Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Sky's The Limit

Those of us who read the four-part story featuring Dr. Doom which climaxed in the classic Fantastic Four #60 sort of felt like we'd had the rug pulled out from under us. If you're unfamilar with the story, this image from its beginning should bring you up to speed:

Hijacking the Silver Surfer's cosmic power, the good Doctor launched a power play for nothing less than the world itself. So what else is new, right? Only this time, he didn't rely on a careful, incremental plan; this time, he flaunted his new power, brazenly demonstrating it in appearances around the world, before coming to a decision to fly to every nation's capital and force their unconditional surrender.

But before he could begin this chain of conquest, the Fantastic Four engaged him in a final battle, while awaiting a vital mechanism to be delivered to the scene--a vast flying wing that would weaken Doom so that he could be overcome. Yet when the wing arrived, and flew over Doom, it only affected him briefly before heading off to high altitude. To show his complete disdain for the wing's creator, Reed Richards, Doom announced he would follow the wing and destroy it, before returning to carry out his death sentence against the FF.

Here's the scene in its entirety. See if you can guess exactly where the rug was yanked out from under the reader's feet:

An explosion in space, and Doom's threat is ended. Just like that. After a life-or-death struggle spanning four issues. But how?

The scene leaves us with some vital questions to be answered--though one at least answers, in part, another question which lingered after the Surfer was abandoned on Earth by Galactus. We knew Galactus exiled the Surfer on Earth by removing his "space-time powers," whatever that means. On its face, supposedly it prevents the Surfer from travelling through space, or time--both assumptions eventually proven false in stories from the Surfer's first series. But with this new development after Doom's defeat, at least Reed could give us a little more information about why the Surfer was trapped here:

So apparently, just like an "invisible fence" inhibits a dog wearing a special collar from crossing the perimeter, Galactus created a kind of "trigger" within the Surfer (or, rather, his board, which we would learn in the Surfer's second series), so that his power signature would activate a barrier Galactus had placed around the planet to prevent the Surfer's departure. In effect, anything else could move back and forth at will--except for the Surfer. And since Doom now had the Surfer's power, he unknowingly activated the barrier, which Reed had programmed the wing to fly beyond (though as Ben indicates, Reed just programmed the thing to fly into space, not really knowing what Galactus had planned for the Surfer's containment).

The mystery of why the Surfer couldn't return to space, then, was finally solved, at least for the short term. But the ending to this story gives us a few more questions to ponder. It seems clear that Reed had planned all along for the wing to only give the appearance that it was designed to defeat Doom, in order to lure him into following it into space--but what a gamble, then, for Reed to have everything depend on a trap in space that he wasn't even sure existed. Exactly what was the nature of this trap? Doom had the entire world on alert, mobilizing against him--wouldn't you think Reed would need to give Earth's leaders more assurances of Doom's defeat than a big explosion and the return of the Surfer's board? Isn't S.H.I.E.L.D., at least, going to comb the area for him?

We eventually learn the answer to Doom's fate--and disappearance--but this time in the pages of Daredevil, where Doom concocts a scheme to switch minds with DD and thus appropriate the crime-fighter's body while DD gets stuck with Doom's. Before that happens, thanks to a flashback we see just what occurred when Doom collided with the barrier:

Again, this seems to conflict with the Surfer's own title, where he repeatedly made attempts to either break through the barrier or circumvent it. In none of those instances was Galactus automatically "paged," nor did he subsequently take any direct action. The barrier simply (and forcefully) repelled the Surfer on contact, all by itself:

The difficulty here in terms of the earlier FF story's ending is that such a collision per se wouldn't have defeated Doom, nor would it have any effect on Doom's possession of the Surfer's power. Once he'd recovered from the collision, Doom would simply have deduced Reed's plan, returned to destroy the FF, and then proceed to take control of the planet. So the nature of the explosion in the sky is left for later explanation in Daredevil--with that subsequent story being so under-the-radar that writer Stan Lee, who scripted all three titles, obviously felt no need to resolve the discrepancy we later see in Silver Surfer.

And Doom? Well, that was something of a letdown. Doom went from aspirations of being a supreme cosmic-powered entity who was within a hair's breadth of conquering the world, to someone hoisting an acrobatic crime-fighter over his shoulder and bringing him back to his embassy in order to conduct a mind-swap experiment. At least Daredevil probably felt he'd come up in the world.


Kid said...

Quite a number of '60s Marvel comics, especially ones plotted or co-plotted by Kirby, often seemed like a good idea on the surface, but didn't stand up to a little reflection. Perhaps we were meant to assume that some sort of feedback caused the Surfer's power to revert back to him because Doom's possession of it was 'tenuous' due to the nature of its acquisition? Who can tell? See my Loopy Lapses in Logic posts for similar incidents.

Comicsfan said...

In my original reading of the story, I must admit I found myself not asking all that many questions. The story had been wrapped up, the heroes were ready for their next adventure, the Surfer seemed like he was put to rights again (as we saw in the very next issue, even destroying Doom's castle in a parting shot), and Doom had been "dealt with" for the foreseeable future. Yet the thing that always rattled around in my brain was how such a major threat could be wrapped up so tidily and quickly, but with so few answers. I was frankly expecting much more explanation with Doom's next appearance; as you can see above, it was rather disappointing. And it sent me back to the original ending with more questions than answers.