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Blog Archive: March 2021

... And Dust To Dust!
Is it me, or is Secret Wars suddenly Quite Good Fun? After about nine issues of it being utterly awful, it was quite a surprise last time to find myself actually enjoying it. Maybe getting close to the end meant that the creators felt they could finally get stuck into the proper story... or maybe it's just that Doctor Doom's in it a lot more now!

The front cover echoes the cliffhanger from last time, with Doom standing before the astonished heroes, unmasked. At last! We're going to see what he really looks like, and it is... quite pleasant? For a character whose face we very rarely see, Doom's features are remarkably consistent, right down to his untamed eyebrows. The heroes are wary of this new version of Doom, as are the villains who are watching from close by. There is a LOT of discussion about what to do, as seems to be the rule for this comic, before Molecule Man decides he's had enough and sets off to kill Doom. First of all he rips out the piece of ground the superheroes are standing on and chucks it into space, and then confronts Doom, who reacts very nonchalantly. He uses his new cosmic powers to show Molecule Man "the foundations of eternity" which do not look quite as exciting as one might hope. As I've said before, Mike Zeck is not really the best artist for this sort of thing, and depicts The Foundations Of Eternity as a vector-based arcade game from the 1980s with some pink gloop on it. Doom removes Molecule Man's mental blocks so that he can now do pretty much anything, and he starts off by taking all the villains back to their base. The heroes, meanwhile, make their way down from the edge of space where Molecule Man chucked them and gather together for yet another long talk where they tell each other things they all already know about how they got there. The villains are now sat around in Volcana's house in the chunk of Denver that the Beyonder pinched as part of Battleworld, where Molecule Man hits upon a plan: he's going to get them all home simply by flying the suburb through space back to Earth. In the general scheme of things this sounds pretty sensible to me. We then get some more of the awful Colossus sub-plot, with him zooming off to see Zsaji on a flying moped. When he arrives at her village, a few pages later, he creeps into her room, terrifies her, and then gives her some flowers which, I assume, he picked up at a nearby 24 hour Space Garage. Later still we find him smooching with her on a hill, wearing just his superhero pants and big boots. While all that's going on Doom sneaks into the heroes' base to collect Klaw and leave a summons in twenty foot high writing on an internal wall. Why he does this rather than teleporting them I do not know, but then I do not have Cosmic Powers so I suppose people who do roll differently to you and I.

The heroes go to see Doom as asked, and he tells them that he is a changed man, and that when he slayed The Beyonder "in a way, Doom died as well". This is actually Quite Interesting in character terms, as he goes on to say "Now I am all powerful! I have nothing to prove to lesser creatures... I am complete... serene in my omnipotence! The dark, seething desires which once drove and shaped Doom are no more!" I think that that shows a pretty good understanding of what makes Doom tick. His need to constantly prove his superiority to others has come up again and again in this blog, and indeed in the Research for my PhD, so it's great to see it being echoed by Doom himself, and Jim Shooter, here.

He says he's going to set right some of his most recent crimes, and kicks off by restoring Kang The Conqueror to life. He then offers the heroes anything they like to make up for his Being Doctor Doom so much, and Spider-man suggests (very sensibly) asking him to send them home. Mr Fantastic, rather huffily, says there's no need to get Doom to do it as he, Reed Richards, is perfectly capable of doing it himself actually. Clearly the competition between him and Doom isn't as one-sided as it's sometimes made out to be! Captain America says thanks but no thanks, and the heroes all leave. When they get outside he takes the register and realises that Spider Woman is missing so goes back into Doom's new palace to find her. He stumbles into Doom's fancy living quarters, and they have a nice chat about Doom's past. While they're chatting (there sure is a lot of chatting in this series) Klaw is sent to find Spider Woman, and gets zapped by the same Mysterious Thingy that zapped both her and Hulk. With all that done the heroes head back to their base again, and it's time for that most exciting of all set pieces in the whole Superhero genre: a big meeting! The top item on the agenda is whether Doom is evil or not now, and whether they should go and fight him because of it. Everyone sticks their oar in and everyone agrees it's a good idea to have a fight with the cosmically powered super-being who's recently offered to send them home. Only Colossus doesn't speak, and Captain America says that he must give his opinion because "it must be a unanmimous vote... or we do nothing!" I am very glad Captain America does not run meetings that I attend, otherwise they would never end.

Just to put more pressure on Colossus, he adds that this could be very dangerous. "If we do decide to confront Doom, it's possible that we might be annihilated on the spot by a bolt from the blue!" Ha ha, good one Cap, as if that would happen! Colossus has a bit of a cry about the fact that saving the Universe might mean he can't creep into the darkened bedroom of a woman he's only just met, and then very bravely agrees with the plan. It's unanimous: they have decided to confront Doom!
And then... They are annihilated on the spot by a bolt from the blue!

It is entirely stupid, but definitely more of a cliffhanger than we're used to. What will happen next? Will the heroes survive? Will they at least stop talking quite as much? We'll find out... next time!

posted 26/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Heartbreak Hotel
Just as "Secret Wars" is finally getting exciting, we must tear ourselves away for another issue of "Beauty and The Beast" which, as with the first issue, promises much with its Bill Sienkewitz cover, and rather fails to deliver with the actual contents.

Doctor Doom appears on a single page, not really conneced to the rest of the issue, so let's get that out of the way first of all. We find him standing in one of his favourite spots - the battlements - surveying his kingdom for... sheep? Perhaps he's having trouble getting to sleep? Also, what is this about the "village" of Latveria? It seems an odd way to describe it, especially as Doom himself refers to it as a "kingdom" in the second panel. He then gets a message from another bow-tied lackey, which informs him that his alleged son has been seen around Hollywood with Dazzler. Doom does not want to know! And that's all we see of him this time around - it must be building up to a full appearance at some point, but by the end of this issue we're already halfway through the series with no sign of anything happening Doom-wise!

The rest of the story is, to be honest, an extremely dreary tale in which Dazzler and The Beast mope around in a hotel called - genuinely - "The Heartbreak Hotel". At one point Dazzler admires The Beast's fur for so long that they don't even notice it's raining, which I think is meant to be romantic but mostly comes across as intensely dopey. They are so dopey, in fact, that when one of the other resident gives them a personalised performance of street theatre they don't seem to mind at all, and then they go into a greenhouse for some smooching. Urgh! Kissing! Eventually a baddie turns up to collect Dazzler, and after a brief fight she agrees to go back to the theatre to give a performance, which ends up being in some sort of weird gladiatorial nightclub. Dazzler's disco dancing does not go down well. Any sympathy I may have had for Dazzler goes right out of the window at this point - never been booed off stage? She hasn't lived! Having said that, what happens next is outside of even my experience of Terrible Gigs, as the promoter suggests that she should therefore give the audience what they want, and fight somebody. This goes down much better! A huge fight breaks out, which the audience love even more. Someone ends up being killed, but when Dazzler protests backstage she's told that this is fine, and all part of the "sport". She's not sure, until one of the mutant gladiators - they're all mutants, by the way - slips a mickey finn in her drink. That does the trick, so when Beast tries to get her to leave she refuses to go, scared that her "glow" (which has come back) will mark her out as a freak in the wider world. Disgusted, Beast goes back to the hotel, where we get the image that we have been waiting for all issue: Yes, the hotel is called "Heartbreak Hotel", and his heart is broken - IRONY! If only they'd stayed at "Get Rich Forever B&B" the whole story could have had a happier ending!

And that's the end of this weirdly terrible comic. There's lots more of this nonsense to come, but for now we can be relieved that we're heading back for the suddenly High Quality and Sensibly Plotted "Secret Wars" for next time!

posted 19/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Death To The Beyonder!
Look! On the cover! It's Doctor Doom! HOORAY!

For years I thought this cover was drawn by John Byrne, but a very cursory look at the cover itself shows that it's signed by Mike Zeck. The inks, however, are by Terry Austin, which I guess explains my mistake. If this is what they look like together I wish this team had been used on the insides too!

The story carries on from last time, with the heroes explaining to each other that they've cocked it all up and basically given Galactus the power to destroy everything. While they watch, however, the power that Galactus is absorbing by eating his own spaceship suddenly veers off towards to Doombase. Captain Marvel zooms after it and finds Doctor Doom (in a machine that looks very different to the one at the end of the last issue) absorbing the power for himself. Doom wakes up and struggles to cope with the influx of cosmic power, as his senses go into overload. Showing this calls for a level of Cosmic Action that Mike Zeck isn't really able to live up to, with him drawing Doom inside his own head and then turning invisible in a way that I can't help thinking would have been a lot more exciting to look at in the hands of a groovier artist. Doom's new super-senses tell him that there's a spy in the building, and Captain Marvel's telepathic tie to the heroes is suddenly cut off. They are, as usually, talking and talking and talking, and while they make preparations to investigate what's happened to their friend a Philosophical Debate breaks out between Wolverine and Captain America. This is actually a Quite Interesting bit, with Wolverine criticising Cap for his moral simplicity before, telling him that his use of the term "terrorist" is "just what the "big army calls the little army." Sadly, the whole thing gets tied up in a massively banal way later on in the issue - Cap stops a building falling on some mutant which persuades Wolverine that The American Dream is entirely unproblematic for minorities after all. Before we get to that though, the heroes finally head off to Doombase. Here we see Doom going about the very important task of giving himself a new costume in order to fulfill the wishes of Mattel... I mean, to prepare himself for the battles to come. Apparently Mattel thought that Doom's existing costume was "too medieval", hence this new version, which features various harbingers of 90s Superhero Costumes in the form of a single garter and lots of lines all over the place. Suitably dressed he's ready to fight The Beyonder, but it very quickly becomes clear that he's way out of his league - he may have the powers of Galactus, but The Beyonder can, after all, alter reality itself - so he is forced to ask the heroes for help. I love the fact that Doom here is telling a MASSIVE fib - the battle is going really badly and he's about to be obliterated, but it's very much in character for him to characterise it this way instead. He offers them the chance to "share" his victory and Magneto is about to take him up on the offer, before the Avengers very sensibly stop him from doing so. This leads to Doctor Doom being killed, and The Beyonder picking up his body and rooting around inside his brain for a super-condensed version of his origin story. According to this Doom's mother was a "healer, maker of potions - cruelly put to death when Doom was but an infant, slain at the command of a petty official for practicing her arts after failing to cure an ailing horse." Eh? What? As usual when something like this pops up my first thought was "Oh, I haven't read that story" before realising that I have actually read ALL THE STORIES about Doom so far, and the reason I don't remember this part is because it has never ever been referred to before. "Failing to cure an ailing horse"?!? Where on earth does that come from? His mother has always been referred to as a witch, not a half-arsed vet! I do, however, like the fact that Mike Zeck has been back to the original origin story for the design of Doom's mum's box. What's frustrating here is that on the very next page Jim Shooter does make a passable attempt to define Doom's character, boiling his basic needs down to power, freedom for his mother, and restoration of his face. This isn't always true, but there is something to it, even if I'd quibble with the overtly fascistic way in which Mike Zeck illustrates "power". Also, a page after saying that Doom's mum was just a rubbish vet, here she is described as being "held by Mephisto in his fiery dimension as payment for arcane knowledge granted to her" i.e. because she was a WITCH. Unless Mephisto has been retconned as Dread Lord Of Vetinary Colleges?

While we're struggling with these amendments to Doom's origin he's being dissected by the Beyonder, or at least half of him is, and it's at this point, with 50% of his body pulled apart, that Doom wakes up! Doom is HARDCORE! We leave him in this predicament to catch up with the heroes, who have decided to rescue the supervillains that Doom left to die, but then suddenly they see a light coming towards them with "something forming inside of it." This light turns out to be - Doctor Doom! Zoinks! How on earth did that happen? There's no time to explain as there's only one page left in the comic, and that's taken up with the heroes girding themselves for battle, only for Doom to shrink down to their size, and explain that it's all over - he has won! I have complained bitterly about the limp endings to these issues throughout the series, but this is a LOT more like it. Personally I would have ended on the previous massive splash page of Giant Doom , but even carrying on for one more page is all right if we get that big declaration from Doom. How has he managed this? What does it mean for the future of the series and the Marvel Universe? We strongly suggest you read the next edition of
The Marvel Age Doom blog available in seven days!!

posted 12/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Terry Austin Portfolio
I've mentioned before what an odd series "Marvel Fanfare" was - it was meant to be a prestigious anthology of high quality work, printed on high quality paper, but with a few exceptions it turned into a place to scoop up inventory stories and other odds and ends, then sell them at a higher price via the direct market.

This issue even trumpets this fact, with an introductory page by editor Al Milgrom informing the reader that he originally intended two other stories to appear as back-up to the main one, but was unable to get them in time so ended up filling the empty pages with "portfolios". This is at least honest, but does seem a bit risky, especially as the letters page later on features readers complaining about exactly this! The main draw for this issue is a Roger Stern and (especially) Frank Miller Captain America story. Miller was becoming a fan favourite around this time, and the front and back covers show versions of Captain America very much in the Miller style that everybody was going crazy for. The story itself, however, looks like a throwback to his earlier work as a jobbing penciller, and the inks by Joe Rubinstein give it an old-fashioned shiny gloss that still looks good, but is probably not what readers came for. After that the first of the two portfolios is by Kevin Nowlan which is... er... a series of pictures of women either without many clothes on OR wearing costumes that are basically body paint. It's drawn in a vaguely scratchy Barry windsor-Smith-y style that seems to think it's being Tasteful, but opinions may vary on whether this is the case. The second portfolio is by Terry Austin, which is where Doctor Doom comes in. I'm not sure why Doctor Doom is standing *outside* his embassy, but maybe he's lost the keys and that's why he looks so grumpy? Either way, it's a perfectly functional image of Doom looking the way Doom generally looks at this point, which is followed by some more perfectly functional images of other superheroes, before we get to that Letters Page which, to its credit, does feature some less than complimentary letters! As reported previously, I really liked that Barry Windsor-Smith story!

And that's the lot for this one - next time we're back for more thrills with "Secret Wars"! Whoo!

posted 10/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Assault On Galactus!
Last time we visited Battleworld Doctor Doom was having an extended lie-down. This time he does actually get out of bed, but it takes him quite a while, and we have to get through a lot of talking and some extreme stupidity in the mean time.We do, however, get a title which for once bears some relationship to the story contents, as they actually do try and fight Galactus!

We start with the X-Men reacting to Galactus finally finishing off his World Eating Machine and doing their best to stop him. They completely fail, because he's Galactus, but while they're doing that the other group of heroes are just as busy, talking and talking and talking. As well as Thor giving Hulk a pep talk we also see Ben Grimm delighted to turn back into the Thing (despite him spending the past couple of decades wanting the opposite) and James Rhodes embarking on a lengthy monologue about the fact that he, not Tony Stark, is Iron Man - "now and forever!" - which didn't exactly work out that way. Oddest of all these interludes (at a time when the entire planet is about to be eaten, don't forget) is Spider-man demo-ing some of his new suit's abilities to Reed Richards. Nice! The only person not talking at enormous length is Reed Richards, who is too busy thinking at enormous length. Along with the deluge of words this does at least feature a nice illustration by Mike Zeck, showing the two groupings of heroes and the larger one of villains. What's especially nice about this is that he makes it work as a Venn diagram, with Magneto as the crossover between villains and the X-Men. Jim Shooter is obsessed with explaining things all the time, which is fair enough if you want to make the story accessible to new readers, but he's also obsessed with these weird plot cul-de-sacs where ideas pop up from nowhere, delay the progress of the story for a few pages, and then disappear again. In this issue it's Reed Richards suggesting that they shouldn't stop Galactus after all. The (stupid) idea is that if they let Galactus kill them all then The Beyonder will have to give Galactus his wish, which (Reed assumes for no reason) will be to free him of his hunger, so lots of future worlds won't get eaten. Alternatively, The Beyonder won't grant him his wish and Galactus will be so powerful from eating the planet that he'll be able to beat The Beyonder and then either one or both of them will die in the conflict, leaving the other to either carry on eating planets or doing whatever it is the Beyonder's up to. What the so-called smartest man in the world doesn't consider here is that Galactus' greatest wish might be to have a full set of Beanie Babies or something, but before anyone can point this out Reed is teleported to Galactus' ship for a chat. Reed later reports that, during this meeting, Galactus told him that he is "a force of the universe, just as he is... a universal champion of life just as he is an instrument of death!" Hmm. This has never been mentioned before, and as far as I know never was again, and certainly did not come up a few months earlier in "The Trial Of Reed Richards" when Mr Famtastic is put on trial for saving Galactus' life, and Galactus himself turns up to defend him without mentioning this at all. Maybe they actually talked about collecting Beanie Babies, so he's made something else up to sound more important?

Whatever it is, the other heroes are entirely unconvinced, and when the X-Men turn up they all decide to go and fight Galactus together anyway, joined by... Mr Fantastic, who has decided that he is going to go completely against all of his own advice because he misses his son and wants to indulge in some violence. This is Brexit-level stupidity, and it turns out much the same way, as fighting Galactus causes him to fly off and devour his own spaceship to get more power to fight The Beyonder AND eat the planet. Great work everybody - I only hope they got blue passports out of it along the way!

Talking of supervillainy, while this has been going on Doctor Doom has sorted himself out. It turns out he wasn't just sitting round moping, he was having a good old think, and has come up with a Cunning Plan. He powers up his armour by activating his "point-singularity power supply" - another device which was never mentioned before or since, and exists to solve a plot problem which could much more easily have been solved by saying "my armour has had time to recharge" or just by ignoring it. Jim Shooter really does make life hard for himself, and also for the reader! Doom stomps off to find Klaw, for whom he has a very exciting proposition. True to his word, Doom does dissect Klaw, or at least chops him up into slices in a scene that is both disturbing and disappointing - even chopped up like Salami, Klaw is still doing that incredibly annoying-oying-oying thing with his dialogue. Doom's scenes are intercut with the main plot so, while the heroes make a complete mess of their fight against Galactus, Doom is somehow using Sliced Klaw to do ... something... which will enable him to ... somehow... drain Galactus' power for himself! That's the final page - as I've said before, Secret Wars tends to have these weirdly low-key endings where it feels as if the issue has come to a halt all of a sudden without anybody realising. Doctor Doom trying to steal the power of Galactus could be something amazing, but here it comes across as a linking panel to the next page, purely procedural but with a side order of Klaw still being incredibly annoying. We'll find out whether Doom succeeds soon, but before that it's back to the main Marvel Universe for some posters!

posted 5/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett