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Prisoner Of The Flesh

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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!

link to information about this issue

posted 21/5/2021 by Mark Hibbett

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DOOMBOT FILTER: an animal that says 'oink' (3)

(e.g. for an animal that says 'cluck' type 'hen')

A process blog about Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett