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Doctor Doom and the Flying Saucer

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This time we're looking at a story that appeared in the "Amazing Spider-man" newspaper strip from December 7 1981 through to March 21 1982. It sounds like a lot to get through, but the nature of these strips means that the story takes an awfully long time to tell. The daily strips are at most three panels each, and these are usually a recap, a single panel of actual plot, and then a cliffhanger or joke ending, while the double-length colour sunday strips are generally designed not to carry very much story, so that readers of newspapers that didn't have a sunday edition wouldn't miss out. All in all, this means you get the equivalent of about two comics pages of story a week!

The first week sees the world reeling from the news that Doctor Doom has, apparently, captured a flying saucer. This is not the same Marvel Universe as the one in the comics, where aliens and UFOs are everyday occurrences. Here, nobody has ever seen a real UFO, and so it's big news, including at our favourite Doom location, the United Nations. (apologies for the blurry/wonky pictures in this blog - most of them come from my own collected version of these strips, taken on my phone!)

The nezt week of strips sees Peter Parker flying off to Latveria as the photographer for top investigative reporter Kitty Howell. When they arrive at the border they find the rest of the world's media stuck outside, unable to get in. Luckily for Peter and Kitty, however, Doctor Doom is watching as usual, and takes a shine to the reporter. The gates open to allow the team from the Bugle inside, where Doom greets them and explains that the UFO crashed after hitting the "protective lasser screen that makes Latveria the most impregnable nation on Earth!" He takes them on a tour of his castle before (finally, after two weeks of this!) showing them the UFO through a glass screen. Kitty asks when they can get inside for a proper look, and Doom replies "Never!"

Something shifty is clearly going on, so once he and Kitty have been sent to their rooms for the night, Peter puts on his Spidey costume and goes off to investigate. While he does so we get a great image of Doctor Doom sitting at his bank of computers. Not only does the purple chair and console behind him echo the control centres we've seen in the comics and the recent cartoons, but the bank of screens is almost a foretelling of Ozymandias's control centre in Watchmen. SPOILERS: this is not the only, or the biggest, such foretelling!

Spidey spends the next week avoiding Doom's guards, until he eventually finds a hiding place in... a movie studio? The next morning, over breakfast, Doom goes on an extended rant about the iniquities of American justice which, he says, favours the criminal over the victim. In America, he says, law-abiding citizens live in fear, while in Latveria they are safe from harm. It's a point that will be repeated in a year or two when the FF visit Latveria during John Byrne's run. Finally, nearly six weeks into the story, Peter and Kitty get to see the space ship close-up, but they're still not allowed inside. Frustrated by this behaviour Kitty asks Peter why Doom is the way he is and this, rather excitingly, leads us into a very interesting retelling of Doom's origin. Regular visitors here will know that I recently undertook a survey to find out what people thought were Doom's core characteristics - I'll be doing a blog post about the results soon, but one of the main things to come out of it was that Doom's hatred of Reed Richards was seen to be one of the most important aspects of who he is. And yet, in the newspaper strip, Reed Richards does not appear at all!

This version of the origin story starts much as it does in the comics. Doom's father is called to save the Baron's wife, and they are forced to flee when she dies. His father then dies from exposure and young Victor is rescued by Boris, then later he discovers his mother's "forbidden charms" and "magical symbols" while searching through a chest that looks a lot like the scene we have previously seen in comics. However, after that we suddenly leap forward ten years, missing out his time as a trickster in Latveria and any hint of attending college in America, to find a "tormented youth" living the high life, who has used these gifts to make money. He decides to seek revenge on those who have wronged him, but while conducting "his most dangerous experiment" (which doesn't seem to be linked to any form of revenge) there's an explosion which destroys his face. Things then continue as normal, with the trip to Tibet, the monks, the armour and mask, and finally the declaration of his new identity. We then get an extra slice of origin which has not yet been seen in the comics, as Doom returns to Latveria and, with the Baron now dead, is able to take control of the country. All in a single panel! This is a fascinating version of the origin, because it contains everything necessary for Doom to work as a Spider-man villain, and indeed a character in his own right (including the often omitted explanation of how he came to power), without needing to link it to the Fantastic Four. And it works! This is very clearly Doctor Doom, albeit one motivated entirely by his desire for revenge on the world for the murder of his parents, rather than throwing in an obsession with Reed Richards as well. Even in the recent cartoon version of his origin the accident happens at college, with someone who looks a lot like Reed Richards, so this is the most radical revision to his origin since... well, Spidey Super Stories! With all that sorted out the story continues with Doom threatening the world with an "omega ray", which he has derived from the technology in the flying saucer. There then follows several weeks of to-ing and fro-ing while the world trembles in fear of what this weapon might do, and Spider-man tries to get inside the saucer to see what's going on. Finally, in late February, he finally gets inside and learns... the secret! I love the fact that the lackeys who built the prop spaceship never got around to tidying up when they were finished... or maybe Doom had them killed? Anyway, Doom captures Spidey and chucks him in the dungeon, which he immediately escapes from. There's then several weeks of business with Doom's guards chasing Spider-man until eventually the tables are turned and Spidey captures Doom in a massive web. However, when Doom agrees to talk, Spidey lets him go, trusting to his famous sense of honour. Finally the scheme is revealed - Doom "planned a bloodless coup!" in which he would "bring order to the world, without a shot being fired." "All I wanted was to bring peace to the world" he says, to which Spidey replies: Doom agrees to Spidey's plan (which is not yet revealed to the reader), and Peter Parker returns to the USA with a special film by Doctor Doom, where he claims that the aliens have now left the planet, leaving behind them a deadly warning. Interestingly, the image used here is very similar to that used in Astonishing Tales #4, where Doom was once again appearing on screen, giving commands. And that's pretty much where the story ends, with just time for another visit to The United Nations. All it needs is for somoene to find Peter Parker's notes on what really happened, maybe in a slush pile at the Daily Bugle offices... Quite apart from how strange it is to see that much-discussed story pre-empted in a little mentioned newspaper strip, this has been a fascinating look at a Doctor Doom who has displayed all his usual traits of arrogance, honour, and megalomania, all without the need of one apparently vital aspect of his origin. You can bet I'll be discussing this in my thesis!

link to information about this issue

posted 10/7/2020 by Mark Hibbett

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

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

A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett