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Enter Doctor Doom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



link to information about this issue

posted 4/4/2018 by Mark Hibbett

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DOOMBOT FILTER: an animal that says 'buzz' (3)

(e.g. for an animal that says 'cluck' type 'hen')

An examination of Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett