The Masque of Doom!
As has been mentioned many many times over the past few years, this blog is meant to be part of the research for my PhD, which is using Doctor Doom as a case study for an empirical method of assessing transmedia character cohesion. This involves analysing the frequency of different aspects of a character, such as their appearance, motivations, dialogue, other characters and so on, and one of the main characteristics of Doctor Doom turns out to be (not surprisingly) his mask. In the sample I've selected for my analysis his mask appears in every single text, almost always with square eye holes, triangluar nose, a grilled mouth and rivets, but today's comic is the only example I've come across so far where the mask appears without Doctor Doom himself!
Before we get into the story itself, it's worth taking a look at the cover which, excitingly for the time, was an Actual Photograph that had been manipulated to add eye beams. This sort of thing would become much more popular in the following decade, when comics went crazy and/or rubbish (depending on your point of view) with all sorts of experiments with covers as publishers tried to sell multiple copies of the same issue to "collectors". This one looks pretty good, but its very existence is the harbinger of much daftness to come - thankfully though, most if it takes place after the period for this blog!
I'd also like to make a quick mention of the title, which uses the unusual "masque" spelling here because, I assume, it just sounds fancy. It's not the first time this spelling has been used - way back in the (brilliant) Astonishing Tales #8
Gerry Conway promised a story called "Deathmasque" in the next issue, and when that ended up not featuring Doctor Doom he eventually used an altered version for the story "Doomsmasque" in Sub-Mariner #47. It looks like he was quite pleased with this spelling, as he took the time to explain what it meant to readers:
A masquerade is also a sort of party, which does not fit the start of the story at all, as we pick up from the previous issue which saw Reed Richards and various other Marvel physicians unable to help as Sue had a miscarriage. At the time this felt very Adult and Serious (another harbinger of the then-future of superhero comics) but now, quite a few decades older, I'm not so sure. I've never subscribed to the view that superhero comics should be "escapist", but there's something about discussing a miscarriage while Hulk fights Doctor Octopus on the other side of the room that doesn't feel quite right.
She-Hulk also feels uncomfortable about the whole thing, so she and Johnny head back to the Baxter Building, with her giving him (and FF readers who've not read her solo series) a quick recap of her origin story. When they arrive Johnny shows her a Big Red Button which cuts off all signals into the building which, I'm sure, will not have any further place in the story.
They then go for a tour round the building, including the room where they store all the most dangerous and mysterious artefacts they've uncovered during their adventures. This includes the mask - or masque - of Doctor Doom which was picked up after his death at the hands of Terrax in Fantastic Four #260.
There's a quick update on the ongoing subplot of Reed and Sue's attempt to have a secret identity, with a nosy neighbour poking round their empty house in Connecticut, and then it's back to the Baxter Building where all the alarms are going off. Johnny and She-Hulk investigate, only to find that - surprise surprise - it's not a "mystery assailant", but Doom's mask!
It gives them one heck of a going over, knocking the Human Torch down and chucking She-Hulk out of the building, and it's only when Mr Fantastic turns up that it's finally defeated. Reed works out that this attack is too complex to have been pre-programmed into the mask and so it must be receiving a remote signal somewhere. He fixes this problem by hitting that Big Red Button we saw earlier.
Well, who could have guessed that that would come in handy so soon? And that's pretty much it for the story, with the only item of business that remains being for Reed to explain to the others how it all worked, and also deliver the revelation that maybe, just maybe, this is an indication that Doom isn't quite as dead as they all thought!
What the?!? But I thought this whole blog was about to end!
It's not a classic episode of Byrne's run on the series by any means, but it is a fairly typical example of the way he liked to juggle multiple storylines in a soap opera style, not dissimilar to the way that Lee and Kirby's classic run used to. It's also nice to get to the She-Hulk era too, which is a period of the Fantastic Four that I have a great deal of fondness for, and led on to the very enjoyable (if brief) solo series a little while later. It's basically been a fun story to re-read, which is a lot more than can be said for what's coming next as we finally, very reluctantly, dive back into Secret Wars!
link to information about this issue
posted 13/1/2021 by Mark Hibbett