Tuesday, September 2, 2014

My Dinner With Doom

There can't be too many Fantastic Four readers who are unfamiliar with this classic scene:

Which led, of course, to the origin of one of the most infamous villains in the world--Doctor Doom. Yet, forty-two years later (our time), that day is on another man's mind--the same man who, as an inquisitive undergrad, returned to that charred room to follow up on the accident. And what he discovered would have him one day breaking bread with the experiment's victim.

This is an interesting little one-shot story that flew under the radar on the comics racks in 2006. I really don't remember why I reached out to buy it--but if I had to guess, I'd say I probably thumbed through it and was attracted by the idea of these two men, who had such long history together as enemies, sitting down to a meal under an informal truce and making dinner conversation. Why would Reed agree to such an evening? And why would Doom reach out to him? I couldn't help but be curious about such an intriguing turn of events.

Reed's wife, Sue, naturally isn't thrilled with the idea. And frankly I'm surprised at discovering Reed's deep-seated guilt on the subject:

But we'll find that there's more to this meeting for both men.

To be on the safe side, Reed has taken a few precautions, which we'll become aware of as the evening progresses. For now, though, he arrives at the Latverian Embassy to greet his gracious host, whose welcome includes a comforting reassurance:

Doom's mention of his mother is somewhat curious, given that he tends to avoid such personal disclosures when dealing with the Fantastic Four or even his own subjects--so perhaps it's reasonable to assume she has some bearing on not just this Latverian "holiday," but this evening's occasion.

The only true surprise in Doom's arrangements for his guest is an unannounced change in venue. And Reed, who has put the rest of the FF on alert, is beginning to see the pieces fall into place.

And yet, the evening retains its casual air. In a way, it's disappointing to see that Doom hasn't adopted the formal evening wear that his guest has; I'd imagine his official dress as a head of state would be something he would be pleased to flaunt when the occasion calls for it, and it would lend this story less of a "spring the trap" backdrop in favor of a more inviting ambience for these two men to partake of. Be that as it may, Doom can still provide a diversion that will perhaps put the two of them more at ease with each other:

The unfinished game that they presumably played in college is an interesting notion, if not really in keeping with the original story. Doom, as I recall, wanted nothing to do with Reed, and Reed was only too happy to oblige until he dropped by Doom's room just before the fateful experiment.

Meanwhile, the rest of the FF are encountering robot doubles of Doom that have broken into high-security locations that Reed has stationed them to guard. They have their respective situations well in hand, which Reed has been kept apprised of. And so the endgame--not only regarding their verbal chess match but also regarding Doom's true goal here--has arrived. And just in time for the dinner bell.

In reading this story, I found myself almost as relaxed as Reed and Doom, even though the evening wasn't as productive for Doom as he'd anticipated. I half expected them to head to Doom's study for brandy. But we know that Reed has other things on his mind regarding Doom and that day at the university--and he now takes the opportunity to bring some sense of satisfaction to Doom, as well as an olive branch of sorts.

It wouldn't be possible for the story to succeed in building a bridge here--not only given the nature of Doom, but also because the status quo between Doom and Reed is much too valuable to be dissolved or even cracked. But it's to Reed's credit that he departs from Doom's company in a way that leaves the door open:

In looking over this story, you may have noticed the similarity of artist Casey Jones's work with that of John Romita Jr., though it's far more apparent in the Reed/Doom "framing" sequences than in the scenes involving the rest of the FF. But I found myself also appreciating other touches that both he and Vince Russell brought to this story, such as the use of ambient lighting as the evening between Doom and Reed progressed. The approaching dusk filtering through the windows of the Latverian Embassy as Reed arrived; the sun's light cast over the portrait of Doom's mother (surprising as it was to find Doom would leave a piece of art so exposed to harsh light); the glow of the candlelight in Doom's castle as the dinner hour approached; and of course the light from the fire washing over the setting of Doom's table, as well as the scene involving the return of Doom's pendant. I so wished I had been on the guest list.

Fantastic Four Special #1, 2006

Script: Dwayne McDuffie
Pencils: Casey Jones
Ink Assists: Vince Russell
Letterer: Rus Wooton


Anonymous said...

Dr.Doom has a curious name - Victor (but not spelt with a K as in the German way) - Von (as in the German way) - Doom (an English word that's never used as a surname as far as I know, unless it's also meant to be German but I studied German until aged 18 and I don't remember any word Doom - why would he have a German name anyway, he's Latverian whatever that is).

Comicsfan said...

That's an intriguing train of thought, Colin. If I'm not mistaken, it was never firmly established that Doom was originally native to Latveria--only that his father likely died there while trying to find safe haven. Latveria is nestled in the heart of eastern Europe, a mixture of dialects including German--and with Doom being from a family of gypsies, it's somewhat implied that his family simply made Latveria one of their extended stops. Perhaps Doom has gone into further detail in other stories; for now, though, the one thing we're sure of is that his mother died in what is now known as Latveria--at a site that Doom makes a point of visiting once a year without fail.

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