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Blog Archive: May 2020

The Eyes Have It!
When I was little I used to long for books where nothing much really happened, so that I could enjoy the characters without getting anxious about the plot. I particularly remember reading The Famous Five books, and wishing that there was a story where the children didn't go on an adventure, so that I could enjoy their company without worrying about what was going to happen next.

I mention this because that's one of the things I love about this particular issue, and John Byrne's run on this series as a whole. Things do happen pf course, and all the usual superhero story tickboxes get ticked, but there's also a lot of Narrative Admin going on, where people chat to each other and their lives carry on without them needing to fight Galactus all the time. In theory the main story here is about Reed and Sue meeting a Space Alien who, it turns out, is robbing banks because she's drunk on the high oxygen content of Earth's atmosphere, but that storyline doesn't even get started until halfway through the issue, as we're busy spending time with Johnny Storm and his mysterious girfriend, Reed and Sue on a date, The Thing and Alicia dealing with the aftermath of their "marriage" in the previous issue, and the whole problem of what to do with Doctor Doom's comatose body after defeating him in "Liddleville". Reed decides to store Doom in a stasis field while they contact the Latverian Embassy, which is bound to work out fine and probably means that this is the last entry for this blog, because Doom will never get out of this one. Unless... he does?

Anyway. the main reason I love this particular comic is that it's the first issue of John Byrne's run on "Fantastic Four" that I ever bought. In fact, it's one of the very first American comicbooks I ever bought too, from the newsagents near the Rainbow Superstore in Market Deeping. I'd always get "2000AD" from Jack Blades' newsagent in the main marketplace on a Saturday, using pocket money from my Nan, but the other newsagent round the corner had different sweets and different comics, so was always worth a look. I've still got that comic now, and as you can see, I read it a lot of times! It's not one of the best, or best-remembered, stories in this run, but parts of it have stuck with me for decades, especially the final panel, where Mr Fantastic explains that the giant blue space alien comes from a race of clones and so assumed that everybody on Earth would look the same as her. This stayed with me partly because it seemed like such an amazing sci-fi idea, but also because of the expressions on Reed and Sue's faces. They look like two people who actually really like each other, sharing a joke together. I sometimes think of it when I'm sat at home with my other half, talking things over and just enjoying each other's company, without having to worry about what's going to happen next, or whether Galactus is going to show up while we're trying to watch telly.

And that's all the self-analysis we have time for this week - next time, back to the cartoons!

posted 22/5/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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In The Darkness... A Light!
Only one very brief appearance by Doctor Doom in this comics, as he appears in a single panel during a lengthy sequence in which Galactus catches up on Dazzler's adventures so far. That's it for Doom, leaving the rest of the issue to doeal with Galactus capturing Dazzler and giving her the power cosmic so that she can use her natural power over light to go into a black hole - or "the dimension of anti-light. (for British readers - that's Galactus' spaceship, not the Happy Eater logo... although it would be appropriate if it was both!)

It's all a bit potty, and the issue ends up with Dazzler trapped in the black hole with Terrax The Tamer, Galactus's former herald who she's been sent in to take back so his boss can punish him. It's all cast in very dramatic, epic, tones which is only slightly let down for me by the fact that, even when cosmically powered, she's got her sparkly disco handbag with her. Next time we're going for another very brief Doom appearance, but it's in a comic that means an awful lot to me - see you then for "The Eyes Have It"!

posted 15/5/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The Challenge Of Dr. Doom!
After all the excitement of Terror In A Tiny Town last time, it feels like a bit of a shame to have to cover this story, which is an adaptation of the cartoon The Fantastic Four Meet Doctor Doom from 1978. This, as a text piece just before it says, was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's first collaboration since Kirby left Marvel in 1970, so "When we were looking for a special feature, someone suggested we modify Jack's storyboard into a comics format, and voila!".

I think it's telling that the "someone" who suggested it is not named, because this was a really really bad idea. As discussed, at length, in my original blog about the cartoon, the whole thing is a terrible mess which is an awful way to remember Lee and Kirby's legacy, so why anybody thought it was a good idea to drag it out again, let alone in a twentieth anniversary celebration, is beyond me. To make matters worse, each page of this hacked together story is inked by a different person, nominally paying tribute to "The King", but actually making it even more of a mess, often highlighting the quickly sketched nature of these storyboards. This is more of a review than an analysis, but it really is pretty horrible, and I still resent the fact that this was one of my earliest introductions to the work of Jack Kirby - it's no wonder it took me so long to appreciated him after seeing this! Another oddity here is that the cover features a blurb promising "an all-new FF blockbuster by Stan (the man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby". Apart from the fact that it isn't all-new and isn't much of a blockbuster, it's weird that they use both names as a selling point on the cover, but only include a picture of Stan Lee, in the top right corner. There's an obvious gap next to him where Jack Kirby clearly should have been - the rumour for years was that John Byrne drew Kirby in but Marvel ordered him removed, and that turns out to be partially true. He was removed, but not to disguise Kirby's part in the creation of the FF. It was, apparently, at Kirby's request, as he was taking legal action against Marvel at the time and did not want to be seen to be promoting their work.

As I say, it's all a bit grubby and disappointing, but it is at least short, and it leaves us free now to get on to something even more exciting and important than the creation of the Fantastic Four - the first John Byrne issue I ever bought, coming next time!

posted 13/5/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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Terror In A Tiny Town
It's a big moment on this blog for me today, as we look at the first Doctor Doom appearance in John Byrne's legendary run on "Fantastic Four". I absolutely loved this series when it came out, and spent several years collecting the entire run, saving up pocket money and getting postal orders to send to mysterious comic shops whose details I got from the small ads in Marvel Uk comics. These were insanely glamorous places to me at the time, before "House On The Borderlan" opened in Peterborough - imagine, a whole shop that only sold comics! And better yet, it sold comics reliably, and three months before they came out in random newsagents elsewhere! I very clearly remember going to Forbidden Planet on a special trip with my grandparents and being astonished by how many comics there actually were, and the fact that I could only afford to buy a few issues that day is a big part of the reason why I have spent so much money in comic shops in adult life - because I can!

I didn't see this issue when it came out - the first Byrne FF that I actually bought was the issue after this one, in fact - but I do recall when I first got my hands on it, and being amazed at the story inside. Reading it back now I can see why. Yes, the dialogue's a bit clunky, and the captions still owe a lot to Chris Claremont's super-purple and pompous stylings, but the story's a thrill-ride of ideas and MY GOODNESS does it look good! It is a truth universally accepted that the BEST comics are the ones you read when you were eleven, and that's certainly true here!

This is the twentieth anniversary issue of The Fantastic Four and so, as is traditional, it kicks off with a re-telling of their origin, although this time it cuts off before anybody gets their powers, and we discover that it's actually a nightmare that Johnny Storm is having. Johnny shrugs it off and drives into town, where he meets his sister Sue and her husband, absent-minded Professor Reed. Sue says she's been having a recurring dream, which Johnny thinks is odd as its similar to his own, but he doesn't want to worry her so says nothing. Next he drives into town where he sees his friend Ben Grimm, outside his bar. I've read this comic about thirty times, and I've only just noticed that the window display is orange rocks, like The Thing's skin! I love the way that John Byrne piles on the mystery here, with all of the FF leading normal lives and, as we move on, Alicia being able to see and her step-father Phillip Masters being delighted with how things are working out.

The weirdness ramps up as we see Sue Storm having a nightmare about Ben turning into a rocky monster and her husband and brother becoming similarly weird creatures, then Ben himself telling Reed and Johnny about his own dreams. The only person not experiencing the nightmares is Reed, who is troubled instead by the fact that he's never able to think clearly. At work we meet Reed's tormentor, his boss Vincent Vaughan who looks... oddly familiar? That night Reed falls asleep at work and finally has a similar dream to the others, this time about the four of them, and Alicia and Franklin, being summoned to a "medieval castle" in the Adirondak mountains where they meet the puppet master "and one other" but before he can see who it is he's woken by a fall from his chair. This jolts his memory and (somehow) cures him of his mental fog so that he finally remembers who he really is. He realises that "somehow our personalities have been transferred into robot bodies" and, basically, stabs himself with a scalpel to prove it to himself.

Some time later he arrives at home, where all the others have gathered, covered in blood. I love the way Byrne draws this scene, with Reed moody and dark and Sue horrified. Reed explains what's happened and they storm off to Phillip Master's shop, where he drops the pretence completely, and confesses that he placed them into miniature cloned bodies in a town full of robots, all to give Alicia a normal life. "You could conceive of such a plan, but you haven't the technology to implement it," says Reed, and then we get this amazing double page splash of the true genius behind the scheme revealing himself. What a way to make an entrance! Yes, of course, it's Doom, who has taken The Puppet Master's daft plan and twisted it into a revenge scheme, using it to torture his arch enemy Reed Richards by entering the robot body of Vincent Vaughan. The FF are powerless to stop him, so he leaves them to their lives in "Liddleville" while he goes off to reclaim his throne in Latveria. The fiend!

The FF may not have their powers, but they still have the brain of Mr Fantastic, who works out that these cloned bodies (not robots, which is why there was so much blood earlier) have latent powers within them (because this is comics). He works out a way to give them their powers back, although Ben takes some persuading - after all, he and Alicia have a good life here. Eventually, however, he's persuaded and soon the FF are back, fighting miniature Robots as they try to get their real bodies restored. After rigging up a Gizmo, Sue uses her force fields to propel herself around Doom's castle, following the sounds of piano playing until she discovers Doom alone, and unmasked. For the first time ever, she sees his face! Byrne keeps the nature of Doom's disfigurement mysterious here, and it's something that he'll play around with throughout his run. Doom traps Sue in a glass and then marches down to the basement to see what's going on, discovering a water-logged floor with an electrical cable attached. He assumes this is a trap, and zaps the cable. Rather wonderfully, Reed Richards had predicted Doom's arrogance, and so the cable is actually there to power the real trap, a device which can use the power of Doom's armour to switch them back into their real bodies. The Human Torch and the Thing work together to trip Doom into it, and the whole plan works like clockwork. The only unexpected outcome is that Doctor Doom appears to have been put into a coma. The Thing picks up his frozen body and the team set off home, and that's that...but wait! There's a twist! Doctor Doom isn't comatose at all, he's simply switched bodies again, so that his consciousness is back in the tiny Vincent Vaughan robot, where he can simply wait for the right moment to return! Except... another twist! The Puppet Master is also there, and he's taken control of all of the other robots! One of them smashes Doom's Body Transfer ring, trapping him there with the rest of them! Doom flees, chased by an army of robots who will never give up... ever! COR! What a story - hopefully you can see why I was so excited to see it again! As we go through this run we'll see Byrne returning to Doom many times, expanding on his character and especially developing his relationship with Latveria, but here we see Byrne beginning to establish his take on him as a proud man who is constantly thwarted by his own arrogance. There's a lot more of this to come, but sadly we'll have to wait a little longer as there's a whole other story in this issue to look at next time, and it features... HERBIE!

posted 7/5/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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The A-B-Cs of D-O-O-M
An extra special thrilling episode of the Spider-man cartoon today, featuring giant vegetables, popular unrest, and poor computer security!

It all kicks off right in the middle of a battle between Doctor Doom and a Mysterious Bald Man (who we soon find out is called Goron), doing battle using Kirby Krackle and Multi-coloured Eye Beams respectively. The two men clearly have a history as during the battle they reminisce about previous occasions on which they've fought. After being unable to beat each other Doom suggests a truce, offering Goron "half the world" if he'll help with a scheme to make everyone trust Doom "one last time". I have a horrible feeling this is going to involve the UN again!

Over in Manhattan J Jonah Jameson gets a fax telling him that Doctor Doom is inviting dignitaries to Latveria to show off his latest scientific discoveries. "I knew he was my kind of guy" he says, apparently forgetting that Doom very recently kidnapped him for several days and replaced him with a robot duplicate!

We then go over to Latveria to see Doom leading the delegates on a tour, where they witness some Latverians (in their usual Sound Of Music gear from the comics) chanting "Long live Doctor Doom!" "Ze people, zay zeem to lurve 'im" says a French (I assume) delegate. The American (he's wearing a cowboy hat) isn't convinced, but then they see a "very impressive new factory", which is being cleaned by... the rebellious peasant we saw last time! It's a continuing story! He muses that it's all very beautiful, as long as you don't go round the back and see that the factory is just a film set, and also you ignore the fact that "we are all prisoners of Doom."

That includes his father, who's working in a lab where he discovers that Doom is creating a robot replica of his rebellious son, who we are told is called Johann. We then return to the party of delegates, who are being shown Doom's amazing invention: Giant vegetables! The delegates frantically bid against each other for the rights to grow massive marrows, then hop into a car to go back to base. On the way they meet Johann, and ask him what he was "so fired up about" earlier. This seems odd, as they never actually met him, but anyway the robot reassures them that everyone in Latveria loves Doom, and they carry on their way back to the castle, where they have a slap-up feed of giant vegetables. "Truly a meal fit for a king!" says the French delegate. Doom offers them the Colossal Carrot technology for free, which everybody apart from the American thinks is great. "Have you forgotten what Doctor Doom did at the UN?" he asks. "How can we trust him?" This surprised me on first viewing, as for the most part it seemed that everybody had forgotten completely, but it's a great bit of continuity which goes alongside the Johnann plot to show that this is a series taking inspiration from the continuing storyworld of the comics.

Doom presses a buzzer which calls in Goron, who uses his special Blue Eye Beams to zap the delegates with mind control which forces them to eat the vegetables, forget their suspicions, and also invite Goron to visit the USA.

"It can be arranged" says Doom, and in the next scene we find Goron giving a presentation to the press, durng which he zaps the vegetables with Green Eye Beams, and they grow right in front of their eyes! "I want a closer look at this", thinks Spider-man - you remember Spider-man don't you? He's not been in the show for nearly ten minutes and he's supposed to be the star!

The journalists tuck into the giant vegetables eagerly, begging Goron to bring Doom to NASA the next day (I'm not sure why) and, without the need for mind control, completely forgetting Doom's history. "Doctor Doom might be the greatest man who ever lived!" says one. Some might suggest this is unrealistic, but it sounds like standard journalistic practice to me! Spidey suspects something's up so swings in for a look, only to be attacked by Goron and his Red Eye Beams. Spidey runs away, into a back room, only to be followed by Goron who knocks him through the floor into the basement. He then uses his Green Eye Beams to enlarge some mushrooms, which attack Spidey! Spidey fights this terrifying menace by kicking it quite hard, but when this doesn't work he webs up a fir extinguisher which freezes the aggressive fungi, in exactly the way that fire extinguishers don't. It's all a bit odd really, so it's a relief to get back to Goron, who is at Cape Canaveral where they're watching a rocket lift off. "I'm not sure how this will help feed the world" says a Rocket Scientist, and you don't need to be a Rocket Scientist to see that he's got a point. "Doctor Doom was sure you'd feel that way" says Goron, who locks them in a conference room, melting the door shut with his laser eyes. The fiend!

Spidey arrives to find Goron in the computer room. He uses his Red Eye Beams to shove Spidey out and into one of those test pilot spinning machines which then activates at full speed. Poor Spidey, he can't get a break! Goron goes off to steal the rocket's guidance system, which is apparently what they're after. "Who would believe something this tiny would hold within it the fate of the world?" he says as he trousers it.

He then uses his Blue Eye Beams to force a member of staff to give him the secret launch codes for the space platform (whatever that is), which he then sends to Doctor Doom, who we discover relaxing on his throne back in Latveria. I know a lot of this show is a bit silly, but they do have some nice designs!

While Spidey escapes from the spinny thing, Goron hacks into every computer everywhere and uses the codes to take control of every nuclear missile in the world. He then makes a broadcasst giving the entire world five minutes to proclaim Doctor Doom as their ruler- but before he can finish explaining the process for this Spidey (finally) arrives. Goron doesn't care - there's a secret code word to stop the missiles that only he and Doom know, and if it isn't used in time the human race gets obliterated!

Spidey runs away again, leaving Goron to teleport a device which can control the space platform back to Doom. I'm not really sure what's going on here, to be honest - lots of different bits of plot seem to be flying about all over the place! There's no time to worry about it though, as Goron zaps Spidey with his special Toothpaste Coloured Eye Beams, only for Spidey to turn them back on him with a mirror! This changes Goron "back to his real form", an old man. What on earth is that all about? I've watched this cartoon a couple of times, and checked elsewhere online, and there's been no mention of Goron ever appearing before or having any other form. I suppose this too is a bit like the comics, with a much bigger story that we don't see all of, but it could also be the writers just chucking as many ideas as possible in to get to the end of the story!

Spidey has only two minutes to stop the missiles, and so has to guess Doom's secret codeword. What could is possibly be? Naughty Doctor Doom - that is definitely NOT a Strong Password - next time at least try d00M or something!

And that's the end of the story, apart from a coda at the Daily Bugle's office where they discover that Doom's vegetables rot away after two days, and Betty tells Peter off for missing a date. It's a slightly underwhelming end to what's been another enjoyable episode full of daft, pointless chunks of plot and some great Doom Signifiers throughout. More please!

posted 1/5/2020 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett