Tuesday, January 6, 2015

To The Victor... The World!

In Part One of the classic four-part Fantastic Four tale from issues 57-60, Dr. Doom had finally realized his goal of achieving ultimate power by luring the Silver Surfer into his castle stronghold and siphoning the Surfer's cosmic power into his own body. And now, virtually invincible, Doom plans to first crush the famous foursome, and then fly on to capture the world.

Having suffered a humiliating defeat in "The Battle of the Baxter Building," it's understandable why Doom would want to waste no time in hunting down the Fantastic Four and paying them back in full. And with the Surfer's power at his disposal, no doubt his victory will be doubly sweet; with no need to rely on weaponry, trickery, or a manipulative plan, Doom will be able to wade in and destroy the FF with his own physical might. Given this story's title--"The Dismal Dregs of Defeat!"--we're given the impression that Doom will be savoring that victory to the fullest. But, what's that you say? "Don't count the FF out yet!" Well, fair enough--but wait until you see who does just that.

Over the past few issues, this book has given a portion of its story space to the incomparable Inhumans, as they strive to discover a way to break free of the negative barrier which the mad Maximus has enclosed their Great Refuge within (a barrier which Maximus christened "the Negative Zone," before Reed ever got around to attaching the name to what he was then calling "sub-space"). But with Doom out for blood in this issue, so much is happening with the FF that the Inhumans have been tabled--as has the road show of Wyatt Wingfoot, Johnny Storm, and the Inhumans' dog, Lockjaw, in order to bring Johnny back to rejoin the team in their hour of need. It's going to take all hands on deck to challenge Doom--but will even the full complement of the Fantastic Four be enough?

As if to dare them to try, Doom heralds his coming with an apparition that forms during an electrical storm--just dazzling enough to cause confusion as to its origin, but a near-unmistakable omen that can't easily be dismissed:

With the groundwork laid for his approach, Doom makes preparations to leave for New York--but not without letting us see the fate of the Silver Surfer, now stripped of his power and weakened to such a state that he languishes in Doom's tower:

I don't know about the "whimpering" part--but the Fantastic Four being reduced to helplessness is beginning to look like a distinct possibility.

Back at the Baxter Building, Reed and Sue decide to retreat to their rented cottage in Southampton for the weekend, leaving the Thing to mind the fort. It seems an intentional move on writer Stan Lee's part to isolate Ben Grimm, since Lee dropped strong hints in the prior story that taking revenge on the Thing has preoccupied Doom, ever since his hands suffered serious injury from the brute's raging attack in their last battle. And now, arriving to exact that revenge, Doom relishes facing this enemy first, when the scales can't help but tip in Doom's favor:

Yet part of what makes Fantastic Four stand out from the pack is the amount of character that Lee gives each member of this foursome--in the Thing's case, his cocky defiance thrown toward even the most vicious and confident enemy. Doom is the type of opponent who gives as good as he gets--but as the Thing takes on an offensive posture, even Doom might be admitting to himself that he's in for a fight.

Even as "outgunned" as Ben is, it's exciting reading at this point to think that we're in for a knock-down drag-out between these two. But the Thing is outgunned--enormously so--and all that Doom needs is an opening to act:

It's around this time that Lockjaw's dimensional transport power inexplicably returns the Torch and Wyatt to the Baxter Building, where the signs of recent battle are apparent:

Yet Doom has already flown on to his next stop where his powers have led him--the cottage hideaway of Reed and Sue Richards, who also experience a deadly surprise attack:

Reed doesn't lack for power, but often more interesting when watching him in battle is seeing him analyze the situation at a glance and bring his resourcefulness into play. Reed and Doom are fierce foes under normal circumstances; but, even realizing how outmatched he may be, just watch how quickly Reed adapts to the odds of this battle and gains the momentum:

Reed's desperate cry to Sue and hers in return do the job of bringing us back to how serious this threat is that they face. And on cue, we see that Doom knows a thing or two about initiative, himself:

With Reed and Sue at Doom's mercy, the Torch's timely arrival keeps him from ending their lives then and there. Johnny will find that he's able to cut loose with Doom as he now is--but though the Torch battles bravely, the conflagration he causes isolates him from the rest of his team who have no choice but to escape:

Doom has bottom-lined the situation in words that must cut through Johnny like a knife. Flame is his only power--and with Doom now invulnerable to what he can safely bring to bear while within a populated area, he cannot prevail. Yet he tries and gives it his best effort, if only to give his sister and brother-in-law the opportunity to survive. It's a fine moment for him, and it raises the drama of this battle considerably.

Meanwhile, to perhaps continue to build our anticipation for the climax of this desperate fight, we return to the Thing, where Wyatt has followed the directions of the Torch to locate Ben and use a device that will hopefully free him from his paralysis:

It goes without saying that the Thing will now be racing to the battle site--but will he be in time?

Finally, everyone assembles to face Doom together; but Wyatt has had the forethought to pocket one of Reed's weapons. Fortunately, Reed is present to stop Mr. Trigger-Happy from blowing his best friend to kingdom come:

The expressions we see on everyone's faces tell us the result of the erupting blast: their foe has once again emerged unscathed. But most shocking of all are the words of the last person anyone expected to see throwing in the towel:

It's a bitter cup for the FF to swallow. Not only are they beaten; not only will they have to live under the threat of Doom returning to kill them whenever the mood strikes him; but they're left standing to watch this man fly off to attack and conquer the world. And however Reed raises his words in defiance, it suits the closing moments of this story that he raises neither his fist nor his head, bowed in defeat:

With the FF beaten and the world defenseless, what else is left? Only the waiting for:

Fantastic Four #58

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

Doom at his most diabolical.
Actually, I thought the Torch made a pretty good showing here. He's often depicted as a bit of a one-trick pony, but he managed to give Doom a little trouble. mp

Comicsfan said...

Johnny gets nice coverage throughout this storyline, and he'll have an interesting development in Part 3.

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