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Blog Archive: March 2019

Joe Sinnot is back on inks for this issue, which immediately makes everything look slicker and more "Fantastic Four". As I've said before, I've never really appreciated his contribution to the series much in the past, but seeing how he works with Rich Buckler here has made me understand it much more.

The Fantastic Four - with Darkoth The Death Demon temporarily standing in for the Human Torch - journey through the basement of Doom's secret fortress, where they meet a creature called 'The Seeker' who has 'been - sent - to - make - you - die!' This is another new character designed by Rich Buckler, to go with Darkoth, and... well, he's not exactly Steve Ditko is he? Both characters look a bit 'Grim'n'Gritty Nineties' to me, with lots of pointless fiddly bits, extra weaponry, and even a spiky garter for the Seeker. Was Rich Buckler just ahead of his time?

The FF beat The Seeker easily, and then we see Doom beating up some staff members who were supposed to be keeping an eye on proceedings. Once again, we're a long way from the Doctor Doom who abhorred violence and didn't wish to sully his hands with it. This is a paranoid, self-centred figure who cares nothing for anybody else, only assured of his own genius. Coach Thorne goes even further, calling him insane. Doom's reply is basically 'I know you are but what am I?' but Thorne has a point - Doom is clearly a Mad Scientist happy to kill to prove his point.

We then return to the Torch-free FF, for some more of the PE Teacher-baiting that we spoke of last time. Like many people who grew up reading comics, I am no fan of PE Teachers, but this does stick out as an obvious dig at somebody in particular. Gerry Conway was only about 20 years old when he wrote this, so can't have been long out of school. Was there maybe a teacher who especially irked him, or perhaps someone his own age who was taking it up as a career?

The janitor is cleaning up at the Baxter Building, where the FF have returned to examine The Seeker. While they're doing that Doctor Doom launches his Vibrator Bomb into the atmosphere. Our heroes, fed up with waiting, have a punch-up, and then the bomb goes off. Doom, and his men, are delighted. However, unbeknownst to them, the Seeker has returned, using its security access to the fortress to get inside and free the Human Torch. It turns out that the Seeker was actually a robot, which Reed Richards scooped the insides out of so that Darkoth could wear it as a costume. Doom runs away to his central control room where he plans to launch himself into space and activate the full force of the Vibro-Bomb. The control room looks very familiar, as Buckler pays tribute to a classic bit of Kirby design. That said, it's hard not to compare the two, and find Buckler wanting here.

There's another nod to the past as the story concludes, with Doom launching the entire building into space, just as he did with the Baxter Building way back in Fantastic Four #6. Then, much as in that issue, an ally turns on him, with Darkoth taking the place of Namor The Submariner. This time the building explodes, and once again Doom seems to have been lost in space. SPOILERS: I think he'll probably be OK.

So ends a trilogy of issues which saw Doom very much returned to the status of a madman intent on glory only for its own sake, working at the edges of sanity. It looks like it'll be a while before that changes again, because next week we launch what I'm calling 'Minor Appearance Week' - a whole five days of cameos and single panale pictures! See you then!

posted 27/3/2019 by MJ Hibbett
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The Terrible Triumph Of Doctor Doom!
The first thing to note about this issue is the (brilliant) cover which, in an adjusted form, was one of the first images I ever saw featuring the Fantastic Four. As mentioned in one of my very first blogs, this was used as the basis for the Fantastic Four paperback I bought as a child which started my love of comics in general, and this series in particular. That version was altered so that it featured the Invisible Girl (as she was then) rather than Medusa, but other than that it's the same design, and you can see why it was chosen, as it's a dynamic scene showing the team exhibiting their powers to fight their greatest villain, Doctor Doom. The second thing to note is that this issue shows what a difference an inker can make. The previous story had been inked by Joe Sinnott, who gave it a very traditional Fantastic Four "look", sort of shiny with clean rounded edges. Here Rich Buckler is inked by Frank Giacoia, who makes it look much rougher, perhaps closer to Buckler's original pencils. I first became aware of Joe Sinnott's style when he inked John Byrne towards the end of his run of the title, and I didn't like it at all because it brought Byrne's pencils more into line with everything that had gone before, but here I can see that he provided a vital role in ensuring consistency.

The story's written again by Gerry Conway, and he steers Doom's character back towards the Mad Villain role, as opposed to the sensitive, tortured individual we saw previously in his solo stories, written by ... Gerry Conway. I must admit I found it a bit disappointing that, after that batch of exciting and interesting stories we find Doom here back to being, basically, a Mad Scientist intent only on world domination for its own sake. It may be that Conway felt he needed to focus on the Fantastic Four themselves, rather than the baddy, but it seems a shame to drop so much interesting characterisation in favour of making him a wide-eyed loonie. Doom easily defeats Mr Fantastic and Medusa, and then turns on his other guests, Coach Thorne (the other college alumni invited) and his wife. The Coach decides that he doesn't need superpowers to fight Doom (which doesn't seem like a very logical conclusion to come to) and Doom zaps him into unconsciousness, after saying that the only reason he was invited was so he could be humiliated. This isn't the only time that PE Teachers will suffer during this story, with a particularly odd interaction coming up in the next issue. I wonder if Gerry Conway had a PE Teacher he really really disliked?

Doom takes Mrs Thorne down to his secret lair, a Steranko-esque double page splash mixing in elements of Jack Kirby. Here he explains his plan, which first involves a recap of the previous issue, where he describes luring the Thing to "a European country bordering Latveria". As with the previous issue, the name of the country is never mentioned, which I guess is Conway's attempt to avoid giving Latveria a definite location, except to say that it's in the Balkans somewhere.

The plan is to use a 'Vibration Bomb' to erase the personalities of all life on Earth and replace them with blind loyalty to Doom. He demonstrates on a couple of lackeys who have been disloyal to him, all the time acting like a raving lunatic Mad Scientist as he forces them to kill each other as a demonstration of his power. There's then a desultory switch to see what the other members of the FF are up to, which even the captions acknowledge is taking us away from the main story, ending with a note that says "Enough catching up", before we go back to see Doom preparing his missile, containing the Vibration Bomb, for launch. As he does so he considers his plans to become the greatest leader the world has ever known, with everybody chanting his name. It's interesting that Doom mentions that he is a "Gypsy's son" here. Where previously his humble origins were part of his sympathetic appeal, as a self-made revolutionary who rose to power through his own determination, here they seem to be part of his villainy, that he is attempting to conquer the world in order to disavow his past, and humiliate all those who have tried to do the same to him in the past. Looked at it this way, the kidnapping of a "jock" from his college days makes more sense! Still, this is the only time we get a glimpse into Doom's own thinking in this issue, and it's a long way from the tortured, self-doubting, monologues we've seen before.

There's also a neat little cutaway diagram showing Doom's fortress, in homage to the earlier cutaways of the Baxter Building. It's just a shame the image is too small to show much! Doom's thoughts are interrupted by the news that Darkoth has escaped, something which Doom solves easily by telling him to behave. For some reason he decides this would be a good time to tell Darkoth the truth about where he comes from, something which will come back to bite him in the bum very shortly.

We then go over to see Johnny Storm and Wyatt Wingfoot sitting in jail, after accidentally destroying some property earlier on when the Human Torch threw a tantrum. The wall of the jail suddenly explodes and a bunch of guards run in, in another homage (or possibly a swipe!) to Jack Kirby. Doom turns up and, once again, easily captures the pair, and then we go back to Doom's base for the final page, where Darkoth visits Mr Fantastic, freeing him along with Medusa and the Thing, in return for them promising to help him be avenged on Doctor Doom. It turns out that he didn't like what Doom told him about his origins, and he wants to have revenge for having been turned into this creature through Doom's science experiments.

The issue ends on a low-key note, with Reed saying he thinks he might know a way to stop Doom, and then that's it. Next time we have the conclusion of the story, and some more PE teacher bashing!

posted 22/3/2019 by MJ Hibbett
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No Friend Beside Him
It's been a while since we've covered a truly daft comic, where the story makes no sense whatsoever, but we're back in that territory todau with a bunch of characters making entirely silly decisions for no other reason than to keep the story moving.

The splash page carries on from the previous issue, where Mr Fantastic used an 'Anti-Matter Gizmo' to stop his son Franklin from exploding and, for reasons not well explained, the rest of the Fantastic Four were so disgusted that they split the team. It all seems a bit odd to me - Franklin appears later in the story, and seems fine, and surely that's better than being exploded?

We briefly see Johnny and Sue going their own seperate ways, and there's some time spent with Mr Fantastic (who now seems to be going around with Medusa, who is helping him get over the whole situation by taking him out to dinner), but the main story is with The Thing, who gets a letter from his girlfriend Alicia. She's gone 'on holiday' to 'some little country in the Balkans', so the Thing immediately gets on a plane to join her. He doesn't wonder why, or even seem to check where he's going, which seems very odd. Surely you'd have to know your destination just to get on the right plane?

When he arrives (after another passenger on the plane decides it makes sense to pick a fight with a famously strong, ill-tempered world celebrity) he meets Alicia and her not at all suspicious doctor, 'Hans Stutgart'. As they walk into town they spot everybody else running home, due to a 'silly' legend about 'some sort of death demon'. You might think that Alicia, who has met all kinds of weird creatures over the years, wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the possibility of a death demon, but she does. Needless to say, the aforesaid Death Demon turns up a couple of pages later and gets into a big fight with the Thing, who's gone out for a walk. The Death Demon gets away, but Ben is worried - that Demon knew things about him that no Demon has any right to know, something is clearly going on!

Twenty four hours later in this 'small Balkan city' Alicia goes in for an operation which will, apparently, restore her sight, and the Thing is left to wait outside the room. After three hours (!) he finally decides to look through the window to see how it's all going and realises that the entire surgical team have disappeared. The Death Demon appears again, while 'an armored hand closes a fatal switch' and a door opens up nearby. Whose armoured hand could it be, observing events from afar in a small country in the Balkans? I think this would be pretty clear even if you weren't reading about it on a blog called 'Marvel Age Doom', but Gerry Conway tries to keep the suspense building as the Thing and the Demon fall into a cavern, and those hands keep manipulating events. Eventually Ben is captured, as a 'mysterious' figure watches on. Hmm... is it the Mole Man, do you think? The last couple of pages then show us Reed Richards and the mini-skirted Medusa (Rich Buckler really likes drawing women in very short skirts) arriving for a college reunion, where they're surprised to find that only two other alumni have arrived, a sports coach and... Doctor Doom! Crikey, who'd've thunk it eh? Apart from the fact that this is a brilliant image (which very much conforms to the design set out by John Buscema) it hasn't really earnt the right to be a shocking ending - surely everybody who knows who Doctor Doom is, already knows it must be him? Still, at least we've got all that out of the way now - let's hope the next issue is a bit better!

posted 15/3/2019 by MJ Hibbett
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To The Death!
"This Is It!" says the cover, and it certainly is - the grand finale of The Avengers/Defenders War, the first ever big proper superhero crossover, where one story carried on for six months across two seperate series. It was a very big deal at the time, and set the tone for pretty much all of the big crossover series to come - you can see just how exciting it all is by this fantastic splash page: It's odd to think now just how revolutionary this was. There had been crossovers before, and of course one of the selling points of the Marvel Universe itself was that it was a single storyworld with characters that could wander into each other's stories, but this was the first time it had been done on quite this scale.

The story so far has seen the Avengers and Defenders being manipulated into fighting each other by Dread Dormannu, with the two teams coming together here for one big final battle against evil - you can tell it's a big deal because The Watcher turns up, and he hardly ever... all right, he pops up a lot, but still. All of earth comes under attack, which gives Steve Engelheart and Bob Brown an excuse to take a tour around the rest of the Marvel Universe of 1974. If you didn't know what year this was you would probably be able to guess from some of the heroes that we see fighting - Luke Cage, Ghost Rider, Swamp Thing and especially Dracula, during his heyday of Marvel publication. Doctor Doom is there too, of course, defending his country from attack, and we see again that although the story says he's not exactly a hero, he pretty much is here. He's not working for his own self-interest (except inasmuch as anyone trying to save the world is), and he's certainly not running away and hiding. He's defending his homeland, and his people, showing that he's once again the heroic defender of his subjects, rather than a deluded dictator. His inclusion in this montage also shows his continuing importance in the Marvel Universe, even at a time when he's being used much more for cameos like this, rather than in actual stories.

Having said all that, our next issue sees him returning to the comic of his birth, and also to the role of Absoluten Baddy, in 'The Fantastic Four'!

posted 8/3/2019 by MJ Hibbett
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After all the excitement of the last couple of stories, this comic sees Doom back in the most fleeting of cameos, though one which continues the theme of him being the leader of villains.

The story sees Daredevil returning to San Francisco, his current base, in a borrowed Avengers Quinjet, bemoaning the trials of his love life. He sees trouble on the streets and leaps into action, finding himself (in a very Steve Gerber moment) fighting "an armed 'street theatre' group". Once he's sorted that out Daredevil talks to the victim of the gang, none other than Rolling Stone Magazine's Jann Wenner! Once again, this feels very Steve Gerber, with Daredevil popping into Rolling Stone's offices and marvelling at how groovy it all is, especially compared to his own lawyer's chambers. The only slight problem with all this is that the artist, Gene Colan, is not quite so up to date, choosing to illustrate the magazine's dedication to the counter-culture with... a poster showing John Lennon in his Sergeant Pepper days. There's a brief interlude where Wenner interviews Daredevil and gets a re-cap of his origin and story so far (this is issue 100 after all), and then everything gets properly weird, as the entire city starts to freak out, apparently tripping and then forgetting about it not long after. Daredevil is the only one who seems to remember what's happening, and as he and Jan Wenner navigate "the cosmic giggle" they meet a succession of his old enemies.

This is where Doom comes in - after fighting off some of his own major villains Daredevil sees a whole crowd of them led, of course, by Doctor Doom. This use of Doom as a signifier of Super-Villainy originates in his appearances in 'Not Brand Echh' some years ago, where he was deployed to make clear that a crowd of super-villains was meant to represent Proper Baddies, rather than a collection of twits being used for a joke. Without Doom a crowd of villains could be, for instance, some losers going about normal business, or trying to pretend to be superheroes instead, but whenever Doom was leading them it would mean that the reader was supposed to accept that this was a terrifying grouping of evil, there to do proper supervillain business (even if this was undermined in the next panel to service a gag).

The really interesting thing about this is that it leaked out into the 'real' Marvel Universe, with Doom appearing more and more as the leader of these assembled groups, always demonstrating that This Is A Group Of Baddies. That's the case here, with Doom telling Daredevil they're here to witness his end - the fact that Doom is there, as stated above, shows that this is not just a get together of defeated enemies (which, given the loopiness of some of Daredevil's villains, it could well have been) but a coming together of supervillains for a special occasion. It's a hallucination, as a lot of these appearances tend to be, but that makes an even stronger case for Doom representing Super Villainy in the minds of the heroes.

That panel is Doom's only appearance, and Daredevil spends the rest of the issue trying to work out what's going on before coming face to face with another one of his, shall we say, less than terrifying villains, Angar The Screamer! Sadly, we won't be finding out what happens, or what's causing the mass freakout of San Francisco - not on this blog at least - as we're off to visit The Avengers next for another cameo, this time in a much bigger story!

posted 1/3/2019 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett