Thursday, October 6, 2016

Defeated By Doctor Doom! (Not really!)

When reading Fantastic Four #17, it may feel as if the book is starting to overplay its hand where Dr. Doom is concerned. In the prior issue, the FF had already faced and defeated a plot by Doom to conquer the microscopic world of Sub-Atomica--and now, in the very next issue, Doom is back and completely prepared to launch a new plot, designed to both capture and destroy the Fantastic Four as well as blackmail the United States into granting him a Cabinet post. The man could easily adopt the familiar slogan that was pronounced at the end of those old Timex commercials, where John Cameron Swayze subjected a Timex watch to one brutal torture test after another but failed to stop it from running. Doom remaining a threat at large is certainly in the best interests of Fantastic Four; yet as much as the character of Doom is catching on at this point, the FF can let Doom slip through their fingers only so many times before it becomes a running joke in the book. When that starts happening in back-to-back appearances, you have to think about throwing in an eye-roll for good measure.

For what it's worth, in this story Doom's conflict with the FF is on a much more personal level, his vengeance on the group taking a very curious form: resentment of the fact that Alicia Masters and the misshapen, monstrous Thing, two people who give new meaning to the phrase "opposites attract," wish to pursue a loving relationship with one another, a development which can't help but remind Doom of his own disfigurement and his apparent inability to do the same.

In this rare instance where Doom is portrayed in such a vulnerable light to the reader, it's odd that there is no scene in this story where Doom meets with and questions Alicia, an interview which might likely be handled hostilely, even insultingly, given Doom's tendency to swat aside what he's unable to accept. Instead, he moves on with the business at hand. With Alicia in his grasp, Doom revels in the knowledge that he can do as he pleases, with the Fantastic Four unable to raise a hand against him. And this time, he proceeds to act directly against the United States, by disrupting the country's power grid and making a specific demand of the government as a condition for ceasing his attack. But the government chooses to explore another, more time-tested option in dealing with Doom.

Reed's plan is to covertly initiate an attack on Doom's airborne laboratory before he realizes the threat and can act to stop the FF. That involves changing the Thing back to his human form of Ben Grimm for a brief period, in order to bypass Doom's security which is set to detect members of the FF. Grimm is able to board the vessel in the nick of time before he reverts--and the Thing can't help but bellow a clear warning to Doom that he'll pay for what he's done.

We're probably all shaking our heads sadly at Reed's tactic; what we really wanted to hear from him was, "Stay together! Don't give him a chance to pick us off one by one!" Instead, the team proceeds to fall into a series of specially-designed traps for each of them, which the issue's cover has already spilled the beans on.

Yet Doom underestimates the resourcefulness and resolve of the FF, and the team survives to converge again and close in. It's then that Doom launches a deadly attack designed to remove the FF from our dimension forever. Has Doom won at last? For a few moments, he declares victory--until, once again, his foes surprise him, thanks to flame images which the Torch created to bait Doom's trap with realistic-looking versions of the FF.

(Sometime we'll have to hope for an explanation from Doom as to how his metal mouth can mimic expressions, particularly to the extent we see here. Would Doom really bother with a function so silly?)

While the story plays out by the numbers as far as the FF regrouping against Doom, it bears mentioning that it offers one difference where Sue is concerned, one that we won't see often in these Silver Age tales: Instead of fretting about being trapped or admitting how helpless she is, this time she confidently and aggressively turns the tables on Doom and actually takes him on. I may faint.

Doom then pulls a weapon on Sue--but it's then that the others burst in, forcing him to abandon his plans as well as his ship. Naturally, Doom escapes capture once again--though Reed equates driving him off with "mission accomplished."

In a sequel published 36 years later, this story continues,
as Doom turns his attention to... the Avengers!

Fantastic Four #17

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letterer: Art Simek


George Chambers said...

I remember reading this story in a reprint years ago. The biggest "no, I ain't buying it" moment wasn't so much Sue beating Doom, but Reed Richards being "one of the world's greatest judo experts". The same Reed Richards who's the world's greatest polymath scientist, SOMEHOW spent all the time necessary to get a black belt. And then, the same man who Sue constantly complains doesn't spend enough time with her, spends enough time to teach her enough judo to topple a super-strong guy in heavy metal armor.

...Yeah, surrrre.

Comicsfan said...

Excellent points, George--in fact, when was the last time Reed used judo in a fight? He must have had any number of opportunities.

George Chambers said...

Absolutely right, C.F. In fact, you know what would have been really cool? Sue Storm being one of the world's greatest judo experts off her own bat! Just imagine - Sue as a martial arts asskicker with the added advantage of being able to turn invisible. Evil, beware!

... Hey, wait. Didn't Claremont do exactly that, albeit forty years after this story?

Comicsfan said...

That he did, George, though she got her training elsewhere that time, as well.

B Smith said...

What incredible bad luck that each FF member took off down the corridor into the very trap designed specifically to neutralise them.

Comicsfan said...

B, I agree the odds are ridiculous; maybe Doom's flying lab is a little like Hogwarts (though in Doom's case, with the flip of a switch), and the hallways in which the FF were splitting up were rotated accordingly? *shrug*

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