many of Doom's appearances you can see rivets on his mask, how often he uses the word "Dolt!" and how many times he appears at the United Nations. (Although I should probably clarify that Hibbett is analyzing a small subset of all Doom's appearances here. The specific numbers he provides highlight general themes and trends but are not exhaustive.) What's interesting here is that, while many of these individual elements might seem inconsequential, in looking at the aggregrated data sets, you get a more comprehensive picture of the character and this may or may not align with the version you have in your head, depending on which sources you yourself have encountered.

That said, one overall conclusion that Hibbett comes to is that Doom is a remarkable stable character over the period he covers, regardless of author or medium. So, honestly, what you personally think of when you think of Doctor Doom is pretty likely to be similar to what other people think, even if you've never read the same Doctor Doom stories. But that also means that you probably won't learn as much about Doctor Doom in this book beyond what you already know. You'll get the specifics of how often he has/uses a rocket pack or how much he interacts with Namor relative to Magneto, but while those details paint an excellent picture of who Doom is as a character, you'll be mostly reinforcing and only slightly refining the picture you've already got in your head.

I think Hibbett's done some excellent work here and his data-driven approach to understanding a character could prove very useful, particularly for characters who are presented seemingly less consistently. That he uses exclusively comic-originated characters is cool, but you could apply the same methodology to animation or prose or stage productions or any form of fiction. It's a surprisingly accessible read (including, I might add, an impressive number of color illustrations) with some interesting insights from character minutia. If the book has a fault, it's that as an academic text, it's a bit pricey, retailing for $109.99 US for the hardcover and $84.99 US for an electronic version. Both were released in February, so you should be able to order it from your favorite bookstore.
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