Friday, March 10, 2017

When Stalks The Shroud!

Our introduction to the mysterious adventurer known as the Shroud came a bit after the fact, considering the man had already made his mark--believing himself to have killed none other than Doctor Doom and, when he discovered his self-adulation had been premature, was more than willing to give it another shot. Created by Steve Englehart and Herb Trimpe as a supporting player in the drama unfolding in the pages of Super-Villain Team-Up between Doom and the Sub-Mariner, the Shroud made his first appearance in the vicinity of the Baxter Building while the Fantastic Four were in the midst of trying to help Namor recover from an attack by Doom designed to rob his special costume of its ability to keep him alive while not in contact with the water which sustained him, as part of a plan that would force Namor to once more become Doom's ally. The Shroud's subsequent encounter with the Human Torch raised more questions than it answered about the man--yet he proved a capable fighter against the Torch, and it seemed clear to both the Torch and ourselves that we hadn't heard the last of him.

All we know of his goal so far is that he means to attack Doom for some reason--and whatever intelligence sources he's working with appear to have led him to both Namor and the FF as the likeliest to have had the most recent contact with the armored despot. The Shroud has also demonstrated that his costume is more than a design suited to his name--it's also specially treated with asbestos, as the Torch found out to his detriment. And before you (justifiably) wonder aloud what sort of new costumed character makes a point of fireproofing his clothing, we'll soon discover that the garment is also proof against other kinds of deadly attacks--perhaps done in the name of prudence, when one is expecting to face Doctor Doom.

With the FF having failed to counter Doom's sabotage of Namor's suit, Namor was forced to capitulate to Doom, and was captured once he'd left the Baxter Building and then transported to Latveria. And so the FF have gone to Namor's rescue in Doom's storybook kingdom; what they don't realize is that the Shroud is following closely behind.

But before we go any further--just who is this 1976 character who stalks in shadows and harbors animosity toward Doom? Let's just say that you'll find the circumstances of his origin... familiar.

The twist to the Shroud's origin is the "branding" that caused the loss of his eyesight, which, in combination with his supplemental athletic abilities, makes him a variation of Daredevil--in his case, seeing with his "mystic" senses rather than enhanced physical senses. But being a "master scientist," the Shroud brings more science-based resources to the table, as we'll see in a moment.

(By the way, Shroud, just why are you posing in front of that mirror? You're effectively blind--and your senses can't make out what's in a reflection, sport.)

That brings us up to speed on how the Shroud came to be--but it doesn't explain why this man is so obsessed with killing a man he knows only by reputation. For that answer, we have to follow him to Latveria, where he makes his way to Doom's castle while the FF are engaged with Doom's reception committee.

Meanwhile, Doom is busy meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a discussion which results in a decision that stops the FF in their tracks when they finally reach Doom:

Facilitating the agreement between Doom and the U.S. was the fact that, thanks to Doom's machinations, Latveria is now in an alliance with Atlantis--and though the Atlanteans are currently in the grip of a nerve gas compound that has rendered its population comatose, Atlantis is still ruled by Namor, who now serves Doom.

The Shroud decides to seek out Namor in confidence, in order to inform him of his plan regarding Doom--quite a chance to take, considering that, in his formal capacity as a Latverian ally, Namor could feel obligated to warn Doom of the Shroud's intentions. On the other hand, should the Shroud be successful, Namor will be freed from his service to Doom. More interesting to the reader, however, will be the Shroud's rationale for exactly why he wishes to kill Doom:

Doom of course is one of the major villains of the world, worthy of a new hero's wish to make a difference; unfortunately, the Shroud's motivation seems to have less to do with altruism or ridding the world of Doom's threat, and more to do with establishing his rep.

The Shroud receives Namor's cynicism rather than his blessing--but regardless, he proceeds with his plan that night, just as Doom is feeling a bit lonely and decides to take custody of a girl named Gretchen, a daughter of one of the villagers, for her company that evening while he sets his hounds loose to hunt for wolves in the countryside. But before Doom can take advantage of his status over the girl, the Shroud shrikes... er, strikes!

Englehart contrasts the characters' temperaments nicely--the upstart vs. a seasoned menace who regards the Shroud's challenge as incredulous and even insulting. Yet the Shroud has come well-prepared for this face-off--and even Doom would have to admit that the Shroud makes a fight of it. In the process, we learn something else about the Shroud's costume: whoever has sewn its pockets is a genius, considering all of the gadgets and gear he's able to stow in its folds.

So far it looks like the Shroud has every reason to be confident, as well as he's staying one step ahead of Doom in this conflict. It might even be fair to say that Doom is on the ropes, with the Shroud's last attack forcing Doom to rid himself of a vital piece of his armor's protection. But the outcome of this contest will have to wait for another time, as a twist of fate removes Doom's threat, seemingly for good.

And while the fate of Doom will remain in doubt for the rest of us, the Shroud will end up taking quite a victory lap, riding the wave of his success for all it's worth and announcing at opportune moments that he's "the man who killed Dr. Doom!". Admittedly, it could be considered quite a feather in his shroud cap, under other circumstances--but considering how often Doom manages to have the last laugh, the Shroud may want to hold off on the talk show bookings for now.

This issue's power-packed cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson!


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

I always liked Trimpe

Anonymous said...

SVTU #7 was one of the first Marvel Comics I had as a kid. I'd love it for sentimental reasons alone, but it really is a fantastic issue with an incredible fight scene. I wonder if it wasn't meant to show us what a Batman vs. Dr. Doom battle might look like!
Great post!


Comicsfan said...

Thanks very much, M.P. To be honest, while I found the battle entertaining given Englehart's dialog helping things along, I found it a little difficult to see the Shroud being able to give Doom such a challenge; on the other hand, a man of Doom's ego being taken aback by a foe's capabilities against him has always made for a riveting fight scene, so I really have no qualms with the Shroud's apparent victory. It fit in very well with the Shroud's build-up.

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