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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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The Micro World Of Doctor Doom

You get a sense of Doctor Doom's pulling power before you even open this comic, with a cover showing him towering over the Fantastic Four and a headline stating that it features "The Return Of Doctor Doom". Clearly putting "The Return Of Doctor Doom" on the cover had worked so well the last time they did it that they decided to try it again!

The story inside is called "The Micro World Of Doctor Doom", which is a distinctly less thrilling headline. It begins with Johnny Storm returning to the Baxter Building to find all three of his colleagues "reduced to the size of toys". He saves them from being killed by the Air Conditioning (not an auspicious end to a superhero career) by melting it, after which they all return to full size and, rather sheepishly, all admit that this is not the first time they've shrunken recently. There's some delightfully non-heroic body language here, as it turns out that they were all too embarrassed to admit to having been shrunk in case the others thought they were making it up. This nervousness is despite the fact that something extremely similar happened to all of them about six months ago, when they last met Doctor Doom. The idea that this might have something to do with him doesn't seem to occur to anyone, not even to Mr Fantastic, allegedly the biggest brain on earth. I personally worked it out right away, but then I did see that he was returning on the cover so maybe that was a clue. Or maybe I'm just cleverer than Reed Richards?

There follows several pages of each of them telling their own stories of shrinkage in a jolly sequence that, as Ben says, "sounds like we're playing 'Can You Top This?'". Unable to work out what is causing the shrinking they decide to call in Ant Man, recent star of "Tales To Astonish". This is an early example of Stan Lee knitting together the Marvel Universe as a cohesive fictional storyworld. Whereas other superhero series, existing in their own isolated worlds, would have had to invent a Professor Of Shrinking to explain what's going on, the Fantastic Four are able to call on a pre-existing Shrinking Expert from another comic who happens to live in the same city. This little piece of cross-title interaction happens so casually and quickly that it's easy to forget how revolutionary it was at the time.

Ant Man flies over on a couple of flying ants and lends the team his amazing shrinking/growing potion, which requires one drop to make you smaller, and another to make you tall. This has a very Alice In Wonderland kind of vibe (several years before Jefferson Airplane had a hit with "White Rabbit") but I think that, in this case, it may not be an intentional reference, if only because when it is attended a character will usually draw attention to it! Even though the Fantastic Four have a lot on their plate at the moment, what with the unfathomable attacks from a mysterious unknown nemesis who hates them and uses shrinking rays, Reed Richards still has time to pursue other projects. The next day he pops round to give Ben another potion which, temporarily, turns him back into his human form. Unfortunately for Alicia, Ben was holding up her piano with one hand at the time, so drops it as soon as he's no longer the Thing. know science is exciting, but surely even in the 1960s they had some sort of health and safety awareness to stop this sort of accident happening? Sue and Johnny are also going about their everyday business - Johnny showing off to school friends, Sue testing out perfumes to see if they disguise her from dogs (that's her story anyway, I think she just wanted an excuse to fill the lab with adorable dogs). Suddenly they all hear a voice telling them to beware of Doctor Doom, which finally - FINALLY - leads them to suspect that he might still be alive (like he has been every other time they thought he was dead) and behind their recent attacks. They immediately take the shrinking potion and shrink down into another universe - the Micro-World of Doctor Doom! It's taken over half of the issue for the cover star to make an appearance - who said decompressed storytelling was something new? Doom is very Doom-like right from the off, relaxing in a throne, using local people to do his work for him, and eager to fill his enemies in on what he's been up to since they last saw them. He too shrank down to this other universe and found a people living a peaceful, happy life, which of course made him FURIOUS! We're still over a year away from learning Doom's full origin, but his adventures in the Micro World are very similar to what we will learn of his history in Latveria. Here, as there, he uses his scientific skills to fool an easily impressed aristocracy. Gradually he takes over a quasi-medieval society, gaining the trust of the locals to help him build his devices, and then takes power for himself. "Conning the masses" is pretty much Doom's main superpower, and he must be really good at it. If someone in a grey metal skull mask calling himself "Doctor Doom" turned up and said he was here to help, you'd think people would see through him. But then again, in the world of Trump, who are we to judge the innocent denizens of the Micro World?

After the usual capture of Sue, followed by everybody being dosed with sleeping gas, the Fantastic Four find themselves imprisoned in a cell inside a lake of acid, along with the King of the Micro World and his daughter, Princess Pearla. Pearla explains that Doom has summoned the Lizard Men of Tok to come and discuss an alliance, and they're arriving any minute! I love the Lizard Men of Tok, mostly because of their name, but also because of their brilliantly weird-looking spaceship. Pearla then describes, with slightly more gusto than perhaps necessary, the iniquities that will befall her fellow prisoners, with Reed being used as a bridge, Ben as a miner, Johnny as a flame thrower and Sue as... a scullery maid? I'm sure being invisible would be handy for spying, but the Lizard Men Of Tok clearly require a cook more than they do tactical intelligence. Still, is it me or is this a great look for Sue? Not the drudgery, but the hairdo: Maybe it's the fed-up expression, but I reckon she looks like a supermodel. In a nice change from Sue's usual passiveness, this time she's the one who has the brilliant idea of tearing down parts of the acid-proof wall cladding to make an escape pod, and it's Sue who then rescues Ant Man, who came to help but got himself instantly captured by Doom's men.

The rest of the Fantastic Four race to head off the incoming Lizard Men of Tok, which The Thing does rather elegantly by picking up a control tower and using it as a baseball bat to whack them back into space. It's a great visual, but I must admit to being a bit sad that we never got to meet them. Come back soon, Lizard Men of Tok!

Back in the throne room it all kicks off, with Sue stealing Doom's gun and Ant Man duffing up the army. Doom knows the jig is up, so runs away, using his own shrinking/growing device to boost himself up to our universe once again. All that's left is for Johnny to say goodbye to Pearla, who wanted him to stay, and then to head off to the next issue, where Doom will be waiting!

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posted 7/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Patriarchal Four

This is another brief Doom cameo, with him appearing only once in Fantastic Four #14 on The Puppet Master's mental list of all the Fantastic Four's enemies. The rest of the story is not what anyone would call a classic, not least because of the eye-watering sexism that goes on throughout. It begins with the team returning to base, knackered from their previous adventure. Once they get in the men sit down to relax while Sue goes off to do some cleaning. "That's fine, as long as you do it in silence", says Reed. That's nice isn't it? Reed continues to be a complete git throughout the story. For instance, shortly after this incident he writes up some of his scientific thoughts and then hands his notes over to Sue to type up for him, because clearly this is woman's work. Reed isn't the only misogynist in this story, with Ben later complimenting Alicia on being the only woman he knows who is able to keep quiet. This is all while they're on a mission to save Sue, who has been taken hostage yet again as a consequence of her darned female weakness for the near naked body of the Submariner. It is, to be honest, a bit alarming. I know this was all published over fifty years ago, but the extent of the misogyny throughout the issue is still quite surprising.

The plotting is completely all over the place too, though at least there's some humour about it. For instance, when The Thing sees Sue guarded by a Giant Octopus he remarks that he wouldn't have believed it if he'd read it in a magazine - a technique that I believe the critics call "lampshading", where attention is intentionally drawn to an implausible plot point, in the highlighting it will excuse it. Another example is the Puppet Master's cunning scheme, which is to use mind control to force the Submariner to destroy the Fantastic Four for him. The reader would surely be thinking "Why doesn't he just mind control them and get them to kill themselves?" and the Puppet Master answers this question halfway through, almost as if Stan Lee suddenly realised that there was a gaping hole in his plot. There's also a lovely scene where The Thing goes to park the Fantasticar and gets stung by a parking attendant who doubles the ticket price because he can see he's in a hurry. It's a great example of Lee and Kirby's innovation in setting fantastical events in very real world settings. Unfortunately none of this humour makes you forget quite how unpleasant some of the gender politics is in this story, so let's hope there's less of it when we regroup for the next blog which features the second (but definitely not last) Return Of Doctor Doom!

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posted 5/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Johnny Storm The Human Idiot

When I set out on this pulse-pounding project I combined several different comics databases in order to select a "corpus" of comics which, in theory, featured Doctor Doom. I say "in theory" because the different ways these databases list character appearances, and the different people who do it, means that several comics got into my list where Doctor Doom doesn't actually appear in the story itself.

An excellent example of this is The Incredible Hulk #2 which doesn't feature Doctor Doom at all, except for an advert promoting Fantastic Four #5. Interestingly (for a certain value of "interesting"), in this advert his mask is coloured correctly, rather than the green version that appeared on the actual cover. There are other occasions when he does appear in the story but only in passing, such as when another character mentions him, or he pops up in a flashback. As discussed previously I'm going to keep these stories in the final corpus because they count towards Doom's presence in the Marvel Universe as a whole, but I'm not intending to devote any of the main weekly blogs to them as there won't be much to say, Doom-wise.

"Doom-wise" is a great phrase which I hope to be using constantly during the lifetime of this blog, by the way.

I do however plan to talk about them a bit, starting with the very first Doom cameo in a rather wonderful story called "The Threat Of The Torrid Twosome" in Strange Tales #106.

This one appears in the databases because Doctor Doom appears briefly in a single panel (making Dick Ayers the first person apart from Kirby to draw Doom), as the Human Torch thinks back on some of the times when he, the Torch, has been completely brilliant, and definitely the best member of the Fantastic Four. This sets out the theme for the entire story: Johnny Storm is a total idiot. Having said that, his daftness is portrayed in a surprisingly endearing way, like an adult looking back on what it was really like to be a teenager. Teenagers in comic books, in all media in fact, are often shown as wise, pure, questioning and unfettered by the petty concerns of dreary adult life, which is a lovely thing to think if you actually are a teenager, but of course completely unrealistic. I am sure there are teenagers who aren't self-obsessed idiots, but I have certainly never met any, even (especially) when I was one myself. When I think back to the decisions I made at that age my overriding thought is always "Why on earth did I do that?" and the answer is always "Because I was an idiot." Great idiotic acts in this issue include working hard to protect a non-existent secret identity (he thinks that nobody will associate him, Johnny Storm, with the world famous Johnny Storm who looks exactly like him and also has a sister called Sue) and joining a brand new team called "The Torrid Twosome". Clearly Johnny doesn't know what the word "Torrid" means, but can't be bothered to get a dictionary because he is, as stated above, an idiot. Beautifully, Stan Lee highlights this idiocy throughout, with other characters referring to it constantly. Local children laugh at Johnny behind his back because of his supposed secret identity, Sue Storm gives up trying to persuade him out of his stupid plans for The Torrid Twosome and tells him to just get on with it, and The Acrobat, the story's supposed villain, laughs constantly at what a pillock Johnny is and how easy it's been to trick him into opening a bank vault for him. Eventually the day is saved by The Fantastic Four who, like my mum secretly following me on my paper round to make sure I'm all right, have followed at a safe distance to check that he's okay. The main difference between me and Johnny is that I didn't get shot by a Frenchman while delivering The Peterborough Advertiser, which demonstrates once and for all that my mum is better than 75% of The Fantastic Four. The issue concludes with Johnny trying to make out that he new The Acrobat was a wrong'un all along, and he was carrying out a cunning plan to catch him. The rest of the Fantastic Four are all very nice about it, but it's absolutely clear that they don't believe a word he's saying. It's a not a particularly thrilling superhero story, but it is a surprisingly touching depiction of a teenager from someone who's long stopped being one, and well worth a read.

The next comic we'll be looking at is another cameo, this time in a story which defies logic and, indeed, good manners. It'll be up on the blog on Monday, but in the meantime any thoughts on this, or any other issues so far, would be most appreciated in the comments!

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posted 2/2/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Return Of Doctor Doom

It says on the cover of this issue that "our fans oughta flip over this yarn" and that is no exaggeration, because not only does "surprise follows surprise as you actually meet Lee and Kirby in the story" but it also questions the very nature of reality itself!

The story kicks off with The Thing causing a mad panic amongst his colleagues by summoning them to his girlfriend Alicia's apartment using the Emergency Signal Flare. When they finally get there, having caused chaos all over the city in their hurry, they're a bit miffed to find that he just wanted them to pop round and see Alicia's latest artwork. One can understand their annoyance - they do have access to telephones, as we'll note later - but they are mollified by the display of miniature statuettes, which serve as both a round-up of all their baddies so far and also an eerie prediction of what it will be like in Forbidden Planet in the twenty first century. Meanwhile, over at "the studio of Kirby and Lee" we find Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in conversation, trying to devise a new villain for the Fantastic Four comic. While it's exciting to, as promised, "actually meet Lee and Kirby", it's also distressingly problematic. How does any of this make sense? Are Lee and Kirby godlike beings dictating events around them? If not, do they just make up the stories? Later on Reed Richards will talk about having agreed the next plot with Lee and Kirby, so does that mean the characters are real but all the events are made up? Is that why The Thing complains that they're making him look uglier than he is? It's all made even stranger when Stan Lee complains about Doctor Doom being shot into space so that they can't use him in stories anymore. If Doom is real, and was really shot into space, then surely that infers that they're just documenting the stories as they happen, but then what's Jack doing inventing new characters? The only logical, sensible explanation is that Stan and Jack are basically GOD, creating the universe around them. This makes perfect sense, and is even (sort of) acknowledged many years later in Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo's run on "The Fantastic Four" when the team go to heaven and meet their creator. All of these philosophical questions are set aside when Doctor Doom enters the studio to involve Lee and Kirby in his latest cunning scheme. He is recognisably the same character from previous occasions but now he seems even more tortured, at one point taking his mask off in front of Lee and Kirby, as he feels it is "strangling" him. He forces them to ring Reed Richards (presumably because Lee and Kirby don't have an Emergency Flare) and call him in for a story conference, showing that Doom is aware of whatever arrangement exists between Marvel and the superhero team. When Richards arrives Doom uses a gas gun to knock him out and then kidnap him, which makes a nice change from it being Sue who gets captured all the time. Doom takes Richards back to his base and then explains how he managed to escape the eternity of space into which he fell the last time we saw him. It was ALIENS! The Aliens in question are the Ovoids, a bunch of effete Space Wallies who happened to pick Doom up seconds before his oxygen supply expired. They are so civilised and trusting that they allow Doctor Doom to learn the secrets of their technology before dropping him off home again. One of these secrets is the ability to swap bodies, which he uses on Reed Richards. There's some great art and writing here, as the body-swapped characters still act and talk in their original personas, with Doom's facial expressions remaining in Reed's body, and the Reed trapped within Doom's armour no longer strutting around so arrogantly. Interestingly, although Doom's speech is recognisably distinct from Reed's he does occasionally use somewhat "hep" turns of phrase, like "All right sister" and "You're whistling in the dark Mister" The idea that Doom comes from Eastern Europe won't be introduced for over a year yet, so it could be that Stan Lee is still writing him with an American accent.

The rest of the Fantastic Four arrive and ignore attempts by Reed-in-Doom's-Body to explain what's happening, instead getting over-excited with ideas about how to imprison him. Johnny comes up with a whole bunch of endearingly potty ideas which are very much in keeping with his character, including a blazing cell he can recharge once a week. Even at this early stage the characters all have distinct, enjoyable, personalities, which was a huge reason behind their growing popularity in a comics market where superheroes tended to be straightforward Good Guys.

Doom-in-Reed's-Body suggests that they use a chamber which he says - quite accurately - Doctor Doom had prepared to hold The Fantastic Four! So far it's all been quite a sensible plan, but it suddenly goes awry in the next chapter when we meet.. a whole bunch of shrunken animals. Doom has been using these as a test for the next stage of his plan, which is something to do with shrinking bodies but leaving brains and powers the same size so that, when the bodies are returned to their normal size, the powers then increase with it. This makes no sense whatsoever, but it does allow Jack Kirby to draw SPACE DINOSAURS! I flipping LOVE Space Dinosaurs - so much so that a few years ago I wrote and released a FULL CAST ROCK OPERA about them - but this is a deadly serious academical blog so we must not allow such things to distract us (though you can find out more here if you like). Back in the story Doom continues to explain his ludicrous scheme, telling the three superheroes that this project will allow Johnny to fly faster, Sue to turn different parts of herself invisible (which she's been shown to be able to do on several occasions already) and Ben to change back to human form at will.

On first reading this comic I was enraged by how stupid the whole scheme is, but then had to chastise myself because, it turns out, Doom himself knows how daft it all is and is thoroughly enjoying tricking Ben, Sue and Johnny with something so idiotic. There's something in this panel that reminds me of a leading British politician. I can't think who though - he's guffawing about conning a whole bunch of people into doing something utterly stupid, but I can't quite put my finger on it.

Anyway, while this is going on Actual Reed escapes and goes round to see Alicia. Unfortunately for him Sue has also gone round to tell her about potential benefits of Brexit... sorry, I mean the Shrinking Super Powers Machine that definitely works, so is able to clonk "Doom" round the head with a vase. However, the blind Alicia, unbiased by how Reed now looks is able to sense "an aura of goodness about him... of nobility." Sue tells her not to be stupid, then Johnny and Ben pile in to duff "Doom" up. However, this time they too sense something different about him (so Sue, Reed's lover, is the only one who can't tell him apart from their worst enemy...) and decide to take him back to the Baxter Building to see what "Reed" thinks. This means that Actual Doom is forced to move the con forward, trying to persuade them into the shrinking machine with some haste. Actual Reed tries to stop them and the others realise that he is sounding and acting like their leader, so Johnny tries a cunning plan of his own: he creates a "heat mirage" of a dynamite stick from a handy nearby building site. Despite making no sense whatsoever this works brilliantly, with Actual Reed throwing himself onto the dynamite stick to save the others while Doom tries to save himself. In the ensuing melee Doom loses his mental concentration and is returned to his own body again. All that remains is for a bit more scuffling, during which the shrinking ray gets accidentally switched on so that Doom gets zapped and shrunken out of existence. Once again, the climax of the story feels incredibly rushed and based on an accident, but then that's not really what it's all been about. This has been a character piece from start to finish, examining who these people are and how they relate to each other and, despite the space dinosaurs, dynamite mirages, accidents and "senses", it ends up as a triumph.

With Doom definitely completely dead* I guess it'll all be just memories and mentions of him from now on. Find out for yourself, true believer, in our next thrilling episode!

(SPOILERS: he isn't)

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posted 31/1/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Captives of the Deadly Duo

After his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5 Doctor Doom returned in the very next issue, teaming up with The Submariner, who had been the villain in issue #4.

Like all of the Fantastic Four's most successful supervillains of this era, Namor The Submariner has a tragic backstory which informs his villainy. He isn't evil at heart, he has his own logical justification for doing what he does. In his case, he decides to take vengeance on the human race after discovering that his homeland of Atlantis has been destroyed by atomic tests. Fair enough really.

The first four and a half pages of this story are taken up with the characters going about their daily business (including answering fan-mail), bickering with and worrying about each other. It's often said that this concentration on character was what set Marvel apart from its competitors at the time, and that's clearly the case here. The Fantastic Four definitely do not get on like chums all the time and the basic principles of their characters are already in place, especially for the frustrated, angry Ben and the pompous Reed.

While this is going on a pleasure boat out at sea spots a school of porpoises frolicking through the waves. On closer examination they realise that there's a human swimming amongst them - this is Namor, chillaxing between attempts at world domination. When his fun is disturbed by a flying vessel buzzing the school Namor leaps out of the sea and jumps onto its wing, demanding to know who'd ruining his leisure time. It turns out that the pilot is none other than Doctor Doom, getting Namor's attention in order to propose an alliance. Clearly since last time we saw him he found that "hidden site" he was off to. Note that once again he's talking about combining science and sorcery - this, as the modern young people might say, is his "jam".

They head back to Namor's home in the ruins of Atlantis to discuss teaming up, and Doom is surprised to find out just how chillaxed Namor really is. Doom needs the Submariner ready to fight, so he taunts him repeatedly until he's angry enough to agree to a team-up. Jack Kirby draws this brilliantly: Psychological manipulation is another of Doom's core strengths, using it to get other people to do his dirty work for him and, as we shall see, it's all part of another cunning scheme.

It's worth noting that Doom's costume has changed slightly since the last issue, looking less medieval and almost exactly how it will remain for most of the next fifty years. The only big difference is that he has a single clasp holding his cloak together at the front, rather than the two large golden discs and chain of his classic look, but otherwise his design is already fully formed.

Back at Fantastic Four headquarters Johnny Storm finds a picture of Namor hidden amongst his big sister Sue's things. Like any annoying little brother he takes great pleasure in teasing her about it, at which point Namor himself appears, having flown in through the window. He claims to be on a mission of peace, and Sue stands up for him by pressing herself very closely indeed against his naked chest. Where are you putting your hands, Sue?

Reed suspects that this is a trap, and he's right, of course, as another of Doctor Doom's amazing science gizmos lifts the entire building off the ground and into space with them all inside it. This is an incredible piece of artwork, it makes me feel vertigo just looking at it! Doctor Doom is double cunning here, as the trap for the Fantastic Four is also a trap for Namor - he has identified these five people as the only ones who can stop him in his quest for world domination, and now they're all out of the way at once! Eventually, after quite a lot of arguing, the Fantastic Four and Namor are able to work together, with Namor leaping through space from meteor to meteor to get to Doom where he uses the power of an electrical eel (which apparently he also possesses) to electrocute him and send him tumbling into space, where he is apparently lost for eternity. Spoilers: he isn't.

Two other quick things to note about this story. Firstly, the actual plot doesn't take very long, with the solution to the problem of Doom's kidnap attempt being wrapped up pretty simply in the last couple of pages. What matters is not the "puzzle" set by the villain, as would have been the case in other superhero comics of the time, but the interpersonal relationships of the characters. Secondly, this isn't really a story about the Fantastic Four at all, it's actually about the different approaches of Namor and Doom. To use classical storytelling vocabulary, Namor is the Protagonist who is met with a challenge, is tempted by the dark side, and renounces it, to return home changed, whereas Doctor Doom is the Antagonist, the evil reflection of the Protagonist who tempts him and must be rejected. It's their conflict that plays out here, demonstrating once again how important supervillains are in these stories, and why, once you've got a good one, you need to keep bringing them back!

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posted 24/1/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Prisoners of Doctor Doom

Superhero stories are different from other stories. In the conventional, Western, three-act structure story the protagonist, or hero, is somebody who causes change, who leaves home, has adventures, and comes back different. In a superhero story, as Richard Reynolds and others have pointed out, change comes from the outside and the hero's job is the status quo. No less a person than Umberto Eco identified superhero comics as an "iterative scheme", where a similar story keeps on happening, outside of normal time, with everything set back at the end of an instalment to how it was at the start.

I hate to disagree with Umberto Eco, what with his gigantic brain and all, but I do think he could have read a few more comics before coming to that conclusion. True, there are plenty of resets, reboots and returns to how things were (look at the constant churn of Captain America, for instance, as different characters take over the role before always returning to Steve Rogers) but there is a very gradual development over time and a knowledge, in the fans and writers if not necessarily the characters, of all that has gone before.

Still, Umberto's got a point - superheroes do tend to react to trouble, and generally need somebody else to come into the story to shake things up, and these somebody elses are known as "supervillains". As Stan Lee says, "if not for the villains the good guys would either have to apply for welfare or be reduced to battling each other" . In recent times this is pretty much what has happened, with Civil Wars and all sorts, but right back at the start of The Marvel Age there weren't really any other superheroes for the Fantastic Four to fight, so Lee and Kirby had to come up with some interesting villains.

They did pretty well, creating The Mole Man in the first issue of The Fantastic Four, the Skrulls in the next, and reviving Namor The Submariner in the fourth. All right, they also came up with the entirely rubbish Miracle Man in issue three, but a 75% hit rate of classics isn't bad, and they raised this to 80% (MATHS) in their fifth when they came up with Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom is probably the greatest supervillain of them all. I know I would say that, as I'm writing a blog about him and also doing a PhD, but he's been a fan-favourite right since his first appearance and, as we'll see as this blog goes along, has continued to appear all over the Marvel Universe ever since, in comics and all their other transmedia outlets. I personally first encountered him in Peterborough WH Smiths back in the early 1980s, when he was right on the front page of this mighty tome:

This amazing book contained reprints of the first six issues of The Fantastic Four and, as you can see from both covers, it got read a lot! Doctor Doom's on the front cover too - he's clearly the big draw as far as villains go, and in the first issue he appears very nearly fully formed as the character we know today. In the original run of comics it would take a couple of years for his full origin to be revealed, in Fantastic Four Annual #2, although we do get an abbreviated version in this issue. Here we've already got the idea that he uses a deadly mixture of science and sorcery - he's even got a book labelled "Science And Sorcery" in the very first panel! We also get a glimpse of his personal rivalry with Reed Richards, as his plan to capture the Fantastic Four depends on him knowing that Mr Fantastic will be unable to resist a battle of wills. Doom's actual plan is (as they usually turn out to be) a bit nuts. He's built a time machine, but has not managed to devise a remote control or timer for it, so he needs to send somebody else back in time to carry out his errands for him. To this end he kidnaps the Fantastic Four and demands that the three men head back to the time of Blackbeard to find Merlin's Treasure, while he keeps the Invisible Girl hostage. Sue Storm gets taken hostage quite a lot in these early issues, though she does also tend to get away and, as we'll see in later issues, is often the one who ends up saving everybody else.

Here though the entire Fantastic Four are kept at bay by a tiger. In their very first issue they managed to fight a gigantic monster, but for some reason a big cat is enough to hold them in place on Doom's time machine, which he activates, sending them into history. When they arrive back in Ye Olden Times there's a lot of fun with them finding some clothes and then... well, then they go to the pub where they get mickey finned and end up shanghaied onto a pirate ship. I love this image - it looks, to me, like a storybook illustration rather than the Jack Kirby of thrusting limbs, forced perspective and dynamic action that I associate with his later Marvel work.

Anyway, what with one thing and another Reed, Ben and Johnny have a big fight with the pirates who've captured them and then get involved with fighting a whole other bunch of pirates. Doom has told them that they've got to capture Blackbeard's Treasure Chest so they think maye it's Blackbeard who's attacking them. However! In a very cunning bit of time travel storytelling, it turns out that Blackbeard has been amongst them all along! I distinctly remember having my tiny mind blown by this panel when I first read it. I love the fact that The Thing wants to stay in this time and be the famous Blackbeard - as he rightly says, there's nothing for him as a monster in his own time, so why shouldn't he stay in the past and be a hero?

Unfortunately for Ben, but fortunately for the next fifty years of comics, there's a storm which casts the three of them onto a desert island, just in time for Doctor Doom's time machine to find them and bring them back to the present day. Here they hand over the treasure chest to Doctor Doom, who reveals that the treasure within will give him power to take over the world. Luckily for the world, Reed Richards used his famous brain to dupe Doom, giving him the treasure chest he'd asked for but not the treasure within, which he'd cleverly dumped in the sea back in the past. Clever Reed! Um. Yes. Good point Johnny. Doctor Doom is understandably annoyed by Reed's pedantic lawyery and decides to have them all killed to death by suffocation. The Thing reacts angrily to this and discovers that... ... Doctor Doom is actually a robot! The real Doctor Doom is in a different room, watching them on a monitor screen. This is some classic Doctor Doom action, right here in his first appearance. He'll go on to use Doombots (as they get called) all the time, for fighting fights that are too dangerous for him to undertake in person, or for fulfilling tasks that he considers beneath him. For some reason though he doesn't seem to be able to use them to go back in time to carry out missions or operate time machines.

The three male members of the Fantastic Four find themselves trapped inside a reinforced airtight room from which they cannot escape, and it's up to Sue Storm to escape and liberate them all. They flee the castle, with the Human Torch using some powerful "science" to help them get across a moat full of crocodiles. I'm pretty sure that that's not how anything works? As we shall see as we go along, Stan and Jack have a rather shaky understand of what you can do with fire and heat, leading to the Human Torch using flame for some bizarre purposes in the first few years of his existence. One thing fire definitely can do, however, is to burn things, and that's precisely what happens to Doctor Doom's castle. In credit to him, he makes the best of a bad deal by acknowledging that this will keep his secrets from the world, and then flying away using his jet pack, setting off to find "a new hidden site where I can plan for my conquest of earth!!" This is all well and good, but what happened to that Tiger? Did it manage to escape? And what about the crocodiles? This was none of their faults!

And on that note of animal cruelty Doctor Doom's first appearance ends. The Fantastic Four wonder where he's gone, but they only have a couple of months to wait. We, on the other hand, will be getting to his next appearance in just a week!

In the meantime, I'd be very interested in anyone else's thoughts about this issue, not just because I'll be nicking... sorry, sourcing critical consensus for the purposes of my PhD, but also because I reckon it'll be interesting - if you have anything to say, please use the comments!

link to information about this issue

posted 17/1/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Selecting The Comics

Once I'd worked out my inclusion criteria for this project the next step was to get myself a list of all the comics I needed to read. The simplest way would be to read through everything Marvel published during the 26 years I've set my sights on, and make a note of every time Doctor Doom pops up. I'm sure this would be fun, but it would also probably increase the length of this PhD by a couple of decades. Luckily for me, several groups have already catalogued these comics and made the results of their research publicly available.

The first I looked at was The Marvel Chronology Project, which attempts to place every story from Marvel comics into in-universe chronological order. For example, it lists Ed Brubaker's 'Books Of Doom' (published in 2007) as Doctor Doom's first chronological appearance, interspersed with flashback sections from other stories such as 'Fantastic Four Annual' #2 from 1964 and 'Marvel Superheroes' #20 from 1969, together telling the story of his early life and how he came to conquer Latveria.

Unfortunately for me The Marvel Chronology Project doesn't allow direct querying of its data - questions can be emailed to the moderators, and snapshots of the dataset are available on the site, but they cannot queried for more information or downloaded. It has been used by other research projects looking at the social network of the Marvel Universe but the lack of accessibility to the main dataset, and the absence of open data about publication dates, severely limited its usefulness for me.

I looked at four other databases, all of which allowed direct access to their databases in various ways, and also allowed users to suggest updates to the moderators. This "peer review" of the data makes it, theoretically, more reliable than a site set up by one enthusiast, but it is still possible for different biases to arise between communities. For instance, conventions might develop differently as to whether background glimpses of characters should be included as full appearances, or on whether to categorise alternate universe versions as the same character.

The oldest of these databases was The Grand Comics Database, which was set up in 1994 as a successor the paper-based Amateur Press Alliance for Indexing. The Grand Comics Database allows users to download their entire database as a .SQL file, meaning that it can then be uploaded to a server and queried independently by users.

The other available databases allow querying via API, a method of passing simple queries to the online database and receiving datasets in a format which can then be used to display customised information. One such is The Comic Book Database, a site dedicated to cataloguing "every comic book, graphic novel, manga, illustrator, publisher, writer, and character ever." It claims to be " the largest database of its kind", while its competitor Comic Vine calls itself "the largest comic database online". Comic Vine, first established in 2006, requires registration to allow queries and edits, and its customisable data outputs are formatted in a way that makes it more difficult to scrape data. I've never really got to grips with using API, so data scraping was the main way I extracted data from Comic Vine, The Comic Book Database and The Marvel Database - another online system similar to the others. I have, however, got decades of experience using SQL, and was able to download the Grand Comic Database onto my own server SQL file and search the full range of information it contained.

Thus my eventual strategy for creating a timeline was to use the Grand Comics Database data as the base of my investigations, which I could then check against the less rich datasets scraped from The Comic Book Database, Marvel Database and (to a much lesser extent) Marvel Chronology Project, with Comic Vine used as a tool for checking individual cases. In this way I hoped to sidestep any biases inherent in using the results from any single community while also ensuring that I was uncovering the widest possible list of Doctor Doom appearances.

Using my inclusion criteria I was able to query the Grand Comics Database and discover over 200 comics purporting to feature Doctor Doom. My next step was to attempt to link this to scraped data from the other sources, to help with verification and to see if anything had been missed. This took quite a lot of Date Cleaning, largely because of the differences in the way series were numbered or titled. Most series had very slightly different titles in the different systems (for instance "The Fantastic Four" might also be logged as just "Fantastic Four") which made linking the datasets very time consuming.

Once all the data was finally linked together I discovered 22 comics that were listed as featuring Doctor Doom in other databases, but were not inlcuded in the Grand Comics Database, so they were added to my list. A quick look through these issues showed that many of them were just very small cameo appearances, or sometimes adverts in the comic featuring Doom, rather than in-story appearances, but it did include three definite appearances not listed on the GCD, notably a very enjoyable guest appearance in 'Marvel Comics Super Special' starring the band Kiss!

Put together this gave me my final list of comics to read, with 240 individual issues of 58 seperate series. As I go through I'll be further categorising them, assigning some to sublists for stories where Doom is only mentioned and others to a list of comics where Doom doesn't appear in the story at all. In this way I hope to devise a final, fully confirmed list of comics which together tell Doom's story during The Marvel Age!

posted 15/1/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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An examination of Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett