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The Lady And The Unicorn


I've spent a lot of the past four years banging on about 'The Marvel Age' as a distinct period in superhero comics, and have gone so far as to Empirically Define it as being all American superhero comics with cover-dates from November 1961 (the first issue of Fantastic Four) to October 1987 (the last month with Jim Shooter credited as editor on all Marvel comics). If you ever see me out and about in The Real World I will be more than happy to bang on about it in person as well, or you can see me talking about it next month at Factually Accurate Stand-Up, but the basic idea is that this covers the time period in which Marvel emerged as first the creative leader in superhero comics, then the market leader, and then finally lost that creative lead under Jim Shooter.

One question that has arisen from this is 'So what comes next?' My standard answer is 'Not my problem', but if I was forced to answer I would probably suggest something similar to what people call 'The Dark Ages', when Marvel went bust, gimmicks were everywhere, and big name artists like Rob Liefeld came to the fore.

We get a little hint of this future in today's comic, mainly due to the artwork by Art Adams. I don't think he's usually roped in with people like Liefeld and Jim Lee, but his hugely detailed, super-stylised work, especially when drawing women, comes as a bit of a shock after reading a quarter century of Kirby-inspired superheroics. I must admit that I dropped out of superhero comics around this time, mostly because I was a student and couldn't afford to buy them anymore, but whenever I popped into a comic shop during my time of absence I can't say I was hugely impressed by what I saw. Looking back now, I can appreciate this style of art as something exciting and dynamic, even though I don't really like it myself, but what I can't get over is how turgid the writing would become. This issue's written by the great Bill Mantlo, for example, but the pages are packed with heavily Claremont-inspired dialogue that's drenched in metaphors and high emotions that, for me at least, is really difficult to read. Again, I know other people like it, but this style of prose has made some of the recent comics (especially "Beauty And The Beast"!) hard to get through!

The actual storyline, as far as I can make out, sees Dagger wanting to join the circus but Cloak thinking she's wasting her talents. There's also a smarmy boyfriend and Cloak is... maybe evil? The story includes that really annoying thing where superheroes, who live in a superhero world where weird things happen all the time and there is literally a person called Nightmare who controls dreams and a version of Satan who steals souls, just shrug off Terrible Feelings and Dire Omens as "just a bad dream". Come on guys, this is your ninth issue, get with it! Also, Dagger seems to have forgotten that Cloak doesn't eat, which seems a bit insensitive. Anyway, some mobsters turn up and there's a big gunfight, so the circus fights back in an appropriately circus-like way, with strong-men and human cannonballs. The post-Marvel Age period was known for its "Grim 'n' Gritty" nature, and that is very much on display here when the gunfight between mobsters, clowns various and an elephant ends, as it so often does, with the accidental death of a unicorn. Heavy stuff! Dagger zaps the unicorn-murderers and then she, Cloak and the smarmy boyfriend teleport away to continue on their neverending quest to do whatever it was they were meant to be doing all along. And that's the lot, except for one last panel which - finally! - tells us why this comic is in a blog about Doctor Doom. As Douglas Wolk recently pointed out in an episode of his (excellent) Voice Of Latveria podcast, Doom popping up right at the very end of a comic is something that happens an awful lot. Sometimes he's used as a big final twist, like in Strange Tales #167 and Fantastic Four #196, while other times, such as here and in Champions #15 he's used as an enticement to come back next time. It's certainly worked here, as we'll be back in a couple of weeks to see what happens when Doom meets Cloak and Dagger, but before then we're off to see yet another Secret Wars flashback with Spider-man!

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posted 18/6/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Once And Future Kang!


Recently we've seen several examples of John Byrne claiming ownership of Doctor Doom by dragging together various previous appearances into a single storyline under his authorship. In this issue we see Roger Stern do much the same for Kang The Conqueror!

There's an awful lot of recapping in this comic, and that's where we find Doctor Doom, in a re-telling of his first meeting with Rama Tut way back in Fantastic Four Annual #2. John Buscema re-draws a panel from that issue from a different angle, this time showing Doom's rescue from space from his own perspective. My favourite aspect of this page is that Roger Stern has Rama Tut saying that this meeting happened when "I had just finished removing my ceremonial beard." Stern is so concerned with tidying up the continuity that he takes time out to explicitly explain why Rama Tut looked slightly different in his second appearance from his first.

That's all for Doom in this issue - he doesn't even get any dialogue! After that there are pages and pages of further recapping, which I take to be mostly re-tellings of previous stories - I can't say for sure because I've only read every Doctor Doom story up to this point, not every Kang story. There are a few story quotations that I do recognise though, and John Buscema uses rounded panel borders to indicate that these are historical re-tellings, so I assume most or all of the panels in this style are the same. For instance, he redraws a specific panel from Rama Tut's first appearance in Fantastic Four #19 in this way. The middle picture above is the same panel redrawn three years earlier by John Byrne in Fantastic Four #273, where he slipped Rama Tut's origin into an alternate future where Reed Richard's father was The Warlord, a ruler who saved civilisation on Earth, and Buscema re-draws several panels from that too. So this means that Rama Tut was distantly related to Reed Richards, and if you think that makes things complicated it is as nothing to the general shenanigans of the story itself. Kang The Conqueror has been zipping about through time accidentally creating new realities with divergent versions of himself in them, divergent versions which he has frankly no time for. Who among us can honestly say they have never looked back at younger versions of ourselves and thought "They're such IDIOTS!" This version of Kang has managed to kill almost all of the other versions of himself except one, who is being held in a paralysis beam with The Avengers. The superheroes (who spend most of the issue literally standing around doing nothing) eventually manage to escape using the tried and tested superhero methodologies of Trying Really Hard and also Never Giving Up, which allows the other Kang to get away too. A big fight breaks out and Kang Senior kills Kang Junior, at which point Immortus turns up! Immortus is yet another version of Kang from the far future, who Kang's girlfriend Ravonna has secretly been working with all along because he's the good version of him, whereas all the others are idiots for whom Immortus also has very little time. I love that bit of dialogue - "Oh do be still!"

So, just to be clear, Reed Richard's Dad went sideways in time to an alternate Earth which he saved from devastation. Centuries later his ancestor, inspired by The Fantastic Four, went back to Egyptian times to become Rama Tut. When he was defeated he then went forward in time where he met, and rescued Doctor Doom - thankfully Roger Stern explicitly says that Rama Tut was fibbing when he said he and Doom might be the same person, which is some relief at least. Rama Tut, now inspired by Doctor Doom, built himself a suit of armour, and went back and forth in time creating loads of idiotic versions of himself which he felt duty bound to kill, only to get told off and then tricked into Limbo by Immortus, yet another version of himself from the far future who's decided to stop being an idiot and instead be a bit of a dick instead.

With a story as straightforward and sensible as this, you can see why Marvel Studios are so keen to have Kang as the next big villain! Joking aside, it's all written in a thoroughly entertaining way, much like Byrne's excercises in continuity-grabbing, and it looks great thanks to John Buscema. It does feel a little weird to see an absolute legend of superhero comics re-drawing panels by creators who would have grown up reading his stuff, but it's all lovely to look at, with Tom Palmer's inks keeping it recognisably Buscema with a "modern" (for the late 80s) sheen to it.

The only thing this story is lacking is more Doctor Doom, but there's plenty of him to come soon!



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posted 11/6/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Marvel Superheroes Role-Playing Game


Today we're looking at one of Doom's adventures into non-comics media, and it's an area I know very little about - role-playing games! When he's appeared in cartoons, or radio shows or computer games I've had at least some experience of how those all work, but I have had precisely one direct experience of role-playing games, and it wasn't a very good one.

It was a rainy lunch-time in my second year of senior school (so I would have been about 12) and someone had brought in a copy of Dungeons And Dragons. My memories of it consist of a lengthy, very complicated, explanation of the rules, approximately two throws of the dice, a lot more explanation of what we'd done wrong, and then we were all dead. It was all incredibly pernickety and annoying, and I think that all of us gathered around that school desk were put off it for life.

Since then I've known several people who love these games, and tell me it's a free-flowing communal improvisation, expressing imagination wherever it takes you, and I'm sure it is, but I must say that reading through some of the material today takes me right back to that lunchtime.

There are five items all together in this look at TSR's "Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars Special Campaign Adventure" - three hefty tomes of rules and two sets of figures. The figures are pretty easy for me to get my head around. The first is a set of miniature figureines showing the heroes and villains in action, while the second is a similar, presumably much-cheaper, set of cardboard cut-out versions. This is an adaptation of "Secret Wars", so of course Doctor Doom is featured in both. In both cases Doom has his arms raised in anger, with all his usual character signifiers in place, although for some reason his gun holster is on his left hip rather than his usual right on the cut-out version. Whichever of these figures are used, they're all meant to go onto a map somehow, which is then used to plot the characters' progress through the game.

It's at this point that I get a bit lost, as the actual game instructions are bewilderingly complicated. It sounds very interesting to begin with, offering the players the chance to create their own stories - "You can branch out on your own. Not all the tales of the SECRET WARS have been told," it days. However, there are then sixteen closely typed pages of RULES telling you exactly what you can and cannot do, in a game divided into days with each day divided into four "shifts", which makes it sound like work rather than fun. There's a map of Battleworld itself, then rules on how you move around, how buildings work, how events occur and how characters can act. I know it's called a "rulebook" but this seems like a lot of rules!

Interestingly, for me at least, the various areas covered do align quite well with the work I'm doing on my PhD. My categorisation divides character aspects into character-based (what they look like, how they talk etc), storyworld-based (the settings, rules, history and so on), behavioural (how the characters interact with each other within the storyworld) and authorial (who creates them). There's nothing much about authorship in this book, but there's a LOT about everything else.

This continues when we get into the "Roster Booklet" section, where each character gets described in terms of the games statistics. For characters these include ratings for fighting, agility, strength, endurance, reason, intuition and psyche, then scores for health, karma, resources and popularity. The ratings have a scale with names like "excellent", "remarkable", "typical", "good", "unearthly" and "amazing" which, as far as I can see, aren't actually put in order anywhere. Is being excellent better than being amazing? Where does being unearthly come into it? It feels very much like the authors wanted to make sure there'd be as many chances for bickering as possible!

Doom's listing is pretty accurate, and includes a neat summation of his origin which even has space to address the knotty problem of him apparently being dead before Secret Wars began! As somebody who's spent several years categorising Doom, there's not really much to disagree with here. Even the relatively high score of 40 for "popularity" seems fair enough, as he does know a lot of people!

This is explained in the next book, called the "Player's Book", as due to him being a "charismatic bad guy... whose very evil bends others to their will", which sounds about right. This book is 100 pages long and is packed with rules about everything you can imagine, and again feels like a device for encouraging bickering. I can imagine it being very handy if you were setting up a computer game, and using it as a way to develop the rules that ran it, but it does seem like an awful lot of work to have to go through before you can even start playing. As I say, I've spent five years on the PhD trying to understand how this sort of thing works, and even I think it's a bit much!

Most of the illustrations for these books are taken from the comics - even the front and back covers of the main rulebook are adapted from the covers of Secret Wars #1 and #6 - but the front of the "Player's Book" and final "Judge's Book" do at least have original art, with the judge's book featuring the villains. It's nice to see that they've put Doom in his proper place, front and centre leading all the others forward! This is another massive tome, although this one does at least recognise the fact with a sentence right at the start that says "Don’t let the size of this product, the amount of text included, put you off." It goes on to say that this, along with the Player's Book mentioned above, is an expansion of the original game, encouraging judges and players to invent new stories using the game machinery described. Within this book there's new rules about things like other dimensions and creating new settings, and the general gist seems to be more towards fans exercising their own imaginations to generate more stories, although it's all in the context of loads and loads of facts and figures and rules. As I say, if this was all in a computer game then I guess all of that would be invisible, allowing players to feel like they were in a "sandbox" where they could do what they like. Maybe it's just that seeing the mechanics laid out like this makes it feel more... well, mechanical.

Doom appears in the "Villains" section, which has a much clearer version of character attributes - the categories are still the same, but this time they get numerical scores and, in line with the idea of "negative popularity" his score there has changed from 40 to -40! He gets two columns of text, as opposed to the usual single column for other villains, which includes information about how his Doombots work, and another version of the origin, which is worth putting here in full:

Victor von Doom is a self-taught tyrant, who rose from humble beginnings as the son of gypsies to his present status as an international madman. Doom is a technological genius, and is continually modifying his armor with new inventions and devices. He is a man of honor and his word, and specializes in schemes to destroy his enemies. He has three goals in life: to rule the entire world; to destroy his rival Reed Richards; and to rescue the spirit of his mother, which is trapped in a netherworld dimension. He is not someone to offend, as he will take the time and effort to hunt down and destroy his enemies.


I love the idea of "international madman" being something to aim for. I imagine you'd start as just a local madman, compete to national level, and then move onto the world stage.

More seriously, I find the description of his three motivations very interesting. In my research I've found that, during this period, the desire to save his mother only comes up a couple of times, and the need to thwart Reed Richards only really crops up when he's in a Fantastic Four comic. In other series, and especially in other media, Doom rarely if ever mentions him, which was a surprise as this is often given, as here, as one of his main motivations. Even ruling the world isn't quite as big a motivation as it's often said to be. Instead, according to my research anyway, what drives Doom is the need to prove himself to be better than other people. That's pretty much it, which I guess does cover ruling the world and beating Reed Richards, but is far and away the most common thing that drives him.

Towards the end of the guide there are brief descriptions of what we would these days call "Non-Player Characters". Being comics, this includes a huge variety of creatures, from fish and horses to "Dinosaur, Giant Armored" and "Dinosaur, Giant Radioactive", and from Asgardians and Denizens Of The Dark Dimension to Paramedics and Lawyers. Truly, all human (and non-human) life is here!

In summary then, these rulebooks and figures are similar in some ways to the overriding research project behind this blog, which is trying to find ways to describe how transmedia characters work. They're surprisingly similar in places too, although I'd like to think that my eventual schema will lead to less bickering... although, on the other hand, maybe it won't!



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posted 4/6/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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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"!



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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!



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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!



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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!



link to information about this issue

posted 14/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
(click here for permanent link)

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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!



link to information about this issue

posted 7/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
(click here for permanent link)

(0) comments


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!



link to information about this issue

posted 7/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
(click here for permanent link)

(0) comments


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!



link to information about this issue

posted 7/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
(click here for permanent link)

(0) comments


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!



link to information about this issue

posted 7/5/2021 by MJ Hibbett
(click here for permanent link)

(0) comments


Checkmate


It feels like ages since we last had a Doctor Doom story called "Checkmate" or "Endgame" or that tried to draw a comparison between super-villiany and a board game, but here we have it in the grand finale of a series that has managed to combine all of the weird attempts at "grittiness" from "Secret Wars" with all of the horrendously long slabs of dialogue from "Secret Wars" without any of the very occasional flashes of excitement from... er... "Secret Wars". What I'm saying is that this is even worse than "Secret Wars" was!

A major reason for this is that "Secret Wars" did at least have loads of Doctor Doom in it, whereas "Cloak and Dagger" has so far had about one page per issue, building up to this finale where Doom appears a lot but does absolutely nothing whatsoever. It's really weird - we've been teased his arrival since the cover of the very first issue, but when he turns up he just watches what's going on and, even more weirdly, seems to think this is "strategy". Thus, according to this comic, the way to win at chess is to basically watch while other people play it.

Doom is there right on the very first page, wandering around the nightclub/arena from last time, where he discovers the murdered body of the club's owner. It turns out though that this guy was a robot all along! We then get a classic Close Up On The Eyes shot of Doom, where he engages fully with the chess metaphor as he plans his "moves". As we will see, this will consist entirely of slinking around the building, observing other people do stuff. We next catch up with Dazzler and Beast, who since last time have been hung upside down by their feet, which gives them the opportunity to engage in huge slabs of horrible dialogue and uncomfortable kissing. Examples of the intensity of the romance here include The Beast explaining at length what happens when two cats are tied together over a washing line, and Dazzled saying she loves his "ribald sense of humour". So sexy!

Thankfully this is interrupted by Alex The Smoothie who reveals tha he is actually the son of Doctor Doom. His acceptance of his lineage (which he hadn't really mentioned before) is shown by his adoption of a vaguely Doom-ish outfit. As with so much to do with this series, the interior visuals are a huge disappoint after the Bill Sienkiewicz cover. Sienkiewicz draws Doom Jr in a shining gold costume, somewhat similar to the one worn by Doom Sr back in the inside pages of What If? #22, "What If Doom became a hero?" This is a lovely use of continuity, which is totally lost by Don Perlin's version where he's wearing something much more like a traditional villain's one-sie with a boring grey crown thing and Doom-like gauntlets.

After a brief look at Poltergeist and Link (two characters so annoying and boring that I'd forgotten all about them) we return to Doom Jr to find him throwing daggers at a map of Latveria. Two things strike me about this image. Firstly, how on earth has he missed Doom's face so many times when he's throwing the daggers from about twelve inches away? We see another shot of this later on in the page when it's abundantly clear that he's standing right there in front of it, with hardly enough room to swing his arm - does Don Perlin know nothing of the correct distance for a darts oche? The second, more exciting, point is that this is an Actual Map Of Latveria! Marvel Unlimited lets us zoom in for a better look: This version of Latveria not only has towns and villages but also a railway (which appears to go beyond the country's borders), county lines and possibly a river. Settlements named include "Doomsfalls", "Doomton", "Doomsburg" and "Doomsvale", alongside oddities like "Skidsville", "Otisburg" and, I think, "Canarsis". I have no idea where any of these names come from, but later on they are joined by "Doomshill" and... "Bronx"? Doom Jr is ranting away in a very Doom-like way in front of two of his lackeys, who start to worry that he is turning nuts. Unbeknownst to them as they wander off talking about it, and arguing over whether they should confront him, they are being watched by Doctor Doom himself. "The first piece is lost", says Doom like some kind of master strategist, despite having done nothing whatsoever except watch other people doing stuff. Shortly after this one of the disaffected lackeys frees Dazzler and the Beast, and Doom again takes credit for something which is absolutely nothing to do with him at all. I've re-read this just to check, but Doom is definitely not doing anything here, just observing. It's most perplexing - clearly Ann Nocenti has intended for Doom to appear right from the start of the series, but once he does arrive he doesn't do anything at all. The cover of the first issue showed him looming over everything, as he is wont to do, as if it was all a scheme, but it is nothing of the kind! Also, if Doom Jr is really Doom's son, doesn't that mean that Doom is calling himself a "snivelling cur" here?

Beast and Dazzler escape, but then run into Doom Jr and his circus of mutants. A big fight breaks out which goes on for ages, as everyone involved comments on how amazing it is that Dazzler (until very recently a singer) and Beast are able to fight off an entire army of trained professional killers. I guess it's supposed to be inspiring, but it's just daft. All of this is watched - just watched - by Doom, who yet again uses the chess metaphor to make it sound like this is the culmination of a devious plan. In case I have not made this clear yet, it really isn't! Link and Poltergeist, the two boring teenage mutants who were also staying at Heartbreak Hotel, turn up and join in and end up nearly killing Doom Jr, but then don't. I may have made this sound more exciting than it is. Once freed Doom Jr orders his army of mutants to kill Dazzler and Beast - something which they have manifestly failed to do over the preceding few pages - but they wisely decline. This is the last straw for Doom who finally makes his grand entrance to give his son a right good telling off. And then he just walks away! Doom has a history of doing this - notably in the classic Fantastic Four #87 when he just let the FF go in "the most offbeat ending ever". Here, however, it just seems that Doom is sick and tired of the whole silly thing and is sodding off back to Latveria to put it all behind him. Over the years of this project I have often found myself agreeing with Doctor Doom, but rarely more so than here. Is Latveria airlines taking bookings?

Dazzler and Beast follow suit and head back to the Heartbreak Hotel where they have another interminable conversation which attempts to make everything that's gone before somehow meaningful. They decide to end their relationship in the dullest, most emotionless way I think possible, and as they talk the camera continues to pull away from them until the very last panel showa a tiny earth millions of miles away, which goes some way to conveying how emotionally distant it all feels. And that's the end of what has been a truly dreadful mini-series, which doesn't even go to the trouble of telling us when it's set or how Doctor Doom is wandering around in it when he's supposed to be dead and/or on another planet. This series came out around the time that I was drifting away from mainstream comics for a while, first of all to fanzines and indies, but then on to bands and, vitally, BEER, and reading stuff like this reminds me of what a wise decision that was. We're getting closer to the end of the Marvel Age now, and there aren't many enjoyable comics left to look at, let alone any Actually Great ones, and this is illustrated very clearly by what comes next time: "Secret Wars II"!!!



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posted 30/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Crack Of Doom!


Before we get going on this issue, let's have a quick look at the front cover, particularly the image of Doom's eyes. When I ran the survey of Doom's characteristics several of the most mentioned aspects of his appearance were to do with his eyes - that they were visible through his mask, enclosed within square eye holes, and are brown. Also mentioned were his facial scarring and use of rivets on the armour, and the fact (later on) that he looms over other characters.

All of these are present in this image, indicating that we are very much supposed to think that the "real" Doctor Doom is featured within, but when we read the comic itself we find that in the new version of Doom's mask some of these aspects are missing, with no square blocks around the eyes and no scarring. It's a bit naughty of John Byrne to mislead the reader like this (although I suppose you could argue that that's a Doombot on the cover), but you have to admit he knows his Doom signifiers!

After the lengthy exploration of Doom's character and history last time, this issue mostly concentrates on The Fantastic Four, which I guess is fair enough as it's their series. The first three pages recap the final page of the previous issue, with the Baxter Building flying into space and exploding. This is followed by a couple more pages showing an apparently dead FF floating in space while as probe checks what's happened, before revealing that they were actually playing possum inside an air-filled invisible force field. Phew! They're alive, but they're still stuck up in space with only twenty minutes of oxygen left, so it's lucky that they have Mr Fantastic and his giant brain with them. He's got a plan which handily involves using everybody's special powers one by one. It's a fabulously efficient sequence where Reed forms his body into a spaceship shape, Sue uses this as a template for a force field and propels the "ship" heads towards earth by making a tiny air hole in the field, Johnny acts as a human heat barrier as Sue and Reed guide them towards Castle Doom, and finally She-Hulk comes to the fore as a human battering ram. It's so elegantly done that it doesn't matter that there's not really much in the way of jeopardy. This is a team working effectively together, shown by a writer/artist who knows how they all work. The efficiency continues as they smash into the castle and together fight their way through a bunch of guard robots. It all seems very easy, and it turns out that there's a reason for this - the new Doctor Doom is refusing to acknowledge that there's a problem at all. His plan cannot have failed, so he must have killed the Fantastic Four and everything his systems and robots are telling him must be a lie. This is spectacularly deranged, like a Latverian version of calling everything "Project Fear". Even the Doombots are worried, realising that they must have cocked up the brain-transfer process but unable to do much about it. The FF burst into the control room but, even though they're right there, Doom refuses to believe his own eyes! It's all a bit nuts and close-minded- even this early version of Doom would surely have had 17 back-up plans and a tonne of death traps ready - to the extent that this version of Doom could get work heading up UK government enquiries. His refusal to accept realty does however allow She-Hulk to rip apart Doom's armour and reveal that it's actually Kristoff inside. Reed quickly works out what's happened - the first time Doom sent the Baxter Building into space Sue had yet to develop her power to generate force fields, and so Kristoff's brain-washing must have stopped before getting to that bit. Again, we knew that already, so there's no big reveal here - all the fun for the reader comes through the way the team use their powers together so beautifully.

That's all for the Doom storyline in this issue - all that's left is for the FF to suddenly pause a moment and realise that their home has been destroyed, and then there's two pages of prelude to the Hate Monger storyline that will be taking place in the following issues. This features more Genuinely Racist Language, so to be honest I'm glad Doom won't be making an appearance! Instead of that we've got the final issue of "Beauty And The Beast", here next time!



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posted 23/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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True Lies


After trudging through so many issues of "Secret Wars" and "Beauty And The Beast" it's a huge relief today to get to a comic that is actually thoroughly enjoyable to read. It's yet another of John Byrne's attempts to stamp his mark on Doctor Doom, with a re-telling of his origin story that doesn't exactly change it, but is definitely a re-interpretation. There are also developments for his supporting cast that ask a question central to this whole blog - what makes Doctor Doom Doctor Doom?

It kicks off with a very John Byrne-ish splash page, featuring a great image of Doctor Doom and a high-faluting quote from Cicero - I wonder if Byrne had a collection of "A Quote A Day" calendars that he went through to find all these? Hang on, isn't Doom supposed to be dead though? We won't have long to wait to find out what's going on, but first we follow Doom as he pops into the classroom to pick up Kristoff. When I analysed the Doctor Doom survey a while ago I found that Kristoff was the third most-mentioned member of Doom's supporting cast (excluding The Fantastic Four). This was a surprise to me as he really doesn't appear very often, at least in this era, and certainly doesn't turn up as often as Boris or Valeria, both of whom also show up in this issue.
I love the way that Byrne explains how Doombots work here - they're programmed to think they really ARE Doom, unless in the presence of either other Doombots or Doom himself. It's a great, simple explanation that not only sets up the rest of this story, but further reinforces Byrne's retcon of Uncanny X-Men #145. We saw that version of Doom thinking and behaving in a very Doom-like way, but that's fine, he can still be a Doombot because that's what they're programmed to do! The Doombots strap Kristoff into some sort of machine and explain that this is all part of Doom's plan. It turns out that he recruited Kristoff as his ward in order to replace him as Master Of Latveria if anything ever happened to him. We've seen Doom set up a succession before of course, with various clones, and as in those cases it's not a simple matter of passing the torch on to the next generation. Doom being Doom means that his successor must also BE Doom, and so Kristoff gets given a mind transfer to fill his brain up with Doom's own memories and personality. This memory transfer is mostly an excuse for John Byrne to do his own version of Doom's origin story. Incredibly, nearly four years into his run on the title, this is the first time Byrne has done Doom's origin, apart from a brief mention of his takeover of Latveria in This Land Is Mine, but he more than makes up for lost time here. We get a whole heap of the usual John Byrne image quotations as he re-tells the story from Fantastic Four Annual #2, using the additions from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 and adding some tweaks of his own. For instance, we get another look at the scene where young Victor's father dies, and the misgivings of the other gypsies as seen in the previous two version. Then we see Doom opening his mother's box of magic potions, with Valeria added as she was in Marvel Super-Heroes #20 and the same box design once again. This time Valeria is able to explain her misgivings a bit more, and Doom responds rather more politely than just "Quiet girl!" Next we get a deeper dive into their relationship, and it all goes a bit "Christmas Carol" as Valeria finally decides to give up any hope for a life together and Doom replies that he's quite happy on his own. The story settles into a familiar groove for a while, with Doom heading off to America, meeting Reed Richards and having the accident that scarred his face, with yet more scene quotations. However, at this point Byrne does the unthinkable - he shows Doom's face post-accident!! This has never happened before, ever, and doing it mid-page rather than as a full splash page is, to my mind, audacious storytelling that makes the reveal even more shocking: he wasn't really that badly scarred at all! Byrne being Byrne, he takes care to make this part of the usual version of the story by next directly quoting the panel which came straight after the crusty old dean one. This is a way to say "See? This is exactly the same story you've always known, I'm just showing you an extra bit between the original panels."

The idea that Doom's scarring wasn't actually hugely disfiguring originally came from Jack Kirby, but Byrne is now making it officially canon. He then gives it a twist of his own explaining why people have always been so horrified whenever they've seen his face, by showing Doom at the Himalayan monastary demanding that the monks put the mask on his face when it's still hot. It wasn't the accident that made Doom a monster, it was his own vanity and haste to become Doctor Doom! I am, as you may have noticed, a big fan of Byrne's run on "Fantastic Four" and especially the way he writes Doctor Doom, so I am fully on board with this re-interpretation. COR!

As we've seen before, Byrne is a stickler for Continuity As It Happened, and so when we next see Doom going through his first encounter with the FF (oddly skipping over the whole "conquering Latveria" part of his backstory) he does so in the same costume that he wore then, rather than having it retrospectively revised as has happened elsewhere. Just as it looks as if we might be getting all of Doom's old adventures re-told, Kristoff/Doom presses pauses on the remote control. Disappointingly, he isn't just doing it some he can get some snacks and pop to the loo, but because he reckons he's seen enough for now and has come up with a Genius Plan. Aside from wishing he'd carried on for a bit longer (I'd have liked to see Byrne explain The Lizard Men Of Tok!) this makes perfect sense - if he really is being imbued with Essence Of Doom then the extreme arrogance of that earlier version of the character would also come through. Of course he'd think he has all the answers - he's Doctor Doom! We then catch up with the FF and some various sub-plots. Johnny and Alicia (now a couple) are wandering around New York, where they find a chipper young lad joyfully putting up some Extremely Racist posters. These are not the usual Marvel metaphors, they contain genuine actual racist language which I'll not repeat here - it gets the point across, that this is something evil, but it doesn't sit well to a modern eye.

Less problematically we then drop in on Sue and Reed carrying out yet more tests on Franklin, before seeing She Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot out on a date, having a bit of an old snog in a lift. I always liked this relationship during Byrne's run, as they seem like a jolly pair. It's not without its own problems - in the original comics, Wyatt's skin tone was always a bright red to reflect his indigenous American heritage - but I loved the fact that a male character always portrayed as big and strong was happily unthreatened in a relationship with a woman who was much bigger and much much stronger.

The pleasantries are broken up, however, when the Baxter Building suddenly takes off into space after someone lobs a Super Science Building-Floating BRICK into the lobby. "Not again" thinks Johnny Storm, because this happened before way back in Doctor Doom's second appearance, and it soon becomes clear that Doom is behind it again. Or is he? Reed Richards has doubts, partly based on the change of armour but also because the real Doom would never repeat something that failed the first time around. This is a really interesting question for all of Transmedia - how differently can a character look and act before they stop being that character? Here Doctor Doom is definitely not Victor von Doom, but he does have the same back story, supporting characters, and status as ruler of Latveria. He's also using TV screens to communicate! We might also expect this version of Doom to have the usual costjme too, if he's supposed to be exactly the same as the original, but I think this is Byrne signalling the Not Quite Rightness of this Doom. Removing most of his main signifiers, like the cloak, hood and disk clasps, means that his overall Doom-i-ness (technical term) is significantly weakened. The final pages sees the Baxter Building being destroyed, leading to a rather cheeky next time box: Well yes, it's clearly going to be continued next time, where we;kk get some more musing on The Nature Of Doom-i-ness, along with some rather fabulous FF action. See you for that next time!



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posted 16/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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The Swingin' Sound Of Sixties Marvel


This is a quick note to say that on Saturday I gave a presentation about Marvel theme tunes at the Transitions Conference. You can read a lengthy description of what happened over on my non-comics blog, but the short version is that I had a lovely time alongside my Rock Colleague Mr FA Machine and a brilliant panel of other researchers. You can currently see my presentation on Vimeo, although I'm not sure how long it'll be there for.

As part of the presentation we recorded our own versions of six of the sixties Marvel theme tunes, along with "Mighty Mouse" and "Batman", and we've released them as an EP over on Bandcamp. You can listen there, or stream it below:



This is, I believe, Practice Led Research! It was a lot of fun to put together, and we had a great time at the conference too. Back to complaining about terrible 80s comics next time!

posted 12/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Showtime!


I know I slagged "Secret Wars" off (a lot), but at least it had its interesting moments, and there was sufficient weird stuff to keep it interesting. However, that's over now and we must turn our attention back to "Beauty And The Beast", which was honestly so bad that it was difficult to read.

Doctor Doom doesn't appear until the very last page where, just as last time, he's standing on his battlements receiving news from a lackey about his alleged son. This is news he definitely doesn't want to hear. He's so uninterested that he orders his plane to be readied so he can fly directly to Hollywood to find out what's going on. "Doom, who cares for no man, suddenly seems to care about someone very very much" the wounded lackey muses to himself - how someone with that sort of attitude has lasted so long in Doom's employ is beyond me. Maybe Doom just likes a snappy dresser?

Although, hang on a minute, how is Doom in this story at all? With all the Secret War shenanigans going on at the same time as the first two issues I forgot that he's meant to be dead in the current timeline of the Marvel universe. I guess we can excuse it here as this is a limited series and so not necessarily set at precisely the same time as the ongoing ones, but it does seem weird that he keeps popping up without explanation or even a footnote telling us this takes place before "Secret Wars".

The rest of the issue is, as I say, pretty terrible from start to finish. It's another one with a really odd mix of schmaltzy romance, very old-fashioned art, and a stumbling attempt to join in with the current mode for "realism". For instance, once Dazzler and the Beast have spent a couple of pages being hopelessly in love on the beach they run into a bunch of disgusted passers-by as they wander home. Relevant! Dazzler goes to work in the weird circus - a workplace that she was forced into against her will last time, and where there was totally a murder - and has a lovely time. After a hint that Doom's son is trying to take over the organisation, we see Dazzler relaxing with some pals, comparing scars in what appears to be the front end of a spaceship. Beast has been moping around Heartbreak Hotel all afternoon, until the landlady tells him to get off his bum and go and see his girlfriend. He arrives to find her in her dressing room, looking "so... decadent!" The phrase we would use nowadays of course is "massively culturally inappropriate", but either way Beast is simultaneously repelled and massively turned on, until he sees the new jagged scar on her neck which "disgusts" him. He uses lipstick to draw "war paint" all over her face, and the whole thing is just awful. Are we meant to think that Beast is the good guy here? Or that Dazzler's self-pity, when she's a beautiful, blonde, white woman in a troupe where almost everybody else is disfigured and either green or purple, is somehow touching?

Beast discovers that Dazzler is being drugged - there's got to be some drugs in this somewhere because it's Adult and Relevant - and then is grabbed and drugged himself by the circus owner, who's trying to stop Doom's son from taking over and thinks this is a good way to go about it. Beast is driven mad and attacks Dazzler on stage, where she's handily dressed as a Princess to drive home a) the title of the series b) the way she stands out from all of the other cast members, and they have a Big Fight. Beast snaps out of his drug-state just at the right moment to say "Daz!" (that's what he calls her throughout, rather than her actual name) "Remember... our ... love!" "What?" she replies, not unreasonably as their love has not been particularly memorable. Luckily for the Beast she stops the fight, which enrages the bloodthirsty crowd. In order to sate their bloodlust Doom's son orders the circus members to murder their old boss, which they do happily, proclaiming Doom Jr as their new chief. And that's the point at which we head over to Latveria for the final page, and this who awful story grinds to a halt. There's one more issue to come, which we can only pray features a bit more Doctor Doom, but before then we've got a couple of issues of "Fantastic Four" to enjoy, featuring a whole new version of Doom. I can't wait!



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posted 9/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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... Nothing To Fear!


At last, after what feels like YEARS of slogging through it, we've finally reached the final issue of "Secret Wars", and it feels like a grand summary of everything that's gone before. There's talking! Excessive recapping! Some BIG FIGHTS! A queasy mixture of domesticity and grim'n'gritty! And, of course plenty of Doctor Doom - look, there he is on the cover again!

We're used to seeing these sort of covers, with the villain apparently victorious over a mountain of dead heroes, but when we turn the page we find that this is not a dream, nor a hoax, imaginary story or even over-enthusiastic cover image, but the actual truth: the heroes are all dead. Jim Shooter goes to great lengths to make this clear, listing them all one by one over scenes of devastation, presumably to counteract any smart-arse reader going "Aha! you missed out Spider-Woman!" It's like a "What If?" but real, they're definitely dead, or "carrion" as Jim Shooter puts it. As has happened so many times with this series, there's a weird mis-match of tone as Shooter tries to get in on the new mood of "gritty" comics, using a phrase like "blood oozing from the mangled remains of their flesh" in a series which, when it comes down to it, is designed to sell a range of action figures.

Thankfully we move away from all the death to find Doctor Doom back in his new base, having just zapped all of the superheroes. For some reason using his powers makes him increase in size, and we catch him just as he's shrinking down to normal again. Doom is quoting Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad-Gita (yes, I googled it) in an attempt to convey the magnitude of his problems - he has ultimate power, so has to be really careful not to obliterate a solar system by accident. If I had that sort of power I am pretty sure I would "accidentally" obliterate Klaw, who is still doing the incredibly annoying end of words thing-ing-ing, but instead Doom goes for a bit of a sit down in his batchelor pad/Doomcave. Next comes a lengthy segment dealing with the super-villains, still flying through space on a big chunk of Denver. A lot of this section is taken up with The Enchantress summoning up a Water Spirit in the bath for a recap and, it turns out, a complete explanation of how The Beyonder got started. It's VERY in keeping with the tone of this series that we get this cosmic information from an Asgardian water elemental sitting in a bathtub next to a bottle of shampoo. Mixing the cosmic with the down to earth was one of the key aspects of early Marvel, especially when it's (respectably) Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, but in Shooter's hands it just feels a bit naff!

After telling the Enchantress a whole lot of stuff she already knows (Shooter is still doing these recaps - who does he think is buying the final issue of a 12 issue series as their first one?) the water spirit gets boiled alive and then sent down the plughole, all while The Absorbing Man is waiting to get in to use the loo. We stay in Denver for several more pages during which the villains bicker a lot more and fight each other for various sensible and also not at all sensible reasons. Doctor Octopus,for instance, decides to fight Molecule Man - who, let's not forget, has put the whole suburb in a space bubble and sent it flying through the galaxy - for claiming to be able to get them home, when surely a) that's a good thing and b) he can pretty clearly do it. It all goes on for ages, and ends with The Lizard getting killed, the Enchantress going back to Asgard, and the other villains... er... actually, we don't ever find out what happens to them. It's one huge plotline running throughout the series that just seems to get dropped and forgotten.

Instead we go back to Doctor Doom, getting woken up from a nap by Klaw, who has been busy working on his Secret Wars fanfic. He tells Doom a whole made-up story about how the superheroes could have escaped being dead. Zsaji could have turned up and used all of her powers to bring Colossus back to life. He could then have found Mr Fantastic's body and put it into an alien healing machine, and if that somehow worked Mr Fantastic could then have worked out a way to make all the other superheroes be alive again. Doctor Doom is quite right, this is clearly nonsense and nowhere near as good as Klaw's Harry Potter/Battlestar Galactica mash-ups. However, Klaw continues to taunt him with the possibility that it might be true and/or that he might accidentally revive them himself, at which point Thor's hammer flies through the door and Doom FLIPS OUT. I'm not entirely clear what's going on there - is this Battleworld exploding (a bit)? If so, where is that sun, and how come there's stars all of a sudden? The Beyonder extinguished all the stars in the nearby sky, as we were reminded only a few pages ago. Maybe it's just due to the multitude of inkers being used - John Beatty is the only one actually credited, but as we get into the second half of this story it becomes clear that a lot more artists have been drafted in, presumably to get it all finished in time. They change every couple of pages, with very differing results. For instance, as the somehow-revived superheroes (we don't get a proper explanation for how they really came back to life) approach his base Doom gives a tiny sliver of Power Cosmic to Klaw, so that he can do the fighting while Doom goes and has a bit of a lie down. Klaw uses this power to generate an army of monsters in a good old-fashioned two page splash. I think the lack of dialogue and sound effects is meant to show how awesome this image is, but to be honest it looks a bit knocked-off in a hurry. I do like Mike Zeck's art, especially on Captain America, but here it looks really plain. I never thought I'd say it, but I really miss a bit of 90s super-detailed "scratchy lines" art here. Luckily, we get exactly that with the change of inker on the next page! After several pages of fighting Captain America makes his way into Doom's batchelor pad, where he gets killed again. And again. And again! I've no idea what's going on, but the upshot is that Doctor Doom is sufficiently weakened for The Beyonder to finally make his move. Yes, The Beyonder! It turns out that he's been hiding inside Klaw for ages, having been passed there by Spider-Woman via Hulk in previous issues. So that's what was going on! The Beyonder takes back his power and vanishes, pausing only to revert Doctor Doom to his previous costume and disappearing him too. And that's kind of it, for Doom and The Beyonder anyway. The superheroes go back to Doombase, where Mr Fantastic pops off to find a way to send them all home. Hang on, "find a way to get us home"? Didn't he say, just last issue, that he could definitely do this, and that there was no need for anyone to ask Doctor Doom to do it? Was Mr Fantastic just making this up then? What a git!

The rest of the issue is a massive exercises in tidying up - it's easy to forget, reading it now, but a lot of the ending of this story was already set up a year previously when the heroes returned to Earth in their own series. The Hulk was shown returning with a broken leg, for instance, and so that has to be quickly established here. Once again, there's a distinct feeling that Jim Shooter is rushing around fixing things that he should have sorted out ages ago. The fact that Hulk has a broken leg is quite a big deal in his own series, and I'd imagine readers at the time would have spent a while wondering how this came to be. Turns out he broke his leg in a fight, and that's all. It's a bit disappointing, even though it's followed by a little scene between Hawkeye and Hulk that eerily predicts the ending of "Civil War II" several decades later. Similarly, lots of heroes came back with slightly different costumes, just like Spider-man did, and it turns out that the story behind this was: they just got some slightly different costumes made. Again, this must have been a bit of a let-down - apart from anything else, one would have hoped there was some reason behind Professor X getting the most horrible costume EVER. Yikes! Lockheed comes back at last, The Lizard turns human, and Mr Fantastic theorises that all this "wish fulfilment" is not just a plot contrivance, but actually "residual energy which seems to respond to strong desire, or force of will." That's handy isn't it? Captain America uses this to fix his shield, and I guess Mr Fantastic uses it as a way to get himself out of the hole he's dug himself, because on the next page he's developed a remote control teleporter device that will send everybody home. Handily, this will send everyone back to where they originally came from in Central Park, unless the creative team on that characters regular series twelve months ago originally had them returning somewhere else, in which case "it will project individuals to any destination they concentrate on". Handy!

Everyone gets sent back, including weepy creepy Colossus who, quite frankly, I have had more than enough of. He goes with the X-Men, whose transport is somehow effected by an "energy fluctuation." This has absolutely no effect on anybody else, so I can only assume that it's done to tie up with however the X-Men were shown returning a year before. That only leaves one last item of business to tie up, with She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four to replace The Thing. I was reading The Fantastic Four at the time and I distinctly remember this new version of the FF returning to Earth and acting like She-Hulk had been in the team for ages. However, it turns out to have all just happened at the last minute. I'm not complaining (for a change!), I bloody loved that era of Fantastic Four, and though The Thing has always been my favourite superhero it was a great move bringing She-Hulk in. It just feels a bit of a let-down again to have the whole reason for her joining being "because The Thing fancied some time off". That's what happens though - Ben Grimm wants to stick around for a while to enjoy his ability to change back to human form, and so the whole series ends with the rest of the FF departing, leaving Ben behind, sitting on a rock like a superheroic Oor Wully. A very low-key, very "Secret Wars" ending! As I said at the start of this recap, the issue as a whole neatly encapsulates the series as a whole - massively half-arsed and rushed with far too much talking, odd endings, incomprehensible plots and slightlly disappointing artwork, written with a queasy mix of domestic sitcom and "dark" "adult" storytelling. If I've not been clear up to this point, let me spell it out: it really is terrible, and I'm very glad it's all over!

Next time we're back in the ongoing Marvel universe with... oh dear. It's "Beauty And The Beast" again!



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posted 1/4/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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... 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!



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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!



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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!!



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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!



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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!



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posted 5/3/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Beauty And The Beast


Over the past year or so of writing this blog I've got into an interesting situation where I'm reading a lot of comics that I first read when they actually came out. Several years ago when this all started it was all about series like Lee and Kirby's run on "Fantastic Four", long accepted as A Classic, but as we moved on towards the 1980s I started to find that any critical opinions I might have on a given text were mixed up with my memories of reading it when it first came out. With John Byrne's "Fantastic Four" series I can often remember which shop I bought each copy from, and reading them back now I find that they're touched with nostalgia for the excitement I felt back then.

However, as time moved further along we arrived at my teenage years where excitement got mixed up with disdain, when I'd spend a lot of my time around comics slagging them off with the two or three other people at my school who walked the long lunchtime walk to our local comics shop. I'd started to read fanzines like "Fantasy Advertiser", and was coming across viewpoints that were very different to the ones I'd read in "Marvel Age". I was beginning to see that there was a whole other world of comics out there aside from the superheroes.

With all that in mind, I did wonder what I'd feel when I got to series like "Secret Wars", which I had thought was so terrible at the time. Was that just me being a teenager and deciding that everything popular was crap, or was it really as rubbish as I remembered? As we've seen recently, it was, if anything, even worse! Looking ahead to some of the other comics still to come I'm starting to think that I was on the money back then, as there's some right ropey old rubbish on the way!

Which brings us to "Beauty And The Beast"! The cover to this first issue gives you the idea that it might be quite good, with a Bill Sienkiewicz illustration promising some of his thrilling "experimental" style of art, and a dramatic pose which leads the reader to believe they're going to get some high drama and also some Doctor Doom. Reading the actual comic, however, you get none of these things. The art is by Don Perlin, an old-fashioned craftsman whose style is about as far from Bill Sienkiewicz as you can get, and Ann Nocenti's story is a dreary, plodding tale that mixes up an unconvincing attempt at romance with a parade of entirely dull characters. Worst of all, Doctor Doom only appears for a couple of pages per issue, and doesn't join in with the main storyline until the very end!

Happily for me, the series does at least start with Doctor Doom, roaming around the art gallery which is the "heart" of Castle Doom, looking at artworks which only those worthy enough (i.e. him) are allowed to see. He wanders around monologuing to himself about the virtues of dictatorship, only to be interrupted by a lackey with news of someone in America claiming to be his son. It's not clear whether this person actually is Doom's son or not, although we do get a flashback to Doom sending a child and its mother away from Latveria while he thinks "Doom must not have a son", which suggests he might be. So why does Doom now call him a liar? With our alloted two pages of Doom done for, we get to the main story, which starts with The Beast arriving in Hollywood on holiday. He bounces around the sights and sees some anti-mutant graffiti on a poster for a Dazzler gig. We then see Dazzler herself at a "decadent" Hollywood party, where she's drinking Ginger Ale. As a Certified British Person I always find it extremely weird in American media when drinking booze is something that only villains and alcoholics do, and if started invariably leads to a rapid descent into evil and/or madness. Here Dazzler's heroic nature is shown by her refusal to drink alcohol, and the basic evil of the other characters by their acceptance of it. It does make me wonder though, what is she doing in this den of iniquity in the first place?

Dazzler meets a "fan" who next day introduces her to a "producer". She signs a contract immediately and then over the next few days she and her fan go to various parties where - OH NO - she has a drink of THE DEMON BOOZE. Days pass and she finds that she has very quickly got herself a reputation as... The Queen Of Decadence! She finally gets to a film studio, where she bumps into The Beast, who's on a studio tour with his old pal Wonderman. There's a minor kerfuffle when Beast objects to the way that Dazzler (who he's never met before) is being addressed, and then she leaves as Hugo The Producer stomps off. Hugo turns out to be a Bad Egg who is wanting to cynically use Dazzler for her singing and acting talents - the absolute fiend!

Dazzler gets lost in a back lot, where she realises that her power is operating without her wanting it to. The Beast, meanwhile, has become obsessed with Dazzler and decides to break into the Producer's house to prove he is Up To No Good. Here he meets another mutant and they have a big fight that goes on for ages while, elsewhere, we find Dazzler staggering around with her powers going haywire. We're meant to see Dazzler as an innocent victim of Hollywood Naughtiness and Beast as her saviour, but all the way through this Beast acts like an obsessional weirdo who's decided to "save" her despite the fact he doesn't really know her at all. This feeling is only added to when he strangles somebody to find out where she is. As with "Secret Wars", this sudden insertion of violence feels queasily wrong, like Marvel is trying to catch up with popular "Grim'N'Gritty" stories like "Dark Knight" and "Watchmen" by copying the perceived violence, rather than the storytelling, artwork, or ideas. This is something that would become a theme for the following decade of comics, and it's one of the reasons I'm glad my corpus finishes in 1987!

The issue concludes with Beast arriving at A Weird Old Hotel, where he finds Dazzler glowing uncontrollably on an old mattress. Rather than seek help from Professor X or any of the many other Superpower Experts he knows, Beast grabs hold of her, tells her to stop talking, and says he'll take care of her. And that's that for this issue - the series only came out bi-monthly, so we've got a couple more issues of "Secret Wars" to go before we find out whether Dazzler tells him to get lost and stop being so creepy. I wonder if she will?



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posted 26/2/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Invasion!


We're back to actual comics lettering on the cover of "Secret Wars" this time, which signals a return to some actual comics action inside, although you wouldn't necessarily guess that from the image on the front. To be fair, "Spider-man Changes Clothes!" would actually have been an exciting inducement at the time, as Spider-man had been wandering around in his new costume for over six months in his own series by this point, without any explanation of how he got it, so comics-readers at the time must have been quite excited to finally find out how it all happened.

I doubt they'd have been very excited when they actually found out, but that's another matter all together!

There's hardly any Doctor Doom in this issue, so we might as well get that out of the way. He appears just twice, and doesn't speak either time. We first see him sat on his bed, still stunned after being ejected from Galactus' ship last time. We then see him towards the end of the story, still sat on his bed, and still stunned. And that's your lot! There's a HUGE amount of hanging around for things to happen in this series, as if Jim Shooter had an idea for a four issue series that then had to be padded out to fill twelve. I re-read "Crisis On Infinite Earth" a year or so ago, and found that that suffers a bit from the same problem - the heroes are constantly going off to fight battles that don't seem to matter much, or embarking on busy-work side missions, but at least in that series you sense that it's building up to something, and of course it looks amazing with George Perez drawing all of those characters, and Marv Wolfman makes all the different worlds seem really exciting. In "Secret Wars" it's just the same characters every month, talking about the weather.

Still, this issue does at least fulfill the series' main objective, which is to have a load of superheroes having a big fight with a load of supervillains, although it takes a little while to get there. We start where we left off last time, with the heroes zooming off to Doombase to rescue She-Hulk and take revenge for the murder of The Wasp. Their approach is watched by The Enchantress, who is - horrors! - drinking!! Has Jim Shooter every actually had a drink? Or is this like the "romance" in previous issues, where he's channelling a thirteen-year-olds idea of what adult life may be like? Or - perhaps worst of all - is this another of his attempts to be "grim and gritty", as was the incoming style at the time?

Happily, we then launch into something which Shooter and Mike Zeck are much more capable of producing - a proper fight! Over the next several pages we get a whole series of punch-ups, as heroes and villains split up into various combinations to wallop each other in an entertaining set of ways. There is still an awful lot of talking, but at least this time it's accompanied by a bit of violence! The goodies win after a satisfying bout of punching and zapping, and after the usual dreariness of characters telling each other things they already know, we go over to Colossus in the alien village. He's carrying an unconscious Zsaji back to her hut. She seems "on the edge of death" so he does the only sensible thing - he lights up the "mind-linking vapors" that she shared with the Torch a little while ago because, as everyone knows, the best cure for death is to spark up a bong. This reveals a shocking truth, that "The Wasp was not dead - merely wounded, but also in some kind of death-like stasis". What? She was zapped by a lazer beam and then chucked out of a moving vehicle - how on earth is that "merely wounded", and where does this "death-like stasis" come from? It is, of course, a load of old rubbish like so much of the rest of the story, but it feels even more stupid than usual. Zsaji, it turns out, is in her own death-like state because she went off and revived Wasp when no-one was looking, and we see the results of this on the next page when Hawkeye and Captain Marvel find her back alive again. With that bombshell we briefly cut back to the X-Men, who are sat around watching Galactus tinkering with his device. All of a sudden though, something happens so shocking that it makes Nightcrawler drop his muffin! We're getting near the end now, but you might have noticed that we still havent had the thrilling story of how Spider-man got his new costume. Fear not, that mighty moment has finally arrived, as we see Spidey bump into a very pleased looking Thor and Hulk. It seems that the Hulk has worked out how to use one of the alien machines, getting it to create new clothes simply by thinking about them. How they managed this is anybody's guess, but there's a much more serious question to ask here: if the Hulk can now operate a machine to create new clothes just by thought, why is he still wearing the same tatty old ripped up trousers> Spidey goes into the Machinery Room, finds a machine that "looks like it wants to make me a costume", sticks his head in, and then the new costume appears. Yes, true believers, the big mystery is solved - Spidey got his new costume by... thinking he could do with a new costume! Wow!

As we all know, there would eventually be a bit more to it than that - various retcons over the years have shown that Spidey used the wrong machine and instead released the alien symbiote Venom which just pretended to be his costume for a while. I do wonder if there might have been an inkling of that right from the start - Spider-man does say that his spider sense is tinglling right before the costume appears, and there's a nice big gap in the plot which would very much allow for him to use the wrong machine. Could this be Jim Shooter NOT just making it up as he goes along?

He clearly wasn't thinking ahead for the pacing of the story though, as after finally getting round to the costume reveal there's only two panels left in the whole comic, one of which consists of Spider-man falling over due to a sudden earthquake, and the other with a weirdly dull looking image of Professor X telling the other superheroes that Galactus has finally finished tinkering with his Galactus-Gizmo and is about to start doing what he always does - eating the planet! Who can blame Nightcrawler for dropping his muffin in the light of that news? We've got a proper cliffhanger at last, but sadly we'll have to wait to find out how the heroes deal with it, as next time we're off to see what Doom's up to back in the main timeline, in "Beauty And The Beast"!



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posted 19/2/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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Questprobe


Today we're taking a break from getting annoyed about "Secret Wars" to looking at (and also, to be honest, getting annoyed about) the first video game to feature Doctor Doom - although when I say "feature" I actually mean "mention".

The game is "Questprobe 3: Fantastic Four Chapter 1" which sees you guiding The Thing and The Human Torch through a text-based adventure story. There was meant to be a chapter 2 which, presumably, would have featured Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Girl, but that never materialised. Having tried playing this game I must say I'm not hugely surprised!

I must admit that I didn't actually manage to play this all the way through - I did try, but after a few hours it became so incredibly annoying and tedious (even for a 1980s text-based adventure) that I gave up, and so am basing this assessment a walkthrough on YouTube using, of course, the ZX Spectrum version.

There were tie-comics for the Questprobe series released, telling the story of what happened before the games started, with Spider-man and Hulk featured in the first two. The comic for "Questprobe 3" isn't featured in this corpus though because it doesn't feature Doctor Doom at all. The game barely squeaks in because we're told via a copyright notice that Doctor Doom and his distinctive likeness will be appearing... but he doesn't. The first puzzle in the game is how on earth to get it started. You can try all sorts of things but in the end the only option that actually gets you anywhere is to say hello to the Examiner, who then tells you that "you must free ALICIA MASTERS from DR. DOOM" and that you'll need to "master the powers of two MARVEL SUPER HEROS (tm)" to do it. Exciting! The game begins in office of The Examiner, a character invented for the Questprobe series as a mysterious figure setting extremely annoying and pedantic questions for superheroes. The first puzzle is how to get the actual game started, and once you've managed that the excitement kicks off with The Thing stuck in a tar pit and the Human Torch floating around helplessly. The Human Torch is generally useless throughout the story, getting tired within about 30 seconds whenever he flies anywhere, so you spend a lot of time using the command "WAIT" so he can get his breath back. There's so much waiting, in fact, that the game allows you to use commands "WAIT 10", "WAIT 20" and "WAIT 50" so you don't need to keep typing it. In this instance, your only option is to be The Thing, hold your breath, and then just wait to get sucked down further into the tar pit. Once you've fallen through you're in a dark space where you have to scrabble around and find some machinery, which you can smash! "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" says The Thing, and that is pretty much the end of Clobberin' for the whole game. He then has to wander around in the dark for ages (which at least saves on memory for graphics) while The Human Torch flies into a cave and uses his amazing powers to... er... chip a pebble off a stone and drop it down a hole. This is followed by some interminable falling down a ventilator shaft, and more staggering around in the dark. Maybe I was expecting too much from this, but it doesn't feel particularly superheroic. Eventually you find a maintenance room, and then the Human Torch flies outside again where he finds Doctor Doom's castle - at last! I'm slagging the plot and game mechanics off here, but I must say the graphics - when they eventually get a chance to show superhero stuff rather than darkness and tar pits - are pretty good, and Castle Doom is very on model! The entrance to the castle is guarded by The Blob, and the to get past him you first need to zoom off to a nearby circus tent, where we discover - The Circus Of Crime! I wonder if Scott Adams, the writer of this series, had been given Super-Villain Team-Up #9 as reference, as that has The Circus Of Crime in Latveria? It also has Namor, Rudolfo, and all sorts of exciting (if confusing) incidents, so maybe it wasn't such an inspiration after all, because none of those things crop up here. Instead there's some business with a cannon and the need to close your eyes to avoid being hypnotised (which leads to another wonderful image of darkness) and you then pop over to somewhere we know well - Latveria! This is "the village of LATVERIA", rather than the country. We've seen Latveria be an island back in the days of The Marvel Superheroes cartoon and we've seen it act as a homage to The Village from "The Prisoner" in Fantastic Four #85 (in a story called "Prisoners In The Village"!), but this is the first time it's been described *as* a village. Here it's boarded up and abandoned, for reasons not given, so all you can do is pop into an abandoned shop where you find some very handy gun powder. You can then use this, eventually, after lots of waiting and fiddling around with syntax, to fire The Thing via the cannon into the castle. You don't get to see this happen, but you do get the aftermath! The Torch has to WAIT a whole lot more to get his energy back, then re-traces his steps back into the castle via the tedious ventilator shaft where he causes an earthquake (somehow) which in turn allows Thing to go into a different room where he finally - finally - sees Doctor Doom! All right, he sees a statue of Doctor Doom, which has fallen over, but still, surely this is the start of the action, right? Hang on, what? You grab Alicia and then it's Game Over and back to the Examiner's Office! This was, of course, very often the case with computer games of the 1980s, where there was so little memory available that the end of a game would be signalled either with a text message saying "Congratulations You Have Finished" or just going back to the start again, but after all that it does seem like an anti-climax for a superhero story to end in an office. Although, having said that, an "adventure" that mostly involves waiting for people to get their breath back probably deserves something like this - it's almost making me miss the constant Chats About The Weather in "Secret Wars"!

Talking of which, we're back to Battleworld next time, when the big thrill is going to be someone changing their outfit! I can hardly wait!



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posted 12/2/2021 by MJ Hibbett
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A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett