Doom: Love Poems for Supervillains takes an approach to poetry that investigates the erotic edginess of comic book’s varied villains and geographies. Poet Natalie Zina Walschots utilizes technical and scientific language for the most part, which emphasizes the cold and calculating nature that a lot of comicdom’s greatest villainous masterminds employ. Even crazy homicidal maniacs, like the Joker or the Red Skull, possess highly analytical and intelligent minds, their application of such genius just happens to be pathologically insane. In order to understand the animalistic attraction to corrupted power, Doom not only examines the clinical and technical side of things, but the intimate and tender flaws that make up some of Marvel and DC’s best baddies.
The book is divided into five sections. The first is Rogues Gallery: Domination. Domination is about the male villains, and Walschots picks a lot of classics here. Some of these characters might not even be considered villains anymore, but that just makes them more interesting. In that category we have Magneto, Quicksilver, and Deadpool; all characters with deep mental issues. Magneto has been with the X-Men since their very first issue, and as such, was destined for a complicated history. He has alternated between terrorist and civil rights leader, so his poetry is equal parts fascism and magnetic attraction.
the plate in my head fields fate
pluck the fillings from my teeth
pull the metal from my head
strip-mine me bare
I never considered strip-mining to be erotic, but it’s clear as day and now I’ll probably never disassociate the two. Natalie Zina Walschots finds the voice for characters like Lex Luthor, Doom, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Green Goblin and many more in this section. Some characters are tougher than others because they stray from the typical villain formula. I expect my Deadpool to break the fourth wall, but maybe this introspective poetic Merc-with-a-Mouth is less concerned with his audience than he is with bloody and precise mirth (paraphrased from Walschots’ charming original).
The second section is titled Stronghold, and focuses on countries and nations. Love poetry coming from Genosha, Apokolips, Murderworld and LexCorp is indeed a challenging topic for a poet to tackle and I think it’s for that reason that these poems are more odes to regret and wasted potential. These are tragic locations, often the locations of dictatorships or genocide. Then again, there are locations like Gotham and Metropolis, both have caused their fair share of villains, and are villainous in their own ways. An excerpt from Gotham reads:
she’s sick, you know
sanity’s iron curtain
hides a vast trample of poverty
each sodden newspaper
the buildings hunch and glower
under damp and sickly light
how thin she’s becoming
Looking at Gotham as a character actually fits incredibly well with the direction that Batman writers have been heading for years. The city is essential to the mythos of Batman, but it’s equally important to its villains. At its worst, Gotham is the opposite of a hero, pushing mad greed and violence and teeming with police sirens as the underside of society suffers and wails. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was as much about a hero’s journey as it was about the sickness that Gotham represents and how it’s both the peak and pit of Western civilization. Walschots manages to understand this in just a few short lines, and her other strongholds are equally insightful. Especially the poem on Purgatory, which redefines just how brief and economic poetry can be.
Section three is titled Rogues Gallery: Girl Fight. Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Lady Deathstrike, Harley Quinn, Giganta, Electra, Medusa, Scylla and Dark Phoenix. These are the lovely and terrifying ladies of section three. Some of the better known characters present exactly what one would expect. I found the lesser explored characters more interesting, simply because they presented aspects of them that I hadn’t really got while reading comics. Chris Claremont’s run on Uncanny X-Men probably defined a lot about my world view as a kid, but I never considered Lady Deathstrike as an individual addicted to body modification, which probably explains my attraction to girls with piercings and tattoos. Thanks Yuriko! Harley Quinn is sure to be a fan favourite, as the character has experienced a growth in popularity especially for fans of Batman: the Animated Series and the recent Batman: Arkham video games. Excerpted from Harley Quinn:
tattered lioness swallows
shreds of the moon
sweat beneath greasepaint
mistress of the hunt
erratic as devoted
(ha ha ha)
a kiss on
a hot iron mallet
“Erratic as devoted” pretty much captures the essence of Harley Quinn, the parenthesized thinking and the final three lines are perfect. The poem on Giganta contains a quote from Gustave Eiffel, namesake of the famous Eiffel Tower. This is an example of the fun that Walschots has with these poems. She does it just enough for it to be apt, but not enough for it to be gimmicky.
Bondage is about prisons and confinement. Given the amount of time that villains spend incarcerated, these might be considered the equivalent to the homes of super-heroes. Sure, both hero and villain have secret lairs, but at the end of the day, Superman goes home to Lois and General Zod goes to the Phantom Zone. The Phantom Zone, by the way, which is accurately described as “fractured and mercurial/stripped of decay and unable to ozidize/still you corrode”. Time is halted like a four colour frozen memento mori in the Phantom Zone, many writers pick up on this, but most of them are writing comics, not so much poetry.
The final section of the book is the most monolithic and stultifying. Rogues Gallery: Destruction is about the truly dark and final villains. Whether that means the crazies (Bane, Sabretooth, Carnage, to name a few) or the galactic end-game force of nature villains (Darkseid, Galactus, Mephisto, Doomsday), these poems are set to startle. Walschots can watch her nerd-cred stack up with the psychopathic ode to Alan Moore’s Kid Miracleman, a name that sounds like a super-hero sidekick name (once upon a time), but if there are any doubts, be sure to revisit the original Miracleman series. I’ve always wondered what made the truly terrifying characters tick, and Walschots nails it with the following:
I have no illusions
no fat moons or narcissistic reflections
this is not about romance
my darling glandular vampire
you don’t love my face or my opinions
rictus and libertine
just my willingness to step into traffic
the swooping ecstatic nausea
epinephrine surging for us both
one fat adrenoceptor
a ravenous beak
a sucker for risk
always there to
off a cliff
Natalie Zina Walschots (self described noise lover, shit-disturber, cheese pervert) is spot on and sharp with her words. Probably the hardest thing for a writer to do is take risks, but it’s clear that she doesn’t have this problem. Maybe it’s her time spent wallowing in the fear and madness of the villains of Doom: Love Poems for Supervillains that allow her to be so fearless, but more likely it’s the fact that each poem is self-contained and internally logical, even if they offer a snap shot of insanity. Superficial beauty is often lacking with the subjects that Walschots has selected, which actually promotes the message that beauty is only skin-deep, and that true beauty lives within. That, or true terror. For a tender, scientific and sexual, inter-textual approach to villains and the pangs of love, there doesn’t exist a better reference point (outside of comics specifically) than this book of poetry. In this review I’ve included very few poems from the book, and to appreciate it fully, ordering it off of Insomniac Press directly is a good idea. I recommend it for fans of comics, love poetry with balls, and as a Valentine’s day gift to your arch-enemy.