Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Coming Of... Doomsday!

Like Part One of the four-part Fantastic Four story which saw Dr. Doom attempt to capture the world after acquiring the Silver Surfer's cosmic power, this third issue assembles pieces and players in preparation for what's to come--only this time, the level of tension has been raised considerably. With the Fantastic Four having been soundly defeated by Doom as shown in Part Two, this story is a perfect example of the calm before the storm, as Doom plans his next move.

Yet you wouldn't know this crisis is looming by looking at this issue's cover, with its focus on the Inhumans. The efforts of Black Bolt and his comrades to free themselves from the impenetrable dome surrounding their Great Refuge has been a running sub-story within the book for the past few issues, taking a back seat to the main action playing out with the FF--and with Doom now a major threat to the world, it would seem an odd time to pick up the Inhumans story again and "sell" it on the cover. Yet Fantastic Four has indulged in this sort of thing before, opting to spotlight other dramatic elements on the issue's cover which don't follow the usual format of the bad guy clashing with the good guy--inviting the buyer to read the story within, and figure out the meaning of what they're seeing at first glance.

Also consider that the Inhumans story has been building for close to a year. You and I, coming across these stories piecemeal nearly 50 years later, may shrug at the Inhumans' efforts--but for the monthly reader to whom all of this was new, the news of this cover might carry some meaning for them of a story finally resolved and what it may mean for the FF (later, that is, since they've a few other things on their plate at the moment)--particularly the Torch, who, with his eagerness to reunite with Crystal, has a vested interest in seeing the Inhumans freed. Given the peculiar timing of this cover, as well as the word "Doomsday" prominently placed, there's also the intriguing notion that the Inhumans might somehow be brought into the situation with Doom, since the FF could certainly use some backup right about now. (It's a false assumption, but a cleverly conceived cover all the same.)

Despite what may happen with Black Bolt, however, our focus must return to the FF, as they alert the world to the imminent threat of Doom, in a splash page that minces no words:

Looking at artist Jack Kirby's opening panels here, it might be assumed that Reed is only in conference with his government's military, which would make sense; after all, if you've failed to stop a would-be conqueror, your next step would be to put the country's military forces on alert. But writer Stan Lee makes the process two-fold with just a few words--Reed first issues a worldwide broadcast in an effort to unite every country against the threat of Doom, and then holds a separate briefing for the Pentagon. Reed's initiative is consistent with how the FF's leader chooses to handle a crisis--and it also says something about Reed, whom we know hasn't given up by a long shot and, despite the outcome of their earlier battle, insists on the FF taking the lead:

When the conference ends, however, the armor cracks--and we see a fine example of how Lee has come to know this team inside and out, as they help each other pull it together when the situation appears hopeless:

Good old Sue. She'll never make Cheerleader Of The Year, that's for sure.

But, what of the man who orchestrated this crisis? Back in Latveria, Dr. Doom has made preparations to secure his borders from enemy attack, which has been swift in coming:

There's something about that last panel of Kirby's that's always impressed me. It's such a little thing, shifting the angle of Doom's stride through his castle hallway--but it serves to draw attention to him, as well as to his growing threat. As for his destination, Doom is no stranger to providing his own testimony to his genius--and with his victory over the FF, and on the verge of bringing all of humanity under his rule, he returns to the captive Silver Surfer to twist the knife and remind him of how, despite his might, he proved to be but the means to an end:

The odd development in this story concerns the Human Torch, who battled Doom in the last issue but whose flame power was proven to be insufficient in affecting Doom in any way. Johnny has taken it upon himself to train separately for another confrontation, relying on his flaming speed to outmaneuver Doom in the belief that his flame can still be a factor--news that alarms his teammates:

The story would have us believe that it's Johnny's need to resume his efforts to free Crystal from the barrier imprisoning the Inhumans which compels him to take this rash step--and indeed that might be the case, though, with Reed's strong words of defiance at the close of the last issue, it would make sense for Johnny to at least check in on Reed's progress before deciding he'd be better off going it alone.

The scene of course provides a natural segue to Black Bolt, who makes a dramatic appearance before the Inhuman populace as the moment finally arrives for the Inhumans to gain their freedom:

If you're a mute ruler who needs your subjects to be attentive to your slightest gesture, you'd think the last thing he would do to warn of a coming disaster would be to ascend to a height where he'd appear to be as much of a speck to them as they are to him on the ground. Maybe there's a Jumbotron broadcasting his image off-panel somewhere.

While the Inhumans' struggle for freedom has driven this story, it's also sought to reveal the mystery of why Black Bolt has refused to speak in all this time--a mystery which only Medusa and Maximus seem to know the answer to. Exactly why the secret has been kept under wraps isn't clear; we've known for some time since that Black Bolt's voice carries a great destructive power when unleashed in even the lightest-spoken word, and the knowledge of that fact hasn't altered the status quo in the Inhuman ruling system. So why the closely-kept secret? And why choose to reveal it in the worst possible way--by not warning your subjects beforehand of its devastating effect?

(Since the barrier lined the perimeter of the Great Refuge, I wonder if it occurred to Black Bolt that he could probably have avoided reducing his kingdom to rubble and debris by travelling to the outskirts of the city and standing about three feet away from the barrier when he screamed?)

In the meantime, another destructive force is unleashed, as Doom demonstrates his new power with a series of strikes meant to cause chaos and fear amongst the world's population before he moves to assert his dominance in earnest:

Taking such a methodical approach to seizing power does a great deal to further elevate Doom as "the world's greatest arch-villain," as Marvel now touts him. Doom has always been a meticulous planner, but until now he's been limited by his own resources as well as the opposition of the FF. Here, with nothing and no one to stop him, he could well invade the capitals of the world and battle his way to power; but he has the presence of mind to realize that such demonstrations as he's performing can accomplish much in terms of softening up the forces he'll have to contend with. His over-confidence has often proven to be his undoing; yet here he puts it to good use, while also allowing himself time to further test and master the awesome amount of power he now possesses.

Of course, Doom's activities can't help but draw the attention of one man in particular, who's also proceeding methodically to accomplish his goal:

And so, with all the bases covered, this interlude issue comes to an end, with a series of panels which nicely caps things as they now stand by contrasting the uncertainty of the FF (as well as presumably the world) with the certainty of Doom, in a teaser which perhaps gives us too much of an optimistic look at where we're headed:

It might have been more satisfying for us to see "the tide turn" by reading the actual story, rather than being tipped off here (as well as in the issue's letters page, which promises "the finest hour of Reed Richards"). Perhaps it was felt that this story didn't do enough to heighten the anticipation of the upcoming conclusion. I might have gone with something like "NEXT: The Exciting Conclusion!" or substituted the wording of the last panel with the next story's title (assuming it had been decided on):

In any event, it's going to be a battle readers will talk about for years--heck, I'm talking about it decades after the fact! Coming up, a look at Part Four of this classic FF story, and what will indeed be its exciting conclusion.  One way or the other, it's bound to be somebody's finest hour.

Fantastic Four #59

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

No comments: