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A Research Question

A quick interlude to ask for a bit of help - can anyone tell me anything about the image below?

I found it on Pinterest (at The Marvel Age Of Comics, fittingly enough), which says it's an in-house ad from Fantastic Four #15. I'm not sure if it's drawn by Jack Kirby or not - the costume looks so wrong I suspect it might be by somebody else. Can anyone help me out with some info on it? It's interesting not just because it appears to be the first version of Doom not drawn by Kirby (very very early on) but also because it means Doom appeared in two consecutive issues before his (second) Return in Fantastic Four #16, almost like a trailer, demonstrating that Marvel knew what a fan favourite he was already, building up the excitement for his comeback!

UPDATE: I am indebted to Mr Nathaniel Metcalfe for investigating this further and uncovering this blog by Mr Nick Caputo which thinks that it's by Sol Brodsky, which makes perfect sense as it looks similar to Kirby, but clearly isn't him. The blog also shows that Doom's reappearance was mentioned on another page promoting the next issue, alongside a picture of Ant Man!

Thanks all - isn't the internet brilliant?

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posted 23/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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We're back in the world of Hanna Barbera again today, with a story that owes a huge debt to At The Mercy Of Rama-Tut in Fantastic Four #19.

As with all these cartoons the story is significantly streamlined compared to the original. For instance, in the comics the team go back in time to find a cure for Alicia's blindness but here they do it to find a cure for Ben's condition as The Thing. Alicia doesn't seem to exist in these stories, so this is a much clearer, more direct, way to get them heading back into history.

Still, it's a bit odd that the makers of the cartoon chose to adapt this story at all, as it relies heavily on the use of Doctor Doom's time machine, introduced in the comics in Doom's first appearance in Fantastic Four #5, but never adapted by Hanna Barbera. Thus when Reed Richards refers to the existence of the time machine, in a scene taken directly from Fantastic Four #19, he's talking about something that happened only in the comics. It could therefore be argued that this is the first example of Doom being involved in actual transmedia storytelling! The picture of him hanging in the gallery certainly looks a lot more like his appearance in the comics than in these cartoons, so one could argue that this story is following on from that one. However, one could also be a little less excitable and say that its simply a reference to an adventure that did happen in the Hanna Barbera storyworld but was never actually seen on screen.

Reed goes on to relate what happened in that unseen adventure. "He abandoned his castle, but there's a chance the time machine he left behind is still in working order," he says, and so they jet over to Latveria to search Doom's castle which, again, looks very similar to the comics version. They use the machine and things progress in a very similar manner to the original story, except that when they eventually meet Rama Tut he turns out not to be an ancestor of Doctor Doom. He's still a frustrated adventurer from the future though, who was similarly enthralled by watching the Fantastic Four's old adventures on television. Doctor Doom's importance is reinforced by the fact that it's his capture we see in the archive footage, and perhaps it was this that led Rama Tut to go and visit the castle, which is apparently a tourist attraction in the year 3000. It's here (while presumably dodging the tour guides) that he found the blueprints for the time machine, which he then used to build one of his own. It's noticeable that Rama Tut looks very different from in the comics, here being given a much more 'Oriental Baddy' design, similar to The Yellow Claw or Ming The Merciless. I wondered if maybe this was to make the story simpler, so that he appeared Egyptian rather than the original Rama Tut's more 'American' look, but then he doesn't resemble any of the other Egyptian characters either, so maybe it's just a bit of old fashioned racism. Other than that the rest of the story follows the comics pretty closely, with the FF falling under Rama Tut's control, eventually escaping, fighting back and returning to their own time. There's lots more of the repetition of animation sequences that would make Hanna Barbera cartoons notorious amongst their young audiences, and also more of their insistence on ending an episode with an entirely uncomical joke. Here Ben laughs off the fact that their search for a cure didn't work out, by saying "Maybe it isn't so bad being the ever lovin' Thing. After all, I'm the only one who's an antique in his own time. For posterity!" The incidental music crescendoes to a big laugh... and the other three stare pointedly ahead, not reacting. I like to think that they're being polite, inwardly thinking "What on earth is that supposed to mean?" I know I was.

And there the episode ends. Next time we're off to the Micro World where, who knows? We might even get to see The Lizard Men Of Tok!

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posted 23/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Another Blockbusting Bullpen Bonus Bombshell

When the first X-Men film came out there was much self-flagellation and recrimination at Marvel because, some executives felt, they had passed up an opportunity to turn interested filmgoers into new comics readers. The team shown in the movie were not being published as an ongoing comic at that time, and if a new fan went looking for the X-men in a comic shop they'd find nothing that bore any relation to what they'd seen on screen, and what they did see was mired in decades of very complicated continuity.

There were attempts after that to make sure that the comics reflected the movies, such as the Ultimate Comics line, although nowadays it seems that Marvel prefer to carry on with the comics pretty much as normal while ensuring that collected editions related to the films are very much available. There are also direct tie-ins set in the Cinematic Universe, rather than the comics one. I don't know if this has had any particular effect on sales, but I do know that book shops have been full of Thanos collections just recently!

None of these issues seem to have worried Stan Lee and Jack Kirby back in 1967, when this Annual was first published. TV stations across the country were broadcasting the Hanna Barbera 'Fantastic Four' cartoon, featuring a simplified, more streamlined, version of the team, but Stan and Jack were happily ploughing on with some very complicated, often rather adult, storylines. This issue, for instance, not only features The Psycho Man - a new villain who cynically manipulates people's emotions for his own ends - but also a huge dollop of continuity. Psycho Man comes from The Micro World, first visited way back in Fantastic Four #16, and spends a lot of his time fighting supporting characters The Inhumans and The Black Panther in plotlines that have been building up for months, coming to a climax here as they all team up with the FF to fight him. Also in this issue is the announcement of Sue's pregnancy as part of the main plot, plus an extremely jolly short story written and drawn by Jack Kirby purporting to show how he and Stan Lee come up with plots, and a surprisingly dark tale featuring The Silver Surfer and Quasimodo The Living Computer. It's a weird, exciting, funny, action-packed mixture that bares very very little relation to the cartoons being broadcast simultaneously, preferring instead to be part of the height of Lee & Kirby's classic run on the series. Doom only appears in a pin-up featuring some of the various supporting characters who make the Marvel universe such a storyworld. I said at the start that Lee and Kirby don't seem to be thinking about the TV show, but maybe this is actually a reaction to it, an attempt to re-stake their claim on the characters. A television show might be seen by many as more "important" or "respectable" than a lowly comic strip, and would definitely have a bigger team and budget behind it, but what Lee, Kirby and their small group of associates are creating here has a much wider scope for invention. Indeed, their run on the comic would be referred to many times over the forthcoming decades, including in the Hanna Barbera series - as we shall see next time!

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posted 18/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Three Predictions Of Doctor Doom

This episode starts with Dr Doom carrying out one of his most distinctive moves from this period, by appearing unexpectedly on a TV screen! This surprises The Fantastic Four because they thought he was dead. This surprised in turn surprised me, because I didn't realise that these cartoons followed any kind of serial narrative, but it seems they do. At the beginning of the previous episode he was known to be alive, but then believed dead by the end, so clearly there is some seriality in play here.

Doom challenges them to a competition, for which he makes three predictions - that he'll remove the heart of The Fantastic Four, that he'll remove their greatest strength, and that the strongest power will conquer all. What can it all mean?

With their greatest nemesis back on the scene Sue wonders if she should cancel her appointment with a photographer, but Reed tells her not to worry, but to meet them later at the award ceremony they've been invited too. Sue thus pops over to the studio of the photographer, who is hidden behind his camera and seems to be wearing a cloak. It was Doctor Doom al along! He captures the Invisible Girl with a "green sporoid" plant tentacle that shoots out of his camera, and then takes her to his rocket ship, which is disguised as a water tower - an idea nabbed from the Skrulls way back in Fantastic Four #2! Meanwhile at the United Nations the rest of the team are wondering where Sue has got to. "She's never late!" says Mr Fantastic. At that moment Doctor Doom appears on yet another massive television screen, threatening to destroy every major city on earth with tidal waves unless he is made world ruler. This, and much of the rest of the story, is quite similar to Defeated By Doctor Doom in Fantastic Four #17, except that there he had the slightly less megalomaniacal demand to be a member of Kennedy's cabinet. Hanna Barbera Doom is clearly a bit more ambitious!

Doom uses his mighty powers to show "a television image of the Hudson River", where one of his tidal waves is destroying a naval yard. The Fantastic Four leap up to stop him, at which point Doom brings forth his hostage Sue and points out that this also fulfils the first of his three predictions - removing the heart of the Fantastic Four! Televisions, gloating, taking hostages - this is all VERY much in character!

Back at base Reed Richards finds Doom's massive airship, hidden in clouds just as it was in the comics version. It is, apparently, made of "anti-radar alloy" but luckily the FF have a ship with an "atomic magnet". It looks like this: Of course it does! They find and board the ship, where Doom sets his "Sporoid Men" on them. They're armed with Cosmic Ray Simulators which can remove the FF's powers. Ben throws himself in front of the others to take the full force of the ray, while Johnny flames on and burns the Sporoid Men to ash - helpfully reminding us that they're actually vegetables as he does so, so this is definitely not murder. Phew!

The Thing changes back into his human form which happened in the original comic, but the other way around, so that he was able to get into the ship as Ben Grimm, but was forced to return to being the Thing once he was inside. Doom, once more on television screen, points out this he has now thus fulfilled his second prediction, to destroy their greatest strength. I don't know about you, but I was hoping for something a bit more metaphorical than this. Ben has got his dearest wish, to be human again, but Reed and Johnny don't even acknowledge it, they just zoom off without even looking at him. Despite this callous attitude Ben refuses Doom's offer to send him back to earth, preferring to stay and help his friends if he can. However, Doom shows him that they have already been captured and trapped in their own specially designed rooms. How he managed to do this in the space of 5 seconds without moving is not explained!

Doom leaves Ben to watch his friends die, heading back to the UN - or rather, the Conference Of Peaceful Nations - to demand that they proclaim him ruler of the world. Unlike the regular Marvel Universe version of Doom, who we've recently seen spend four months procrastinating before finally trying to take over the planet, Hanna Barbera Doom is a man of action, although in this case that's more of a flaw than a feature. In his haste he's left the Cosmic Ray gun lying at Ben's feet, so that he can pick it up and re-zap himself back into the Thing. In the comics this would be cause for at least an anguished monologue, but here he joyfully shouts "It's Clobberin' Time!" and races off to find his friends.

Meanwhile, over at The Conference, the Peaceful Nations have refused Doom's offer, so he prepares to take his revenge them by unleashing tidal waves over major cities. For some reason he starts a countdown before pulling the "Tidal Impeller" lever, despite him being the only person there, which leaves plenty of time for The Thing to arrive and smash the device before he can pull it. Hanna Barbera Doom is not so free of procrastination as he first seemed!

Doom then flees, as usual, this time through a steel door, then jumps into an escape ship that looks a LOT like the one he was using back in his second appearance in Fantastic Four #6

It's interesting that the cartoon series has taken over so many minor design aspects from the comic. It could be just a case of saving time using old designs rather than creating new ones, but it does create some continuity with the world of the comics, even if the stories are slightly different.

The FF give chase in their Magnet Plane and find Doom hiding in an artificial cloud. They try to extract him using the Atomic Magnet but Doom escapes and returns to his Flying Fortress, setting everything back to how it was five minutes ago, making me suspect that this whole section was padding to make the cartoon the right length!

With everybody back in the Flying Fortress Doom unleashes Power Spheres on the team (again, similar to how he did in Fantastic Four #17). He traps them and then... leaves them there. Mr Fantastic stretches out an arm and - possibly not in tribute to Doctor Who - reverses the polarity of the spheres to free themselves. Doom is waiting for them, with a gun that shoots liquid titanium. They become trapped, again, so Doom goes off to continue with his plan. One must ask at this point - what plan is that? The whole "blackmail the world" plot is finished, so I'm not quite sure what he's on about.

The Fantastic Four escape (again) and discover Doom just about to unleash a tidal wave on London (despite the machine being smashed only a few minutes ago). Once again, his insistence on announcing his intentions aloud to himself is his downfall, as The Thing comes in and biffs him in the face. Reed points out that Doom's third prediction, that the strongest will conquer all, has now come true. Surely that's not what Doom originally meant though, is it? He can't have been predicting that he'd be defeated, so what was he talking about?

It's all rather unsatisfactory, sense-wise, but at least it leads to a fantastic example of Doctor Doom adhering to one of his primary character tropes, displayed in all media: he chucks himself out of a flying vehicle and plummets (apparently) to his death. The Conference Of Peaceful Nations thanks The Fantastic Four for their efforts and there the story ends. Apart from some padding, the occasional bit of typical Hanna Barbera re-use of animation, and some unhinged plotting towards the end, this has been another surprisingly enjoyable, well-made version of Doctor Doom and The Fantastic Four which even occasionally (dare I say it) improves on the original. It's clearly not the same Doom, in appearance or all his actions, as in The Marvel Universe, but it's also clear that the character is sufficiently robust to easily survive the transition.

Next in the world of Hanna Barbera it's a re-write of Fantastic Four #19, but before that we're back in the comics for another Annual and another pin-up!

posted 16/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Way It All Began

Growing up in Peterborough in the 1970s we didn't get any of the exciting television shows. The 'regional variations"'section of newspaper TV listings was agony for me, as I'd look longingly the scehdules for Yorkshire or LWT which had all kinds of thrilling-sounding kids' shows on during weekend early mornings, where all Anglia had was lots and lots of programmes about farming. It was even worse when I started reading American comics, with their full page advertisements for the kids's shows on NBC and CBS. There seemed to be hour after hour dedicated to cartoons like 'Space Ghost' or 'Super Friends', it must have been amazing!

What few shows we did get - like 'Battle Of The Planets' or 'The Space Sentinels' - were thrilling at the time, but when I saw them again decades later I was disappointed to find that they were either nonsenical, in the case of Battle Of The Planets (for very good reasons), or bland for the Sentinels. However, this disappointment was nothing compared to horror of finally seeing some of the cartoons I'd hankered after, like the dreadful 'New Fantastic Four' featuring HERBIE instead of The Human Torch, or the utterly awful The Marvel Superheroes, so when I reached the point where this blog would be looking at Hanna-Barbera's original 'Fantastic Four' cartoons, I wasn't exactly looking forward to it!

I was thus rather pleasantly surprised to find that, actually, they're all right! They're not exactly 'The Incredibles', but they're not bad, and unlike The Marvel Superheroes they give the impression that someone had at least tried to make a good job of them so that, despite occasional lapses into blandness, they were perfectly pleasant to watch.

Put that on a DVD cover, you'll sell a million!

The first episode of the series to feature Doctor Doom is 'The Way It All Began' which tells, quite appropriately, the way it all began. It kicks off with Doom flying towards New York in a massive aircraft and setting off "the rallying signal of The Fantastic Four". We get our first glimpse of the Hanna-Barbera Doom here, and he looks fairly similar to the comics version. A bit more robotic maybe, with a different coloured tunic, but all in all fairly close. Next we get a sequence not dissimilar to the start of Fantastic Four #1, with all the team members seeing the flare and rushing to the Baxter Building. Weirdly, the Thing seems to be standing around just watching a building being knocked down. When he sees the flare he's disappointed, but helps out by knocking the building down himself.

They arrive to find that Sue is chatting to the police commissioner who has come to warn them that "the dreaded international criminal" Doctor Doom has touched down at International Airport, but has claimed diplomatic immunity as "the reigning monarch of the principality of Latveria." This again sticks pretty closely to the comics, though it's unclear, once the episode is finished, why this was mentioned as it has nothing to do with anything that happens later.

At this point no-one knows what Doom is up to or where he's heading ... until he rings up to tell them. He calls to say that he's come to take his revenge on Reed Richards. This is obviously confusing for the police commissioner, which leads rather neatly into Reed explaining by telling him the first part of Doom's origin. This runs pretty closely to the version told in Fantastic Four #5, except for some reason Doom has blonde hair.

"He gives me the creeps" says young Reed. We then see his and Ben's first meeting, at which point the "now" version of Reed says "Anyway, as for Victor Von Doom, he *got* his private room", despite the fact that this is the first time it's ever been mentioned. As with The Marvel Superheroes it seems that the script writers are taking dialogue directly from the comics without checking it still makes sense in their new version.

This version of Doom is still undertaking dangerous experiments. Reed points out that his calculations are incorrect, but Doom carries on anyway and, as expected, it all goes horribly wrong. What happens next is very similar to the comics, except that his assistant not only gets a name - Carstairs - but also some attention from the Dean, who expels Doom for almost killing him. It's an addition to the original storyline that makes his expulsion seem more understandable.

Next we see an example of terrible unprofessionalism, as Doom's nurse takes off his bandages and screams in horror. "How horrible," she shrieks. "That face!" I'm no expert, but I would have thought that "Not screaming in horror" should have been covered in training.

Doom agrees, and instantly knows who to blame. "This is all Reed Richards' fault! He made me hurry my experiment," he says, which is slightly more explanation than we get in the original comics, and is another change that adds to the sense of the story.

"After his face was ruined he just seemed to disappear," says Reed, who then goes on to show off about his and Ben's lives post-Pearl Harbour (which actually gets shown briefly) as an agent of the OSS and a fighter pilot called "The Grimm Reaper" respectively. I know that in the comics they both fought in the second world war, at least in the early years, but I've never seen Ben named as "The Grimm Reaper" in this context before.

This leads on to a re-telling of the Four's actual origin, which gives even more background on how they all came to be aboard the ship. Once again this re-telling changes the comics version so that it makes more sense, with them not having to actually steal the rocket, and clearer reasons given for each of them being there, such as Sue as Data Recorder and Johnny as General Crew Member. This is the first time that the origin story is re-told, smoothing out some of the oddities of the original version, but also losing some of the edginess too. Ben Grimm has no self-pity here, for instance, agreeing to use his powers to fight evil as readily as the others, "for the good of man!" They all get quite distracted with their storytelling, and the police commissioner is too polite to point out that this is not what he came here to find out. Luckily for all Doctor Doom turns up at the front door at that very moment, to get us back on track. He's been stood outside listening to their story and, once he's got them all at gunpoint, offers to tell them the rest of his own origin. He sits down and tells a tale which follows the comics very closely, although the mask fits "in comfort" here, rather than scarring him further, which is probably to be expected for a Saturday morning cartoon.

"Soon I was ruler of a kingdom" he says, rather swiftly skipping over how he came to control Latveria. With the story told the Fantastic Four overpower him incredibly easily, with Mr Fantastic just snatching his gun away and Sue wriggling free and bonking him with a force field. It's all very very easy, weirdly so, leaving Doom to revert to his signature move of running away. He runs for The Missile Room and steals a missile. "What a triumph!" he cackles. "Going home to my own country with the Fantastic Four's own missile!"

"What will Reed say?" asks Sue, but it turns out he's not too bothered. The ship has no gyro, and so Doom can't steer it, meaning that he only gets a short distance before exploding and, apparently, crashing into the city. "I bet we won't see him again until... Doomsday!" says Ben, and everyone has a right old chuckle about it. This is a tiny bit strange, as they have just seen an old college acquaintance crash a missile into New York city, killing himself and who knows how many others. It sticks out as a misstep in what otherwise has been a surprisingly cogent version The Fantastic Four and especially Doctor Doom. Here he has definite motivation for his actions, and specific character traits such as an keenness to spy on others, no self-awareness, and a willingness to leg it at the first sign of danger. He's definitely a different version of the character from the one we've seen in the comics, but he's surprisingly faithful to the original!

The question is, will this version of Doom prove to be as impervious to death and destruction as his comics counterpart? We'll find out next time!

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posted 9/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Peril And The Power!

The cover for this issue promises a gigantic punch-up between Doctor Doom and The Fantastic Four but, after several issues of delay and prevarication, is that really what we're going to get? Or will it be more of the same hanging around, waiting for something to happen?

The splash page doesn't bode well for Action Fans, with Sue, Reed and Ben powerless to stop Doom from continuing to mess around with his powers, despite having said he was going to get ON with taking over the world at the end of the last issue. Instead of doing that he's decided to stick a cruise liner on top of a cliff for no apparent reason. I can't help sympathising with The Thing here. I too am "sick 'a watching on the sidelines! I say we go after 'im... and clobber the creep!"

Mr Fantastic wants to wait some more, but luckily for the readers the Human Torch has decided enough's enough and has zoomed off to fight Doom himself.

It does not go well. Doom turns himself into diamond to avoid Johnny's flames, flies out of his way at high speed, and then creates a typhoon to throw him into a "wondrous whirlpool" before taking a moment to pose groovily with his board to consider his work. The long awaited action continues with the rest of the FF trying to attack Doom. On the way they have to battle though several natural defences that he throws up, including gigantic moving trees, burning earth, and flying rocks before - eventually - The Thing reachs Doom himself where the long promised punch-up finally happens. It's been a long time coming, but a panel like this, all Kirby action, flying catchprases, and footnoted continuity, make it worth the wait. Doom is, brilliantly, still annoyed about the fact that it was The Thing who defeated him when last they met. When he's beaten by Reed Richards he doesn't seem to mind as much, as that's two equals in a battle of wits. Being beaten by a "regular joe" like Ben Grimm, through phsyical violence, clearly wrankles, and it's great to see that this is carried through in his characterisation. For all my (gentle!) mockery of some of the storytelling, the understanding of Doom as a flawed, three dimensional character in these comics is great.

The rest of the Fantastic Four regroup and go to help Ben, who is being thoroughly walloped. Doom takes delight in the fact that even though the four of them are back together at full strength he is still able to beat them all. The battle continues, with the most effective attack coming from The Invisible Woman, who manages to make an entire cliff invisible so that Doom crashes headfirst into it, but eventually they are defeated. "Your feeble efforts at self-preservation have ceased to amuse me" says Doom. They've been amusing him for almost four months now, so it's no surprise that it's not as much fun as it used to be, and he decides it's time to finally, finally, at long last, disintegrate his enemies. But wouldn't you know it? At just that moment the gadget that Reed was trying out on The Thing last time - the "anti-cosmic flying wing" - zooms out of nowhere and knocks Doom off his feet. Doom simply gets up and back on his board but, as predicted, is absolutely ruddy livid about the whole thing and decides, yet again, to demonstrate his contempt for Richards by not killing him but instead going after the wing thing to destroy it. To be fair to Mr Fantastic he did say that making Doom angry was the whole plan, and it succeeds as he follows the flying wing up innto the sky until - Doom flies so high that he bashes into the cosmic barrier that Galactus had set up to stop the Silver Surfer escaping the earth!

On the one hand this is a sudden, slightly disappointing, end to a four issue storyline where the reader (or this reader anyway) has been desperate for Doom to stop messing about, start taking over the world, and for the FF to start fighting him. On the other hand, however, it's a pretty amazing use of an ongoing continuity, relying on readers' knowledge of what has gone before, tied to an understanding of the characters' well-established personalities, to pull out an ending that makes complete sense. We all know about the cosmic barrier because it was such an important part of the previous storyline, and we can accept that Reed Richards was banking on Doom's anger and arrogance because... well, that's exactly the sort of thing that Doom would do!

And that's it for this four part storyline, with everything coming to a sudden halt without any explanation of what happens to Doctor Doom. We see his board flying off towards Latveria (and the next issue of The Fantastic Four shows the surfer getting it back) but readers at the time would have to wait almost a whole year to find out what happened to Doctor Doom!

Readers of this blog, at this time, will only have to wait a couple of weeks, as next time we'll be taking a small detour into the world of the (surprisingly enjoyable) Hanna Barbera adaptation of The Fantastic Four!

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posted 2/5/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Right then! After all the prevarication in The Dismal Dregs Of Defeat last time, surely now we finally get to see Doctor Doom actually use his newfound Power Cosmic to wreak havoc on the world? Right?

Wrong! What we get in this issue is an awful lot of people preparing for Doom taking over the world, a whole heap of Doom claiming he's definitely going to get going soon, and a great chunk of story about the Inhumans which has nothing at all to do with the main plot.

The Inhumans stuff is all part of the long-form storytelling that Lee and Kirby are developing, and will eventually intersect with the main Fantastic Four storyline in several months, but at the moment it feels a bit like the pages of the comic have been shuffled so that a back-up strip has got mixed up with he main one, like 'Tales Of Asgard' getting stirred into the main 'Thor' strip. It's all good stuff - I especially like the way that Maximus The Mad's long-held plan of taking over Attilan when Black Bolt's away fails straight away because everyone knows he's nuts - but doesn't have anything to do with Doctor Doom. The main story kicks off with Mr Fantastic trying to persuade the entire world to band together to fight "perhaps the most deadly enemy which civilised man has ever faced!" Reluctantly the US agree to hold back so that the Fantastic Four can try to stop Doom, but begin preparing their army just in case they can't. They call this "Operation Build-Up" which is quite a good description of this issue as a whole! Mr Fantastic remonstrates with himself ("Mr Fantastic! What a monumental mockery that name is!") for having no idea how to defeat doom, so The Thing decides to get him back on track with a good old fashioned punch-up. As usual, this works a treat and Reed Richards heads off to his lab to get some serious thinking done. I wonder if Lee and Kirby ever tried this method themselves, when one of them was feeling a bit low? It seems to get used a lot, although it does have its drawbacks. The idea that Reed comes up with to defeat Doom is a gadget that he decides to test by chucking it at his old friend Ben when he's not looking. The device floors the Thing and makes him furious, only for Reed to claim (as is his wont) that this was his plan all along. If someone threw an infuriating/knackering device at me without warning I would take a pretty dim view of it, as Ben does here, and would not be inclined to believe that it was the "only" way to test it. It makes me wonder about the collaboration between Lee and Kirby on this section - the images, and indeed the plot, could easily tell a different story, with Reed Richards still angry at his friend for the earlier beating and taking his revenge with the device. Could it be that that was what Kirby originally planned?

While all this is going on Doctor Doom is busy enjoying his newfound powers, while also pretending that he is now super-dignified and above such pettiness. When we first see him he's just foiled an attack on Latveria by the Soviet Union, destroying their airforce with a corrosive cloud. For a moment he considers taking further revenge, but then decides not to do so, because such acts of anger are now beneath him. Throughout Doom's development his self-delusion has always been a key part of his character, and it's clearly demonstrated here by the way he calmly, regally, decides not to give vent to his anger, preferring instead to pop down to the cellars for a good old gloat (he does love to gloat) over the helpless Silver Surfer, and then giving him a good kicking, in an entirely calm and non-petty way. Again, he decides to let the Silver Surfer live so that he can witness Doom's (eventual) takeover of the world, much as he claimed to do with the FF last time. It's almost as if he's been putting off the moment when he has to really use his newfound powers, and it seems like he realises this, saying "I have tarried with you long enough!My greatest task now lies before me!! I must prepare a hopeless humanity for the coming of --" But then what he does is fly off and, for all intents and purposes, play pranks on people. First of all he goes to Central Europe and casts an entire country into total darkness for 24 hours, then buzzes over to the Aegean and makes it snow, before finally turning a gorilla into a monster... for some reason. It's all most perplexing, to the extent that you want him to GET ON WITH IT and start taking over the world.

This might make for frustrating reading, but it is very much in character for Doom who has, time and time again, put off actually using his power, preferring to just enjoy using it for a bit.

The story ends with Doom deciding that now, at last, there's "no need for further delay" and he can finally start taking over the world. He keeps on saying he's just about to take over the world, but maybe this time he really means it! There's only one way to find out - in our next blog!

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posted 25/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Dismal Dregs Of Defeat

After the multiple narrative of last time this issue is all a single story full of plot, playfulness... and prevarication.

When last we saw him Doctor Doom had stolen the Power Cosmic from the Silver Surfer, and was heading out to wreak havoc on the world. However, where other supervillains might get straight to it Doom prefers to savour the moment, making it last as long as possible by zipping around the world causing mischief while his enemies get more and more distressed.

As this story begins Doom is sending terrifying visions of himself to the Fantastic Four via the medium of a lightning storm. He's now all powerful and could destroy them at will, but instead he chooses to have fun by simply giving them the willies. This is how he gets his kicks. He also likes a good old gloat, so he pops down the corridor to look in on a desolate Silver Surfer, before setting off towards Manhattan. The situation is full of dread for humanity and is expressed in very serious terms... until Stan Lee takes the opportunity to add in a little self-mockery of his own dialogue. Doom arrives at The Baxter Building to find a spooked Thing (who's been upsetting himself with ghost stories) on his own. Doom attacks, rejoicing in his revenge on the person who humiliated him so much on their last meeting. "Feel the limitless cosmic power in the hand which you once nearly crushed", he says, referring to an injury that clearly bothered him. He mentioned it last time we saw him too! Interestingly Stan Lee does not include a footnote referring us back to the issue Doom's talking about - either he felt readers would all remember, or that the story should not be interrupted, or he forgot!

After a pitched battle Doom defeats the Thing, but then once again decides to defer his final victory by leaving him standing statue-like in a park. He promises to return to finish Ben off once he's defeated the rest of the Fantastic Four, but one does have to wonder whether Doom is capable of ever learning from his mistakes. Every time he's done this in the past it's ended up being his undoing. It's part of his character - it's right up there with watching telly and jumping out of windows in the Doom Personality Matrix - but it's flipping infuriating!

Doom heads back to the Baxter Building where he finds Reed Richards and sets to giving him a good thrashing with an energy mace, similar to the one the Silver Surfer demonstrated in the previous issue. While this is going on Johnny Storm returns from his travels and discovers Ben trapped in his statue form in the park. When he rushes off to get help he discovers Doom and jumps into action, only to be defeated by a "cosmic drop in temperature" which nullifies his flame completely. Once again Doom refuses to kill him, deeming such things beneath him now. Wyatt Wingfoot uses this month's Handy Reed Richards Gizmo (which Lee describes in some detail, before concluding with "at least, that's how Jack described it to us!") to free The Thing, and the team are united once more. Usually this would be the time for a fightback, but much to everyone's horror Reed concedes that the situation is hopeless, and that Doom has won.

He later says he was playing on Doom's "inconceivable vanity", surrendering in the knowledge that Doom would decide they are all beneath him now and let them live. A lot of the time when Reed Richards says this it's not entirely believable, but here you can sort of see his point. He's basically offering Doom the chance to keep his greatest enemy alive so to bear witness to his continuing victories and, as anyone who knows him would guess, this is something Doom is all too happy to accept. And so the issue ends with Doom flying off, leaving the Fantastic Four still alive but clueless as to what to do next. It's been a fun issue full of fantastic visuals from Kirby as Doom exercises his power, but as a single story it's somewhat unsatisfying. Doom never actually uses his power to the full, and nobody does anything which could stop him. In a modern comic, where creating stories of the correct length for later collection is the norm, one might consider this "padding", but here I suspect Lee & Kirby are enjoying experimenting with the form. They've not long finished their much lauded "Galactus trilogy", which ran over three (obviously) issues, so I wonder if they were trying to repeat the trick here, creating a tale "too big for a single issue" starrring Doom?

We'll see how it all works out in the next issue when surely - surely! - Doom will strike for real!

posted 18/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Enter... Dr. Doom (again)

Say what you like about Stan Lee, but when he finds a story title he likes he's not afraid of re-using it - we've already had Doctor Doom Returns twice, and now he's Entering for the second time this year!

That's about the only economising that goes on in this comic, which features at least three separate stories, none of which connect together by the issue's end. It's a style of storytelling that was common in continuing narratives like soap opera, but new to American superhero comics at this time. Where previously an individual issue would contain one or more self-contained stories with little or no sequential continuity between them, here Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are happy to throw us into the middle of one story then cut to another that is almost entirely unrelated. It's no wonder that Sue needs to take a moment, a few pages in, to bemoan how complicated their life has become. The first story concerns the hunt for The Sandman, a member of the Frightful Four who seems to fight his battles wearing a t-shirt and... nothing else. The FF spend most of their time searching the city for him, only for the Sandman to turn up at The Baxter Building and sneak into their secret vault to steal a bunch of weapons. Mr Fantastic estimates that it'll take him at least five minutes to open his own Impregno-Lock and get into the store room but, when he manages to gain entrance "exactly 300 seconds later" he finds that the villain has escaped through the window. This leads me to ask, once again, whether Reed Richards really is the most intelligent man on earth in the Marvel Universe. Why didn't he just stretch out of an adjacent window and in again that way?

Meanwhile Johnny Storm and Wyatt Wingfoot are on a quest to track down The Inhumans - or at least Johnny's girlfriend, Crystal. They're helped by the Inhhuman dog Lockjaw, who teleports them from place to place, this time dropping them into a whole other dimension full of creatures so enormous and heavy that they've turned their entire world into a car park. Unbeknownst to Johnny and Wyatt, the Inhumans are actually trapped inside a Negative Barrier in the Himalayas, where the Royal Family are gathered round the bed of their King, Black Bolt. This is a brief interlude, laying the groundwork for future stories, where Maximus The Mad rolls up and tells the assembled superheroes that his brother Black Bolt and Queen Medusa have been lying to them all for years - Black Bolt is perfectly capable of speaking, but he refuses to do so!

This would all be more than enough for most comics, but these three plots only take up half of the pages of this issue, with the rest being given over to the first meeting of Doctor Doom and The Silver Surfer! This is yet another example of the way in which Lee and Kirby were developing the shared continuity of the new Marvel Universe. Previously a villain such as Doctor Doom would only be expected to act as a foil for the main characters, while the Silver Surfer was introduced (back in Fantastic Four #48) simply as a supporting character for Galactus, but here these two supposedly secondary characters are able to carry half of the issue by themselves, emerging from the rich world that has been created as leading characters in their own rights.

Doom has summoned the Surfer to his castle, apparently just to learn more about him. The Surfer is more than happy to explain and demonstrate the capabilities of The Power Cosmic, including generating an incredibly powerful weapon which Doom uses to knock down the room they're standing in. In return Doom takes the Surfer to visit his experimental workshop complex, which manifests as a fantastic splash page of Kirby Tech. As well as being a wonderful image, this is a fascinating dip into the hyperdiegesis of the Marvel Universe. We know that Doom has all of his technological gizmoes, but we've never yet seen the actual factories where they're built. It makes sense that a national leader like Doom would be able to have weapons plants like this in his country, and indeed employ citizens to work there. We even get a glimpse at Doom's approach to HR when he loses his temper with a clumsy lab worker but then, realising that he's being observed, decides to give him the day off instead of "the ultimate punishment" (which is probably not a written warning). Once again we see here the difference between the image Doom hopes to project, of a benign, caring leader, and the violent despot he really is. This is a constant throughout his fictional life, although his own levels of self-knowledge will vary. Sometimes, as here, it seems that the caring leader is all just an act to impress others, whereas on other occasions he appears to believe that he is genuinely working for the benefit of the Latverian people.

Soon the real reason for his summoning of the Surfer becomes clear, as he pounces on the unsuspecting alien and clamps him into a pair of High Intensity Inductors which transfer the Power Cosmic into Doom himself! Doom immediately uses his newfound power to hop on the Surfer's board and zoom around the skies of Latveria, blowing up trees and terrifying his subjects. The issue closes with Latverians dreading the prospect of their leader having so much power, and the FF, back in New York, getting an eerie feeling that there are bad times ahead for them. I've got a nasty feeling she might just be right - let's find out, next time!

posted 11/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Dr. Doom's Day

What a mighty moment in Marvel History this is! Today we're looking at episode 12 of the "Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner" section of "The Marvel Superheroes", a cartoon produced by Gantray Lawrence in 1966. It's the first appearance of Doctor Doom on screen! The first TV appearance of the X-Men too! All as part of a thrilling, half-hour long show that played nightly on TV stations all across America!

There's only one tiny problem with it: it's BLOODY AWFUL.

I hope you'll excuse my distinctly non-academic language here, but the thing is that I had to sit down and watch the whole episode, and there's not really any other way to describe it. Here, see for yourself:

For those of you who don't have 17 minutes to spare, the story is a very loose adaptation of Fantastic Four Annual #3 and Fantastic Four #6. Adapting two Fantastic Four comic is a rather strange choice to say the least, as Gantry Lawrence did not have the rights to The Fantastic Four, who do play quite a large part in the stories, what with being the lead characters and everything. Namor the Sub-mariner does have a significant role in Fantastic Four #6 but, as discussed previously Namor is explicitly mentioned as NOT appearing in Fantastic Four Annual #3 at all.

The oddness of these choices does fit in with the general tone of the cartoon, which feels as if it has been chucked together in an insane rush using whatever comes to hand. It's like listening to a four year old making up a story as they go along, but without the charm. One example of this thoughtless chuck-it-together-ness comes right near the start Doom when talks about plotting against his enemies The Allies For Peace (more on them in a moment) as a way to be avenged for "the humiliations of the past." This is a direct lift from his dialogue in Fantastic Four Annual #3, referring to his defeat by The Thing in his previous appearance. In the comic this made sense because we knew what he was referring to, and it involved characters that had appeared before and would appear again soon, but in the cartoon this is Doom's first ever appearance, so we have no idea who he's talking about and, anyway, it will never be mentioned again. So what was the point of including it, other than not wanting to bother writing new dialogue?

One might argue that this is a great example of transmedia storytelling, with the audience already knowing Doom's history from reading the comics. Unfortunately for anybody trying to write a thesis about Doctor Doom as an early transmedia character (i.e. me), that's not what this is. The cartoon makes many references to the orginal comics (which today would be called "Easter Eggs") that only comics readers would understand, while simultaneously changing huge plot points, characters, names an situations so that this story could not possibly exist in the original Marvel universe storyworld.

A good example of this comes when Namor (who narrates the first half of the story without appearing in it) introduces us to Doctor Doom's lair, "The fortified isle of Latveria" This is not the small Balkan country we've come to know and fear from the comics! I can sort of understand making Doom's lair water-themed to match Namor being an aquatic character, but Namor isn't in this section, and Latveria is never mentioned again, so what on earth was the point?

And then there's the main protagonists of this section, the X-men - or, rather, The Allies For Peace as they are renamed here. The characters are the same, including Professor X, and they even have an "X" on their uniforms, so why the change? Actually, I say they're the same, but for some reason Hawkeye joins them in the second section of the story. It all reeks of a half-arsed carelessness which pervades all aspects of this production. The "animation" consists of taking photocopies of the original artwork and, for the most part, animating the mouths. The fact that the art has been taken from different comics, different artists and, in the case of the Sub-mariner, different decades, gives the whole thing and queasily inconsistent look, as characters change design from frame to frame. Here's two very different versions of Iceman, for example: The storytelling is similarly hopeless. Although the episode is called "Dr. Doom's Day" the words "Doctor Doom" are not even spoken until almost eight minutes into the story, when Doom is finally named. Anybody new to the cartoon would have no idea who he was, although when he finally say who he is he does very helpfully point at himself to make it absolutely clear. This introduction takes place in the second section of the show, where Namor finally appears and heads into New York as the adaptation switches to Fantastic Four #6. Again, The Allies for Peace stand in for the Fantastic Four, although the animators did not manage to remove all references to the FF, notably when their logo appears on the building scanners. At the point Namor takes over from the Allies (or "The Defenders" as the narrator inexplicably calls them at one point) as the main hero, while Doom becomes more straightforwardly villainous, spouting dialogue that he would never say in the comic, even stooping to puns when he puts the Baxter Building on a collision course with the sun "which I am certain will receive you warmly." This is not the Doom we know!

The episode continues to get (even) worse, including an section where the narrator tells us that, millions of miles away, a meteor storm has erupted. "That meteor storm is what I'm counting on!" says Namor immediately afterwards, making me think of the bits in Dangermouse when they'd talk back to the narrator... except much less funny.

The all round can't-be-arseness of the episode reaches a climax towards the end, where it's clear that the foreground for Doctor Doom's slipped during animation, and nobody could be bothered to fix it! It finally ends with Doctor Doom chucking himself out into space, which is at least traditional. All in all, it's a dreadful business which makes you very glad that at least Stan Lee has lived long enough to see his creations done properly.

One extra, intriguing, aspect to this series of cartoons is the fact that WNAC-TV in Boston made a series of short live films introducing the cartoons, written by none other than Jerry Siegel and featuring Captain America, Hulk, Bucky and Doctor Doom! The only film that survives is the short clip below, taken by a fan on a super-8 character, but even this low quality recording shows more of an understanding of Marvel's appeal than this terrible cartoon:

Basically, I did not enjoy this one very much, but fear not true believers, next time we're back to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and an out and out classic!

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posted 6/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Enter Doctor Doom

This is only Doctor Doom's second proper appearance outside of The Fantastic Four or Strange Tales (his first being in Amazing Spider-Man #5) and, as we'll see, he's not quite his own man yet. The Fantastic Four get mentioned and even appear (in a marvellously honestly heralded "brief appearance", mentioned on the cover), as if he's not quite ready to strike out completely on his own just yet.

It's clear that he's popular though - his image is much bigger than that of the other characters on the cover, and it's assumed that readers will know who he is. It's possible that they may even have guessed who was lurking menacingly at the end of Avengers #24. This story continues immediately after the last one, with a neat pull-back to reveal who was watching. To be honest, anyone who knows Doctor Doom should have guessed it was him. Who else LOVES watching other people on telly this much?

I said that Doom himself needs no introduction, as a character, but he does supply a small recap to bring us up to date with his relationship with Kang, the villain of the past few issues. As with previous recaps, this features a faithful redrawing of selected panels from the stories he's referring to, this time taken from Fantastic Four Annual #2. This does, unfortunately, mean we get a retelling of the extremely confusing/nonsensical version of a time paradox, but luckily for us Doom does not dwell on this, preferring to return to spying on The Avengers.

Doom's plan is to annihilate The Avengers purely to put the frighteners on The Fantastic Four, but as he watches them go about their daily business he must surely wander whether he's still snooping on the FF, just wearing different costumes. There's four characters - three men and a woman - who don't really get on with each other, a brother and sister relationship, a hint of a love triangle, and a lot of bickering, especially between the leader and the other non-sibling. In the Matt Yockey's (excellent) book Make Ours Marvel, Mark Minett and Bradley Schauer talk about the way that this line-up of the Avengers - "Cap's Kooky Quartet" of Captain America, Hawkeye, The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver - came about. They theorise that the original "all star" line-up (including Iron Man, Hulk and Thor, all of whom had their own series) placed restrictions on the extent to which the creative team could explore characterisation. Any big changes for Tony Stark, for instance, would happen in his own series, not in the team book. Thus, by revamping the team with (mostly) minor characters, Stan Lee and his collaborators could delve into the kind of character interplay that had made the Fantastic Four such a success. The fact that they changed the line-up to pretty much copy the FF does suggest that this theory is correct!

Back in this issue, the Scarlet Witch, gets a letter claiming to be from a long lost Auntie in Latveria. She rushes off to tell her brother Quicksilver, who, like all young men in the Marvel Universe, is watching telly. He's too engrossed to listen to her, so she uses her mighty Hex Power to turn it off. Throughout this issue Wanda's superpowers manifest almost exclusively as a supernatural remote control. Maybe The Human Remote Control should have been her superhero name?

Doom is still watching them, but once he sees that his trap (the letter was from him, pretending to be an Auntie! What a rotter!) has worked he goes off for a walk around Latveria, giving us our first extended visit to the "tiny Balkan kingdom". Previously we've only seen short glimpses, even in Doom's origin story, but here it becomes the main setting for the entire issue.

When Doom first steps outside we see him walking through a crowd in a panel that echoes Jack Kirby's street scene from Fantastic Four Annual #2. Kirby's panel will be echoed again many years later in John Byrne's classic "This Land Is Mine", although Byrne will use the same camera angle as Don Heck does here: It's disconcerting to see Doom referring to his nation, even internally, as a "comic opera kingdom" - I'm sure he wouldn't appreciate anybody else calling it that - but it does mark the start of Doom's transformation into a slightly less sympathetic character. The more we see of his kingdom, and the way he rules over his citizens, the less noble he appears.

The Avengers arrive by train and are almost instantly arrested by the Latverian police, who throw them into prison. Exactly thirty minutes later (I'm not sure why it's important that it's exactly half an hour, but this will crop up again later) Cap realises where it is they've ended up. Oh THAT Latveria! Of course! Once that's all clear they immediately escape which, Doctor Doom claims shortly afterwards, is exactly what he expected them to do. So why does he have them arrested in the first place? Maybe the fact that I have to ask is why I've never made it as a supervillain, or maybe this is another example of Doom's nobility losing its shine, and him becoming more like the self-deluding despot that we'll see more of in the 1970s.

Doom seals off the kingdom with a "plastithene" dome which he'd built to protect the country from nuclear attack and the Latverians take to the streets to capture the Avengers. Here Latveria becomes a symbol for Communist Eastern Europe, with the American superteam unable to understand why the people remain loyal to a dictator Doom - the only possible explanation is propaganda! To be fair to Doom, he has built a gigantic dome to protect his subjects from nuclear attack, and they're always talking about how much better he is than the aristocracy he overthrew. The fact that Doom has an entire nation of loyal subjects who will do his bidding for him is also an interesting variation on superpowers. He has the strength of thousands, just in thousands of different bodies!

The Avengers head to the castle and fight Doom one by one, with him easily beating them. They only get away when one of Hawkeye's arrows make a mess of his armour, forcing him to go and get changed. Exactly thirty minutes later (I said it'd be back!) he's all cleaned up and heading back to the fight when he bumps into a delegation of Latverians who ask him to take down the dome so a local lad can pop to the next country to see a physician. Doom's refusal is a blow to the people, who are confused to find him so uncaring. There's no time to examine this, however, as the story hops back to the USA for the "brief guest appearance of the Fantastic Four" that we were promised. It seems to me that this is Stan Lee trying to pre-empt the next batch of letters from readers who would have asked why the FF didn't get involved, as this one page interlude explains that they can't go over to help the Avengers: Washington won't let them. I'm not sure I'd describe Doom and Latveria as "friendly" - hasn't he tried to destroy and/or take over the USA on a couple of occasions already? Maybe that's the reason I'm also not a leading diplomat, but it's another example of the way Doom has powers beyond that of a conventional supervillain. Indeed, he has the kind of superpowers that actually do exist in the real world - fanatical loyalty and diplomatic immunity.

While all this is going on the Avengers find out about the plight of the young boy, and realise they've got to get a shift on. This introduces some much needed Jeopardy to the story - the team now has a deadline for their escape, rather than being able to take their time or wait for help. If they don't get out and/or destroy the dome, the boy will die!

They return to the castle, where Doom fights them to a standstill once again. He uses a lot of scientific gadgetry and devices to fight the heroes, though it's noticeable that his magical powers have pretty much been forgotten. The only magic used comes from Wanda, who uses her Human Remote Control abilities to switch off Doom's disintegrator gun. This time the Avengers fight as a team, rather than individually, and although they still don't manage to properly beat Doom, they do at least escape (by making him sneeze too much to concentrate on them), closing the dome in the process so that the boy can get to hospital. The issue ends with a final panel reminiscent of several Fantastic Four stories, with the four team members looking back on their adventure and offering their own different interpretations of what's happened, ranging from Quicksilver's "Another fruitless quest! Another disappointment!" to the Scarlet Witch's "Even tho it was all in vain, we fought like a team... and we won!" These thoughts reinforce the overall pointlessness of their actions - they were fooled into going to Latveria, and when they were there they risked the life of a young boy and only just managed to escape with their lives. In a sense they were the villains of the story, entering Doom's domain, fighting him and, like Doom himself has done at the end of so many other adventures, running away, leaving their enemy behind.

In many ways this story sets the tone for a lot of what's to come, especially Doom's solo adventures in "Astonishing Tales" and "Supervillain Team-Up", but that's still a few years in the future. What comes next for us on this blog is the thrilling debut of Doctor Doom on television - gird yourselves for this one, it is going to be AWFUL!

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posted 4/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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This Time You Can't Blame Stan

When I first sat down to read this issue I was a little puzzled, as there was absolutely no mention of Doctor Doom in it whatsoever. There's plenty of other stuff, not least the highly enjoyable introduction of Hercules, but no Doom.

It's not the first time this has happened - The Corpus Of Doom (which is what I should have called my big list of comics from the start) is collated from several different databases, all of which have had lots of different people adding information to them at different times in different ways, which means that sometimes the data entry criteria gets a bit muddled. For instance, in Incredible Hulk #2 there was an advert for Fantastic Four #5 (discussed here) featuring Doctor Doom, so somebody somewhere thought that that should be included as part of the comic, whereas normally only the actually story contents "count" towards appearances.

I thought that something similar might be going on here, and after a bit of googling I discovered that it was. In several Marvel comics published this month there appeared an advert for an Incredible Hulk Sweat Shirt, starring Doctor Doom: This image, and a lot more information about it, can be found in an excellent blog by Nick Caputo at Marvel Mysteries and Comics Minutiae. According to him this advert was written and drawn by Marie Severin, which makes her the first person to ever write Doctor Doom apart from Stan Lee!

There's something rather fitting about Doom's first appearance without Stan Lee's stewardship being for an advert, or at least there is if you happen to be writing a thesis about him as an early transmedia character! It would be several more years before other people began to write Doom in the main Marvel Universe continuity, but from this point onwards he will start to appear regularly in all sorts of other media, out of Lee's control. Indeed, around this time 'The Marvel Super Heroes' cartoon would have been in development, at which point Doom (and much of the rest of Marvel comics) would truly begin to become transmedia characters. And it all began with a sweatshirt!

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posted 2/4/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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From The Ashes Of Defeat

There are major appearances by Doctor Doom and there are minor appearances, there are lead roles and their are cameos, and sometimes he's in a comic so very very slightly that none - NONE - of the comics databases I used recognise that it's him.

This is one such occasion, for in this comic Doctor Doom only appears once, right at the very end of the story, in silhouette in a single caption. We don't find out that it's him until the following month, but it IS him so I think this has to be included. We'll find out what he's up to soon!

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posted 30/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Bedlam At The Baxter Building

The cover of this story promises "the world's most colossal collection of costumed characters crazily cavorting and capering in continual combat" and, in all honesty, that's pretty much what the contents provide.

The subject of this story is supposedly the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, and it does feel like a wedding. You're forever bumping into people you've not seen for a while, some of whom you like and some you don't, and all sorts of individuals from different parts of your life get thrown together. Also there's a lot of fighting.

More than that though, this is the culmination of the entire Marvel Universe so far. Almost every character who's appeared already gets a cameo, and those who don't get notes to explain why they're not there. It is, to be frank, one heck of a ride!

It all kicks with Doom reading about Reed and Sue's wedding, still fuming about his recent humiliation. He's so furious that he rips up his newspaper. Once he's had his tantrum Doom decides to use the situation to his advantage and ruin his enemies' big day. He reasons that, as the Fantastic Four are "the greatest fighting team the world has ever known" he needs an even greater team of foes to defeat them, and decides to use his handy High Frequency Emotion Charger to impel super-powered types from all over the world to converge on the Baxter Building, where the police who so recently had been evacuating crowds are now holding them back from celebrations. The presence of the cops outside is a callback to Doom's last appearance in the similarly titled Battle Of The Baxter Building, where the FF needed the help of Daredevil to defeat him. The Fantastic Four won by enlisting help that time, and both sides will do the same here.

After the quick prologue in Latveria we're thrown into a parade of supporting characters from all over the Marvel Universe and beyond. Tony Stark turns up first, but then in the crowd we see Patsy Walker and Hedy Wolfe, stars of Timely Comics romance comics which were pulished before and then alongside early Marvel stories. This is their first "official" appearance in the Marvel Universe, and is a statement of intent from Stan Lee - he's prepared to bring absolutely everything he writes into the Marvel storyworld! More and more characters appear from this point onward, including FF villains such as The Puppet Master, Mole Man and The Red Ghost, plus heroes such as The X-Men, Nick Fury and Doctor Strange. This gives the reader the opportunity to see new pairings of heroes and villians fighting each other, and generates a feeling of everything coming together in an exciting, coherent, very busy shared storyworld.

On page 9 of the story there's a cut back to Latveria, where we see Doctor Doom monitoring the situation - using a television, of course. We haven't seen much of him since the first couple of pages and, surprisingly, this is the last we'll see of him in the whole story. After this more and more villians turn up to fight more and more heroes, but that's it for Doom.

There's still an awful lot to enjoy about the rest of the story, as Lee and Kirby revel in the richness of this fictional world they've created. My personal favourite aspect is the story of The Hydra Bomb Lorry, which Daredevil spots heading towards the Baxter Building. It's a beautifully daft image of the Keystone Cops-like villains driving a super high tech bomb on the back of a pick-up truck, which Daredevil easily manages to steal from them. It's one short sequence in a succession of similar ones in which supervillains literally turn up round every corner. We catch up with Daredevil and The Bomb Bus a few pages later as it drives past a fight between The Black Knight and Angel of The X-Men, which escalates until pretty much everybody is fighting everybody else. It's a joyous celebration of the world that Marvel have created, which continues to escalate even after this, as a whole army of Atlantean soldiers appear in the harbour. Even here there's room for more interconnectivity. A text box explains that, though Attuma has turned up, it was the Sub-Mariner that Doom was hoping for, and if the reader wishes to find out why Namor couldn't make it... then they need to go and pic up "Tales To Astonish" #72! Before Attuma's armies can attack New York, Daredevil and the Bomb Bus appear again, with Daredevil leaping off just in time before the lorry careers into the harbour and explodes... sending the Atlantean army back into the depths from which they came before anybody even realised they were there! In order to wrap everything up The Watcher appears and does his usual immaculate job of not interfering by totally interfering, taking Reed to the moon to collect a sub-atronic time displacer which not only sends all the baddies back to where they came from but also makes them forget all about it - including Doctor Doom himself, apparently. This is a bit of a throwback to the early days of the Fantastic Four, when Stan and Jack would need to invent some sort of previously unmentioned device to get the story to a close, but it's a minor misstep in what has otherwise been a thrilling story, which just has room to fit the actual wedding in on the last page... and another slice of Jack Kirby's romance comics illustration style. I must admit I was a little bit disappointed with the group shot of the wedding, as I expected it to be a big splash page, but then realised that I was thinking of the (wonderful) version of this scene that appears in Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross's "Marvels" series. I do like the joke here about the whole thing going off without a hitch!

All that remains is one final gag about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby not being allowed entry, and that's the story done. It's not a big story for Doctor Doom, and he'll apparently have forgotten all about it by the next time we see him, but it's a HUGE story for the Marvel Universe as whole, bringing together almost every character seen so far in a celebration of what you can do with a shared storyworld.

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posted 28/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Lo! There Shall Be An Ending!

A very brief appearance by Doctor Doom in this one - it's a cameo, but for the first time it's not someone else remembering him, or a statuette, but Doom himself, demonstrating that the Marvel Universe has definitely become a single ongoing story rather than a series of one-offs.

This issue is the final part of a three-issue storyline about Ben Grimm being taken over by The Wizard and The Frightful Four, carrying on directly from the storyline covered last time, where he was forced to become The Thing again to defeat Doctor Doom. Distraught about what has happened he wanders off and is captured by The Wizard who uses his ID machine to activate Ben's darkest thoughts. The Wizard says that this is "brainwashing" him, but surely that's when you put new ideas into someone's head, rather than emphasising existing ones? Anyway, what happens is that Ben realises how much he hates Reed Richards and how much he likes smoking cigars. He smokes a LOT of cigars in this story. The Frightful Four (who surely should be Five now?) bicker amongst each other, Johnny Storm goes undercover (badly), Reed Richards gets trapped in a jar, and Sue faints after rescuing him. It all ends up with Reed trying to de-brainwash The Thing, in an operation which could easily kill him. The lighting in this image shows Reed in proper Mad Scientist mode, because that's basically what he is - rather than deal with the very understandable feelings of his friend, who was been turned into a monster by ill-thought out Mad Science, he is using MORE Mad Science to try and wipe it from his brain, while risking death if he should make another error. It all works out in the end, but this is one of those occasions when one sympathises with those who think Mr Fantastic is just the tiniest bit arrogant.

Which brings us nicely to Victor Von Doom, who we see halfway through the issue recovering in the Latverian embassy from the wounds inflicted last time we saw him. I'm going to stop going on about Latveria soon, but it's very noticeable that Latveria is now always mentioned in pretty much the first sentence of his every appearance. It was introduced less than a year ago, but now it's a core part of Doom's character.

We discover that Doom is still in pain, and must wait a few days before he can use his Emotion Charger to take revenge. He then looks out of the window to see that something's going on at The Baxter Building... and we're back into the main story again. This three panel sequence has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of this issue, and thus it shows how important the ongoing Marvel Universe has become, and how the idea of a "done in one" story has been completely rejected. It also shows the economic side of the development of continuity - usually the footnotes tell readers what issue they need to go back to to check something, here they're told that they can find out what Doom's Emotion Charger does in Fantastic Four Annual #3, out now!

This, of course, is a heinous mis-use of ontological security to promote purely mercenary motives, and is something I would never condone. "But does it work?" you may ask - you can find out yourself, in the NEXT Marvel Age Doom Blog, available later this week!

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posted 26/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Battle Of The Baxter Building

This issue already has a lot to live up to, following on from the thrills of A Blind Man Shall Lead Them, and it ramps up the expectation even more with a splash page that is a) fantastically designed and b) erring very slightly on the side of immodesty. Let's take a moment to gaze in awe at this page. It's Lee and Kirby at the peak of their game, with utterly ludicrous descriptions that you can't help but be swept along with, coupled with incredibly dynamic character art full ofpersonality and bizarre technology. Surely the story itself cannot compete with a beginning like this?

I said last time that there hadn't been quite so much use of televisions as plot devices lately, but straight away we get one here as Doom uses Reed Richard's remote control TV eye to track down the Fantastic Four. Doom is still referring to his own intelligence as "equal" to Reed Richards, rather than greater as he will in future, but his link to Latveria is now set in stone. He even wonders if he's remained there too long, "unconcerned about the rest of mankind".

Daredevil continues to protect the powerless Fantastic Four from Doom's attacks, allowing Reed, Johnny and Sue to regroup inside the Baxter Building, which has been sealed off by police to allow them to fight without hurting bystanders. Daredevil makes his way to the laboratory and commences a fight with Doom which gives the FF, soon joined by Ben Grimm, to make their way upstairs. Jack Kirby makes this whole process thrilling, constantly cutting back between the fight and the perilous journey upstairs, as Reed attempts to protect his colleagues from his own inventions while Daredevil tries to keep Doom busy. There's a noticeable lack of text descriptions in this sequence - previously you might expect boxes saying "Meanwhile in Doom's lab" to tell the reader exactly what's going on, but as the pace picks up Stan Lee, for once, drops the verbiage and allows the images to sell the story. This speeds things up considerably and, again, demonstrates the pair of creators acting as a coherent team.

That's not to say there's no text descriptions - Lee can't seem to hold back from explaining things for long - which does lead to a rather odd moment when Doom does not recognise the de-powered Ben Grimm. There's a footnote to underline that Doom does not recognise Ben in human form, but we already know that Doom was at college with Reed Richards, and that Reed and Ben were friends at the time, so surely that wouldn't be the case? It makes me wonder whether Lee realised that this didn't make sense at the dialoguing stage, and sought to paper it over with a footnote.

While all that goes on Reed Richards digs out another one of his devices, a power stimulator ray gun that can restore their powers. Here we see the continuity of the series being used to great effect - this is not just some random device that the creators have dreamt up to finish the story (as they've been known to do before) but an item already established a few issues ago in, according to the handy citation given, Fantastic Four #37 The references to previous adventures are coming thick and fast, as with the previous issue, not just reinforcing the idea of a coherent universe but using it to enrich stories, and get them told quicker too!

Reed, Johnny and Sue get their powers back, and with Daredevil's help manage to fight Doom to a standstill. He escapes up to the roof, leaving Ben Grimm to face a terrible choice - in order to defeat Doom, he must reinstate his powers, and in the process lose his humanity! This is a timely reminder of the fact that The Fantastic Four, and indeed all Marvel characters, are not the same as the old heroes that came before. They don't necessarily want to be superheroes, and they always have to face a price for their abilities.

Doom, meanwhile, has gone to set up his final piece of villainy - a time bomb which will "destroy everything in sight". It's not entirely clear what he hopes to achieve with this, except for ensuring that "the name of Doctor Doom shall forever live in infamy." It's a harking back to his roots as a conventional supervillain who just wants to destroy things, rather than the complex, intelligently motivated, character that he's becoming. There then follows a five page sequence of Doctor Doom and The Thing fighting each other, in which Victor's technological skills and intelligence are pitted against Ben's brute strength and determination. The fight swings back and forth between them, with neither willing to give way, and Doom especially unwilling to countenance the idea that brawn could ever beat brains. I had to look up the word "atavism" there, to find that Doom, or rather Stan Lee, is using it correctly. As I always say to anybody who'll listen (and plenty who stopped listening long ago), I learnt most of what I know through reading Marvel Comics, especially in terms of vocabulary - they're good for you!

Eventually Ben's determination wears Doom down, in an example of recurring theme in superhero comics where determination is the main virtue, with overwhelming odds only overcomable by sheer force of will. The most famouse instance of this comes in Amazing Spider-Man #33, published six months later in 1966, in the endlessly referenced scene where Spider-Man talks himself into lifting impossibly heavy machinery that he's otherwise trapped beneath. Ben's selfless determination wins the day here too, with Reed Richards having to step in to stop him going all the way and killing Doom. This is pretty heavy stuff - one can't imagine Superman having to be talked down from murdering somebody (at least not in comics anyway), and Ben's reasons for stopping are not exactly in the classic hero mode either, saying he's only stopping because "without his built-in gizmos he ain't worth worryin' about!" This isn't quite true - it's been established since his first appearance that Doctor Doom is a master of both magic and science, although the magical aspect seems to have faded away somewhat in this story. We shall have to keep an eye out for its return in future!

We're on to the final page of the story now, with all loose ends needing to be wrapped up at lightning speed. Where previous stories have felt like the ending's been tacked on at the last minute, here it's the culmination of plot lines from this story and the universe as a whole.

Doom's defeat is not the complete victory we might have hoped for. As he crawls away Reed reminds us that he cannot be taken into custody because, as previously established, he has diplomatic immunity, but that the crushing of his ego should be enough to ensure their safety for now. Doom has a long history of escaping at the end of these stories, but where previously (and repeatedly) he would fling himself out of a window or into the infinity of space, this time he is able to limp away, utterly defeated. Reed suggests that he may never recover from being beaten so soundly, but I think that those of us who have been watching Doom's development will suspect that it will only increase his resentment, and determination to try again. There's still more story to come though as, in a panel that proudly displays Kirby's long history in Romance Comics, Reed and Sue rather tactlessly declare their happiness that things are back to normal, only for Ben to point out that his situation is exactly the opposite. On the final panel he tenders his resignation from the team (not for the first time, and definitely not for the last), reminding us again that this is not your conventional superhero story.

Massive fights, overwhelming odds, revolutionary storytelling techniques and a determination to change the way these sort of stories are told, all tied up with a creative team at the height of their powers - at the start of this I accused Lee and Kirby of immodesty when they said that this was "possibly the greatest action drama you will read this year", but now I'm wondering if they might have been right?

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posted 23/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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A Blind Man Shall Lead Them

When scholars and great thinkers gather to talk of the Lee & Kirby run on Fantastic Four, it is generally agreed that they really hit their stride somewhere around "The Galactus Trilogy" of issues 48-50. However, here at issue #39, they seeming to already be getting in the swing of it with a thrill-ride of fantastic storytelling which rockets along in a surprisingly modern-feeling fashion.

The issue kicks off with the Fantastic Four being picked up by a US Navy Submarine, having barely survived an atomic blast. The sailors are surprised to find that the superheroes are distinctly depressed because, as we soon learn, the atomic blast has deprived them of their powers! Once this revelation is out of the way we skip forward to Reed Richard's lab some time later (rendered with a fabulous Kirby Photo Montage) where he's developing artificial ways to replicate their powers. The results are not much cop, with a re-humanised (NB this is a genuine word, don't worry about looking it up) Ben Grimm being unable to control a special Thing Robot, and the others not having much luck either. There's some highly enjoyable character work here, with Reed Richards losing patience with the efforts of the others. They're all understandably worried though - what would happen if their enemies were to find out they'd lost their powers?

At this poignant moment we drop in on their greatest nemesis, Doctor Doom, who is relaxing at home by watching a hypnotist levitate a man with a concrete block on his front. In later years, of course, Latveria would get Netflix and put such artisans out of work. This is the first time that Latveria has appeared in the main Fantastic Four series, having only appeared once before in Fantastic Four Annual #2, but it's already a firmly established part of Doom's back-story which needs no further explanation. Doom seems entirely at home here, and the idea that he could ever have been anything other than the ruler of a small Eastern European nation, "nestling in the Bavarian Alps", is but a hazy dream. Having said that, am I the only one to think that the repeated description of Latveria's location sounds a bit like a certain village that we know so well? The hypnotist tries to impress his employer by using his mesmeric power on Doom, which I would have thought was a risky strategy. Victor does not seem the sort to laugh at a video of himself pretending to be a chicken. However, this has the unexpected result of removing the hypnotic suggestion implanted in his brain last time we saw him, and he realises that he never defeated Reed Richards at all! Doom is, understandably, livid, and the fact that a "petty charlatan" revealed the truth to him doesn't go down well either. Doom always claims to be working for the good of the Latverians, but he's never worried about taking his frustrations out on the bearers of bad news, and here he slaps the hypnotist in the face before jumping into a gyroscopic aircraft and heading to New York to take his revenge.

Once he arrives he manages to take over the Baxter Building while The Fantastic Four are away, hiding out in a warehouse trying to get their artificual superpowers to work. Luckily for them their lawyer, Matt Murdock, is visiting, so when Doctor Doom finds out where they are and starts shooting lazers Murdock is able to slip into his other identity of Daredevil to help them out. He's has been their lawyer ever since he stopped Electro from taking over the Baxter Building - a fact I know for sure because Matt Murdock thinks it and then a citation is provided by one of the handy footnotes that litter this story. I've noticed these appearing more and more as we move forward with these stories, as Lee and Kirby start to revel in the complexity of the universe they're creating by pointing out to readers how clever they're being. It's an example of a fictional universe being used to enrich the storytelling, rather than control it. If the Fantastic Four need a lawyer, why not make it a character who already exists, and has his own backstory? As we'll see in a few blogs' time, this will have implications both for the Fantastic Four series and for Daredevil's own titles, allowing the character of Doom to develope relationships that will cause him to begin to travel much more widely around the Marvel Universe.

Doctor Doom proceeds to use several of Reed Richards' inventions against him. The four are helpless to fight back, so Daredevil has to protect them by leaping about, distracting Doom, and shoving the FF out of the way of incoming Fantasticars. The Fantastic Four appear to be fascinated by Daredevil's abilities, constantly going on about how agile he is and how he seems to have extra senses, which is exactly what he does have. They are superheroes themselves, so it seems a bit dim not to consider the idea that he might have superpowers too. Mind you, they're not the only ones. Doom is utterly perplexed by the way the FF don't fight back, and can't work out what's going on despite the fact that he can clearly see Ben Grimm, who he went to college with, running around with them instead of the Thing. Eventually he works it out, and decides to uses Reed's television monitoring screens to wipe them out. In earlier issues I'd noted how often TV screens are used as part of the plot. This seems to have eased off now, but it's still nice to see Doctor Doom pre-empting Ozymandias in Watchmen by a few years. This seems like a good plan, but he quickly decides that it would be too easy, and that he'd rather spread the fun out a bit more. This is another constant in Doom's character - the need to relish his victory, rather than actually have a victory. You'd think he'd have learnt how this always goes by now, but no, he decides to carry on harrying them with another of Reed's devices. I love the fact that he critices the design of the Force Beam Projectile here - he'd have made a much better one. He keeps saying that he is Reed Richards' "equal" here, but clearly he thinks he's more than that. This obsession with Reed, rather than any of the rest of the Fantastic Four, is now a core part of Doom's personality, and it's something that will never really change.

The story ends with the Fantastic Four splitting up, deciding to try and get into the Baxter Building from different angles while Daredevil distracts him. Jack Kirby draws this as a quick succesion of character shots, showing Daredevil and each of the four at the same moment, preparing to make their move. It's a supremely exciting way to ramp up the tension, to such an extent that the first time I read this issue I let out a yelp of frustration because the story had ended. Some of the earlier issues covered in this blog did, I must admit, feel a bit cumbersome and old fashioned, but this one was a joy to read. When's the next one?!?

(in just two day's time, that's when!)

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posted 21/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Final Victory Of Doctor Doom

Fantastic Four Annual #2 was truly a Doctor Doom bumper edition. After telling The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom it featured a gallery of the Fantastic Four's greatest villains, a reprint of Doom's first appearance, pin-ups of the Fantastic Four and some of their supporting cast, and then another new story, "The Final Victory Of Doctor Doom" which we'll be talking about here. If Doom's early popularity was ever in doubt, his domination of this second annual should prove it!

This particular story kicks off with several pages of the usual Fantastic Four hijinks, as the Thing crashes the Fantasticar into an old jalopy and then gets offered a thousand dollars to smash up another car, so that the "crackpot" who pays for it can sell the results off as "an original 'clobber creation' by the famous Thing!". The action then switches to Outer Space, where we find out what happened to Doctor Doom after he fell into it a few months ago. This isn't the first time he's been lost in the infinity of space and, just like last time it happened, he gets picked up by a passing spaceship just in the nick of time. There are many conclusions one could draw from this, but I think that the main one is that Doctor Doom is a right jammy sod, and that if ever you need to go hitch-hiking he would be the perfect partner.

The spaceship belongs to Rama-Tut, who we met not long ago. Once again Lee and Kirby are reinforcing the continuity of their fictional universe, building on past stories to create something more complex and, in this case, more confusing too. Doom tells his saviour the story of how he got here, and we get our second re-telling of the events of Fantastic Four #21. As with the version show in Strange Tales #122, a lot of care has gone into matching the recap to the original version, with Doom's stance as he falls into space being especially carefully redrawn. Rama Tut is amazed to discover that he's speaking to his ancestor, and decides that this is far too improbable to just be a coincidence (I'm with the Pharoah on this one), so must be part of a Grand Design. This leads the pair of supervillains to decide that there's a good chance that they could be one and the same person. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Surely one of them must be the earlier version, in which case he would remember this meeting having happened before? They also agree that they can't fight the Fantastic Four together, because if they "are one and the same man, and if either is slain, then the other, too, will perish! For you cannot live in the future if you are slain in the past! And I cannot live in the present if my other self dies at the same moment in eternity."

No, Victor, I'm pretty sure it's entirely fine for you to keep living when your future self dies. In a very real sense, that's sort of what we're all doing anyway.

Still, they decide to send Doctor Doom back to Earth to take his revenge, and he parachutes down to New York Harbour before stomping across town to the Latverian Embassy, through a crowd who, he thinks, must be jolly honoured to see him. The layout of this panel, and the horrified looks on the faces of the New Yorkers he passes, provides a rather neat counterpoint to the similar scene at the end of Doom's origin story, when he strode past a crowd of his adoring subjects. Over at the embassy the Latverian ambassador is denying ludicrous rumours that the Prime Minister is just a puppet, and that there's a secret "real" ruler behind the scenes. He scoffs at such obvious Fake News. "What were you expecting me to admit??" he says. "The presence of some mysterious tyrant who chooses to remain hidden from the world?? This is not a storybook kingdom gentlemen!" He then spots exactly that person in the shape of Doctor Doom entering a sideroom, and brings the meeting to a hasty close. As well as being a great bit of fun, with Lee and Kirby openly mocking the cliches of their own story, it also follows on from the new reality set up in this issue's first story, with Doom as the ruler of distinctly storybook East European kingdom. Latveria was never mentioned before now, but already it feels a natural part of Doom's backstory and thus character. The only oddity about it is that Doom is meant to be the secret ruler, and yet hundreds of New Yorkers have just seen him march across town and, presumably, into the Embassy, like Nigel Farage popping round to see Julian Assange. Surely somebody must have put two and two together?

Doom immediately sets to work with his latest cunning plan by getting the ambassador to invite the Fantastic Four to a fancy reception, where they're due to be awarded a Scientific Fellowship. This leads to a gorgeous splash panel showing them looking a little bit uncomfortable being toasted by the gathered delegates. Doom's plan is to drug the Fantastic Four with a special "berry drink" that makes them believe whatever he desires them to believe - in this case making Johnny think that Ben has thumped him, and making Sue imagine she sees Reed being unfaithful. Johnny and Ben start a fight which, let's be honest, doesn't really require the assistance of mind altering drugs as it happens pretty much every month anyway, and Sue and Reed have a big argument, which... well, see above.

It's all part of Doom's plan anyway, and he takes a moment to savour the imminence of his final victory. Unfortunately his triumph soon takes a turn for the maudlin as he has a moment of self-awareness, wondering if beating his rivals will ever make up for what he's lost along the way. He looks at himself in the mirror and becomes so upset that he starts blasting the reflection with his laser gun. This disrupts Sue and Reed's fight, leading them to discover that Doom was behind it all along. I've double checked, and this is definitely the first time that Reed has voiced his so-called suspicion that Doom was behind it all. He compounds this dickery with a heavy slice of misogyny, telling Sue she's "Not a fool, merely a female", before going to round up the rest of the team so they can take on Doom together.

They return to their headquarters to find Doom waiting for them, and a battle ensues which sees them fighting each other to a stalemate. Reed offers Doom the chance to fight him man to man in a battle of wits, which they agree to over a drink. They strap themselves into "The Encephalo Gun" and commence a mighty battle of intelligence which ends, astonishingly, with Doom triumphant and Reed Richards cast into limbo forever! I guess we shouldn't be too surprised - after all, the story is called "The Final Victory Of Doctor Doom", but when he leaves we see that Reed is still there - the drink he gave Doom was exactly the same "berry drink" that had been use to drug the rest of the team earlier. Doom's victory was entirely illusory! Ha!

Ben wants to go and grab Doom before he gets away, but Reed points out that, as head of a foreign nation, he has diplomatic immunity from detention. I'm not sure if this is exactly how diplomatic immunity works, but it's another extra element of Doom's character that gets added here, and another bit of Marvel "realism" in that he now has a superpower that dictators have in our world too.

The final panel sees the Fantastic Four wandering what could have made Doom turn out as he has. "Perhaps, if we could ever learn more of is past..." muses Reed, apparently forgetting that they went to college together and he was heavily involved in a large part of his past. Maybe he should pick up a copy of this very comic and refresh his memory? And thus concludes a story which addes tonnes of new detail, and new complexities, to Doctor Doom's character. Whereas the previous story told us about his past, this one delves deeper into the implications of his current status. It doesn't all necessarily make sense, but it will have huge repercussions for Doctor Doom in the future, setting the scene for an already popular supporting character to become one of the most interesting too.

posted 9/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Fantastic Origin Of Doctor Doom

When Doctor Doom's origin story was finally told, here in Fantastic Four Annual #2, it had been two years and at least seven separate stories since his first appearance, way back in Fantastic Four #5. In the introduction to Bring On The Bad Guys, a reprint collection of supervillain origin stories, Stan Lee claimed this was deliberate, saying that "... it wasn't until 1964 that we really had time to do the kind of origin tale I felt Doc Doom deserved ... one that would make the reader really understand what motivated him, what had turned him into a villain, what made him the tragic, tortured tyrant he was."

I don't know whether that's an accurate description of why it took so long - there was, after all, a very abbreviated origin back in Fantastic Four #5 - but, to take my sober, analytical, academical hat off just for a moment, I have to say that it was totally worth the wait for this "full" version of the origin story as it is a CRACKER! Doctor Doom has, until now, been an interesting antagonist with a brilliant design and hints at greater depth, but suddenly, in this issue, we're introduced to a vast wealth of background detail. In places it all feels oddly like a superhero origin, very similar to Batman's origin, not least in the fact that both characters are orphaned when they are very young and swear vengeance upon their parents' killers. Doom's enemy is not a mugger, however, but the state itself. Where Batman sets out to fight the injustices of crime, Doctor Doom fights the injustices of government. This story begins in the present day, with Doom's servant Boris collecting his master for a visit to a mysterious grave. They're in Latveria, a small East European country "nestling in the heart of the Bavarian alps" which also happens to be Doom's kingdom. This is the first time we've heard any of this, and the way it's all dropped on the reader in one go without apology or explanation is a real jolt. The last time we saw Doom he was lost in space (again), and although that will all be explained later, in the second story in this comic, it's not mentioned here at all.

Instead of a recap we're thrown into a flashback of Doom's youth in Latveria. It's a very confusing place, with Jack Kirby's illustrations showing an almost medieval world of peasant cottages and gypsy caravans living side by side with high tech tanks and force fields. One of the main factors in the success of early Marvel was Lee and Kirby's ongoing mission to combine reality with fantasy, most notably in the way they placed fantastical superhero stories in a recognisably realistic version of Manhattan. They appear to be attempting something similar here, transposing the action to a version of Eastern Europe, although the people of Latveria look more like characters from Hollywood movies set in "ye olde Europe", wearing lederhosen and dirndl, than contemporary citizens of this part of the world in "our" universe. We might be able to explain this confused idea of Eastern Europe by considering Lee and Kirby's backgrounds. Both men spent a great deal of their youths in cinemas, absorbing Hollywood versions of Europe, and had first generation Jewish immigrant parents who had fled to America to escape persecution - The Kurzbergs (Kirby's real family name) coming from Austria and the Leibers from Romania. Kirby talked about this in his autobiographical (and brilliant) strip Street Code, describing his youth as "A time when Europe was still visible to your parents".

We can use deduction and high powered maths to work out that this flashback must be set in the 1930 - Doom is roughly the same age as Reed Richards, who fought in World War Two (at least, he did in this early version of the Marvel Universe) before going to college- when gypsies like Doom's family were routinely persecuted in Europe. Here Doom's father, a doctor, is kidnapped by Latveria's secret police to attend to the wife of their hereditary ruler, the Baron (Why a country continually referred to as a kingdom is ruled by a Baron is not explained). When the Baron's wife dies the von Dooms have to flee, and Victor's father dies of exposure while trying to lead his son to safety. This part of the origin may have its roots in Kurzberg family legend - Kirby claimed that "my father had insulted a member of the German aristocracy. My father knew he'd be killed, so he decided to emigrate."

When he is returned to the gypsy camp Victor sorts through his father's effects and discovers that his mother, who died giving birth to him, was a witch, and decides to use her potions and devices to take revenge on Latveria's rich and corrupt upper classes. After a series of ingenious guerrilla attacks Doom comes to the attention of the Dean Of Science at State University, who travels to Latveria to invite him to attend college in the USA. This is cultural imperialsim, and it's the point where Doom's origin changes to that of a supervillain. When the Dean transports him from his pro-social roots to a new, unfamiliar environment, he finds it increasingly difficult to fit in with the all-American student body (including a gratingly eager Reed Richards) and isolates himself, conducting terrible experiments which ultimately, literally, blow up in his face. As with previous recaps, it's worth noting how closely this section reflects the original origin we saw back in Fantastic Four #5. As explained back then, when Doom is expelled from college he sets off on a journey into the himalayas to find a mountain community of monks who can help him continue his study of the dark arts. A quest for special powers in the exotic East is a common story trope in Western fiction,especially in superhero stories, and features in the origin stories of Doc Savage, Doctor Strange, Deadman and indeed in later version of Batman's origin. Usually the Western student learns from the Eastern mystics, but here Doom makes himself leader of the monks, ordering them to build him a high-tech suit of armour and face-mask which, when worn, transforms him into his true self - Doctor Doom! Stan Lee has said several times that he never thought of Doom as a villain, but that doesn't mean that this is a superhero story either. Superhero stories of this era, including origins, tended to follow what Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence called "the American Monomyth", where a mysterious stranger arrives in town, sees oppression, intervenes to stop it, and then fades away. Doom's origin has much more in common with Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey", a universal myth where a young man is called away to adventure, endures trials and eventually returns home changed (I'm putting publishers out of business here aren't I?). This is exactly what happens to Doom, with him returning home and conquering Latveria for himself, where the delighted citizens happily salute him as 'The Master' as the story ends. The full story of how he overthrew the previous ruler would not be told until "The Books Of Doom" mini-series many years later, but it's clear already that, although he's not a superhero, hes not a hated dictator either. He's more like a beloved national leader in the mould of General Tito, who takes power in order to protect his people from those who would do them harm - someone Americans would be wary of, but also respect.

By the end of this story Doctor Doom has finally become the character that he would, for the most part, remain for the next five decades. There would be changes in the way he was interpreted over the years, as we'll see as this Doom progresses, but he is now, at last, recognisably Doom!

All that is to come, but for now there's a whole other Doom-focused story in this double sized issue, where we find out what actually did happen to Doom, out in space. See you next time!

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posted 7/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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3 Against The Torch!

I'm a big fan of the cheeky daftness of this era of Marvel, so I love the fact that the cover says "Doctor Doom does not appear in this story! We just felt like drawing his face!" It reminds me of the humour of Leo Baxendale's Willy The Kid and other strips, mucking about with the form and joining in with the readers mocking the conventions of the format.

I also like the fact that it's not even true, as Doom appears throughout the start of the issue as it recaps the events of Fantastic Four #23... even though the issue itself says it was #22. As with the recap in Amazing Spider-Man #5, a lot of care seems to have gone into making sure that the recap matches the original story (a lot more care than was taken in making sure they got the issue number right!) with several panels being redrawn - again, reinforcing the Ontological Trust (hem hem) of the fictional universe. We also discover that Doom's three crooks were returned to our dimenson as soon as he fell into space... and that his knack for inspiring loyalty is undiminished, as the three of them decide to try and bring down the Fantastic Four themselves in order to please their boss. They then basically re-use Doom's old plan, flattering Johnny Storm for his knowledge of cars so they can kidnap him. This interrupts the Torch enjoying one of the recurring themes of this era of Marvel - watching television. Reading through these comics it's surprsing how much television turns up, it's the equivalent of every comic published today mentioning mobile phone apps or something. The rest of the issue is Johnny fighting the three crooks, and ends with him getting a telling off from his sister because their house got messed up when he was kidnapped. It looks as if he's in the doghouse but then, in the very last panel, the Torch addresses the reader directly to tell them it all worked out in the end. There's been plenty of interaction with the reader via captions, but this is the first time I've seen a character break the fourth wall in this way. Many years later other characters would do this on a regular basis, including future FF member She-Hulk, but this piece of metalepsis (why yes, I have been away on a week long Winter School where I learnt this term, why do you ask?) is completely out of the blue, not to mention slightly unnecessary. It's not like readers would be traumatised about Johnny getting told off in this way, so I'm not sure why Stan Lee felt the need to include his speech, but I guess it's a suitably wonky ending for a story that's been wonky from the start.

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posted 5/3/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Master Plan Of Doctor Doom

If Stan Lee "only" wrote dialogue, as Jack Kirby would sometimes later claim, then he still more than earns his money in this issue, which is a cracking story full of character-based laughs. Kirby is operating at full throttle too, and it feels like their classic run is properly underway. Basically, this entire issue is ACE, and it kicks off in the best way possible, by having The Fantastic Four chase a dinosaur around the Baxter Building. The dinosaur has escaped from Doctor Doom's time machine which the FF have sensibly, finally, brought over from his abandoned castle. The dinosaur escaped because Ben and Johnny weren't watching the machine properly, which earns them a good telling off from Reed Richards, and this leads to several pages of delightful bickering, culminating in the other three members having a vote to see who should replace him as leader... and all voting for themselves. In the meantime we find out what Doctor Doom himself has been up to since he chucked himself out of a window at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #5. He's been putting together a new team to take down the Fantastic Four, selecting members by sending a robot (who possesses the power of thought, yet seems happy to consider itself disposable) down to the local court-house to find some suitably skilled crooks. Once he's got them assembled he uses his newly invented XZ-12 device to increase each crook's individual power (or "talent" really, as they're just Quite Good at things) twelve-fold. He's also got a cunning plan to take down the FF one by one, which seems sensible, and to start with it seems to be work. Doom's first assistant, Yogi Damor, tricks Johnny Storm into a flashy new car, and when the Torch tries to... um... burn him to death, he's disappointed to discover that the Yogi is impervious to heat and flames. This is probably a good thing, as otherwise the Torch would have become a murderer! The Thing is lured down to Yancy Street by some abusive letters, claiming to be from the Yancy Street Gang but actually from the second member of Doom's team, Bill Brogin. Bill's "power" is that he's quite strong, and he gets into a fight with the Thing that's full of sarcasm. This snappy dialogue runs throughout the issue, coupled with super dynamic art which makes it whip along at high speed. I must admit that some of the comics so far have been a slog to get through, but this one was a delight!

Brogin shoots a "cosmic ray gun" at The Thing, which turns him back into plain Ben Grimm - no match for someone with twelve times the strength of A Quite Strong man! If we're counting off Doctor Doom Character Tropes (and we surely are), we can definitely tick off "Amazingly useful bits of kit that never seem to get used again."

At this point we head back to the Baxter Building, where Reed Richards is trying to apologise to Sue by sneaking up and attacking her. He claims to be "just testing her reflexes", but this seems to be very much the actions of what modern science would call "a total prat". When Sue is unimpressed he confirms this diagnosis with some heinous sexism, to which she reacts rather excellently with "Go polish a test tube". Unfortunately for all concerned this sexism infects the rest of the story, as Sue thinks "I know he's right, that's why I'm angry" as the third member of Doom's squad arrives. This is Handsome Harry whose power is Being Handsome... sorry, Having Good Hearing, so when Sue turns invisible he's able to spot where she is and blast her with some Ether Mist, then carry her away. Doom has been watching all these and responds in his usual way when things are going well - a good old laugh. The final part of the plan kicks off with Ben Grimm apparently summoning Mr Fantastic with the FF Flare Gun. "Something must be wrong", he says when he sees it, "and it must be critical for him to use the flare signal!" Well, either that or he can't be bothered to use the phone. It is, of course, a trap, using yet another robot, which leads to Doom claiming victory. As usual he enjoys a good crow about it, and in doing so it's noticeable how his speech patterns have pretty much solidified into those of the Doctor Doom we will come to know later on. Any hint of slang or New Yorker-isms is gone, and instead he talks in a cool, calm manner without contractions. This refinement hasn't reached the artwork yet though, as Kirby depicts him sitting back in a distinctly relaxed fashion, feet up on the table. Doom is celebrating the fact that he's sent his lackeys into another dimension, ready to be called back when he needs them. Personally, if my boss tricked me into imprisonment I doubt I'd feel particular loyal to him afterwards, but as we've seen before, Doom tends to inspire loyalty wherever he goes.

Once he's concluded his Human Resources issues Doom goes back to look at his prisoners, who are in the process of escaping. A big fight ensues, during which Doom uses all of his technical devices to force the four to a standstill, making, as he says, them all look daft. Doom leaves the room and begins the final part of his plan. The story's been a huge amount of fun so far, and it climaxes with a fantastic bit of nuttiness that, in a less enjoyable comic, might seem shoehorned in, but here fits in with the general air of excitement. Doom has specifically brought the Fantastic Four to this warehouse because it's in the path of a Solar Wave which will react with Ionic Particles and thus be transferred to space "in some strange way." It's completely crazy, but also enormous fun, especially with Kirby's version of space encroaching, crammed with stars and planets. All looks lost, until Sue has an idea. She uses her new invisible force field (which she's developed since they last met Doom) to trap their nemesis on the other side of the wall. This forces him to climb back in through a hatch, at which point he trips over and, once again, falls into space. He really should be more careful. All that remains is for the FF to climb back through the hatch into safety, and then for the final caption to reassure readers that this is not the last they'll be seeing of Doom, and he'll be back once they've worked out how to do it! Clearly they didn't want readers to worry, and though it would be a few months before they did figure out how to get him back, it would be worth the wait!

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posted 28/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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At The Mercy Of Rama-Tut

This is yet another example of an issue in which Doctor Doom is mentioned as part of the story without actually appearing in it, although this time he does have a bigger presence than just being part of the recap.

He still IS part of the recap though, appearing in either The Fantastic Four Gallery Of Villains" or (I hope) "OUR Gallery Of Villains", depending on what we imagine the off-panel text to be. This sort of labelling would be heavily used three years later in the "Batman" TV series, but at this point seems to be commonly accepted as a sensible part of Superhero Admin. After all, if you don't actually SAY it's a gallery of villains, visitors might think it's a gallery of people you like.

That's the only appearance of Doom in the story, but we do get a visit to his earliest headquarters, where I'm sure everyone will be relieved to discover that the crocodiles in his moat are alive and well, not boiled alive as previously feared. Alas we don't find out what happened to Doom's pet tiger, but we do see that lots of his equipment is still working, so maybe not everything was burned to the ground after all?

The FF are there to use his time machine to travel back to Egyptian times for a caper in which they meet a time traveller who, it's inferred, is a distant descendant of Doctor Doom The exact relationship between Doom and Rama-Tut will be explained (also confused) in later issues, but for now he's rather delightfully portrayed as a 31st Century TV Addict who decided to use amazing futuristic technology to stave off boredom, something which I feel we can all identify with. It's worth noting that once again Stan Lee is using television as an engine of plot. This is a theme that keeps cropping up during these early Marvel comics and it's perhaps evidence of an obsession with television that would eventually lead to Lee moving to California to try and persuade film and TV executives to create adaptations of his characters.

The FF manage to beat Rama-Tut and return to the present day, but still manage not to win, exactly. The whole point of travelling back in time had been to collect a radioactive herb which can cure Alicia's blindness, but when they get back to the present day they realise that the time machine has left it behind. It's a surprisingly downbeat ending that demonstrates the way in which creators like Lee and Kirby were trying to do something different with their storytelling, apart from the usual stories of heroic characters constantly winning. Their stories featured not only sympathetic villains like Doctor Doom, but also fallible heroes who do not always emerge victorious.

SPOILERS: if you don't enjoy fallible heroes, don't read the next blog. It's a Fallibility Festival!

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posted 23/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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It Had To Happen!

Just over a year since he first appeared, and still very much in the early stages of the Marvel Age, Doctor Doom makes his first "proper" hop into another series outside of The Fantastic Four with this appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #5. He's certainly been mentioned in several stories already, but this is his first actual appearance in another title, and an early example of the way that characters were free to move around between different series in the new Marvel Universe.

The series may have changed but Stan Lee is still the writer, so there are several recurring themes that recur (as recurring themes tend to do), including the use of television sets as plot engines. TV screens pop up throughout this issue, providing information and driving the story forward, such as in the very first panel where Peter Parker's schoolmates watch a J Jonah Jameson advertorial about how awful Spider-man is. This blog is meant to be about the development of Doctor Doom as a character, but it's interesting to see the way that other characters are also in flux in these early days. For instance, the Peter Parker we meet here is not the guilt-ridden groovy teenager we come to know later on, but rather a distinctly angry, and somewhat unpleasant, young man who is full of inner rage towards pretty much everybody apart from his Aunt May. Doctor Doom is watching telly too, which gives him the idea to see if he can enlist Spider-man to help him beat The Fantastic Four - if he really is as bad as Jameson says, thinks Doom, he'd make a good partner. While mulling this over Doom handily recalls the last time we saw him, chucking himself out of an airship to escape the Fantastic Four. This sequence is almost exactly the same, in text and illustration, as his airship exit in Fantastic Four #17, except for an extra panel at the end showing him igniting his rocket belt. This attention to detail demonstrates a growing awareness of the importance of continuity, especially in the midst of the furious pace of production at Marvel. Having the two sections match so well shows that some care was taken to show that this was the same story as before, just being carried on in a different title. There's more evidence of the growing fictional universe on the next page when, after being called to Doom's lab by Spider Telepathy (something invented here but, as far as I know, never referred to again) Spider-man sees Doom through a window and says "I'd know that guy anywhere." According to the actual comics he's never met or even spoken about Doctor Doom before, so he must have found out about him at some other time, away from the comics page. This is evidence of a whole world of stories happening outside of the ones we get to read, a much larger ongoing storyworld which Matt Hills calls "the Hyperdiegesis" (and what I call "part of my PhD title").

Doom asks Spider-man to team up with him, while secretly planning a double-cross. Spider-man considers the offer for a moment then declines, not because it's a bad idea but just because he doesn't think he needs a team-mate - another example of Peter Parker's much less heroic character at this stage. He webs Doom up, only to find out that he's been speaking to a robot... which is a little strange as, only a few panels ago, that robot was thinking about destroying him. This sort of logical error is evidence of the speed of creation of these comics, and highlights again how remarkable it was to see that flashback so meticulously done. Perhaps it's also evidence of Stan Lee not applying the same levels of rigour to his scripting as he does to the artists!

Spidey escapes and Doom blows up his lab to stop anybody finding out his secrets. Next day Peter pops over to the offices of the Daily Bugle for a brief interlude where we see the greed which drives J Jonah Jameson's editorial policy, and another flash of Peter's internal rage. To be fair, Peter does have a right to be angry, as his life is pretty difficult. We see an example of this next as his schoolmates plan a prank to utterly humiliate him. Flash Thompson has dressed up as Spidey in order to leap out and terrify Peter, a plan which a great gang of fellow students take enormous delight in. "Poor Peter! He'll never get over it!" says one of them, full of glee. Steve Ditko really sells the relish on the faces of the students here, in much the same way that he conveys Peters rage elsewhere. This fury at an unjust world permeates the whole issue, and comes as something of a shock after the rough and tumble excitement of Kirby.

Things go wrong for Flash just as he's about to carry out his mean scheme. Doctor Doom turns up, having tracked the real Spider-Man down using a "Spider Detector" - a device which is a) somehow related to the previous bit of "Spider Telepathy" and b) also never to be used again - and kidnaps Flash by mistake. He makes this error because Flash is only a couple of feet away from Peter, who trudges by on the other side of a fence, lost in his angry thoughts. Back at Aunt May's house there's more use of television screens as narrative devices (Steve Ditko pre-empting Frank Miller's use of the same technique in 'The Dark Knight Returns' by twenty years!) as Doom reveals his cunning plan to use Spider-Man as a hostage to force the accursed Fantastic Four to give up superheroing. Say what you like about Doctor Doom but he doesn't give up on a methodology just because it's failed multiple times before. Maybe the problem with the whole "kidnap someone in order to blackmail the Fantastic Four" scheme is just that he's never tried it with Spider-Man before?

While Peter's watching all this on the news, trying to work out what on earth's going on, he gets a call from one of his classmates telling him that it's Flash who's been captured. I'm not sure why they're ringing Peter, as it's not like he can do anything about it as far as they know, and he and Flash aren't exactly chums, but it does give rise to an alarming panel where he considers doing absolutely nothing to help. I can completely understand Peter's point of view here - Flash has made his life miserable, after all - but it's still a little disconcerting to see, especially when Ditko draws him like he's about to laucnh into a maniacal cackle, and it's yet more evidence of the way that Spider-man's personality was still in flux. He does decide to do the right thing in the end though, and sets off to track Doctor Doom down, at which point we get a remarkable caption which thanks the reader for sitting through what it describes as "the longest introduction you've ever read"! It's a lovely example of Stan Lee's supposed openness and honesty with the readers, pre-empting their complaints and folding them into the fun of Marvel. It's also true, as the action does shift up a gear at this point, with Spider-man breaking into Doom's latest headquarters and launnching into the issue's fight scene.

Another recurring theme in these early years of Doom and The Fantastic Four has been the nonsensical ways in which Johnny Storm's nebulous "flame powers" have been used, such as fusing water into solid forms, creating mirages, or constantly making solid devices out of fire. Something very similar happens here, with Spider-man apparently able to use his webs to create solid objects like shields and web-balls - it turns out that he got the idea from Johnny Storm! Other regular features of Doctor Doom appearances which crop up during the fight include Magnets! Electricity! and Robots! Some might say that this is Stan Lee recycling plot devices, but I like to think of it as coherent characterisation, with Doom having a standard set of fight moves he likes to use. As the battle goes on it turns out that Doom policy of re-using tactics was completely correct. These moves may have failed against the Fantastic Four, but when used against a single teenager with the powers of a spider, he actually manages to win! It's only the arrival of the Fantastic Four that save's Spider-Man's life, and leads to Doom repeating himself once again, by jumping out of a window to escape. The issue ends with Spider-man having to rush home, leaving Flash Thompson to meet the Fantastic Four who, in yet another example of the joyfully casual use of the shared Marvel Universe, only actually appear in a single panel. The issue finishes with a slightly alarming scene where the adult professional Betty Brant lusts inappropriately over the certifiably under-age Peter Parker, and then a rather nice gag about Flash Thompson showing off about his part in the defeat of Doctor Doom.

As well as being a thoroughly enjoyable story this issue is a great example in the way in which the shared world of Marvel comics was developing, and a clear sign that the characters were able to maintain their own personalities, and their own continuing stories, as they moved between publications. This was Doctor Doom's first trip into another series, but it would by no means be his last!

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posted 21/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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A Skrull Walks Among Us

This is yet another occasion in which Doom appears only briefly as part of the recap, this time on the first page as part of a TV broadcast which the Fantastic Four are watching. This is a lovely example of the "real world" of the Marvel Universe, with the four main characters just sitting around watching telly together. It's not something you'd expect to see in DC's comics of the time, for instance, and sets the tone for the whole first half of the issue, which features a lot of fun with a trip to Hawaii on an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and some light shopping. While this is going on we also visit the Skrulls, returning for the first time since their debut way back in Fantastic Four #2. On that occasion they were defeated by Reed Richard's cunning use of pictures of MONSTERS, cut out from issues of 'Strange Tales' and 'Journey Into Mystery'. The Skrull leader has a much better plan this time. Rather than sending a bunch of dimboes who can't tell the difference between a photograph and a drawing, this time he's deploying a mighty warrior: The Super Skrull! The Super Skrull is pretty flipping cool, as we see when he lands on Earth and, much to the amazement of the New Yorkers around him, declares that he has conquered the entire planet all by himself. There then follows a series of fights in which the FF get thoroughly duffed up by someone who has all their powers and then some. The team retreat to the Baxter Building for the night to regroup, and it's here that Reed Richards uses his mighty brain to work out that the Super Skrull's powers are being beamed to him by a space ray! All he has to do is develop a Power Beaming Space Ray Jammer, get Sue to stick it onto the Super Skrull's neck, and voila! Problem solved! By the standards of the time this is a perfectly logical solution that is part of a lovely issue which really feels as if the series is getting into its stride. There's plenty of fun interaction between the main characters, exciting new ideas, and a finale which doesn't rely on coincidences or some new ludicrous use of Johnny's "flame power". More of this sort of thing please!

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posted 16/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Defeated by Doctor Doom

If ever a comic undersold itself it has to be this one. The "thrills" advertised on the cover feature "America's most colorful super-combo" being menaced by such exciting dangers as concrete! scaffolding! missing floorboards! wind! It's less a superhero thrillfest, more a public information film warning children about the dangers of building sites.

Once you get inside the comic, however, it's packed full of NUTTINESS and LUNACY. It starts off fairly calmly with the Fantastic Four saying goodbye to Ant Man, last month's guest star, in a neat example of the then-new idea of linking stories together from issue to issue, and indeed from title to title, all compounded by the Thing then relaxing with a copy of "Tales To Astonish" ... featuring Ant-Man! Newsstand distribution of comics at this time meant that there was no guarantee that all, or even most, of those picking up this issue would have read the previous one, so it was traditional to include a recap of previous events at the start of the current issue, usually as part of the story itself. Here Lee and Kirby create an entertaining variation by having Ben, Johnny and Sue telling the story-so-far between the three of them, featuring a lot of interplay and the group's trademark bickering. It's a nice illustration of characterisation as a key selling point for Marvel Comics, differentiating them from the interchangeable characters still being published by their competitors. Reed however has had enough of the bickering and tells Johnny and Ben to "clam up" and stop "trading love letters". They have work to do - Doctor Doom is still at large!

The team set off to inidividually search the city, which leads to a generous helping of hi-jinks. Ben falls down a manhole and then attacks a man advertising a play set in medieval times, while Sue wrecks havoc when she sees a man demonstrating a toy gun and thinks (understandably) that it's real. Neither this, nor Reed's science or Johnny's heat based sonar system (yet another example of the deranged "science" applied to the Torch's powers) get any results, so they decide to call it a day and head out to their various evening engagements.

As they're leaving they see a big crowd waiting for them in the entrance lobby, but luckily one of the janitors is able to take them out via the service elevator. Once they've gone, however, he removes his disguise and we see that it was Doctor Doom all along, working a new scheme which involves putting tracking devices on their hands!

This is where things start to get particularly nutty, as Doom releases lighter than air robots (no, shut up, that's a thing) to follow each of the four and, basically, mess up their social lives. Johnny is the first victim, as his date is upset to find them being followed around by a goonishly grinning floating zombie. Ben is similarly embarrassed, Sue has a fashion shoot ruined by her own polka dot creature, and Reed loses his chance at an honourary degree because the stuffy old scientists think he's taking the mickey out of them with his own floating goon. The four regroup and Reed works out that it's something to do with Dr Doom, who's watching them via cameras in the floating robots. Doom then dissolves the weird creatures and declares an end to this part of his plan. Doom says that he just wanted to wind them up, but he's surely selling himself short here, as the floating robots were an excellent way of gathering intelligence on his enemies' weaknesses. Indeed, he uses this gathered information to develop a revolutionary new scheme - instead of kidnapping Sue, he's going to kidnap Alicia instead!

Doom gets a great moment of self-examination here, musing on the fact that, although he is the equal (not the better, as he would always insist in later years) of Reed Richards intellectually, his one flaw is that he doesn't understand human beings. He goes on to bemoan his status as a "dark wraith" with a deformed face, unable to ever find love and companionship. As many people, including me, have said before, the practice of giving their heroes real human motivations and their own flaws and quirks rather than just being "Good" or "Evil" is what set Marvel apart from DC and other publishers of the time. It had worked with the heroes, and here Lee and Kirby apply it to a villain too. This is shown most clearly in the image of a pained Doom unable to look at himself in the mirror, but still drawn towards it. He's still a villain doing villainous things for the sake of revenge, but you do feel some sympathy for him, rather than just waiting for the good guys to beat him up.

Doom carries out his brilliant new plan of kidnapping Alicia and then warns the Fantastic Four not to interfere with the next stage of his scheme, lest he unleash a series of psychedelic horrors on New York. He has a good laugh about it to himself, and then prepares the next part of his cunning scheme - to blackmail President Kennery into making him a member of the cabinet! Where to start with this section? It's just three panels but it's SO full of STUFF. First of all there's Doom's laughter, echoing his gleeful enjoyment of his own plan back in issue 10. Kirby draws him in exactly the same pose, reinforcing the characterisation of Doom as someone who enjoys his work, and enjoys enjoying it!

The rest of the sequence deals with what he sees as the nobility of his actions. He could have money if he wanted, easy peasy, but he requires something higher, more laudable - power! And he's going to do that by ... joining the advisory body of the government's executive branch. I can't be the only person who doesn't flash forward here to Austin Power's Dr Evil and his demand for "a million dollars"?

Another revolutionary aspect of "Marvel Age" storytelling was its engagement with the modern world, which we see here in a lovely sequence where John F Kennedy's hair discusses the problem posed by Doom's demands. There's also an interesting look at how this affects world affairs. Doom demonstrates his power by wrecking electronic gadgets all over America, which causes much delight among Russian generals, who are then upbraided by Krushchev himself. If Marvel came make their main villain into a sympathetic character then they can also make a case for the leader of America's greatest enemmies being a sensible human being. This also reflects a gradual change of attitude in the 1960s towards "the commies", as Krushchev began a gradual policy of change in the Soviet Union, leading to rapproachment in the next decade.

The US government come to the Fantastic Four for help, and Reed reveals that he's been busy working out what's going on. He's discovered Doom's hidden airship, and realised that the Grinning Floaters had actually been used to transmit printed circuits of the Fantastic Four's atomic and molecular structure! It wasn't just a wind-up after all!

He works all night long and develops a solution which can change him back to a human being but only temporarily. This section, by the way, is a cracking read - both men know that they have no idea how long the effect will last, which means that if he changes back too soon he'll be killed by the circuit, but they're prepared to take the risk. Thus Ben is transformed and then shot off to penetrate Doom's defenses in... er... a giant flyng sperm. Taken out of context these two images could be telling a very different sort of story, but let us rise above that and enjoy this deliciously tense sequence, with Ben beginning to change back at precisely the wrong moment, managing to maintain his human form for just a few more seconds using sheer force of will. It's a forerunner of the classic scene from Amazing Spider-Man #33, with Peter Parker trapped beneath a giant piece of machinery and only able to extract himself through willpower. This version's a lot quicker, because there's a whole lot of other stuff going on!

Ben destroys the disintegrator circuit that was preventing them all from boarding the ship, allowing his team mates to join him. It's only here, three quarters of the way through the issue, that we get to the building site perils mentioned on the cover, as the three male members of the team are disabled by specially designed traps set just for them. Doom then uses Power Spheres to transport them all into another dimension (why has he never used these before? They sound amazing!) but his victory celebrations are short lived - it turns out that he has only defeated some "flame images", not the real Fantastic Four. I must admit I'm getting a bit fed up with Johnny Storm's ever-expanding arsenal of ludicrous flame-based powers. How is a "flame image" a thing? It's at times like this that I want Doom to win.

With the plan going awry Doom hurries off to collect his hostage, Alicia, but unfortunately Sue has beaten him to it. There's a great couple of panels here where we see Sue coming in to find Alicia distraught, then a few panels later the exact same view, with Doom creeping up on a disguised Sue. It's lovely! Sue then fights Doom on her own, using her powers, her brain, and judo! It's great to see her fight him to a standstill, continuing the gradual change in her character from terrified hostage-in-waiting to effective team member, although she does still need the men to turn up to save her from Doom's "ultra heat beam".

As soon as they're all together Doom realises that, once again, the jig is up, and decides that running away is by far the better part of valour. This is now a core part of Doom's character, that he will always recognise when he's beaten and decide to flee to fight again another day. If he can do this in a manner which persuades his enemies that he's actually dead, then all the better. That's exactly what happens here as, rather than be captured, he chucks himself out of the airship. The Fantastic Four don't have time to worry about him, as they're busy reuniting with each other, but we will later discover that's fallen a very long way indeed - into an entirely different comic altogether!

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posted 14/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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An examination of Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett