Summary: After the accident that ruined his face, Victor Von Doom reflects on the cause of his downfall.
Spoilers: Fantastic Four #278; Books of Doom #1-3.
Disclaimer: Characters, settings and concepts belong to Stan Lee, Marvel and many others; borrowed for entertainment value, not profit.
Author's Note: Inspired by John Byrne's Doom origin story from Fantastic Four #278, in which Reed apparently fails at understanding social boundaries.
The last thing Victor hears, as they carry him out of the wrecked shell of the laboratory, is Richards saying, "I tried to warn him."
It's the stab of psychotic rage driving him to try and sit up that causes him to pass out.
Later, lying in the American hospital, he has a lot of time to think.
The advantage to being this extensively bandaged is that it's easy to feign sleep. Victor soon overhears the lies that Richards has been spreading. His rival has moved fast, ensuring that his version of events is well established before Victor is in any position to defend himself. The dean has already accepted without question that Victor refused to listen to Richards' warnings and went ahead with an experiment based on flawed numbers.
If he spends too long dwelling on that thought, he gets interrupted by nurses rushing in to check his monitors and give him further pain medication.
Richards has cast himself as the hero in this morality play, nobly struggling and failing to save a classmate from the sin of pride.
Somehow, no one ever bothers to ask him what he was doing reading a classmate's calculations in the first place.
In his hurry to get down to the lab one night, Victor had left the door to his study-bedroom unsecured. He'd returned to find Richards in his room, brazenly reading his private research notes. In his arrogance, Richards hadn't even attempted to lie, but casually admitted to reading Victor's work just because he'd seen the opportunity. No doubt exactly the sort of opportunity he'd been hoping for when he'd tried to convince Victor they should be roommates. How long had he been waiting for his chance to uncover Victor's secrets?
Pointing out a minor transcription error was no innocent attempt to help, but an obvious taunt. His way of making sure that Victor knew that he'd read and understood everything. Perhaps he intended to steal credit for Victor's project, or blackmail him over its forbidden nature. All that mattered was that he was threatening to interfere with Victor's work.
That he was playing his games of academic one-upmanship at the expense of Victor's mother's soul.
Victor could have torn his head from his shoulders in sheer outrage, but an act of violence would surely see him suspended or expelled and separated from his project. His only option was to press ahead, complete his work before Richards had the chance to sabotage him.
And he had. Oh, Richards can bleat about flaws in the equations, but it's merely an opportunistic attempt to sound superior. Perhaps he even believes that it must have been a technical error; his blinkered little mind cannot conceive of a world existing beyond his own mathematics. But Victor's science was perfect. The machine worked.
It was Victor who failed.
His hands tighten into fists beneath the thin sheets of the hospital bed.
He had succeeded, drawn his gateway into hell, seen his mother's face... but he had been ill-prepared. There had been no time to conduct detailed studies of the nether world, to consult his texts and construct the mystical defences that would be his armour. Richards had forced him to make his move before he was ready.
And both Victor and his mother had paid the price.
His skin burns under the bandages - not the itch of healing nor the sting of open wounds, but something different, cold and terrible. He can still feel the touch of the demon's claws where they slashed him, like an infection, like some filthy parasite spreading through his flesh and taking root. It struck out at him through his own machine, in the space where he'd brought the astral and the physical planes together. He is injured in his body and his soul.
He wants to scratch his skin off, sear his face down to the bone to get the poison out of him. The covering of the bandages is a small and pitiful mercy. He can't bear to let others see how he has been marked, branded with his failure and the demon's taint. He can't look at his own reflection without seeing the demon's burning eyes rise in his own, without hearing its mocking laughter and his mother's screams.
He will never be able to look at his own face again. Even if the physical marks fade to perfect skin, he will always see what the demon has done to him.
What Richards has done to him. It is Richards who has brought him to this, sabotaged his life's work, destroyed his face and crushed his mother's best hope of salvation - and all for the worthless crown of convincing the imbeciles around them that he is the smarter. He is lauded as a hero for his treachery, while Victor lies ravaged and disgraced for the crime of trying to save an innocent soul from terrible suffering.
His anger causes his damaged face to tense in ways that stretch his injuries painfully. He welcomes it; it's a clean pain, his alone, earned honestly. The tighter he screws up his face in determination, the more it hurts, and the more his own rage courses through his veins instead of the black poison.
Richards has brought him to this. He has trampled Victor's life into the ashes, and now he means to stumble blithely on, collecting his accolades and convincing the world of his false claims to genius and heroism. No doubt he intends to spare little thought for Victor's fate from here onwards.
But Victor Von Doom will not be forgotten so easily. He will make sure the world sees Reed Richards for what he really is.
By the end, there will be no one left on Earth who doesn't know who is the better man.