Monday, June 16, 2014

Special Delivery from Doctor Doom

Fantastic Four #200, as its ITEM! in the "Bullpen Bulletins" states, was indeed a "Major Milestone" for Marvel, though in reading the issue it comes across as so much more. It of course caps a five-part story featuring a plan by Dr. Doom to rule the world--and at twice the size of a normal-sized issue, clocking in at 46 pages (with ads), you'll come away feeling that it's done the entire story justice. Yet rather than the amount of material that's included, it's really the quality of the material that's the most impressive. There is a great deal to read in this issue, with its pace briefly pausing at times but never really letting up. But even with all the action going on, the issue remains one thing above all else: in essence, it's the definitive representation of the conflict between Victor Von Doom and Reed Richards, a subject which has never been explored in such depth before.

Nor have we seen it explored to such a degree since, and with good reason--everything needing to be said about it is presented right here within these pages, with writer Marv Wolfman demonstrating a genuine understanding of what makes these men irreconcilable. Reed and Doom have always been at odds over the root of Doom's desire for power--and while that point is directly (and viciously) dealt with in the story, we see why Dr. Doom will likely remain an enemy of the Fantastic Four and of the world. In later years, Marvel will shift Doom from megalomania to his adopting a more Machiavellian approach to the acquisition and manipulation of power; and so, in a way, this story is something of a curtain call for the display of Doom's overtly cruel persona--whereas in contemporary stories, his menace is often conveyed with a threatening demeanor and tinged with sadism.

You'll most likely also notice that this issue has the feel of an annual that has an "All New!" story, though I'm not just referring to its page count. If this makes sense, this issue actually reads better than an annual--i.e., not simply a story that was crafted for an annual. It's quite a treat to be reading a continuing story from month to month and then find the story's conclusion seamlessly transition to a double-sized issue. I wonder why Marvel didn't experiment with more of that approach to story arcs? It would have been quite profitable for them, and arguably more manageable than making large-format books the norm.

In addition, with so much material packed into this issue, it's clear from page to page that artists Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott worked their pencils and brushes off, presenting a fluid and exciting story and making practically each panel count. The issue's cover and all the hype promise a memorable fight between Doom and Reed, and Pollard, Sinnott, and Wolfman deliver one in every sense. Both the combatants and the creative team make "When Titans Clash!" a real page-turner.

Continuing from where things left off in the prior issue, Doom is already reeling from his mad plan collapsing at every turn. Zorba, leader of the Latverian underground and the heir to the country's late king, Rudolfo, has organized pressure on Doom to step down as ruler of Latveria and pass his rule to another, as required by law. Doom, in response, presented his own son to the population, announcing his intention to name him as his successor. But the "son" was exposed as Doom's own clone; in addition, the clone was a victim of a failed experiment to transfer the powers of the captured Fantastic Four to him, an experiment which ended up altering his features and turning him against Doom.

We'll let Doom himself take things from here, while giving you an idea of his present state of mind. You'll probably agree that the word we're looking for is "unhinged":

So with tensions at the boiling point, it would be a good idea to strap yourselves in for one heck of an anniversary issue. (Though in all honesty, the person really needing to be strapped down tightly right now is probably Doom.)

Under normal circumstances where someone is grieving, Reed's advice to hold off on aggressive action might be well-taken; but if Reed is worried about provoking Doom to the point of his going off the deep end, that ship has obviously already sailed, and the FF did come here to put an end to Doom's threat, after all. The fact that Doom has murdered his own clone should be an indication in itself that the FF should take advantage of the situation, before Doom spirals more out of control. The question is rendered moot, though, when the Thing, dealing with his own anger regarding Doom's abduction of his missing girlfriend, Alicia, moves forward and minces no words with his old enemy. It's a rash act that will have consequences for the entire team:

With the FF at bay, Doom sees that they're sealed in the chamber and then withdraws, presumably to tend to the remaining part of his plan--making preparations for the statue of himself sculpted by Alicia to be delivered to the United Nations, before a crucial vote is taken by the delegates to condemn Latveria for its negligence of human rights (a vote now more likely to pass due to the exposure of Doom's attempted deception with his transfer of power). With the speed at which the developments of this story have occurred, there's been little time for any characterization of the FF to take place--but, when possible, Wolfman fits in such scenes, which are especially important for readers of a 200th issue. A good example turned out to be this one, where Reed has quite a lot on his mind regarding Doom's plans, but still asserts himself as leader of the FF:

It's a rare day when Reed will have to harshly call out his best friend, and such moments register well with readers precisely because of their history as friends. There have been many times where Ben has stepped over the line and gotten away with it, to Reed's consternation; but such a scene is heightened in interest when Reed reaches his breaking point with the Thing and lets him know it, despite their friendship.

As for Doom, he finds he again must deal with an angry populace stirred up by Zorba. But, unlike the time where he held the FF captive in Latveria and used his people as cannon fodder while still maintaining a semblance of the concerned monarch facade, Doom's timetable now strips away all diplomacy, and his true colors are finally laid bare for his people to see. Though they may not survive the experience:

On that note, Wolfman provides an apt follow-up scene which further defines how Doom maintains his rule of Latveria, regardless of his status as a despot--by cultivating an atmosphere of fear that endures even as the reins of power are slipping from his fingers. In this instance, a lowly guard's fear of his master that puts him at odds with the safety of his own family:

When Doom finally boards his flight to New York, it's again implied that his statue will still allow him to succeed with one part of his plan--to "rule the world." The details of that plan are still to come--but isn't it an interesting twist that Doom isn't departing Latveria in a specialized craft of his own design, but rather a standard runway jet? And with its own cool villain insignia, to boot:

Meanwhile, the FF have escaped from Doom's booby-trapped room and are hunting for both Alicia and clues to his plans. It bears mentioning here that Wolfman indulges from time to time in redundancy for drama's sake, and that's relevant because of a scene occurring in the last issue where Zorba has done a little hunting of his own and found a document that Reed might be interested in:

As a result, Reed should already be aware of what Doom is planning. With all the urgency he's exhibited thus far, he's certainly acting like it. Yet now Wolfman is essentially recycling the scene, as if Reed still needed information:

And so the team heads for New York, to confront Doom but also to stop whatever activity he's initiated at the U.N. with his mysterious statue. To that end, Pollard gives us more nice segments of the FF's pogo plane, which I always enjoy because the old girl doesn't get out much and tends to be overshadowed by the Fantasti-Car. For instance, look at how much a scene with this plane adds to Doom's discovery of their approach:

And so the stage is finally set for a two-pronged battle with Doom. Reed jettisons to tackle Doom at his lab, while the rest of the FF rush to intercept Doom's hirelings at the U.N. For the sake of the selling point of this issue, it's easy to understand why Reed is being positioned to face Doom by himself; but now that his team presumably knows the nature of Doom's statue, whichever FF members arrive at the U.N. know to target it immediately, with any one of them capable of destroying it. Yet Reed is almost obsessed with facing Doom by himself, rather than doing the sensible thing of splitting the team 50/50 so that he would have backup. If this were any issue other than the FF's 200th, it would be a fair bet that Reed wouldn't have this one-on-one preoccupation, and instead have the Thing by his side (which, as we've seen elsewhere, works quite well).

That said, when it comes to a no-holds-barred extended face-off between Mister Fantastic and Dr. Doom, you're not going to see me complaining. And when we wrap up our look at this story, we'll cut right to the chase:

(No, I don't know how a guy in clunky armor sneaks up on Reed from behind, either.)

Fantastic Four #200 (Part One)

Script: Marv Wolfman
Pencils: Keith Pollard
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

I don't know why anybody would want to rule the world - there'd be so many problems to deal with but these super-villain meglomaniacs never think of that.

Anonymous said...

Firstly: another bang up job on the reviews. Not just with the Fantastic Four, but your Avengers and the Daredevil one covering the Jester. It brings to mind those great months where you'd read the new Spider-Man, then Thor, then Fantastic Four, Conan, I guess everybody had their order. There were quite a few times where one could hardly wait to get home and read the new issue.

B: PART ONE!!!! PART ONE!!! I have to wait to see how this ends!!???!!! FAN!!!! FANNNNNN!!!! Oh thou art a cruel one indeed......This is just like both of my dates in high school.

The Prowler ( ).

Murray said...

Prowler has reminded me I've been remiss in my own kudos to you. Well done blog and reviews, sirrah! That's a lot of fine work.

Colin-you've answered your own thought. Being a megalomaniac means part of their brain ain't quite right. Their drive for domination and power takes them beyond practical concerns. You can explain to a kleptomaniac all day that repeated shoplifting will someday land them in the crowbar hotel, but that isn't gonna stop their desire to steal.

david_b said...

This was one of the few issues I collected after my initial collecting stint from 1973 to '76.

At a time when I no longer seemed connected to Marvel with all these new artists and writers, I was comforted by the great art, excellent pacing and panel work. That one pic of the four of 'em sitting in single-file in the pogo plane was the best depiction for me. THAT was the image of classic FF that I adore. Suffice to say, I at least picked up the remaining Doom story-arc issues leading up to this, then a few after before losing interest again (AND spotty distribution problems).

I will say, awesome story and yes, Marvel FINALLY did an anniversary 'hundredth' issue right. Bravo.

Edo Bosnar said...

Great review! I've always loved this issue - it's kind a centerpiece of Wolfman's quite often - and unfairly - maligned run on FF. I only had one or two of the preceding issues in this arc, but I became a regular reader after this (as regular as spotty spinner rack distribution allowed).
Looking forward to part 2.

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, I also remember those times when I couldn't wait to get the next issue of a story in my hands. Those were great times to read Marvel comics.

David, I wish I could recommend Wolfman's entire run on Fantastic Four to you, but, as Edo points out, not all of his FF issues received favorable word-of-mouth. I suppose that's all the more reason why FF #200 stands out in such exemplary fashion. He and his team gave that story a lot of quality attention, and they certainly deserve the kudos for it.

Murray (as well as Edo and Prowler), thanks so much for your kind words. This blog is a labor of love and a pleasure to write for, and I have to extend my thanks to Marvel for that.

Anonymous said...

Yet another great post! I love Doom's plane-the huge "DD" on the side is awesome! Some super-villians know how to live!