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Villains Who Speak Like Henry
Doctor Doom | Klingons: Khenriy Vagh
Shakespeare’s legitimizing force, the announced references to the bard and to Henry in particular, are even more interesting, even more interested in the original play’s contradictions with regards to its martial values, when Henry’s words are delivered by or about villains in popular culture. In the 1993 comic series Doom 2099, Shakespeare’s use as reaction to technological advancement and the cultural erosion threatened by relentless progress, is grafted to Dr. Doom, the arch nemesis to the Fantastic Four, who in this series represents a traditional villain come to save his fictional country of Latveria from the corporate, technocratic takeover perpetrated during his absence.
Dr. Doom, or someone purported to be him, materializes after a century-long absence, during which time rule of Latveria has been wrested by Tiger Wylde, a technocratic corporate tyrant who has driven the country into a nightmare future. Doom becomes something of a guerrilla fighter: a ruthless, complex, yet traditional figure. He functions as the evil we know—traditional, predictable, bound by a code of honor—a dire but necessary solution for a society which has forgotten its values, has been betrayed by its free markets and individualism. Doom consolidates a group of gypsy fighters to his cause, and despite his followers’ wariness of his utter desire for control, he still represents the lesser of two evils in comparison to the total devaluation of any sort of code demonstrated by Tiger Wylde.
It takes Dr. Doom the initial four issues of the series to gather his forces, develop his power, and eventually destroy Tiger Wylde in what appears to be a mutual suicide blast from which Doom emerges from a crumbled, blasted out technological facility. In the end, Doom stands on the rubble of failed futurity. Each of these first four issues concludes with a quote from Henry V, beginning in issue 1 with the prologue’s “O! For a muse of fire,” and continuing through to Doom’s gathering of technology in the second issue, which ends with Henry’s “in peace, there's nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility.” Doom engages Wylde’s forces in the third issue, titled “Unto the Breach,” before, in “Fire Answers Fire,” Doom finally defeats Wylde, when the final panel of the comic again announces the prologue’s “Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames each battle sees the other's umbered face.”
After Wylde’s death, one of Doom’s followers questions his motives in preparing Latveria and the world to change in order to meet the threat of modernity, to which he responds:
You misinterpret my words. Conquest does not interest me. I have returned to a world teetering on the brink of destruction—a house of cards destined to collapse under the weight of political and corporate factionalism. If that anarchic tomorrow is to be avoided, this world must be rebuilt and restructured. And I am the architect of that future (Issue 4, 31).
Doom here represents, like King Henry V, a force of both retribution and consolidation, a tyrant who must defeat enemies abroad in order to maintain peace at home. His crusade is one of righteous, old-world villainy. The world stands on the brink, and an evil from the forgotten past, not yet eroded by the loss of tradition, has returned to gather the hopelessly fragmented pieces of civilization back together under his rule.
Editor Joey Cavalieri offers a frame through which to view the series, an ethos of dire—of somewhat passé—retribution, in the “Doomsayers” section at the back of issue one. He establishes popular culture’s modus operandi as “digging up old dead pop icons and sampling them, chopping and channeling them to do duets with their grandkids, or sell soda pop” (31). “Modern art” Cavalieri explains, “consists of cribbing from past masterpieces” (31). This cribbing, this chopping up and repurposing, is exactly what we see in Doom 2099 however, like Lanier’s “popular grotesque Shakespeare” this allows Doom 2099 a level of dissent from popular culture, while still being able to operate within its modes. He writes: “Out of a fine-tuned sense of revenge, we have used the techniques of the Modern World against it” (31). Whether or not we’re meant to fully endorse Doom’s reactionary assault on modernity—whether or not Henry V endorses its rhetoric of British consolidation, obtained through an assault on the foreign—these texts both play out and question what it means to employ violence and strength for the sake of unification, whether tyranny in its old-fashioned form is preferable to the total disloyalty of whatever new form society clumsily topples into when left unchecked.
Klingons: Khenriy Vagh
Viewers witness a similar fear of the future, a fear of cultural and traditional erosion, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country the final film centered on the original Star Trek crew. Released in 1991, four years into The Next Generation’s television run, the film is set on the brink of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew’s retirement. An ecological disaster threatens to turn the Klingons into refugees: their planet will soon be deprived of oxygen and they will have to abandon it. In doing so, they must end their historical hostility, give up the uneasy blockade, the stalemate that has kept them separate from the rest of the Federation. The Klingons are a warlike species: this shift threatens to erase their cultural identity. Meanwhile, Kirk, who lost his son and harbors an unremittent hatred of the species, is sent to negotiate despite his hatred. As he states to Spock “let them die.” Kirk’s hostility makes him a suitable emissary to treat with the Klingon. This mission, of an unthinkable peace with a species of warriors, is to be his last mission.
“Original Klingon” Video Transcript
Before the negotiations fall apart completely, the Enterprise crew and a group of Klingon diplomats share an uneasy, intoxicated dinner together, during which the chief ambassador—played by the sometimes-Shakespearean actor David Warner—references Hamlet, from which the film’s title is derived. Lanier has already discussed the cross-cultural appropriation exhibited in this scene—Warner’s character explains that, “You have never experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Lanier, discussing this scene, writes:
By claiming that Shakespeare, that universal fountainhead of civilization, sprang from and expresses Klingon values, practices, and language, Gorkon is in effect claiming Klingon cultural supremacy in compensation for losing Klingon status as an intergalactic superpower… if military superiority is untenable, cultural superiority becomes the alternative, and Shakespeare becomes prime territory over which to wage battle. (10)
Another Klingon, General Chang—who turns out to be the film’s war-mongering villain—goes on to reference Hitler’s notion of Lebensraum or “breathing room,” made literal by the impending suffocation the Klingon planet will soon suffer. Despite maintaining their culture, it seems the Klingon have appropriated certain human concepts that suit their needs and traditions. General Chang murders Warner’s character, Kirk is framed and ends up on a prison planet, and the plot unfolds in part-science fiction, part-political thriller fashion. Various characters face their prejudices, grapple with old age and obsolescence, as they navigate an imperiled diplomatic situation. Kirk is called, several times, to check his human privilege, and a brief romantic encounter with a shape-shifting alien in the form of a human suggests that outside appearances may only be skin-deep.
Eventually, Kirk is exonerated, and goes head-to-head with General Chang in a final space battle. Chang wants to maintain the warlike detachment that affords the integrity of the Klingon culture: he wants neither piece nor interchange, despite his reception of Shakespeare. Nearly all of his lines in the final space battle with Kirk are cribbed from different Shakespeare plays, though his statements leading up to the battle, after his ship’s cloaking device has been disrupted, are among the most notable:
“Battle of Khitomer” Video Transcript
Chang’s appeal to a kind of shared identity with Kirk, signaled by his phrase “in our time” signals the combative kinship between the protagonist and antagonist. The Klingon suggests that he and Kirk are both too far gone, too inculcated in a system or society whose only metric for identity is opposition. Mutual hatred and mutual aggression define each character in opposition—reveal their fundamental similarity—and this final encounter represents yet another ritual reaffirmation of difference. Chang dies, and Kirk is left to retire into uncertainty, into the undiscovered country one enters when they finally move on from this ritualistic cycle, when one gives up an identity that, beneath its rhetorical façade, is prescribed by opposition and martial contention. When the opposition ceases, when the ranks disperse, a level of cohesion and mutual affirmation is lost.
Perhaps more effectively than the other popular examples, Star Trek’s use of Henry seems aware of and to comment on the play’s original interest in undermining and enforcing, through ritual and repetition, the legitimacy of its own sense of consolidated identity. As Kirk states near the end, “some people think the future means the end of history.” Doom 2099 treats history as a palliative for the future: the other aforementioned uses of Shakespeare treat his history plays as a given, as concrete and monolithic, a reactionary influence that allows one to step into and embrace a traditional identity, one defined by action and reliant on aggression. Any group may define themselves as a single, unified front, as long as another group exists in opposition.
Henry gathers working class English, Welsh, and Scottish soldiers to him, grouping them together into some fleeting sense of an English identity that is always in the process of becoming, always anticipating the next consolidating action, yet is never embodied or completed. There’s nothing inherently “English” about this, as Henry’s inheritors prove: the rhetorical consolidation, the call to action coming in the form of an offered identity is rather based on a unidirectional alignment, the affirmation of one central figure’s desire, which is power, and the service of their power.