Today in Yellowed Pages we look back at one of the weirdest releases of the ’90s, the infamous Doom Comic. Created by a group of unknowns and intended as a throwaway release at the peak of Doom Mania, the Doom Comic nonetheless found new life in the 21st century, as fans shared it on Doom sites and eventually propelled the comic’s “rip and tear” mantra into full memehood.
If you’ve been online at all this week, you’re probably aware that there is a new Doom game out. I hear it’s pretty okay. More importantly, it reminded me that 2016 actually marks a pretty major Doom milestone: 20 years ago this month, the world was treated to the awesome debut of The Doom Comic, quite possibly the apotheosis of ’90s comics ridiculousness.
Apparently produced as a giveaway for a convention, the Doom Comic only really got its due in the 21st century, when its inclusion on a Doom fan site and a previous review by SomethingAwful’s Richard “Lowtax” Kyanka led to its “rip and tear” mantra entering the internet lexicon. The comic was probably intended as a goofy artifact bound for obscurity, but it’s a testament to its weirdness that it has only increased in popularity over the years as more and more people stumble upon it and wonder what the fuck they’ve just experienced. Some people might argue that the Doom comic is a shoddy production, a kind of comics version of horrible licensed films like SuperMario Bros. or Double Dragon, but I think the key difference is that those films had no idea how to adapt their properties while the Doom comic understands the appeal of Doom on a level that is borderline telepathic.
Video game tie-in comics are now pretty standard, and usually they function as prequels or background information to explain plot elements that used to be conveyed in manuals and guidebooks. But the Doom comic’s only real goal appears to be to connect the player’s love of Doom’s weaponry to the in-game character’s love of the same. Dual writers Steve Behling and Michael Stewart plot the comic as an ongoing quest for the largest, baddest weaponry in the Doomverse, and everything else Doom Guy experiences is filtered through that. The instigating incident of the comic might be a berserker rage against a cyberdemon who won’t fall to Doom Guy’s fists, but even if Doom Guy had been able to “rip and tear” the Demon’s “big guts,” you know he would have gone on a quest for weapons that allowed him to wreak even more havoc.
In the Doom games, Doom Guy is basically a silent protagonist– he’s not prone to quips like Doom’s competing franchise star Duke Nukem (who cheekily gets quoted here) and he’s not likely to feature in a tearful, “Mad World” scored Gears of War commercial anytime soon. The comic deviates most from the game by making Doom Guy a motormouthed buffoon who mocks and comments on the creatures he’s destroying, referencing the idiotic insults and obscenities competitive players shout during multiplayer matches. This is Doom Guy as You, the trash talking online match player, not Doom Guy the Protagonist. And the things he wants– humiliating deaths for his enemies, better weaponry to cause that– are exactly what you desire, too.
Tom Grindberg’s art is similarly utilitarian, hideous to the EXXXTREME but also remarkable in its sinewy discipline and cartoonish gore. Being a ’90s comic, it’s colored in a toxic waste palette, all puke green and shit brown and mucusy yellow and in a superhero work that would be a drawback, but here it’s fitting. Nothing about this comic is meant to be appealing in an aesthetic sense, the creative team just want to unleash fun nastiness and Grindberg goes out of his way to make Doom Guy as monstrous and vile as the horrors he’s shooting. It’s only 16 pages but every single of those pages is packed with action and guts and explosions to match the merc-with-a-mouth attitude of Doom Guy.
Still, what makes this such an enduring comic is the script, closer to a locked away Looney Tunes episode than the serious, morose commentary first person shooters uniformly wield these days. There are moments of calm, but they’re so zany they function as the highlights of the comic, like when Doom Guy falls into some radioactive waste, says “that’s not good” and then goes into a rant about how even if he destroys all of the creatures of hell we’ve already fucked over the planet so much our children are, ahem, doomed anyway:
That dedication to thoroughly silly, momentum halting scenes is why people still lose their shit for the Doom Comic and not, say, that Malibu Street Fighter series. The Doom Comic isn’t bad, per se, it’s just so completely focused on replicating the Doom experience it becomes a surreal exercise, a criticism immune work of art that rides the line between satire and tribute so carefully I honestly can’t tell you who the joke is on or if there even is a joke…for all we know, the Doom Comic creators meant that environmental activism moment to be completely genuine and viewed Doom’s bare bones plot about hell taking over due to scientific interference as a comment on humanity’s self-destructive adherence to industry.
Regardless of whatever actual intentions the creators had, or how sincere their commentary is, there’s no denying the sheer entertainment value of the Doom Comic. Nearly every line of dialogue is quotable and the speed of it makes the inevitable “wtf” rereads rewarding rather than frustrating. Sure, 2016 means we’re looking at the 30th anniversary of industry changing works like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, but I know the anniversary I’ll be enjoying the most this year is Doom Comic’s. Rip and tear, everybody.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover