How MF DOOM Ended Up in a Marvel Comic

Underground legend MF DOOM was acknowledged for the first time by Marvel in a comic book. We spoke to the comic’s illustrator and co-writer, Sanford Greene, about how the moment came about.

MF DOOM performing on stage, wearing his iconic metal mask and holding a microphone
Nick Pickles / WireImage
MF DOOM performing on stage, wearing his iconic metal mask and holding a microphone

Four years after his untimely death and the mythology around underground hip-hop maverick MF DOOM is only growing. Not only is his music as popular as ever, but he is still having a broader cultural impact. DOOM’s legacy made some major achievements within the last few months alone. Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) kicked off the year with a special set of DOOM covers in Paris; a new biography, The Chronicles of DOOM, was announced for an Oct. 29 release; and, most recently, the rapper was given a nod in the inaugural issue of a new Marvel comic book centered around the iconic villain Doctor Doom

The latter project is where comic book artist Sanford Greene comes in. The illustrator was also co-writer of the comic, titled DOOM, alongside veteran Jonathan Hickman, and made it an intention to honor MF DOOM through the lyrics, “Living on borrowed time the clock ticks faster.”

 In using DOOM’s first line from “Accordion,” the introductory track from his 2004 Madlib-assisted album, Madvillainy, the internet caught on, taking notice of the Easter egg shortly after the comic book debuted this month.

Marvel paid tribute to the late MF DOOM with a line from “Accordion.” 🕊️

It’s the first DOOM comic since MF DOOM’s passing.

— Complex Pop Culture (@ComplexPop) May 17, 2024
Twitter: @ComplexPop

To Greene, the decision to acknowledge DOOM was simple, and Metal Fingers could resurface in the Marvel Universe later on. “How can you make the story pay homage to MF DOOM, but also paint the picture of the actual character Doctor Doom? That was pretty much the approach, and we've had conversations with his estate about other things, but, I guess, to be continued when it comes to that,” Greene tells Complex.

Below, Greene chats with Complex about the first DOOM issue, his earliest MF DOOM memory, and why the opening “Accordion” line almost didn’t make the comic book’s first page.

What went into the decision to use “Accordion" for the comic series?
We had conversations–Marvel and I and the co-writer, Jonathan Hickman. I expressed my interest in wanting to do something as far as a quote that we could implement into the story of [Doctor] Doom. Obviously, MF DOOM is derivative from the actual character from Marvel, and… it [has] always been an interest from many people, fans of seeing some kind of collaborative effort. [For] the powers that be, that wasn't necessarily something that they would go out of the way to make happen, but they were always interested.

It is just dealing with a corporation with Marvel, and then of course another entity in MF DOOM and his estate itself. But ever since he became MF DOOM, he became that mantra. There's been interest in seeing some kind of collaborative effort, I would say, on an official level, if that makes sense. But again, just understanding how these things really work, that wasn't necessarily going to take place officially.

But that's partly why I thought this could work, because it gives a very strong nod to MF DOOM while giving more, I guess, a legitimate space for the character [of] Doom itself, if that makes sense. I just didn't want to do this just to say, ‘Hey, look, I did this thing,’ but I wanted it to feel natural to the actual story. 

When I was working on the story, I was going through some MF DOOM songs, and then I listened to “Accordion.” Honestly, that was the last one, because I didn't want to do some of the more famous ones. At first, I wanted to do something a little more nuanced, but then I started thinking, ‘No, that may not be the way to go.’

You want to get something that most people would recognize. So I started going through some of his major tracks, and then I got to “Accordion,” and when he quoted the first line, I was like, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” This is perfect for how the story starts. And honestly, it kind of highlights what the story is about as far as the actual character Doom in this story. He is living on borrowed time. He's near death, and he has to hold on with everything he has to hopefully be able to make a return. So that whole line from MF DOOM was exactly what the story needed.

It's also in alignment with the 20th anniversary of Madvillainy–that's a huge record out of his catalog. What do you think is his most defining album?
Yeah, it is Madvillainy. I think that's when he really broke ground and went—I wouldn't call it mainstream—but he had a cult following mainstream, if that makes sense. Around that time, when “Accordion” came out, I think that's when it really opened the door for him to have that platform.

When did your relationship with his music begin?
It pre-existed before the MF DOOM mantra, when he was a part of the group KMD. When I discovered it was the same guy when I started to get into MF DOOM, a friend of mine who was really into the hip-hop scene told me, “That’s the dude from KMD.” You’re  talking about a total reinvention. 

There's a few guys that have done that, but no one's done it like that. [That’s] where I think about Sean Price. I think he is kind of another artist who was in a group [Boot Camp Clik], and he kind of had a different kind of style and approach, and then he ventured off on his own and became this whole other force of nature. That's a lot of what MF DOOM kind of [was]; I think he was the pinnacle of that kind of reinvention of yourself.

Was there anything that Jonathan Hickman shared as far as making sure that MF DOOM was properly honored?
He let me take the lead. He just trusted my vision on what words to use or what quotes to use from MF DOOM, and he'll be the first to tell you, he's not the most well-versed in that aspect of it, which is why obviously he recognized that and allowed me to take the lead from that side of things. And again, he's one of the greatest writers, I would say, of the genre in the last 20 years. He easily could have put himself in the forefront, but he allowed me to tell my story, and he just kind of guided me in the right direction.

This was your first time writing too, right? For a comic book?
Yeah. I mean, I worked on this series, Bitter Root, but as a co-creator. But this being a property that is well-established, that’s got this rich history, and it was a little intimidating being at the helm of a character like this. I mean, I would say he's [Doctor Doom] the cornerstone or the pulse of the Marvel universe. 

He's been involved in every character throughout its history. But that's what intrigued me to want to write about him, because even as a kid, I saw him throughout the different stories and timelines and all of his involvements with various characters. It made me that much more of a fan of the character. So I had a lot to say about the character, and that's pretty much what this book is. It's kind of a love letter to Doctor Doom.

Was there a reaction to the MF DOOM reference that stood out to you? Was there something that someone said that made you go, “Okay, this is what I intended for the response to be?”
Oh, definitely. Truth be told, the original idea was to put that line farther into the story. And I'll give credit to Will Moss, who is the editor, he's a fan. He said, “Well, why not put it at the beginning?” And I thought it didn't take, but a few seconds to realize, “You know what? That's ingenious. Let's do that.”

It's easier to recognize because at first, I was trying to make it somewhat of an Easter egg to some degree, where people will read the story, and then here's this quote, maybe a couple of quotes within that and get that reaction from that way. But I thought after giving it some thought this way, [there] was definitely way more impact. It's been covered from every pop culture outlet and fans alike, all positive.

You mentioned MF DOOM’s estate earlier. What did that look like? Were you in direct discussion with his wife?
No, we just wanted to give an honor, pay respect to his legacy without it becoming more than that. We just wanted to give a nod. Ultimately, the story's about the actual character, but we wanted within that somehow to just give a salute to that. And as a fan, specifically a fan of hip-hop, I wanted it to feel like it really came from me. How can you make the story pay homage to MF DOOM, but also paint the picture of the actual character Doctor Doom? That was pretty much the approach, and we've had conversations with his estate about other things, but, I guess, to be continued when it comes to that.

When people who maybe aren't familiar with Marvel and even some that are, how do you think that MF DOOM's presence kind of changed the way that we think about the character of Doctor Doom?
Doctor Doom was kind of already known, or at least from my understanding. If anything, I think that's probably why MF DOOM took on that mantra, because that character’s very recognizable. And I think in pop culture, you may not know the ins and outs of the character, but you at least have seen the character. That goes back to what I was saying at the beginning; Doctor Doom has been in the Marvel sphere and, in many cases, the pop culture sphere, he's been peripheral for a long time.

So I think MF DOOM taking on that mantra was partly because of that. He could have [taken] on some mantra from some other character, Batman or whatever, but I think that character—he was nuanced enough or peripheral enough, but still familiar enough for him to portray it or pay homage to it.

There's a biography being published about MF DOOM later this year. Is there anything else that you want to learn about his life?
This is kind of a minor thing. I would love to see, did he collect comics? I would love to see his collections of everything or anything, pop culture. He strikes me as a person that was really into not just comics, but other forms of pop culture. There's so many things out there from a pop culture sense that have paid homage to him, and I think it's because he was in these spaces already.

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