Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Vengeance And The Victims!

Things didn't look so good for the Fantastic Four, after finding themselves trapped in Latveria by their armored nemesis, Doctor Doom. And things don't look particularly good for Reed Richards, who finds himself looking up from the pavement after trying to force Doom's hand by making a dash to escape only to be stopped in his tracks by a stun blast. On the other hand, things look great for Doom, who finally (and literally) has the FF where he wants them--helpless prisoners in his kingdom for the rest of their lives. Just how helpless, they're soon to find out.

Following Part 1 of this four-issue story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, we now come to Parts 2 and 3, continuing the steady build-up that has the FF sharing the fate of the people of Latveria--a cowed populace that must always present the appearance of being happy and content with their lives in Doom's storybook kingdom, while offering their monarch their total, blind obedience. As we'll see later, that obedience can come with a deadly price.

As for the FF, they've now learned the reason why Doom feels he holds all the cards--the revelation that he's somehow taken their powers from them. It's a bit of misdirection on Doom's part, since he hasn't given them the full facts; regardless, they put his words to the test, and find that they're helpless in facing his robot sentries.

And so, for the time being, the Fantastic Four must bide their time, though it gives them the opportunity to truly see the plight of the people of Latveria, who must go about their business while always keeping in mind the scrutiny of their monarch. It's interesting to speculate on how they regard the presence of the Fantastic Four in their midst. Earlier, they were directed to welcome the FF with festivities; yet it's probably occurred to them that having the FF as fellow "citizens" means that Doom will be turning his gaze on his people even more closely than before.

(I've said this before--but who wouldn't want their home office console to be modeled after Doom's?)

And speaking of Doom, from this point on we begin seeing quite a lot of him in this story, as he proceeds with testing his invincible new robot army whose design and capabilities are quite a step up from his already formidable constructs that carry out his orders and routinely flank him as well as patrol the streets of the village. One such test involves deceiving a pair of men into attempting escape in one of Doom's armored dreadnoughts--but when one of the robots is unleashed, even the heavily armed vehicle is unable to withstand the robot's assault.

Observing the test with Doom is Hauptmann, a former operative of the Red Skull, who learns in no uncertain terms where his loyalties should now lie.

His poor choice of words aside, Hauptmann enjoys a position of some autonomy under Doom's employ--a sort of personal assistant who can go where he will in the performance of his duties, and who has come to speak somewhat more freely than others who serve Doom, though at times he's obviously prone to forgetting his limits. The character bears keeping an eye on, as he'll have an important role to play as this story further develops.

For now, one of the dubious advantages to his station is that he's often present to hear Doom's musings on a subject--in this case, a shocking announcement that will involve nothing less than the mass murder of innocents.

The scene is an excellent segue to the townspeople, who continue to walk about in only a semblance of living--future victims that have all been unknowingly sentenced to death. The FF still have a job to do--but Doom has sufficiently checked them before they could become a threat to his plans. And thanks to sedatives that have been added to their complimentary lunch, they continue to undergo a procedure that assures that their powers will be inaccessible to them.

But as ingenious as this plan of Doom's appears to be, this story perhaps takes the character of Doctor Doom a bit too far in terms of his tenuous hold on sanity. There's no question that Doom has been driven mad--madness due to his lust for power, or to the accident that irreparably scarred his face, or to the circumstances of his upbringing, or perhaps even in part to his enmity toward Reed Richards. Perhaps even all of the above. He treats his subjects like cattle, and at times abuses them for his own twisted reasons--but now he's willing to murder them all for the sake of a test? Even though Doom's madness has created a despot, and in spite of his many faults, Doom is also brilliant, and self-serving. Even a madman like Doom would be the first to realize that wiping out an entire village of defenseless people gains him nothing as far as assessing the capabilities of these robots. We have to assume he created this new army to be a force beyond the borders of Latveria, used against those he perceives as threats or enemies that are capable of resistance. How will this slaughter demonstrate that these robots are sufficiently ready to serve as his army?

As for giving the order, Doom doesn't even need to bother, since he knows the robots will all too soon unleash themselves and proceed to destroy all in their path.

It's on that note that we flip open the next issue, to find the Fantastic Four in the same state of alarm as the people of Latveria.

(Well, maybe the townspeople are a little more alarmed.)

Judging by the issue's cover, it looks like the Invisible Girl is ready to rejoin the team and join the action. Her appearance on the cover is probably a nice enticement for any readers browsing the comics racks who are on the fence about picking up the issue, given that her return has no doubt been anticipated--though it might have been a nice surprise to spring it on the reader while they're reading the story.

The only thing the FF have going for them is that Doom's hypnotic procedure on them will eventually wear off, though there's no telling when that will be. Nor are the FF even aware of that procedure, believing instead that Doom has found some way to neutralize their powers. (Which, in effect, he has.) As for Doom, how callously he greets his doomed subjects and spins the release of the robots. Whether he does so in utter villainy, or as a way of coping with the fact that his subjects' blood will be on his hands, is debatable.

With one issue left in the story's arc following this one, it's clear that the time has come for the FF to begin rebuilding their momentum, which means not only somehow regaining the use of their powers but also surviving the deadly assault of the robot army. The crisis is an interesting way to see how the FF fare as fighters who must improvise as a team, as well as inspiration for those who depend on them for their lives; but this comic book is part of a business, and both Lee and Kirby realized that readers are buying it to see the FF in action, and so what we end up seeing is a little of both, thanks to what we've learned of the limits of the hypnotic treatment.

Unfortunately, the story reads somewhat awkwardly, since the FF only see that their powers are slowly returning but have no idea as to why.

There's also the odd and very convenient insertion of a deus ex machina, in the form of a fail-safe device that presumably takes advantage of whatever weakness Doom created in his army that prevents them from turning on him. Yet rather than the device being close at hand, Doom has inexplicably placed it somewhere in the village--and three guesses who's going to end up finding it.

Add to the existence of such a device the FF's powers suddenly returning in full--though artist Jack Kirby doesn't agree, and continues drawing the issue as if everyone's fate depends on Doom's contingency device--and you have a very confusing sequence of events, including the fact that writer Stan Lee can't seem to make up his mind as to exactly what is supposed to neutralize these robots. Would you believe--a lot of things?

(If you're scratching your head wondering how constructing specialized traps throughout the village is going to do Doom any good if his murderous creations decided to turn on him in his castle, join the club.)

And speaking of a peaceful village with deadly devices secretly installed beneath it, we've only apparently scratched the surface (so to speak) in that respect, as what's left of Doom's sanity completely shatters before our eyes.

The presence of the FF in Doom's "target village," as he casually puts it, doesn't come close to explaining his decision to actually install this huge cache of explosive material beneath a populated segment of his own kingdom and rig it for detonation--and presumably the capital, at that. (Can we agree that this village is actually Latveria's capital, given the presence of Doom's castle overlooking it? It's never made clear in the story, though I don't suppose it matters--unless you consider the cold reality that Doom has knowingly obliterated the capital of his kingdom, an act which would raise any number of eyebrows in the international community.) It's fair to say only that the FF's success at once more defeating Doom's plans may have pushed him over the brink in deciding to finally throw the switch.

Fortunately, the FF unknowingly had an invisible ace in the hole, whose force field was made to order for a reckless madman bent on the destruction of his own people.

The odds are against all of the villagers having congregated in that small area when the explosion occurred (for instance, I don't recall spotting any children among those trapped when the robots descended on the village)--but this is well before the point where Marvel stories broached such complications by touching on statistics of injuries or fatalities. Suffice to say that there must have been fatalities, perhaps a good number of them--a fact that would have forced the FF to not only fight to the finish, but to take Doom into custody and hand him over to either SHIELD or NATO. As we'll see in the final installment of this story, that doesn't turn out to be the case, by a longshot.

Why don't we let the Thing take us to Part 4?

Fantastic Four #s 85-86

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterers: Artie Simek and Sam Rosen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding Doom's home entertainment center...I bet he can pick up any classic rock station he wants to with that thing.
If he's in the mood for a little Rush or Judas Priest, maybe some Blue Oyster problem.