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Turning Point!

One of the actually properly interesting things about "Secret Wars" (as opposed to how terrible the actual comics were) is how the series was worked into the ongoing stories of the other series in the Marvel Universe. The month before it all began several series ended that month's issue by having their characters disappear after entering a mysterious building in New York's Central Park. The following month they returned, often drastically changed, having been through Some Sort Of Experience. The biggest changes included Spider-man getting a new costume and She-Hulk replacing The Thing in The Fantastic Four, and readers were left to wonder how this had all occurred. The regular Marvel Universe carried on from there, while the story of how it all happened was gently unravelled over the next twelve months in "Secret Wars" itself. As a way of intriguing readers and getting them to buy the main series this must have worked, as it's been used many times since, notably in DC's "52" series where all of the stories in their main series jumped forward a year with new costumes and changes to the status quo, leaving "52" to slowly reveal how everything had changed during the intervening time. Funnily enough, it had its own line of action figures too! This issue is post-Secret Wars, and so starts off with the Hulk emerging from that same building with... a mysterious limp! All right, it's maybe not quite as exciting as a new costume or a new team member, but it does at least show that something has been going on that we don't know much about. The text of the comic has to keep up the air of mystery too, only vaguely referring to events, partly to maintain the susspense but also, I imagine, because nobody knew what the ending was going to be yet! It's here that Doctor Doom makes his only appearance, standing in a group of characters as part of an image which seeks to summarise what we can expect to see in Secret Wars itself. This is Doom, yet again, standing in a group,representing Super-Villains and the Marvel Universe as a whole. He does that a lot!

The rest of the story sees a spectacularly grumpy Hulk stomping around on the trail of the lower-league supervillain Boomerang, who has something to do with another character called Max Hammer and some illegal experiments involving Gamma Rays. I found it all a bit disconcerting, as it's not any version of the Hulk that I remember. It's drawn by Sal Buscema, which is definitely how I remember the Hulk being drawn, but Danny Bulandi's inks give it a much smoother, glossier look that I'm used to. It's very nice, but it's not what I associate with our pal Sal! His personality is also miles away from the classic "Hulk find Betty!" characterisation that I remember from the pages of Marvel UK's "Hulk Weekly". I know that part of the Hulk's character is that it keeps changing, as has been shown in the completely brilliant "Immortal Hulk" recently, but it was still a surprise to come up against it at this point in time.

It does all get a bit "Immortal Hulk" towards the end actually, as they find a family pet that has been turned into a Gamma monster. It all ends with the scientist who has been running the experiments turning into a monster, which everyone seems to be surprised by despite this, as far as I'm aware, being what always happens to Scientists Dabbling In Forbidden Technology. Sadly we won't find out what happens next (my guess: he regains his humanity to save a loved one at the expense of his own life?) as we're back in the ongoing story of Secret Wars itself!

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posted 2/12/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The War Begins!

Ever since I began this blog I've been dreading this day, for LO! this is the day when I've had to sit down and read "Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars".

The dread came from my memories of reading it at the time, remembering it as absolute rubbish which was a trial to get through, although part of me wondered if maybe I was being unfair - after all, I was 13 years old when it first came out, and full of sneers for anything I judged to be mainstream. Maybe, just maybe, "Secret Wars" would turn out to be a lot better than I remembered?

SPOILERS: it is if anything even worse.

As I'm sure most people reading this will know, the" Secret Wars" series was set up as a tie-in with the Secret Wars range of toys, featuring action figures of various Marvel characters with vehicles and play sets. Even the name is a cynical attempt to maximise CA$H, as surveys had shown that the two words which most excited their target audience of young boys were "Secret" and "War". When Jim Shooter sat down to write the plot he decided to just write the thing that the fans asked for the most - all the characters gettig together and having a big fight - and to be fair to him, that is exactly what he did. There are loads of characters, and there are loads of fights!

It's all written by Shooter according to the rules he would go on to impose on other creators across Marvel, which he believed would lead to clear, easily understood stories that would excite their readers. One of these rules was that every character should be introduced, and this is done in the most blatant fashion within the first few pages, first by the goodies: ... and then the baddies: Each group of characters is in a seperate spaceship, heading for a place called "Battleworld", a planet made up from lots of bits of other planets. Doom watches Battleworld take form, while behind him characters continue to introduce themselves. A fight breaks out (for no apparent reason) on the baddies' ship, and Doom tries to take command to stop it, but before he can take control everyone on both shops is silenced by Something Happening out in space. There's a bright light and then a mysterious voice says "I am from beyond! Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours!" WHat has happened, basically, is that some Cosmic Being has got together two teams of toys... sorry, heroes and villains, and is about to bash them together in a Big Fight. It's such a blatant reflection of what the series has been designed to promote that it's cheekiness would be almost charming, if it wans't all written so ponderously. This series had been promoted as promising Big Changes for the Marvel Universe, after which of course Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again, so it's all Very Serious with not much room for fun.

Galactus flies off to give The Beyonder (as he decides to call him) a piece of his mind, and Doctor Doom follows, but The Beyonder is having none of it. Meanwhile the superheroes are deposited on Battleworld, and after several pages of very dreary bickering about who's in charge they eventually nominate Captain America, because he is The Most American out of any of them. We then catch up with Doctor Doom, who wakes up next to a comatose Galactus and then heads off to look at a nearby fortress. Doom is very much a leading character in this issue, as he will be throughout the series, and this is reflected in the advertising for the toys too. Inside the fortress he finds the supervillains gathered for more bickering. Jim Shooter sure does like to write people bickering! Again he tries to take control, and when they won't agree to him being the leader he behaves in a very Doom-like way by calling them all fools and zapping them with his gauntlet blasters. He pinches a ship and flies off in a huff to talk to Reed Richards, reasoning that they can only get out of this if their two great brains can work together. Kang The Conqueror doesn't like this so zaps him with a handy laser gun, causing his ship to crash. The heroes rush out to help, and Doom takes exception to their offer of charity and zaps them all. Just to recap the plot, what's happened there is that Doom has gone off to ask the superheroes for help, but then takes enormous offence when the superheroes... offer to help him? It's deeply stupid, but before we can try and unravel what's going on Doom flies off and the other supervillains turn up (having got there... somehow?) with a promise of a Big Fight for next time. As I say, it's a right load of old rubbish, but thankfully there's eleven issues of it left to get through. That'll have to wait a while though, as next time we jump sideways and, in many ways, ahead to see what's going on back in the rest of the Marvel Universe!

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posted 26/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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What If Susan Richards Died In Childbirth?

In most issues of "What If?" the answer to the question posed one the cover is usually "everything goes horribly wrong and several superheroes get killed". This comics is no exception, although it's still remarkable quite how utterly bleak and depressing the whole story is.

It starts off quite gently with a recap of Fantastic Four Annual #6, with the male members of the FF heading into the Negative Zone while Sue is in hospital about to give birth. There's a nice bit where she talks to Crystal about how she first met Reed and Ben, and then The Watcher tells us how this story originally ended, with the guys getting back in time to give Sue some Negative Zone energy which allows everything to work out fine. Showing this happiness feels a bit cruel as The Watcher immediately snatches us away to another version of reality, where they didn't get back in time and Sue and the baby both died. It's horrible. This is the point where Doctor Doom appears, as part of a whistle-stop tour around the Marvel Universe where we see different characters reacting to the news. Doom, as is so often his wont, has gone out onto a parapet for a bit of an old muse. Doom is a regular feature in these sort of round-the-world trips, often being used as here to represent both supervillains and places that aren't America - a very similar example of this can, for instance, be seen in Thor #271, where Doom is shown alongside various other characters, pointing out that Something Important Is Happening. The issue then gives us a lengthy look at Sue's funeral, the sombre nature of which is somewhat spoiled for me by how much it reminded me of Fantastic Four Roast! The rest of the issue follows Reed Richards as he falls into depression and heads back into the Negative Zone to take revenge on Annihilus for stopping him from getting back to our dimension in time to save his wife. Ben and Johnny, along with Namor who is staying in The Baxter Building for some reason, follow him, and there are various skirmishes which all end with Reed and Annihilus plummeting to their deaths in a Negative Zone sun. What a thoroughly gloomy and depressing read that was - it almost makes me eager for the light-hearted simplicity of "Secret Wars" which we'll be looking at next time. Almost!

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posted 24/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Another Doom flashback today in an issue which sees John Byrne (via the artwork of Ron Wilson and Hilary Barta) experimenting with form in a vaguely similar manner to his (in)famous issue of Alpha Flight where five pages took place in a snow storm, meaning that there were no pictures at all. This one's a little less cheeky, in that there are definitely characters, but as most of the issue takes place within the dark recesses of Ben Grimm's mind there are no backgrounds, only blackness. Wilson and Barta do fill out the panels with characters though, and the time saved on drawing backgrounds for most of the issue is clearly lavished on a double page spread towards the end which shows the true results of the battle which has filled most of the issue. The story sees Ben Grimm trapped inside his own mind by The Puppet Master, who has developed new powers since we last saw him being crushed by Doom back in Fantastic Four #246. We get a recap of that issue, as well as aspects of Fantastic Four #236 and Micronauts #41, with Wilson redrawing/quoting some of the panels to fill in the story. Doom has nothing more to do in this issue, but it's interesting how rooted in continuity and citation this story - and so many of the stories around this time - are. It's as if the creators (not just Byrne, but he he's definitely one of the main participants) are seeking to validate their own stories by including references to the past, proving that what they're creating is "real" and "counts" as part of the ongoing story. I'm not proud of it, but I must admit that I really like this, and miss it from more modern Marvel comics. Modern stories do still quote continuity, but they don't often include the editorial footnotes, which I think is a shame. When I was first reading comics I always found these very useful, as they told you whether or not something mentioned had already happened in another story, or was something new happening here for the first time. Actually, I still miss them and I wish they'd come back!

The actual plot of the issue sees The Puppet Master taunting Ben Grimm, who is stuck in his human form because his mind is the only place he can escape being The Thing. Eventually he is forced to transform and thus fully accept who he is, and, this being comics means, the psychological breakthrough manifests itself through lots of punching. The Thing eventually escapes, and realises that he has been enacting the battle in the real world (as shown in the double page splash at the top). He goes to find the Puppet Master who is now living clay, taking on the form of whoever he controls. However, now that he has convinced The Thing to accept his own physical body he can now not change form himself and, under the strain... er... falls to pieces. I'm not sure this is quite the masterstroke twist ending it's meant to be, but after such an enjoyable issue of psychology and punching I think we can let the creative team off. We're getting terrifyingly close to 'Secret Wars', where daft plots and ridiculous twists are going to be on the menu for weeks, so let's enjoy this while we can!

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posted 20/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Unusu-Al Pin-Ups!

One of the most minor of minor Doom appearances today, as a small part of an intro page to a "hoovering up oddments" section of a title itself pretty much dedicated to hoovering up oddments!

"Marvel Fanfare" was supposedly a showcase of the best that Marvel had to offer, but my memory of it was as a ragtag collection of bits and bobs that hadn't been used elsewhere. Admittedly that was probably because the only copies I ever saw were those which my local comic shop had picked up cheap (often due to being slightly damaged) and sold at half price. For those of us on dinner money budgets this was very appealing, though I remember always being disappointed by the contents, which never seemed to match the High Quality Baxter Paper they were printed on. This was one of the issues that I bought back then, and the fact that it does feature an unused inventory story about Black Widow might well be what gave me the impression that's all it was.

This was reinforced by the contents of "Unusu-Al Pin-Ups" a section of supposed "pin-ups" (in actuality unused covers or single images) which clearly states that at least some of the images contained were repurposed from elsewhere. Doom's presence in this comic comes from here, with him above shown looking worried about editor Al Milgrom's predicament. It reminds me of all those other times when Doom has been used in "humorous" situations, with his usual status as Main Supervillain being very gently subverted by showing him expressing an emotion that one wouldn't normally expect to see - similar to the Hulk looking surprised elsewhere in the image. If nothing else it shows how consistent Doom's role has been in these sort of scenarios. All it really needs is a picture of Aunt May attacking someone to make it go full-on Not Brand Echh!

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posted 17/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The Daydreamers!

After all the excitement of the recent John Byrne trilogy, today we're looking at an extremely minor appearance by Doctor Doom in a rather minor issue of Amazing Spider-Man. It doesn't have an awful lot to say, but is quite a sweet little story in which The Watcher invites us to look into the daydreams of the regular cast. In many ways if feels like a fill-in issue, except for the fact that it's clearly situated within the current run and is written and drawn by the regular creators, so it's really just a nice one-off, done-in-one story which delves deeper into the regular characters.

It's all a lot of fun, although I'm not quite sure why The Watcher has to get involved - as far as I'm aware he doesn't usually have anything to do with daydreams, and the storyline would work perfectly without him. Anyway, it starts with The Black Cat recuperating in hospital from events of previous issues, only to be interrupted by Spider-man. I really like the way that Spidey is a little bit "off" throughout, a lot more self-confident than usual - this is Black Cat's daydream version of him, and it's done in a way that is obvious without ever being pointed out in the text itself. The daydream sees him taking her out for an evening of high living, at the end of which he removes his mask and turns out to be... Cary Grant! Next we get J Jonah Jameson dreaming about beating Spider-man once and for all, in a sequence that's notable for the delightful way in which his hair gets darker and more flowing as he gets happier. Following on from that we see Mary Jane merrily imagining beating Meryl Streep to a job playing herself, with John Travolta as Spider-man and Woody Allen as Peter Parker. Interesting casting! Doom appears in the last section, in which Spidey dream of saving Jonah from an attack by a whole bunch of super-villains, forcing Jameson to finally recognise him as a hero. This appearance by Doom reminds me of the way he was used so often a decade or so earlier as a member of groups of super-villains, always placed prominenty in a scene to show that this grouping together was a big deal. There'll be a lot more of this when we get to "Secret Wars"! Spidey being Spidey he can, of course, never be happy for too long, even in a daydream. The Avengers and Fantastic Four are arguing over him, each wanting him to join their team, until suddenly they all realise at once that he's just some skinny kid and drop the whole idea. This neatly dovetails into real life when Spider-man spots an actual skinny kid being bullied, and leaps in to help. As he leaves the boy again the story finishes with one last bit of daydreaming. It's a lovely ending to a sweet story that, as I say, doesn't have an awful lot to say about Doctor Doom, but even a Doctor Doom blog has to admit that, just occasionally, that's all right!

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posted 12/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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When Titans Clash!

As I've mentioned many times before, this blog is part of the process of writing my PhD, which is looking at Doctor Doom as an early transmedia character. Part of this involves looking at his "character coherence" - the extent to which he remains the same over time and media - and I'm measuring this by looking at his "signifiers" i.e. the things that make him Doctor Doom. This includes aspects like appearance, the other characters that are around him, the names he's referred to by them, and the physical actions he undertakes (among others). I mention this here because this issue is like a roll call for Doom signifiers, as if John Byrne was intent on making this the Doomiest Doctor Doom of all time... right before killing him.

Yes, that's right - Doctor Doom is killed in this issue, definitely, totally and without question. I remember reading this at the time and thinking that that must be true anyway, although now, with the experience of having read every Doom appearance up to this point, it's pretty clear how he gets out of it, even if it does take a very deep dive into past continuity to work it out. Maybe that's why Byrne has been using so many references in earlier parts of this story, so he can justifiably lay the groundwork for Doom's escape.

That's all to come later on though, as this issue begins with three pages featuring The Submariner. Reading Doctor Doom stories means I've read a LOT of Namor stories, and I must say he's never been a character I've ever been interested in. Luckily for me he is soon replaced by a much more enjoyable Big Fight between Tyros and the Fantastic Three (as Reed Richards is Mysteriously Absent) as he fights them to a standstill, watched the whole time by Doctor Doom. Watching events via a screen is one of the MOST Doomiest things that Doctor Doom does, and on the same page we get to see a Close Up Of Doom's Eyes and then Doom Striding Through A Crowd, two more extremely common signifiers, swiftly followed by Power Blasts From Gauntlets. Doom is unhappy because Reed Richards hasn't turned up, and he can't have the final victory he wants if his greatest enemy isn't there. This is a lovely bit of characterisation by Byrne - Doom hates Reed Richards specifically, much more than the rest of the FF, and is prepared to cancel the whole plan if he can't have the full result he's after. Tyros is understandably unhappy about having his own revenge thwarted, and uses a blast of the power cosmic to fuse Doom's armour, leaving him to "remain a monument to your own stupidity". Before he can carry on with killing the three members of the FF, however, yet another guest star arrives in the shape of The Silver Surfer. As the text box in the corner says, we saw the Surfer right at the end of the last issue, noticing a matter transference beam leaving the earth and deciding to investigate - I guess that the editor Bob Budiansky didn't think this was particularly clear, so felt the need to point it out in case it seemed like just a coincidence that the Surfer turned up. The matter transference beam, by the way, later turns out to be Reed Richards being transported off-planet to stand trial for saving the life of Galactus in an earlier issue, but that's got no Doctor Doom in it so, very sadly, won't be discussed here!

What we will discuss, however, is Doctor Doom's escape. We see him trying to work out how to escape while watching Tyros and the Surfer having a Big Fight in the sky, and realising that there's one way he could do it. We then switch to the watching crowds, and see a young man look suddenly surprised, and then speak very rudely to yet another guest star - it's Aunt May! This is a lovely bit of casting by Byrne, and an actually quite subtle bit of acting in the illustration of the surprised young man - at the time I thought Doom was sending a telepathic message or something, but now it's obvious that he's taken control of his body. This is done, we'll eventually find out, using the mind-transference techniques he was taught by The Ovoids way way back in Fantastic Four #10 For now though all we see is Doom's body being destroyed when the Surfer and Tyros crash to earth. I do like the fact that Byrne says "an armoured figure screams" - we later realise it's not Doctor Doom, and this way of putting it remains truthful while not giving the game away.

Tyros is defeated, and all that remains is for Sue to find Doom's mask in the wreckage, and to declare their old enemy as dead. "Good riddance", says The Thing. The comic still has three pages to go - they really packed the story in in those days! - as Sue wanders around the Baxter Building looking for Reed, realising something's up when she sees that he didn't put their lasagne in the oven for tea. Before she can stick it in the microwave, however, she's interrupted by Namor, who wants her to come with him into John Byrne's other series. Doctor Doom will now be absent from the majority of the Marvel Universe again for about two years, but that doesn't mean we won't be seeing him around. Very soon we'll be leaping into his show-stealing appearance in Secret Wars, but before that we've got a whole bunch of flashbacks and recaps, starting next time!

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posted 10/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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After John Byrne's power grab of the last issue, where he did his very best to envelop every Doom appearance of the past few years into his own narrative, this time it's sort of back to normal. I say "sort of" because Mr Fantastic doesn't appear at all, and also because a large portion of the story is the rest of the FF going about their domestic business. Johnny is sitting around in his new apartment, Ben is catching a taxi back from the airport, and Sue spends the first several pages of the comic looking at a new house. It's all so nicely done that you almost forget that this is supposed to be a superhero comic, but things eventually get going when Terrax, now back to calling himself Tyros after being re-imbued with the power cosmic by Doctor Doom last time (I've read so many comics where trhe characters give recaps of previous issues that I seem to be doing it myself now!), attacks Ben and a proper Big Fight breaks out. While Johnny heads over to help Sue is picked up by a floating ship hidden in the clouds - an old trick of Doctor Dooms we last saw back in the much-adapted Fantastic Four #17. However, when Doom appears Sue quickly works out that he's a robot. Doom would happily kill a woman, she reasons, but not hit one, and so she's happy to blast the robot's head off with a force field. This leads Doom himself to show up, using a floating display screen that rather charmingly recalls the cover to his very first appearance. Doom talks about how much Sue has come on as "a true warrior in your own right", echoing John Byrne's expressed determination to make her more than just a feeble female who gets kidnapped all the time. He then opens the side of his floating ship to show her the scene below, where Tyros is beating up both Ben and Johnny. He then finally shows up in person and offers her the choice, to fight him there and then or go to help her friends - "remembering always that to do so is to flee Doom, to acknowledge him your master." I hate to disagree with The Master Of Menace, but I don't think that's an entirely accurate appraisal of the situation, and even the narration acknowledgea that "his logic is flawed , warped by his unequaled ego". Still, Sue obviously has no choice and so leaps into battle - and there the episode ends, bar a final page where we see the Silver Surfer spotting a "matter transference beam" and zooming down to Earth to investigate. And that's the lot for this one - I must say it's a relief to have a story so light on continutiy after the mammoth task of last time, but there's more deep (very deep!) continuity to come in the next one!

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posted 5/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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A few weeks ago we looked at This Land Is Mine! in FF247, a story where John Byrne brought together strands of Doctor Doom continuity from the previous twenty years in order to place his own stamp on the character. It was a masterful use of the possibilities of creating new stories within a massive, long-running storyworld, but in terms of continuity the comic we're looking at today makes it look like an issue of Spidey Super Stories!

This blog took me longer to write (by a LONG way) than any other up to this point, because it's a concerted attempt by John Byrne to gather together as many recent (and not so recent) Doctor Doom stories as he possibly can and hammer them together into a single coherent storyline that he is in control of. It reminded me of the games fans play trying to make it all make sense, or indeed recent series like History Of The Marvel Universe or X-Men: Grand Design, where creators tried to force every single piece of comics history into a single unified, sensible, narrative. For the most part those series worked more as illustrated encyclopedias, bringing events together through narration and montage, but here John Byrne weaves it all together in a single story, often using quotation of images and dialogue to link past events together. It's a bold, quite experimental, move, for a mainstream superhero comic, and while it doesn't quite match "This Land Is Mine" for narrative daring or character redefinition, it's a very satisfying one to play "spot the references" with.

The experimentation starts with the front cover, which sees Doom ripping apart the cover to reveal something else underneath. I wonder how Byrne achieved this? The bits of the splash page we see revealed on the cover do match up exactly with what's beneath, including the inking, and lettering (see below), and whereas nowadays this would be easy to do this using computers, back then I guess the original artwork would have had to been cut through and then laid over the lettered version of the first page. The idea of the cover being torn is not new - a very famous example is the new X-Men bursting through the original version of the team in Giant Size X-Men #1 - but here the action of destruction is coming from outside the comic, rather from within. Doom is not escaping from inside the comic, he's breaking it from the outside so that we can see behind the usual imagery and get a look at something we wouldn't see - much like the story itself. This issue of "The Fantastic Four" does not feature the FF at all. It's an entire comic dedicated solely to Doctor Doom and what he's been up to over the past few months, often in the background of other stories. In some ways this is a comics version of what this blog has been trying to do - seeing if there's a single Doctor Doom storyline that has been told within (and often between) different texts without breaking through into it's own comic ... until now.

Having Doctor Doom as the lead character is not new either of course. He had his own series back in Astonishing Tales and Super-Villain Team-Up, and he's taken over large portions the FF's series too, such as when his origin story was first told in Fantastic Four Annual #2 or the focus on his many machination in Fantastic Four # 87. That means this isn't quite "the strangest issue ever of The Fantastic Four" as promised on the splash page, but it's certainly the most reference-heavy that I've ever read!

The referencing starts with pages two and three, a double page spread showing Doomstadt being repaired, which instantly recalls the ruined city we saw in the similar spread in "This Land Is Mine". Interestingly, the castle in the background has changed from the slender version earlier to a direct copy of the Jack Kirby version first seen in Fantastic Four #87 (and then Spidey Super Stories #19) and more recently in The Official Handbook To The Marvel Universe. It seems that this version is taking over from the Frank Miller castle that has been the standard for some time. Byrne adds another detail which makes it clear (to those who are super-familiar with his run on this series anyway) that this is definitely meant to be the same location as in the earlier comic - in the background we can see the same statue that Doom was standing in front of when he first confronted the FF with the results of Zorba's rule. The workers in the foreground, who echo the positions of the FF in the previous version, are notably happy about their work. This is in marked contrast to other occasions when Latverian workers have had to rebuild their town, such as in Astonishing Tales #4 or the Spider-man cartoon series. The continuity continues on the next page, where Doom is visited by a gipsy girl with news from the outside world. If this exchange seems eerily familiar that's because it's an exact retelling of a scene we saw very recently in Doctor Strange #57. I don't know if this was a mutual decision between John Byrne and Roger Stern (the writer of Doctor Strange) or Byrne just did it without consoltation, but the pair would collaborate like this a couple of years later on Fantastic Four Annual #19 and Avengers Annual #14, when the same story was told from the perspective of each team, with several scenes being duplicated. The continuity keeps on coming as we catch up with Kristoff, the young boy whose mum was killed back in This Land Is Mine! It turns out that Doom has adopted the child as his ward, and we follow the pair as they go on a tour of the castle where Doom (or rather John Byrne) catches up on even more continuity. This time it's Uncanny X-Men 146, which saw Doom teaming up with Arcade. Apparently John Byrne felt that Chris Claremont, scripter on this and so many other issues of X-Men, did not write Doom properly, notably allowing Arcade to strike a match off his armour, so retcons the whole storyline so that it was a robot, not Doom, who was involved. Doom destroys the robot for suggesting he would "need" anyone... and John Byrne basically gets to throw his weight around a bit, demonstrating that Doom is his character, so he has final say on how he acts. This whole issue is an exercise in ownership, with Byrne bringing as many previous Doom stories into his own series, partly to show that we're looking at the one true Doom here, but also to say that he himself is the one true author of the character.

We follow Doom and Kristoff for the rest of the day, including an appearance by one of the Latverian policemen from Fantastic Four Annual #2, before cutting to the next morning, where Doctor Doom's breakfast is disturbed by a message from Hauptmann, the long serving/suffering scientist who we last saw reviving Doom in Fantastic Four Annual #15. This leads to a recap of the storyline which began in Fantastic Four #57 where Doom stole the power of The Silver Surfer - a recap which features more of Byrne's redrawings of Kirby panels from a different viewpoint. It turns out that Doom still has access to the Surfer's power, and has had Hauptmann working on a way to transfer it into another body. Hauptmann invites Doom to use the machine to empower himsefl, but Doom is having none of it and insists the scientist has first go... with predictable results. Byrne thus ties up the long-running saga of the Hauptmann brothers by having this one finally attempt to take revenge on Doom for murdering his sibling way back in Fantastic Four #87. I did say there was a lot of continuity references in this comic didn't I? We get a very brief respite from it now though, as Kristoff returns to say goodnight. He makes the dangerous mistake of telling Doom that he's read somewhere that Magneto's power rivals his own. Doom snaps at this (despite the fact that poor old Kristoff only said that he'd read it) and lifts the boy up by the scruff of his neck to give him a right telling off before sending him to bed. With his parental duties done (badly) Doom returns to the issue of the power cosmic, with a cunning scheme to find a new host powerful enough to be able to handle it. This involves, of course, even more continuity as he sends some Doombots off to New York, where they sneak around a hospital looking for a specific patient. As we should be able to guess by now, this is not just any hospital but instead the very same one where The Thing was a patient recently in Marvel Two-In-One #96. It strikes me that Byrne may have asked for a list of all Doom's recent appearances, and chanced upon this one as a nice way to link the hospital visit in too. In fact, Byrne's managed to rope in pretty much every major Doom appearance (ignoring flashbacks and single panel cameos) from the last three years, with the only ones missing being "Doomquest" in Iron Man and his two issues of Dazzler. Having said that, both of those storylines were already tied into the loose "The Return Of Doctor Doom" storyline. so maybe he thought they were already covered.

The robots find the patient they're looking for and take him back to Latveria, where he's revealed to be Terrax, recovering from his dismissal from Galactus's service in Fantastic Four #243. There's a triple whammy of continuity here, as not only does Byrne refer back to his own story, but also to Terrax's original origin story as Tyros The Tyrant from Fantastic Four #211 AND to the naming of his planet and people in The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe #6. It was here in the handbook, apparently, that his planet was named Lanlak and his people the Birj, although it may be that Byrne himself chose the names and told the Handbook compilers he'd been doing this in advance. Doom has selected Terrax/Tyros to be the bearer of the power cosmic because a) he's used it before and b) he hates the Fantastic Four, so charges him up and sends him off for a big fight in the next issue. One of the Doombots (who clearly hasn't seen what happens to people who question Doom's schemes) suggests that this might be a bit daft, as Tyros now has the power cosmic and could very easily use it to take over the world himself, but Doom reacts much more calmly than previously - possibly because he was waiting for the chance to show off about how clever he's been. Tyros only has five hours to live, whatever happens, so will be no threat to Doom! The cunning rotter!!

And that - at last - is the end of the comic. As I said at the beginning, this blog took me far and away the longest to write out of all of them so far, purely because it's packed so tight with references. It's been a fascinating (for me) examination of all the work that Byrne's put in here to claim Doom as his own, possibly in preparation for the changes that are on the way soon. It is, in fact, his way of saying "This Character Is Mine!"

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posted 3/11/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The World According To ... Faustus!

This issue of Marvel Team-Up claims to be a team-up between Spider-man and The Fantastic Four, but it's not really that at all. It's partly a continuation of the previous issue's team-up with Mr Fantastic, with the rest of the FF appearing as helpless victims of the main villain Dr Faustus, who is the real star of the issue with the main story concerning his creepy relationship with a character called Anna. We're meant to think that Anna is Faustus' wife, but (SPOILERS) when we reach the end of the story it turns out that she was never there at all - she was some mysterious projection of Faustus' mind! OOooOOooOh! This is not quite as surprising as it was probably meant to be, largely because this is an extremely common story point used again and again, notably in "Psycho". The very end of the story even goes so far as to say that Anna was actually the main character's mother all along! As shown above, Doctor Doom doesn't really appear at all, despite being shown on the cover. He's actually a robot used as part of Faustus' incredibly complicated scheme to drive Mr Fantastic mad through screwing about with his mind. The scheme fails because Mr Fantastic was able to tell the difference between his actual wife and the robot that Faustus used on him - I'm only surprised that this gigantic flaw doesn't bring down more Evil Schemes. For instance, Arcade is forever fooling people into mistaking robots for loved ones they interact with every day, which doesn't seem hugely likely however amazing the robot is. Actually, this story does very much remind me of Arcade stories, as all sorts of impossible and weird things happen which get explained half-heartedly at the end as down to mirrors, robots, or, in this case, suction cups. It's all a bit crappy to be honest, but better things lie ahead for us as next week we embark upon a three-part story back over in the pages of Fantastic Four that is full of Doctor Doom, kicking off with an entire issue all about him - next time!

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posted 29/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The Witch's Tale!

When I first started buying US Marvel comics, back in the 1980s, it was pretty much impossible to buy consecutive issues of any series. Around the middle of the decade I discovered the stall on Peterborough market (that would later become "The House On The Borderland" shop ) which sold all the American comics, but before then it was a case of wandering round different newsagents seeing which random issues they'd been given that month.

Desperation often lead to me spending my pocket money on whatever comics were available, and sometimes this would involve issues of Roger Stern's run on The Avengers which, like this one, were so heavily entwined with continuity they were almost impossible to follow. The first few pages of this story tell interweaving stories of the daily life of the team's various members, some of which are only told within this series (such as She-Hulk's relationship with the never not creepy Starfox) and others which go back and forth between the solo series of characters like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. It's a breezy, very soap opera-like way of storytelling but it was extremely confusing if you lived in Peterborough and weren't able to tune into most of the other episodes!

Doctor Doom appears in the second half of the comic, which is almost entirely taken up with a re-telling of the Scarlet Witch's life story. Doom's job, as it so often seems to be, is to represent All Supervillains in a single panel which covers most of The Scarlet Witch's early adventures with the team - despite the fact that many other villains appeared much more often. The overall story rolls along and then comes to a sudden halt with a non-cliffhanger ending where Doctor Strange shows up in Astral Projection form and... that's it! It's very much in keeping with the style of the entire issue, which clearly sees itself very much as a single piece in a much bigger jigsaw, rather than a stand-alone story. As we'll see soon, Roger Stern would collaborate with John Byrne later on aspects of this that had much more interesting results, but here it all feels a bit unsatisfactory, as you need to buy several other comics to get any idea what's going on in this one!

Next time we've got one more single panel appearance to go before we get a whole issue full of Doom. See you then for "The World According to... Faustus!"

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posted 27/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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I remember feeling distinctly unfavourable to this series when it first came out, as it was promoted as being by John Byrne and had his art on the cover, but inside it turns out that he only writes it. I didn't buy John Byrne comics for the writing, I thought, what was the point without his amazing artwork?

Reading this comic several decades later I think my younger self might have been a bit harsh - Ron Frenz inked by Joe Sinnot is perfectly acceptable, if a little stiff, and the writing's pretty much the same as in the main FF series - but this is definitely a bit of an underwhelming story to have for the first issue of a new superhero series. It sees Ben Grimm returning to his old stomping ground on Yancy Street where, in order to stop a young boy going into a life of crime, he gives him a recap of his own history, including the tragic demise of his big brother and childhood hero Dan Grimm in a knife fight. The story then moves on to a re-telling of the Fantastic Four's origin, as seems to be compulsory in first issues, including an incredibly brief glimpse of a young Victor von Doom during Ben and Reed's college days. That's your lot for Doctor Doom, and the issue continues with Ben making his pitch to the youngster. However, in a marked change to the usual run of these things, after all that Ben's story does not turn the kid around in any way whatsoever! It all ends with The Thing shrugging his shoulders and going down the pub for a few beers with an old pal. While I really like this as a twist on the usual morality tales, it does make for a very downbeat, not exactly thrilling debut for what is, after all, meant to be a superhero series!

There's not much of Doom next time either I'm afraid, but we do get to see a prime example of a Marvel series existing almost entirely as a storytelling bridge, rather than a standalone issue. See you then!

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posted 22/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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This issue sees the start of a short run of very minor appearances by Doctor Doom, often only popping in for a single panel flashback. Stick with it though, because when we're through these there's some very big Doom stories ahead!

This particular comic was the last issue of the long-running "Marvel Two-In-One" series, although it sort of returned a month later with the first issue of a solo series for The Thing, written by John Byrne as part of his "ownership" of the Fantastic Four franchise. He's also the writer for this final issue, but rather than using it to look back on the series as a whole (which was pretty much covered by all the returning villains in Visiting Hours a few months earlier) Byrne instead returns to his previous anniversary story for Marvel Two-In-One #50. That story saw Ben Grimm travelling back in time to give an earlier version of himself a cure for being The Thing (which would not have worked on his present self) then returning to his own time to discover that he had not changed history, and had instead created an alternate universe.

There's further fiddling about with The Rules Of Time Travel And Alternate Universes, as Ben travels to this alternate reality again, this time to the present day where he discovers an Earth that was devastated by Galactus. This has all happened because there was no Thing around as part of The Fantastic Four. After Ben Grimm was cured Spider-man was recruited into the team instead, and was clearly not as much use when it came to the big fight with Galactus, leaving it to the other heroes to try (and fail) to fight him off. This section plays out like a "What If?" story, and as so often happens Doctor Doom is roped in to illustrate The Fantastic Four's many battles with him, this time with Spidey included. That's Doom's only appearance, and the story continues with The Thing discovering some other differences, notably that The Red Skull is now in charge of the planet. The Thing wasn't around in the very early days of the Fantastic Four, so never had an argument with The Human Torch that sent him to the dockside flophouses where he discovered the Submariner, who thus did not find Captain America in a block of ice, and so he in turn wasn't around to stop The Red Skull. It's all a bit of a head scratcher which leads to some alarming images of a broken Twin Towers with a colossal Nazi flag sticking out of one of the buildings. Or maybe it's a normal flag inside a model village? Working together, the two versions of Ben Grimm work together to defeat The Red Skull and free what's left of the planet from his rule. As our version of The Thing heads back to the Time Machine (which, John Byrne suggests, may not be a time machine at all, but instead a device to cross over into alternate dimensions) his counterpart reassures him that the end of the world wasn't his fault at all. This version of Galactus travelled solo, without a herald, so there was no Silver Surfer around to help defeat him. Phew, that's a relief! The story ends with The Thing back home in the Baxter Building, musing on the fact that, what with one thing and another, he's probably better off not being cured but still having Alicia, his friends, and his life as a superhero, rather than being a normal human being living in a blighted wasteleand. I'd have added "access to medicine, shops and telly" to that list of pros, but I think he might have a point!
Next time another brief glimpse of Doom as we stick with John Byrne for the first issue of The Thing's new solo series!

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posted 20/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Doctor Doom and Doctor Doom's Castle

"The Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe" was an alphabetical list of all the major heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe, with lengthy descriptions of their history and abilities accompanied by loads of new artwork. It reads very much like a role-playing game manual, with specifics about everything from the battery life of Doom's rocket pack (3.6 years) to his height and weight. According to this, he is 6'2" and weights 225 pounds, which gives him a BMI of 28.8, putting him at the high end of overweight bordering on obese. I wouldn't want to be the GP who has to suggest he cuts down on the Latverian chocolates!

Initially I wasn't sure whether this issue should really be included in my corpus. It's meant to only include narrative texts, so things like the Doctor Doom costumes from Ben Cooper or the Slurpee Mugs don't feature in the final analysis. However, reading through Doom's entry here it's clear that there's definitely some narrative storytelling going rather than simply being a summing of things that were already known. For instance, alongside all the "data" about how his armour works (nuclear reactors and "micro-computers" apparently) we get all sorts of new history, like the former name of Doomstadt (Haasendstadt), the name of Castle Doom's original owner (Count Sabbat), and even some more detail about what went wrong in the accident that scarred his face. It was all to do with "an error in the execution of a fourth-order tensor calculation", which Reed Richards spotted but Doom "dismissed". I've just looked up what that means and am still none the wiser! Ordinarily, when reading this sort of thing, I'd just assume that this was information that had previously been reported in the comics stories which I hadn't read or had forgotten. However, one of the great delights of this whole project is that I know for a fact that I have definitely read every single appearance of Doctor Doom, multiple times, and have written extensive notes in the form of this very blog, so I can say with some confidence that huge swathes of this information has just been made up for this isue!

Now, obviously, one could legitimately say that all of the information about Doctor Doom in every text has just been made up, but the storyworld of the Marvel Universe is one which has come to value consistency and even uses citation as a major part of its world-building. Whenever somebody refers to a past event there's almost always a footnote at the bottom of the panel which tells you which back-issue the event can be found in, and the whole tone of this "handbook" is of a definitive record of precisely what has occurred and how things work. I've already says that it resembles an RPG rulebook, but it also functions as a Grand Argument Decider - if two fans disagree about, for instance, how powerful Doom's gauntlet-based rock-projector weapons are, this mighty tome will settle it once and for all. They "have a maximum concussive force of 350 pounds per square inch, sufficient to blast through a 2-foot wall of stone or brick or a half-inch plate of stainless steel in 1.5 seconds." Good to know! Doom gets two pages in this issue, denoting his status as a major player in the Marvel Universe, with the second page dedicated to a history of his "huge 110 room castle built in the 16th Century" (and as we know, rebuilt on a number of occasions since). This includes an aerial view of the castle which takes a slightly revised version of Jack Kirby's version from Fantastic Four #84 and creates an answer to the traditional Baxter Building cutaway, showing exactly what goes on where. This has clearly been done with some care, trying to match the diagram's layout to Kirby's original, and the fact that the image on the previous page was drawn by Byrne leads me to assume this is another of his very careful attempts to re-map historical continuity. It's a lovely job, I wonder if anybody ever actually used it?

In fact, I wonder if this was ever used as an actual "official handbook" within Marvel itself, with writers asked to refer to it for future continuity references? It doesn't seem particularly likely, but I guess we'll find out as we carry on through the sample. We'll be back in Latveria with John Byrne in a couple of weeks, which should be a good place to assess this, but before then we have yet more cameos and flashbacks to get through, starting next time with the landmark 100th (and final) issue of "Marvel Two-In-One"!

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posted 13/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Visiting Hours!

This story is advertised on the splash page as "a truly offbeat adventure of The Thing", and it sort of is... though as we'll see it also harks back to an early classic from the Marvel Universe.

It's called "offbeat" because The Thing himself spends the entire issue sitting in bed in hospital, recovering from various thumpings he's had in recent issues of The Fantastic Four and his own title. He'd rather be at home, but according to Mr Fantastic he's better off here, in a totally normal hospital, rather than in the super-duper futuristic science centre at The Baxter Building. Can that really be right? I'm pretty sure I've seen some medical gizmoes at the FF's base, so maybe Reed Richards has run out of plasters or something? Quite apart from that not making sense, the other big issue is that this really is just a hospital, without the defences available at The Baxter Building. It's a bit of a daft set-up, but it does lead into a very enjoyable story which sees pretty much the entire Marvel Universe of the time being called up to protect the Thing from all the super-villains who've found out that he's vulnerable. It reminded me of "The Wedding Of Reed Richards And Sue Storm" in Fantastic Four Annual #3. To my enormous delight, the half-page appearance by Doctor Doom seems to confirm that this was intentional, when we see him reading about the news of The Things's hospitalisation in the pages of The Daily Bugle. This is a direct echo of the way that Doom learnt about Reed and Sue's wedding all those years ago - so long ago, in fact, that it was before he took out his Daily Bugle subscription! Then, as now, he takes out his frustration on the newspaper itself, although in the intervening years we can see that Doom's character has changed. Back in the 1960s he was happy to attack his foes when they were vulnerable, whereas now he feels that this would be beneath him. It's a lovely, rather subtle, use of quotation which would be likely to pass most people by - it's only today, reading the comic for the third or fourth time, that I noticed it myself! It also demonstrates how Doom's portrayal has changed since then, or perhaps solidified. During the Lee and Kirby run on Fantastic Four he started out as a villain, became a sort of tragic hero, and then regressed back into being a villain again as an Eastern European dictator towards the end, while simultaneously being portrayed much more sympathetically by other creators in other titles. Now, led by John Byrne's version in The Fantastic Four, he is solidly depicted as a man of honour who will not kick his enemy while he's down.

Doom might not want to do that, but plenty of others will have a go, and the story reaches a climax with a mass brawl between superheroes and villains. It's a nice illustration of who the main characters of the Marvel Universe were considered to be in 1983, compared to the ones we saw twenty-ish years earlier. The comic itself ends with a much quieter scene, as The Sandman sneaks in to thank The Thing for helping him get straight in an earlier issue. He's brought a couple of presents with him, and the issue closes with the pair of them enjoying a good old healthy dose of beer and cigars! It's a sweet ending, if very very much of its time, for a jolly story that not only wears its continuity lightly, but also uses it to have a look at how much the Marvel Universe has changed. More of this sort of thing please!

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posted 6/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Gather My Disciples Before Me

I've never read many Doctor Strange stories, and so have always assumed that they were fairly standard superhero stories with a bit of magical stuff layered over the top - something like Daredevil, but with hocus pocus instead of dirty alleyways. Thus I was a bit surprised when I read this comic and found that it wasn't particularly superhero-y at all, it's much more like a early Sunday evening TV detective show, where the hero spends most of his time just trying to get on with the business of running his consultancy - with the help of his manservant and social secretary - as well as his love life.

It's quite a pleasant read, something which is helped very much by the art of Kevin Nowland inked by Terry Austin. It does look very much of its time, but if you like the art of that time (as I do), it's a lovely looking comic. The main story is about Doctor Strange being hassled by various wannabes who've heard that his disciple, Clea, has left, and so have decided that he must want to take somebody new on. This leads to mildly comical scenes as hordes of people gather outside the Sanctum Sanctorum demanding to see Brian... sorry, the Sorceror Supreme. Doctor Doom's appearance takes place on a page all to himself, set in Latveria, where a small child comes to tell him that Doctor Strange is without a disciple. A few years previously we might have expected Doom to send the child packing, furious that she has dared to suggest he'd been interested in a "lesser" mystic, but here, very much in line with the character we saw in This Land Is Mine, he thanks her for letting him know. He then wanders off to the battlements for a bit of a think, as he is so often wont to do, and reflects upon the recent events. "Latveria is still in the throes of reconstruction... still recovering from the rule of the usurper Zorba!" he thinks, before deciding to stay at home rather than seek out the knowledge of Doctor Strange... at least for now. It's a delightful little cameo that doesn't move this specific story anywhere at all, but does lay the groundwork for Roger Stern and Mike Mignola's "Triumph And Torment" graphic novel, where the two do meet. I wonder if Stern had that in mind here, six years earlier? It must have some significance because, as we'll see in a few weeks, this exact same scene will crop up again somewhere else...

The main story then continues, with Strange arranging a "testing" in front of an audience of the wannabes, during which he discovers that "The Sorceress Supreme" is behind it all. They have a Big Fight, and he realises that she herself is being controlled by an Evil Wand, which he grabs and smashes, freeing her and her daughter from its possession. I am pretty sure there is something Freudian to say here about Wands controlling Magical Women - though not by me!

All that remains is for Doctor Strange to do some Mind Control on the other candidates so that they forget it ever happened, which he seems to do without any thought for the ethics of such actions, and that's the end of the story. It's a very gentle read and, to be honest, one which you wouldn't really miss if your memory got mystically wiped, but it's worth it just to get that little bit of Doom!

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posted 1/10/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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A Deal With Darkoth

After all the excitement of the last two instalments, which were packed FULL of Doctor Doom, we now get back into a run of comics where he just pops up in flashbacks or other very brief cameos. This seems to happen an awful lot for Doctor Doom, and it makes me wonder whether this is just the case for him, or whether it happens for other characters do it too? I'd imagine that a character with their own regular series, like Hulk or Spider-man, would be the main lead in most cases - at least compared to how many times they appear in flashbacks or cameos, but it would be interesting to find out.

That, however, is a job for the far future, or hopefully even for someone else! For today we're looking at with this rather odd story in which Mephisto devises one of his usual extremely convulted plans, this time with the intent of harassing Thor. It all starts with Mephisto sitting in Hell, watching Thor's alter-ego Don Blake recruiting a patient to be his new secretary. Now, maybe it's just me being even more mephistophelean than Mephisto, but surely knowing Thor's secret identity would provide much more useful ways to destroy his life than whatever crazy plan gets cooked up in the rest of the story? The bright red lord of hades doesn't seem to think so, and instead enacts a crazy plan which involves resurrecting Darkoth The Death Demon and sending him in for a punch-up. Darkoth doesn't want to do this because, apart from anything else, he's a good guy with nothing against Thor. He's also upset because Mephisto has somehow managed to steal him from heaven in what must surely be an appalling administrative cock-up by the forces of good. It's here that Doom appears, in a recap of Darkoth's origin story. The rest of the story is sadly Doom-free. Darkoth is sent to fight Thor in exchange for the safety of his son, but can't bring himself to do it. Mephisto uses Special Hell Magic to force him to be evil but Darkoth fights back and eventually begs Thor to kill him again so he can properly die this time and go to heaven. Thor agrees, reluctantly, and the whole tale is wrapped up by Thor reverting to Don Blake and offering Darkoth's child to his new secretary to adopt. I'm pretty sure that that's not how adoption works, is it? Two quick other things about this story: firstly, somebody (possibly George Roussos, the colorist) seems to have realised that they can use colour without outlines, as the whole comic is full of images where a pink wash is used to denote memories or incursions from other realms. Secondly, Doug Moench and/or Allan Kupperberg have a surprisingly literal view of how you get from Hell back up to Earth! And that's the lot for this one I'm afraid. Come back next time when Doom will get a whole page to himself in a cameo in "Dr Strange" that will have long-lasting reverberations!

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posted 29/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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This Land Is Mine!

This is one of my all-time favourite comics stories EVER. I remember being amazed by it when it came out, re-reading it over and over, then being delighted to find it stood up many years later, in my original copy and then when I bought the trade paperback series of Byrne's run on Famtastic Four. In recent years I've been excited all over again to find that it's full of wrinkles and subtleties that I'd not noiced before, and have talked about it at conferences and included it in a paper about Marvel during the Cold War. It is, to put it in non-academic terms, a bloody brilliant comic!

The story itself starts with a huge splash page of Doom yelling the title. Here on the first pages the reader may take this to be Doom doing his usual cry of megalomania, but then when we turn over to the doube-page spread overleaf we find that he's actually explaining what's gone wrong in the ruined Latveria that we saw at the end of the previous issue. He tells the Fantastic Four that the runined nation around them is all because of their interference back in Fantastic Four #200, when they helped Prince Zorba take over the country. Under Doom, Latveria was stable and prosperous, but under Zorba it has fallen apart. The men of the FF refuse to believe this, with only Sue prepared to consider that he might be right. To twelve-year-old me, this was utterly mind-blowing - could Doom ruling a county actually be a Good Thing? To slightly-more-than-twelve-year-old me, this is a fascinating way of analysing then-current American foreign policy, which stated that sometimes it was better to have dictators in charge of a country than run the risk of it collapsing and becoming a rogue state. Actually, it could be argued that that's still the foreign policy for many Western Governments. Here John Byrne seems to be testing this to the limits - if the US government was prepared to keep Gadaffi in charge of a state in order to maintain stability, shouldn't that logic also mean that Doctor Doom should retain control of Latveria?

Doom's declaration of himself as a responsible ruler is tested right away when a small boy called Kristoff runs out and collides with him. Doom reacts angrily and the child's mother rushes out to beg for his life, just as you might expect from a civilian meeting a super-villain. However, the whole situation twists when she realises that it's not Zorba's secret police, as she'd thought, but "The Master". "Holy cow! She... she's glad to see him!" says the Human Torch, as the FF stand amazed at this turn of events. Kristoff's mum confirms Doom's story, that he was a beloved and competent ruler, and Byrne rather brilliantly illustrates it with a direct quote from Doom's origin story. I only noticed that Byrne's image is a near-copy of Kirby's (drawn from a different angle) because I happened to read the two comics close together while preparing my PhD corpus, and the fact that it took me several decades to realise leads me to think Byrne might be doing this partly for his own amusement. It's clearly an intentional nod to the original, as so many of the characters are in the same positions, and it's definitely part of a trend in this issue for Byrne to quote previous stories in order to affirm that this is all part of the Doom that we know, but this particular homage feels more like an Easter Egg.

Kristoff's mum's story illustrates tells us that without the iron fist of Doom over them, the people of Latveria very quickly turned to lawlessness. Byrne - or the American imperialist/exceptionalist foreign policy he's examining here - seem to be saying that democracy is all well and good for US citizens, but that other nations are not grown-up enough to cope with it, agnd need to be ruled firmly to stop them getting into trouble.

Doom's version of events is finally proven beyond doubt when some re-purposed Doombots appear and kill Kristoff's mum in cold blood. Doom reacts angrily and launches into battle to avenge her death, and the FF find themselves backing him up and, without really noticing, taking orders from him. Once the robots are defeated Latverians come out of hiding and gratefully welcome Doom back, before leading him and the FF into a nearby pub, which The Thing recognises as a former base for the Latverian resistance. Again, this shows that everything we thought we knew has been flipped over, with Doom now cast as the plucky resistance fighter, while Zorba is the evil dictator.

This is illustrated further by a trip into Zorba's headquarters, where we find him angrily decrying the stupidity of the Latverian people to his SS-like deputy, while a torture victim is dragged away. Zorba decides he's had enough of their ingratitude and unleashes weapons of mass destruction on his own people. Despite all the politics, howver, this is still a superhero comic, so that WMDs turn out to be Killer Robots. This is yet another continuity nod by Byrne, as these are the very same Killer Robots that we saw Doom himself unleashing on an unsuspecting populace back in Fantastic Four #85. Zorba's transformation into Doctor Doom is continuing. Battle commences, with Doom once again directing tactics, much to the consternation of Sue. She's right to be concerned, as while they're dealing with the robots Doom makes his way to the castle. Here he rescuea his old friend Boris from the dungeons, then moves on to confronting Zorba, who reacts with an extremely telling remark. "This land is mine". OOF! I'd read this comic about twenty times over the years, but it was only recently that I realised exactly what was happening here. Zorba repeats Doom's statement at the very start of the story, signalling his complete transformation into the villain. Doom wastes very little time in dealing with his enemy, dangling him over a battlement where Zorba makes perhaps one of the most stupid statements ever. We don't see what happens next, but we find out on the next, and final, page. What is so great, to me, about this, is that there's no attempt to redeem Doom. He is, as he has always been, a murderous dictator who will let nothing stand in his way. Doom himself remains exactly as he has always been, only our view of him has changed over the course of this one issue. The story ends, as they usually do when Doom forms an alliance with anybody, with him declaring that he will let the FF leave, but that he will do his very best to destroy them when they next meet. As I said at the start, when I first read this story I found it mind-blowing and exciting, and I still do for slightly different, or actually maybe just additional, reasons. John Byrne stays true to the character of Doctor Doom and brings in so much continuity that we can be in no doubt that he's the same individual we've always known, and then uses this to make us question our views on government and a people's right to liberty. The answers Byrne propose are not particularly palatable, perhaps, but the way he does it is supremely skilful.

It's a great use of character coherence in a long-standing storyworld to cast new light on its inhabitants, and our world too, and that's part of the reason I love it so much. The fact that Byrne's art look so great doesn't hurt either!

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posted 22/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Too Many Dooms

Last time we looked at an issue of Fantastic Four we were faced with an impenatrable mystery - we knew that Doctor Doom was trapped in a puppet body in Liddleville, but then we also saw Doctor Doom picking that body up, and then later giving orders to the Latverian ambassador. How could noted Robot-Builder and Duplicate-fiend Doctor Doom possibly be in more than one place at once?!?

Well obviously it's robots, but one of the many wonderful things about this extremely excellent comic is the way that John Byrne leads up to the "revelation", allowing the characters to work it out for themselves all at the same time, before going on to explore how this might all work. It's a great example of how his approach to the series worked, taking the best bits of the Lee/Kirby run, revamping where necessary, adding new aspects, but never forgetting to pay tribute to the originals. This is demonstrated with the cover too, which is a homage here to the cover of Fantastic Four #17. In Lee and Kirby's version Doom basically pitted the Fantastic Four against the unassailable might of... er... a building site, whereas Byrne takes the idea of splitting the team up and then makes it much more exciting. It's very similar to the way that Alan Moore used to take characters apart and then build them back up again, although I doubt either creator would appreciate the comparison.

The story itself kicks off with Reed Richards having another attempt at curing Ben Grimm of being The Thing... or at least pretending to. He suspects that his friend believes that Alicia only loves him when he's The Thing, and so is subconsciously preventing any "cure" from working - a lovely idea that not only makes the characterisation more interesting, but also generates lots of further story ideas.

Reed's musings are interrupted by Sue, who, in a jarring return to her previous duties as secretary to the team, has the Latverian amassador on line three. The ambassador is calling to finalise arrangements for the delivery of Doom's comatose body while, unbeknownst to the FF, Doom himself is sitting in the same room. We then go over to Doom's New York castle, where we catch a glimpse of The Micronauts leaving after the end of their recent adventure in Liddleville. Byrne doesn't actually show The Micronauts themselves here, only the underside of their ship, thereby avoiding the copyright issues which means that The Micronaut's own series (and any guest appearances by them in other series) cannot be reprinted these days. I wonder if he did it this way on purpose? Inside a smaller version of this castle, within Liddleville itself, we see the Puppet Master taunting Doom, having trapped him there back in Micronauts #41. However, just as he's enjoying himself, who should suddenly appear looming above them but... Doctor Doom?!! What the?!? How can Doom be in Liddleville, above Liddleville, and in the Embassy all at the same time? There's no time to ponder this though as we're taken immediately back to the Embassy where the ambassador very foolishly raises the possibility that Doom's latest cunning plan will fail. His boss does not take this idea in the constructive spirit in which it was intended, and once again demonstrates why the Latveria Embassy has won no awards for good Human Resources practice. The FF arrive in the building and are immediately dropped into a series of pits, where they each have their powers neutralised before individually meeting Doom himself. Each member of the team gets their own mini-fight with Doom, during which they have to work out what's going on in their own way, eventually coming to the same conclusion at the same time as one another. It's beautifully done - the reader will probably have worked this all out already, but seeing the FF seperately get there for themselves, in their own individual way, is a lovely bit of character work. With this "secret" now out in the open we get to see the various Doombots all gathering together, at which point they stop pretending to be Doom and work as a Robot Army. It's a great idea which I don't think has been seen before - we always knew Doom had lots of robot duplicates, but we've never seen how they might interact when they're all together. They return Doom's mind to his body and after a very brief sit-down he's back in charge, bossing the Fantastic Four around, completely unphased by their attempts to tell him off. Doom reveals that he wants the FF to help him re-take the throne of Latveria, which they not unreasonably reject out of hand as an utterly crazy idea. "I did not expect immediate agreement", he says, and the issue ends with a dramatic splash page, showing that contrary to all expectations way back in Fantastic Four #200, deposing Doom from the throne has led to Latveria becoming a ruined wasteland. As I've said many times, I bought these comics when they first came out, and the idea that Doctor Doom's rule could have been beneficial to the people of Latveria was mind-blowing. I was so used to baddies being unremitting baddies, especially in American comics, that to see it even being suggested that Doom could be good for his people was incredible. It's one heck of a cliffhanger, and it leads into what I think is one of the greatest Doom stories ever. It's "This Land Is Mine", and we'll be looking at it next time!

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posted 17/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Spider-man Unmasked!

It feels like a long time since we last looked at an episode of "Spider-man And His Amazing Friends", the slightly dopey, sitcom-esque sibling to the plainly-titled (but much more exciting) "Spider-man" cartoon of the early 1980s. Doctor Doom played a major part in the latter, so it's a shame that that series only lasted for a single season, while "Spider-man and his Amazing Friends" went for three whole years.

As I said last time we looked at this show, I remember it as being a bit daft and rubbish, and this episode very much reaffirms that opinion. Spider-man, Firestar and Iceman seem to spend most of the episode in their civilian identities, in this case going to the beach (where they scare off a shark), popping to the pictures and then going to the zoo. In the midst of this is a storyline in which The Sandman learns Peter Parker's secret identity, so Firestar enlists the help of Flash Thompson to do the old "Peter stands next to someone in a Spider-man costume" trick to throw the villain of the scent. "Parker? And Spider-man? Together?" says The Sandman, and that's that sorted.

Doctor Doom appears only very briefly, when Flash and Firestar visit the aptly named "Stan's costumes" to pick up Flash's Spidey suit. It's interesting that they've got a The Thing costume in the window - I would have guessed that rights issues would have meant that the Fantastic Four couldn't appear in this series, but then again the presence of Doom here indicates that they might? Either way, there's a Doctor Doom costume on display alongside a very much Of The Time range of superheroes, including Elektra and Dazzler. The Doom costume isn't mentioned and isn't really relevant to the story, although it is identical to the one seen in the title sequence, where Doom appears as the grand finale to the titles for each episode, despite only appearing in the actual show twice. This highlighting of Doom, along with his presence in this episode alongside other leading characters (or, in the case of Dazzler, characters Marvel wanted to promote) demonstrates yet again that he's viewed as one of the major assets in the Marvel universe. I just wish that meant he'd been more a part of the actual show, especially as this is the last cartoon we'll be looking at in this corpus.

Next time, however, we're back to looking at Doom in the main Marvel Universe, in an actual comics - and a great comic too!

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posted 15/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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What If Doctor Doom Had A Sense Of Humour?

Long-term readers of this blog will know that there's one type of Marvel Comic I enjoy more than any other, and that is of course the Marvel Humour Comic. Oh! The wonderful hours I have spent chortling away at the hysterical possibilities of Marvel characters being played for laughs, and Oh! the number of times I have had to go to A&E to have my very SIDES sewn up again as a result.

Aha! I was joking! For LO! when Marvel attempts to do humour, from Not Brand Echh to The Fantastic Four Roast it is about as funny as a slap in the face with a wet sock. So, you can understand my trepidation when I started reading this issue and found that all the usual suspects were present, including the Watcher being a twit, Fred Hembeck's heavily involved, there are single-panel puns and,of course, the never-ending hilarious possibilities of Aunt May being a superhero. One thing that never seems to change, throughout this period of Marvel, is the fact that they think there's something inherently funny about Aunt May. There really isn't!

However, my general grumpiness at the prospect of reading this was thrown off balance when I came across a page I remembered very well indeed, from when it was reprinted in Marvel UK's "The Daredevils" series. At the time it was home to Alan Moore and Alan Davis's "Captain Britain" series, and I distinctly remember it featuring the short gag strip called "What If Daredevil were deaf instead of blind?" At the time I thought it had been written by Alan Moore, which was an easy mistake to make as most of the rest of the comic was! I have to admit, that joke did make me smile all these years later, and it almost makes up for "jokes" such as "What If Luke Cage had found the hammer of Thor?" (he would say "by the gleamin' gates of funky Asgard"...) and "What If Iron Man had an eating problem instead of a drinking problem ". Doctor Doom appears twice in this comic. The first is on the cover, where he's pictured wearing a mask and stethoscope because - HO HO! - he is a Doctor!!! The second is right at the end, when we have a one-panel gag "What if Dr. Doom had a sense of humor?" It's a load of old rubbish, but it's (almost) interesting to note that, fifteen years after his appearances in Brand Ecch, there's still an assumption that Doctor Doom's po-faced villainy is so well-accepted that placing him in any other situation is a surefire route to comedy gold.

Thankfully, for me at least, this is the last time we'll have to look at Marvel's full-on attempts at a humour comic, although there are still plenty of jokes to come!

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posted 10/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig!

Doom only appears in a single panel of this story, as part of a recap of the Micronauts' recent adventures. There's not really much else to say, except that the rest of the comic is another cracking issue of a surprisingly enjoyable series, gloriously illustrated by Gil Kane with full-on superhero storytelling by Bill Mantlo. Could this series be one of those "lost classics" you hear about?

Anyway, join us next time for a comic which is definitely not a lost classic, as "What If?" does perhaps my least favourite kind of Marvel story - yes, it's "humour" time once again!

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posted 8/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Prolog One

With the survey results FULLY examined it's time to get week back to the actual texts today, with a rather wonderful John Byrne issue of the FF which sees him very gently preparing for one of the greatest (in my opinion!) Doctor Doom stories... ever!

Most of the story here follows on from the previous issue, in which the FF finally managed to defeat Galactus, with Reed Richard now deciding that they have a duty to save him. This will lead to huge ramifications for the team later on, but for now the big change caused by it comes when Frankie Raye, the new female version of the Human Torch, volunteers to be Galactus's herald in exchange for him vowing not to eat the Earth. The Doctor Doom subplot appears right at the end of the issue, as part of "Prolog One", which seems an odd thing (and an odd spelling) to have at the end of a story. It starts off with Reed Richards finally buying the Baxter Building from their landlord, and then remembering that they've got Doctor Doom stored in one of their labs. This seems an odd thing to forget about, but anyway, he rings the Latverian embassy and speaks to Ambassador Leopold. "What's that?" the diplomat says. "You say you are holding our former monarch, and want to know what we wish you to do?" He seems very calm about such an unusual telephonic opening gambit, but I suppose that when you're the ambassador for Latveria you get used to that sort of thing.

Reed explains that Doom is "locked into a suspended animation field. No, it was an accident - his own", and Leopold agrees to take delivery of Doom's body on Thursday. It's all massively pedestiran until we get to the final panel on the page when it's revealed that Doom himself has been there all along! What the?!? How is this even possible? I for one can definitely not think of any way that Doctor Doom could be in two places at once, so I guess we'll just have to wait until the next time we're back in "The Fantastic Four" to find out what possible explanation there can be!

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posted 3/9/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Survey Results - Overall Analysis

At last it's here, the Grand Finale of the Survey Analysis!

I think it's fair to say, overall, that the survey worked really well, giving me lots of valuable information about what people thought made Doctor Doom the character he is, and providing lots of new ideas about how I move on to the next stage of my own analysis. However, there were to big issues that I think would need to be addressed if the process were repeated with other characters.

Firstly, my recruitment of respondents was obviously biased in favour of comics. This was especially clear from the way that Squirrel Girl and Ryan North were represented, due to Ryan North's (very helpful) retweeting of the recruitment request. For Doctor Doom, who appeared mostly in comics during this period, this should not pose too many difficulties, but for characters who appear more often in other media I would recommend taking the time to reach out to other fandoms. I would also suggest that, although it was great to have so many respondents, it is not actually necessary, and a smaller group taken from wider sources would give results that were at least as good, and possibly better. When entering the data, I found that 50 respondents was enough to get the vast majority of information I needed.

The second issue was with the design of the survey itself. As noted throughout these blogs, leaving the questions about which media respondents had experienced Doom in to the end of the survey meant that many tried to answer them elsewhere. I think that moving this section to the start of the survey would reassure respondents that these questions would be asked, and also give a clearer idea of which areas were being examined. There were also several questions where respondents were not always clear about what was required of them, and these should be rephrased. I'll be creating a revised version of the survey for my final thesis to address these issues, so if anyone's interested in using it do let me know!

Having said all that, the survey did elicit a wide range of responses which painted a rich, and surprisingly coherent, picture of who Doctor Doom is. The answers can be broadly characterised as follows:

  • He is an arrogant, megalomaniacal, egotistical genius who is obsessed with Reed Richards, the welfare of his country, and the fate of his dead mother. This is shown by his use of dramatic actions, often involving his hands, and penchant for striking dramatic poses, as well as the way he refers to himself in the third person, making self- aggrandising claims and using phrases such as "Fools!" "Bah!" and "Curse you!"

  • He is generally referred to in three ways - as Doctor Doom (or simply "Doom", usually by himself), variations of his full name Victor von Doom, or with honorifics referring to his status as the ruler of Latveria. He wears a mask and suit of armour with a green tunic over the top, a hooded cloak, attached with golden clasps, and a leather belt with a gun holster. His eyes are visible beneath the mask, and his face is scarred after an accident. This incident occurred while at University with Reed Richards, and is the most important even in his life, followed by the damnation of his mother.

  • Doom is most often associated with the Fantastic Four, especially Reed Richards, and the Doombots of his own creation. Other close associates include Namor the Sub-Mariner, his son Kristoff, and his manservant Boris, but he interacts with a wide variety of characters across the Marvel Universe.

  • He can mostly be found in Latveria, especially in his castle, or in New York locations such as the Baxter Building, his castle in the Adirondacks, or the Latverian Embassy.

  • He was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with other notable creators being John Byrne, Jonathan Hickman, Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo, and Walt Simonson.

  • He is a Marvel comics character.

    This description would, I think, be agreed as true by anybody familiar with the character. However, not all aspects of it are true all the time - there are, for instance, versions of Doom in other media which do not include Reed Richards at all. Similarly, there are many aspects of his character that are apparent from a close reading of the corpus, such as his use of viewing screens and many visits to the United Nations, that are hardly mentioned. I'll be examining this further in my thesis!

    Talking of which, the next step for me will be to take the character components identified in this survey to form the basis of an empirical tool which can be used to analyse the texts themselves, and see whether Doom's actual characteristics as displayed in my sample of texts match the perception outlined above. I'll most likely be mentioning this later in the year when it's underway, but for now that's the end of the analysis. Next time we're back to the texts themselves, kicking off with a prologue to Doom's triumphant return to the pages of "The Fantastic Four"!

    posted 27/8/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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    Survey Results - Creators And Marketing

    Today we reach the final part of the main survey analysis, looking mostly at aspects of Doom as a character created and sold by people and commercial entities in the "real world", as opposed to the fictional aspects covered previously.

    Creators: Please enter the names of any people or organisations that you associate with the creation of Doctor Doom's stories. Please note that this can refer to anybody who worked on any story, not just the original creators of the character.

    This question is looking for the names of those who actually create Doom's stories. As might be expected, there were a huge number of different responses with were 59 creators mentioned by two or more respondents and a further 54 unique responses. For brevity's sake I have only included those with 4 or more mentions here.
    Creator Mentions
    Stan Lee 192
    Jack Kirby 188
    John Byrne 85
    Jonathan Hickman 42
    Marvel Comics 28
    Mark Waid 25
    John Buscema 24
    Walt Simonson 21
    Jim Shooter 21
    Mike Weiringo 17
    Ryan North 16
    Roy Thomas 15
    Mike Mignola 15
    Joe Sinnott 15
    Chris Claremont 14
    Roger Stern 11
    Steve Ditko 10
    Ed Brubaker 9
    Mike Zeck 9
    Brian Michael Bendis 9
    Wally Wood 9
    Josh Trank 7
    Erica Henderson 7
    Warren Ellis 7
    Steve Englehart 6
    Mark Millar 6
    Gene Colan 6
    George Perez 6
    John Romita (Sr) 6
    Tom deFalco 6
    Bob Layton 6
    Esad Ribic 5
    Marv Wolfman 5
    Roger Corman 5
    Tim Story 5
    Julian McMahon 4
    David Michelinie 4
    Rich Buckler 4

    The first thing to notice about this category is that although the question said "this can refer to anybody who worked on any story, not just the original creators of the character", the vast majority of respondents still identified Doom's creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as people they associated with the character.

    After that we see the names of the creators usually named as responsible for the most "important" or fan-favourite runs on the "Fantastic Four" series i.e. John Byrne, Jonathan Hickman, Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo, and Walt Simonson . Interestingly, "Marvel Comics" is also included in this category. As we will see, this would be a better fit for the next section "Market Authors", but it is interesting to see how many people think of the brand as an actual creator of Doom's stories.

    As seen for other categories, the bias inherent in the selection of respondents is clear, not just the usual one towards the "Unbeatable Squirrel Girl" series (with both series creators, Ryan North and Erica Henderson, included in the responses), but in the fact that almost all of the names mentioned come from comics. The first non-comics creator is Josh Trank, Director of "Fantastic 4", with Roger Corman (director of the unreleased 1994 Fantastic Four movie), and Tim Story and Julian McMahon (the director and the actor who played Doom in the 2005 "Fantastic Four" and 2007 "Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer" movies) also appearing.

    Marketing: Please enter the names of any people or organisations that you associate with the marketing of Doctor Doom's stories. This could include names that you have already entered in the previous question, but does not have to.

    In contrast, this question is looking for the names that are used to sell the stories - as will be seen, there is quite a lot of crossover with answers to the previous section.

    Creator Mentions
    Marvel Comics 111
    Marvel 84
    Stan Lee 68
    20th Century Fox 28
    Fox studios 26
    Jack Kirby 25
    Disney 12
    Sony Pictures 7
    Jim Shooter 7
    John Byrne 7
    ToyBiz 5
    Mattel 4
    MF Doom 4
    Hanna-Barbera 4
    Jonathan Hickman 4
    Roy Thomas 3
    Fantastic Four 3
    Secret Wars 3
    Capcom 3
    Universal 2
    Mark Waid 2
    Roger Corman 2
    Don't know 2
    OTHER 53

    Unsurprisingly, "Marvel Comics" and "Marvel" were mentioned most here, along with the different movie studios that have produced Doom's appearances. Similarly, the creators named are broadly in line with the top answers from the previous category, as these are the ones whose names are often used in conjunction with collected editions. Also, most Marvel comics from the mid-1970s to late 1980s are headed with "Stan Lee Presents..." so it is expected that his name should be quite high in the list.

    The only surprise for me was the appearance of "MF Doom" here, an artist I was completely unaware of until starting this PhD, although given the amount of times people have mentioned him to me since I began, perhaps it shouldn't have been!
    Cover of Operation: Doomsday

    Other associations: Is there anything else that you associate with Doctor Doom that has not been covered in this survey so far?.

    This category was included so that respondents could mention anything else that had not been covered.

    Topic Mentions
    Behaviours and Actions already discussed 54
    Characters and object already discussed 20
    MF Doom 11
    Cartoons/movies (and comments on quality) 11
    Secret Wars 7
    Action figures/toys 5
    Doom 2099 3
    Darth Vader 3
    OTHER 39

    As can be seen above, most respondents did not feel they needed to answer this question, and many of those who did used it to mention other media they had seen Doom in. This is another argument for re-ordering the survey - if they had already listed the media they had seen Doom in then they would hopefully not feel the need to do so again.

    In fact, the only topics brought up by more than one person which were not covered in the main survey questions were MF Doom again, and Doom's relationship to Darth Vader. If nothing else, I feel that this shows how comprehensive the survey was!

    That ends our look at the individual survey responses - join us next time for the grand finale, when we look at the responses overall!

    posted 25/8/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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  • A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett