Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Sky-Rider Of Latveria

There are no doubt those Marvel tales which you can label as "classics" in your mind--exciting stories which have stood the test of time and which you would highly recommend to anyone as Marvel's greatest ever. One of those stories for me has always been the four-part Fantastic Four #s 57-60, where the arch-villain, Dr. Doom, returns to achieve his greatest victory and faces the FF in a battle which is his to lose.

Part One of that story ("Enter... Dr. Doom!", the title of an Avengers story published the same year) is mostly a prelude which assembles all the pieces in place, with the FF mostly occupied with dealing with the Sandman after a prison break which he and the Wizard engineered. The principal part of the story concerns the interaction between Doom and the unsuspecting Silver Surfer. Doom has not been seen since his covert involvement in Reed and Sue's wedding attack, when his hands were still healing from a serious injury inflicted on him by the Thing. Here, he's been fortunate enough to have his tool of revenge arrive virtually on his doorstep--a visit which the Surfer will live to regret.

In this twenty-page story, there are several other scenes to hold the reader's interest beyond watching Doom's scheme unfold. There's the FF's handling of a routine matter (routine for the FF, anyway) of following up on the Frightful Four's capture, where they almost fall victim to a clever trap:

As you can see, Sue is more of a glass-half-empty gal in her early FF days, always wondering when she and Reed could live normally and what new menace was going to rear its head next. What she's "alerted" Reed to are mostly matters that are in a holding pattern and off the FF's grid for the time being. (Sub-space is "beckoning"? Really?) In actuality, Sue has just rattled off almost all of the elements that this story will touch base with--an unlikely coincidence.

For instance, later we check in on Johnny's progress with using the Inhuman dog, Lockjaw, to hopefully gain entrance to the Great Refuge:

There's also the plight of the Inhumans--trapped behind an invulnerable dome (did anyone think of just tunnelling underneath it?), with their leader, Black Bolt, severely injured:

But aside from all this, Doom's machinations practically hijack the story from the very start, when he sends salutations to the Surfer whom he's spotted nearby:

The narrative in that last panel says it all, but I'll try to translate: Fasten your seat belts, this story starts now!

Speaking of coincidence, you're probably thinking it's a doozy of one that, with the whole world to explore, the Surfer just happens to be pausing in Latveria, thereby setting this entire story in motion. On the other hand, there's no good reason for the Surfer not to be chilling in Doom's country, since presumably neither of them are aware of each other. (Though more on that in a minute.) Right now, let's not miss the introductions:

It's clear that Doom, being Doom, at least has a grasp of the rudiments of the Surfer's background, if not the actual details. (Though how someone of Doom's means could have failed to monitor Galactus' presence and activities on Earth doesn't quite add up. But more on that in a minute.) For now, his cleverness has manipulated the Surfer into creating for him an invincible weapon. He might want to savor the moment while he can:

(Man, those serfs are going to be awhile setting that kind of damage to rights. Do serfs usually handle castle construction work?)

Meanwhile, what's the FF doing while this is all going down? Well, the Sandman is still at large, and he's decided to loot the FF's advanced equipment vault--unannounced, of course:

However, arch-fiends also have their advanced equipment facilities. Doom is quite proud of his, and he offers the Surfer a guided tour--complete with a little off-the-cuff editing of its reason for existence:

(A few more blasts from that Pacifier and those serfs will be racking up even more overtime than what's due for the tower room work.)

Still, it's inevitable that, even under Doom's tight rein, not everything goes according to plan in this deception. And there are priorities to deal with in Doom's mad view of the respect he's due:

Finally, though, the time comes for Doom to spring his trap. And for the Surfer, he uses the perfect bait:

So we see a few things become more clear in this masterstroke of Doom's. First, it's obvious that Doom has been aware of the Surfer in much more depth than he's let on (his "surprise" at seeing the display of the Surfer's cosmic energy, for instance). This trap has been well-laid and premeditated, and was clearly ready to go whenever the Surfer dropped into Doom's lap. Doom likely also watched the FF's encounter with Galactus down to the last detail--though if he's shouting his defiance to the Surfer's former master, he may have misjudged the power he'd be up against.

Yet, note the divergent way the panels of Doom's attack on the Surfer play out. For this attack to have the best chance of success, it would have had to occur as artist Jack Kirby depicted it--with Doom creeping up on the Surfer and attacking him from behind. However, writer Stan Lee portrays a different attack: Doom issues a verbal challenge to the Surfer to turn and meet his fate, and, when the Surfer indeed turns around to face him, only then are the inductors clamped to his head. It would make sense in terms of Doom's character for him to verbally dare the Surfer to resist him before lowering the boom, no matter how much it would put his gambit at risk; but Doom's words and Lee's narrative don't mesh with Kirby's panels.

To make the scene work for the benefit of both writer and artist, I might have substituted these words for Lee's: "Before the startled space wanderer can spin about, a pair of high-intensity inductors is clamped to his head...", which gives Lee the approach he wanted while not being at odds with the visual we're given. Either way, given what he's achieved, Doom has every right to bellow his victory.

And every victory deserves a victory lap, the likes of which Latverians won't soon forget:

I frankly didn't expect to see Doom appropriate the Surfer's board for transportation, since it takes away from the effect of his newfound status and his deadly approach by giving him a benign surfer's image. I would have expected Doom to manufacture a more impressive and memorable means of making himself visible to the masses; after all, the Green Goblin pulled that off with far less equipment and power than Doom has at his disposal.

When this classic story continues:
The "master of mankind" attacks! And guess which members of mankind he starts with?

Yikes! Can even Doom be prepared for a woman's intuition??

Fantastic Four #57

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


Kid said...

You're right, CF - this four issue tale is indeed a classic. (Right along with another four issue run, 'The Skrull Takes A Slave!")

One thing, 'though. That panel where Doom clamps the contraption onto Norrin's napper looks strange. The face and hands look like they've been redrawn by another artist, and I suspect that the Surfer was originally facing Victor in that panel, hence Stan's dialogue. However, the subsequent panels show SS still facing away (going by his posture), so I think it highly probable that the panel was revised when this was noticed, but someone forgot to change the 'turn around' balloon at the same time. It's also possible that the subsequent panels were meant to be altered as well, but were overlooked for some reason. And there's always a chance that Jack HAD drawn the Surfer facing the reader, but Stan didn't like something about the expression and had it revised. It sure doesn't look like a genuine Kirby face 'though.

Anonymous said...

Classic. mp

Comicsfan said...

There are certainly several possibilities, Kid. I think the last three panels might still have worked, even if the Surfer had been clamped while facing Doom--they'd simply be indicative of the Surfer fiercely struggling to escape. On the other hand, with a pair of inductors clamped to my head, I'm not likely going to be able to turn my body in the opposite direction without breaking my neck! It's not the only instance in Fantastic Four where Lee's script reads differently than what the visuals are showing us, and it's likely this may simply be another case where Lee wanted the story to come across in a way other than what Kirby had in mind. It would then only have been a matter of adjusting that first panel, unless, as you suggest, it was reconsidered; from what I've seen in other such instances, Lee usually tended to leave Kirby's art as is, and rely on his script to get his intentions across.

Kid said...

True, CF, but I think that perhaps Jack made a mistake in initially drawing the Surfer facing Doom in that panel, then not being consistent in the following ones. Or, as I speculated, perhaps Stan didn't like the expression Jack had drawn if the Surfer WAS facing the reader. Of course there's another possible explanation; it may have been that the Surfer's kipper was obscured by 'Kirby Krackle' and Stan had it revised to show Norrin's look of surprise.

Definitely looks tampered with 'though. Incidentally, there are a few instances in other FF mags where Stan had John Romita redraw some panels to accommodate his script, rather than dialogue 'around' the art.

Doug said...

Comicsfan, you are a man of the highest energy and dedication, and I wanted to use this New Year to say I appreciate your output. I wish I could do what you do on a daily basis!

And speaking of images by the King that look like they may have been redrawn, I was preparing some of my FFs for auction yesterday and leafed through an issue in the #90s (I wish I could recall the specific issue and page number). There was a splash in the middle of the book (as Kirby took to doing more often late in his run on the title) where I'd swear Johnny was drawn by Steve Ditko. It's totally implausible, given Ditko's departure from Marvel much earlier, etc., but man -- was it a wonky panel. Clearly not a figure drawn completely by Kirby. The inks on the image did look like Sinnott's, but something was really off about Johnny's posture in the panel.

I find those sorts of production machinations and anomalies fascinating.

And yes, this story is a classic. For Christmas I was able to purchase the Marvel Masterworks that reprints FF #s 51-60 in hardcover literally for a song. I gave it to our oldest son and told him that he might hold in his hands the single greatest 10-issue run in all of comics. Hyperbole? Maybe not.

Thanks again,


Comicsfan said...

Doug, I'm with you on those little production hiccups. I'm probably wrong, but could you be thinking of the last piece of work featured in this post (which was taken from FF #95)? It's definitely unusual technique on Kirby's part; he seems to be trying to convey both the emotion of the moment (Crystal's departure) and the shadows from the dim lighting of the room everyone is standing in. Once the FF book got away from cramming those tiny panels into an issue, Kirby really started growing into his own, didn't he?

Your son is definitely going to be happy with that reading material. You know, even with the introduction of the Panther, for a 10-issue collection that stands out in the way you mention I might have instead made the Masterworks volume comprised of issues 55-65 (stretching it a bit to include that eleventh issue). It's a hard choice to make; I really liked #51, and there were some things in the Panther issues that were pretty interesting. On the whole, though, perhaps the volume you picked up has a good mix of everything that makes the FF what it is. Sounds like a good subject for a BAB discussion, eh?

Thank you so much for the very nice words; the blog entries are often so much fun to put together that the only really hard part is finding the time! ;)

Doug said...

I looked up the issue in question -- it's #80, page 3. Check it out and let me know what you think about Johnny. I just really don't think he was drawn by Kirby -- body and face are both off.


Comicsfan said...

LOL, talk about ships passing in the night--I'd actually put that on the same page as part of the post I pointed you to. :D I don't know, I'd chalk Johnny's odd posture up to Ben "corralling" him on the run, as you so accurately put it yourself at the time. He still strikes me as a Kirby/Sinnott Johnny; frankly, I was more surprised that Kirby would devote a full page to it, which I think makes the whole scene come off a little awkward.