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Blog Archive: May 2021

Full Circle
So here we are: John Byrne's final Doctor Doom story from my corpus. It's by no means his best work on the series but it does very much stand alongside the other stories where Byrne tried to fix what he saw as problems in Doom's continuity. Previous examples include changes to Doom's origin in Fantastic Four #278, redefining his relationship with Latveria in Fantastic Four #247 and tidying up several years' worth of guest appearances in Fantastic Four #258, and though this issue isn't quite such a tour de force as these others it does solve a problem that needed solving - what on earth has been going on with Doctor Doom since "Secret Wars"?

The problem started when Doom appeared in Secret Wars #1 despite having been disintegrated in Fantastic Four #260 six months earlier and very much assumed to be dead. Then, at the end of "Secret Wars", he was supposedly sent back to earth, still without an explanation of how he could be alive at all. Here Byrne not only manages to give a vaguely plausible in-universe answer but simultaneously deals with an enforced tie-in to the "Secret Wars II" sequel series, which is quite an impressive feat!

The story picks up not long after the end of the last issue, with the Human Torch attacking the Latverian Embassy in answer to a call for help from his sister's emergency flare device. Here we get the usal recap of the previous issue, and it looks suspiciously like Byrne has just cut and paste a few panels from that comic into this one. I'm used to seeing him redraw panels from other people's work as a sort of Visual Quotation, but this is the first time I've seen him copy his own work. This is getting close to the end of his run on the title, so maybe he was running out of energy - or maybe a "Secret Wars II" tie-in was something he just wanted to get done as quickly as he could?

Either way, Mr Fantastic turns up and he, Johnny and She-Hulk battle their way through some robots, at which point they meet Doctor Doom. He seems to have taken a shine to She-Hulk... "First meeting?" But what about "Secret Wars"? What could it mean?!? Anyway, he blasts them with a "Concussion Ray" which knocks all of the FF out, giving him a chance to be even more creepy over the prone She-Hulk. Some time later the team wake up to find that Doom has put them all, including the Invisible Woman, into specially designed prison cells, although the one for She-Hulk was meant for the Thing. Doom takes off his mask to reveal that he's wearing the body of Norm McArthur (as seen last time), but shows that inside he's still the Doom we all know when he flips out at Peggy McArthur's suggestion that Reed Richards is "the most brilliant scientist alive." After another quick recap, during which Byrne again copies some of his own panels, this time from Fantastic Four #260, Doom reveals the cunning plan which will transfer him back into his old body. Yes, for the first time in absolutely ages he's going to use Black Magic rather than Science to solve his problems. Right from the first page of his very first appearance he's supposed to have been a master of both magic and science, but it's almost always the latter that he falls back on. Doom's plan is to "reach out to the farthest corners of space and time to summon... the greatest power in the universe." The FF react in horror, as they all assume that this greatest power will be exactly who it turns out to be - The Beyonder! They seem to be confident about this, but I wonder who Doom himself thought he'd be getting? Apart from there surely being greater powers than The Beyonder, like Eternity for example, we'll soon discover that Doom does not even know who The Beyonder is, despite supposedly stealing his power the previous year on Battleworld. There's even more confusion when The Beyonder claims not to know who Doom is either, and Reed Richards is called upon to try and explain what's going on, which involves yet another recap, this time of the much-recapped original "Secret Wars" series. Reed realises that The Beyonder is judging the Doom in front of him based on his "true body's aura", rather than what he says, does, or acts like. This seems a bit daft to me - surely "the greatest power in the universe" would have looked a bit more closely - but it makes The Beyonder look again and realise that yes, this is the same person who nicked his powers not so long ago. He's about to destroy Doom once and for all when Reed interjects again with a whole lot of dialogue, during which he finally gets The Beyonder to explain how Doom could be on Battleworld in his true body when he was meant to be dead at the time. Aha! I see, that's why we had to go through all the rigmarole with The Beyonder not recognised Doom in this body - it was so that Reed Richards could work out the whole timey-wimey thingy. It feels a bit of a long way round, but I guess it's about as elegant as it's possible to make what, when all's said and done, is a huge exercise in No-Prizery!

So, the Doom we saw in "Secret Wars" was taken from the future, but that still doesn't help us because the current Doom is still in the wrong body. Thus we get even more hands-on continuity fixing as The Beyonder recreates Doom's true body, swaps his and Norman McArthur's minds back again, sends this recreated Doom back to fight in Secret Wars, oh, and also wipes his recent memory so he can't remember what's just happened here. Phew! That was some pretty heavy lifting, which seems to have fixed everything... except where did Norm McArthur's mind come from? He's dead too isn't he? Did The Beyonder put it in Doom's original body when he recreated it, so it could be swapped over? Maybe he realised that he was already going on a bit, so decided to skate over that section. For this mercy I thank him!

With all of that finally sorted out The Beyonder decides to clear off back to his own series, leaving one last bit of continuity to sort itself out - where did actually Doom disappear to at the end of "Secret Wars"? I love the way Reed refers to their time on Battleworld as "The first Secret Wars", almost as if he knows that there's a "Secret Wars II" series going on right now. Maybe the version of Marvel Comics that publishes the in-universe adaptations of their adventures has been sending him comp copies? Whatever the reason, he knows enough to tell everyone to get out quick, just in time for the real Doom to start to materialise, finally back in his own body and the main continuity again. And that's the end of the story, the long-running plot-hole, and John Byrne on Doom for our corpus. As I said at the start, it's not his best work and it's a shame that he's had to spend two whole issues trying to work this all out, but now it's done we can hopefully never mention "Secret Wars" ever again.

Next time, we're taking a trip into a whole other form of media, as we look at the Marvel Role Playing Game based on ... oh bugger. It's "Secret Wars"!

posted 28/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Prisoner Of The Flesh
Today we're looking at the first half of John Byrne's final Doctor Doom storyline during his legendary run on Fantastic Four. It's a sad moment for me, as this run was one of the main motivations for me studying Doctor Doom, and we leave it on a bit of a low point, when Byrne was having to rush around fixing continuity issues. This is clearly something he enjoyed doing though, so the low's not too low!

I remember when I originally bought this comic feeling intensely disappointed by the artwork, as this issue saw the return of Joe Sinnott to the series. Sinnott is one of those inkers, like Terry Austin or Bob Layton, who give everything they ink a very distinctive look, and at the time it was a look that I really didn't like. A big part of my reason for buying this series was John Byrne's art, but with Sinnott inking it didn't look the same at all. Reading it again now I can see Teenage Hibbett's point - it's all very nice and glossy but at lot of the time it doesn't look much like Byrne anymore. The plot, however, is very recognisably Byrne, as he once again seeks to put his own stamp on a tangled bit of Marvel continuity. This time he's trying to sort out the long-running mess around how Doctor Doom could appear in 'Secret Wars', and various other places since, when he was supposed to be dead for the entire time. The answer is a very convoluted one which we'll get the full details of next time, but if you squint and don't think about it too much it does at least make some kind of sense!

The story starts off with the Wasp interupting Mr Fantastic, who is hard at work building a Doom Scanner. He's convinced his old enemy is still alive, and so this will search the brain-waves in the atmosphere (somehow) for Doom's specific pattern. Apart from how on earth any of this works, the other main question it evokes is what does Mr Fantastic think he's playing at? The FF have been staying at Avengers Mansion since The Baxter Building was destroyed, so it seems a little rude of him to rewire all of their equipment like this without asking. Luckily for him, Sue and She-Hulk turn up and inform him that they're all off for a trip to "the beauty parlour" for some "girl talk". It's another in a long line of examples of the icky way that this generation of almost exclusively male comics creators try to write female characters, and it continues as the three women go to get their hair done by a ludicrously French hair-stylist who operates from the French Embassy. Thankfully for all of us this doesn't last long as they're interupted by a loud "BOOM" from across the road, where the Latverian Embassy is being attacked by somebody who appears to be The Invincible Man. One of the handy things about having She-Hulk in the team is that it gives everyone the perfect excuse to explain past continuity to her, so Sue is able to tell her (and us) that The Invincible Man was a Skrull pretending to be her father, but this can't be the same individual as the Skrulls have all been recently defeated, so this must be someone else. Thanks Sue!

The three women leap into action and quickly stop The Invincible Man, who then tells them a sob story about how Doctor Doom has kidnapped his wife and child in order to gain the secrets of his "invincibility war-suit". Sue asks how this can be true when Doom is dead, so Invincible Man points up to the windows of the Embassy where we see - Doctor Doom! They agree to help him, despite the facts that a) they have never met this person before b) they know that he is pretending to be a character who was pretending to be someone else in the first place, and c) they are all entirely familiar with Doombots and know full well that the figure at the window could well be one of those. On top of this the whole business of diplomatic immunity is quickly cast aside by She-Hulk - who is a lawyer in her secret identity - because "this is a hostage situation." Does international law work that way in the Marvel Universe? If so it must have recently changed, otherwise a lot of earlier stories make even less sense than they did already!

While they charge in we cut away to a little old lady who is disturbed by her neighbour, Peggy. She has her own sob story to tell about how her husband completely changed personality a couple of months ago, and became obsessed with building weird devices. Those of us who have been following this series can recognise "Norm" straight away - he's that bloke who was so rude to Aunt May over two years ago back in Fantastic Four #260. That's 27 issues ago - a massive chunk of time in comics terms, and an act of supreme confidence by Byrne to assume he'd still be around to carry on this dangling plotline. Unless, of course, he'd intended to resolve it all earlier, but had been unable to due to 'Secret Wars' intervening?

Byrne also answers a question that's previously been left unanswered in the comics, if not in other media - what does Doom's accent actually sound like? Well, he does keep coming back! I've never personally thought of Doom sounding like Arnie, and none of the actors who have played him have thought so either, so maybe Peggy is a bit limited in her knowledge of European accents? Anyway, now that we know who Invincible Man is it's time for the other characters to find out. While they battle a bunch of Doom's sentry robots She-Hulk remarks that this Invincible Man person seems to know an awful lot about the embassy's security. Shortly after this he disappears down a corridor. Sue turns invisible and follows him, stumbling into a room and finding Doom himself! Doom attacks her, and this leads her to realise that it must be a Doombot, because the real Doom would know that he can't penetrate her force field with his energy bolts. I'm not quite sure if this works - we've recently been told that Doombots are convinced they ARE Doctor Doom - but it's enough for Sue, who explodes the Doombot and says "as far as I'm concerned, this proves the real Doom is dead!" She should have touched wood when she said it, because the next moment - Sue uses her powers to show his face, which is definitely not Doom's - a ssensible thing to check, as they've only recently fought another pretend Doom in Fantastic Four #279. The matter is soon settled once and for all when Peggy turns up (having infiltrated the Embassy quite easily in Sue, She-Hulk and Wasp's wake) and smashes a handy pot over Sue's head. She goes to help her "husband", who pulls off his mask to reveal... a whole other mask underneath! Doom then gives a quick explanation of how it was all done, using the body-swapping powers given to him by The Ovoids way back in Fantastic Four #10. Sadly this explanation does not extend to a traditional Byrne re-drawing of the original panel, which is something I would very much like to have seen! The problem Doom now faces is that his own security systems are so good that he can't access anything in this new body, hence the need to hide out in Peggy's basement building a suit, and then recruiting Sue and friends to help him gain access to the embassy. Now he's inside he can re-program the systems to obey him in his current body but, as he explains rather heartlessly to Peggy, this is a temporary measure. He has a cunning plan to get back his original body, despite the fact that we've just been told it was completely incinerated, and whatever it is seems to involve the rest of the FF because the story ends with Doom using Sue's signalling flare to call the rest of them to help her. He says this is so he can destroy them once and for all, which seems to be a bit ahead of himself as he's still not got access to all of his gizmoes, but we'll have to wait until next time to find out what nefarious plan he has in mind - see you then!

posted 21/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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...And Then The Gods Cried
This is one of the tiniest Doom appearances we've ever had, with him only just distinguishable amongst a group of baddies in a one panel recap of "Secret Wars". He's a bit difficult to spot, so here's a zoomed-in version. That's a tiny little image, but it's completely recognisable as Doom from his cloak, clasps, hood, steel mask and square eyeholes, showing yet again how important these are for making Doom Doom.

The rest of the issue is a tie-in to Secret Wars II, with all the stupidity and weird mish-mash of styles that go with it. There's a lot about The Puma, a character I've never come across before, and an awful lot of attempted "humour" around the idea that his mystical Sensei actually likes pop music. Crazy! Spider-man isn't in it very much at all, and it feels like this is a sudden swerve from whatever story was meant to be going on. It's more like an extra episode of "Secret Wars II" featuring The Beyonder meeting Puma, and there's even a pre-warning of this right at the start. It all ends with Puma failing to kill Beyonder, and everyone shrugging their shoulders and going home, with Spider-man a bystander in his own comic. It's a bit rubbish really, and we've got something similar next time, with a lot of The Beyonder and the title characters mostly sidelined. However, the characters sidelined are the FF, and the guest star who takes over is Doctor Doom, so there'll be a lot fewer complaints from me!

posted 19/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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To Save Arcade?!?
Today we're looking at an issue of the X-Men for the first time in what feels like AGES, and it's quite a shock to the system after some of the ploddingly dull/incomprehensible stuff we've had lately. The main story is fairly throwaway,but it's surrounded by some Peak Claremont sub-plotting with loads going on that seems mildly pointless if you've not been reading the series for years, but is clearly vital to the ongoing epic, and it's all told with Claremont's distinctive, weirdly stilted, theatrical language.

The main storyline is all about Colossus and Kitty Pryde being kidnapped by Arcade to protect him from Doctor Doom, but it takes ages to get to that bit, as we have to sit through a lengthy sequence where Colossus has a bad dream about the various women he's let down over the years. I have had quite enough of Colossus lately, to be honest, and this bit goes on forever, eventually ending when he turns into his armoured form. I love the line "and ruined yet another pair of pajamas!" Bozhe Moi!

He wakes up to discover that Arcade has somehow kidnapped him and Kitty from the X-mansion and transported them to Murderworld. It's never explained how he does this, and it falls into the general category "It's An Arcade Story", which means he can do pretty much anything he likes. At least when The Impossible Man does this sort of thing we know he's able to because he's a space alien with cosmic powers, but when it's Arcade it's all a bit confusing. Surely he's just a technical whizz with a sophisticated amusement park?

Anyway, Arcade takes them for breakfast (a very Claremont thing to feature in a comic) but they're attacked by a missile which ruins Colossus' costume - he's not having a good day, clothes-wise. Happily Arcade has a replacement costume in the warehouse where he keeps his Robot X-Men, some of whom are wearing somewhat off-brand versions of their usual clothes. Arcade explains that he's being targetted by Doctor Doom, and needs protection. This doesn't entirely make sense, as he's got a whole army of robot superheroes who, as we'll see later, work just as well as the originals, but at least Doctor Doom works as an enemy. We know from The Fantastic Four that he's annoyed with Arcade about having to destroy one of his Doombots, so it makes sense that this is his attempt at revenge, but then again, isn't he supposed to still be dead at the moment?

Sub-plots keep popping up all over the place while this is going on, with little vignettes showing someone called Nimrod stopping a robbery, Storm fighting some vultures, and Cyclops saying goodbye to his wife before going to work, using dialogue that surely nobody has ever used in real life. It's all very very Claremont-y, and I'm sure is rewarding to regular readings, but I'm still waiting for Doctor Doom to turn up!

Things start to look up when Kitty, Colossus, and a bunch of robot X-Men travel to a version of 1940s New York because, as we know, you can do anything in Murderworld. They're waiting on a station platfrom when the arriving train turns into a brilliant Doctor Doom Transformer and starts to fight them! Hoorah! Fighter aircraft launch from some nearby buildings (see above re: anything being possible), the robot X-Men get dispatched fairly easily, but Kitty and Colossus manage to eventually defeat Optimus Doom. This leads to a panel PACKED with Feelings. Thankfully Doctor Doom himself finally turns up at this point, blasting the pair of them with lasers before Colossus has a chance to start reading some of his Emotional Poetry. Colossus does a Fastball Special, throwing Kitty after Doom's fighter jet as it attacks Arcade, but when he manages to catch up he finds that he's too late - Doom has captured Arcade and killed Kitty! Of course, that's not what happened at all. The Kitty we've been watching for the past several pages was a robot all along, with the real version staying with Arcade. She pops up, phases through Doom's armour and shorts it out. Colossus realises that he's poured out his emotions to a robot, which leads to yet MORE emotions, and then we discover what's really been going on. It wasn't Doom at all, it was Arcade's assistant Miss Locke in a Doom costume! It turns out that it's Arcade's birthday, and so to celebrate he's given Miss Locke 24 hours to try and kill him, and for some reason she chose to do it in character as Doctor Doom. "That's insane", says Kitty - I would have said "stupid", but the point stands. "Ain't it though!" says Arcade, and that's pretty much it, although he does at least have the good grace to give them a lift home. So, to recap, Colossus had a dream then they had an adventure where it wasn't the X-Men, they weren't fighting Doctor Doom, the Kitty who died wasn't Kitty, and the person who caused it all gets away completely scot free. So what was the point of any of it?

Still, it was all very nicely done, with dynamic art from John Romita Jr right at the start of his career, and it was worth it just for the Doom Transformer train really. I've read an awful lot of awful comics lately, and none of them have had anything even remotely as brilliant as that in them!

posted 14/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Secret Wars II
Legend has it that when Carol Kalish, Marvel's Direct Sales Manager at the time, announced at a retailers conference that they'd be doing a sequel to "Secret Wars" she was, at first, booed. In response to this she said "Let's be honest. Secret Wars was crap, right? But did it sell?" The answer was "yes" to both questions!

"Secret Wars" might have been crap* (*it definitely was) but its sequel was much much worse, and was by far the worst series I've had to read for this entire project. There have been plenty of daft comics, unfunny comics, misfires and misjudgements along the way, but this series is entirely without anything to recommend it at all. Luckily for all of us, then, it hardly features Doctor Doom at all, restricting him to a few flashback sequences and a cameo in a crowd scene, so rather than force myself (and you, dear reader) to put up with several weeks of me moaning about how terrible it is I thought I'd save us all the trouble by looking at the whole thing in one go, focusing especially on Doom's sequences.

The first issue sees The Beyonder coming to Earth, assuming human form, and then wandering around causing chaos with extremely uninteresting and unamusing results. As with "Secret Wars" there's a huge amount of dialogue (with unusually tiny lettering to fit it all in) and all sorts of weird mixtures of confusing storyline, half-arsed cosmic ideas, and cack-handed attempts at relevance. It also features the hideous soppiness of Molecule Man and Volcana, which I'm sure was nobody's first choice for what they'd like to see continued from the original series, this time turned into a ghastly sitcom about two super-powered pillocks "hilariously" destroying things. This is a Jim Shooter comic, so of course there is a recap of what's gone before, this time giving the whole story of the original "Secret Wars" in about eight panels, most of which feature Doctor Doom. The recap makes it clear that Doom was a big part of "Secret Wars", so it's odd that he doesn't appear more often in the sequel. We don't see him again until the third issue, when he's there in another recap. This issue is much the same as the first, with added attempts at ill-adivsed "relevance" as The Beyonder has a lengthy chat with a prostitute, a pimp and various hoodlums. It is Not Good. One thing that is of interest (if you've read a lot of Doctor Doom stories anyway), is that the title of this story is "This World Is Mine!", which I guess might be a reference to "This Land Is Mine!" in Fantastic Four #247 (which could itself be a reference to the film This Land Is Mine), which again would seem weird as there's no link to Doctor Doom or really anything to do with that story.

Also of interest is the "Next time" panel at the very end of the story, which gives the reader detailed instructions for following the rest of the plot. These panels appear at the end of every issue, including the final one where there are instructions on how to find the epilogue. We've occasionally seen this kind of thing before, especially when a series was ending before a storyline had finished and readers needed to be told where to find the continuation. However, we've never seen something with quite this many tasks before. Maybe that's why it's formatted in a typed font rather than standard comics lettering, so that the reader will view it as an Important and Official list of Things To Do and so be more likely to go out and buy all these extra comics. As we'll see in future weeks, tie-ins to this series were marked as such on the covers, so collecting them all was definitely something fans would be encouraged to do.

Doom next appears in issue 6, in a single panel as part of yet another recap. This issue features more awful sitcom romance, some very rushed artwork, a huge amount of explanatory dialogue, and a whole bunch of Cosmic Beings which the omnipotent all-seeing Beyonder has taken the trouble to carefully label. Doom's final appearance is in issue seven, "Charge Of The Dark Brigade", which has to be one of the stupidest titles for anything, ever. Mephisto has been plotting to copy Doctor Doom (shown in another recap image) and steal The Beyonder's power, which involves gathering together a "legion of Doom" consisting of all the baddies in the Marvel Universe. This is Doctor Doom's first "in person" appearance in the series, yet he doesn't have a single line of dialogue throughout, even though he's on the cover. He's just lumped in with everybody else like it's an issue of "Not Brand Echh" or something! It's very unusual for him to just be lumped in with other baddies like this - he's usually placed at the front of such gatherings - but it's even more puzzling to see him treated this way when he's been regularly mentioned as the only person who has been able to defeat The Beyonder before. Also, how is Doom here at all? At this point he's still technically dead - as we'll soon see (SPOILERS!) The Beyonder will be instrumental in bringing him back into The Marvel Universe, but that's still a few months away, so how can he be here now? If I was chasing a No-Prize (and I'm always chasing a No-Prize!) I might suggest that this is a Doombot, but surely Mephisto wouldn't be fooled by a Doombot, and if he was summoning one on purpose wouldn't he summon up a whole bunch of them? This sort of thing is precisely why I decided to look at these four issues all in one go, rather than one by one! It's all deeply awful, but thankfully that's the end of Doctor Doom in this series, although not the end of his interactions with The Beyonder. We'll be having a look at that soon enough, but next time we've got another visit to The X-Men, and another mysteriously sighting of the supposedly dead Doom!

posted 7/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett