Monday, October 8, 2018

A World For The Winning!

You would think that Doctor Doom and the master of magnetism, Magneto, would be like oil and water as far as finding any common ground in joining forces to rule the world, at least as far as their status circa the late 1970s. Magneto's agenda had always circled back to mutant ascendancy, where "homo superior" would be the planet's dominant species and ordinary humans would either submit to their authority or perish--whereas Doom seeks supremacy over all, an absolute ruler in every sense and brooking no challenge to his authority. Yet in the time he was the de facto standard bearer of Super-Villain Team-Up and still dabbling with forming alliances with like-minded men who could further his goals, there were still opportunities to explore situations where Doom might consider a partnership with another in order to consolidate their forces for mutual gain, if only for the short term--and it was probably inevitable that Magneto would find his way into those pages, sooner or later, if the right circumstances could be worked out and produce a credible plot.

At this point in time, Magneto has regained his full power after being restored to adulthood following his encounter with the mutant named Alpha and already had an initial confrontation with the X-Men on Muir Isle. Later (a little over a year, our time), he would have a more pivotal reckoning with the team; but in the interim, he's decided to get back in circulation by taking the shortest path to victory and having his first-ever meeting with Doom, in order to propose an alliance between them and bring the world to heel under their joint rule. The result is a two-part story written by Bill Mantlo which crosses over between two separate titles, beginning in SVTU and concluding in The Champions--a life-or-death struggle that would also draw in the Avengers and the incredible Hulk!

But what Magneto isn't aware of is that Doom has already captured the world--
and there isn't another soul on Earth who realizes it.

It's something of a hail-Mary pass that Mantlo is making on behalf of both of these titles, with the SVTU issue being its last prior to taking a hiatus of over a year and a half (aside from a reprint story) before its brief return in a two-issue encore; while The Champions, already with one foot in the grave, would be cancelled with its next issue. That would unfortunately make Mantlo two for two for titles that he took on yet collapsed on his watch virtually back-to-back, though that's no disparagement (at least on my part) of the quality of his work.

In fact, Mantlo handles the interaction between both Doom and Magneto satisfactorily for the type of frantic-paced story that unfolds, though his style when dealing with either hero or villain often lends itself to including the familiar essentials of a character's makeup without taking the time necessarily to allow that character to resonate with the reader. Consequently, the subtle dialog that a meeting between Magneto and Doom would call for as each attempts to feel out the other is bypassed in favor of a cut-to-the-chase approach, leaving only nuggets of characterization in its wake. For Magneto, that works out reasonably well; following his escape from Muir Isle, he's very much "psyched" for continuing his plans full speed ahead, but not yet having reached the point where Chris Claremont has him taking a more astute and dangerous posture with his foes. But for Doom, Gerry Conway had already begun shaping the character in such a way, and the Doom we see in this tale is more aligned with the type of frenetic character Marv Wolfman would give us in a later multi-part FF story.

As for Doom's ambitious scheme that has seen him become master of the world without a shot being fired (or any resistance whatsoever), Magneto discovers upon his arrival at Doom's castle in Latveria that his offer of an alliance has been rendered moot.

The fact that Magneto has lumped Doom into the category of "homo superior" as Marvel has established it--an assertion Doom doesn't even refute--is a stumble on Mantlo's part and is a fair example of the style of haste in his scripting that he has in common with Steve Englehart, though it matters little in the overall story; we could sustitute the typical "we two were born to rule" dialog found in such comics stories and be exactly where we are now. The burning question now is, how can Doom possibly substantiate such a bold claim? The answer is remarkably uncomplicated, and, as Magneto himself discovers, easy enough to prove on the spot.

Luckily for Magneto, he has arrived in the right place at the right time, since the challenge Doom offers not only allows him immunity from Doom's neuro-gas but also gives him a chance to take Doom's place should he prevail in this contest. That's really an illusion on Mantlo's part, though as readers we'll have to take it at face value for now.

Finding himself regaining consciousness at a distance from the castle, with Doom's mocking laughter ringing in his ears, Magneto's first move is to seek out powerful allies (which is how he got into this fix in the first place, but I digress) and free them from Doom's control so that he can counterattack. Strange that the FF don't come to mind for him, given how effective Reed Richards and his team have proven themselves to be against Doom. Instead, Magneto makes a beeline for Avengers Mansion, to find almost immediate resistance on their part at his brash entrance.

Finally, however, Magneto realizes that battling is the wrong approach to take here--and, ceasing his savage attack, he asks for the Avengers to hear him out as he recounts his meeting with Doom (though probably giving them an edited version which omits the bargain he's made with him). But he'll find that Doom is ten steps ahead of him, as he provides further proof of his mastery.

The one ally Magneto picks in accordance with Doom's terms is the Beast--"the weakest Avenger," according to Magneto. (Debatable, since there are two in this Avengers lineup who are arguably less powerful than the Beast--are you thinking of the same two?) As for how Magneto intends to free the Beast from the effects of the gas, Mantlo makes use of the ability that Magneto demonstrated in his prior dealings with the team, though he's apparently refined that ability to go beyond limiting the flow of iron to the brain.

Unless Doom's gaseous compound consists of ferrous elements, Magneto's efforts with the Beast should prove fruitless; also, there's no apparent reason why the Beast's status as "weak" in Magneto's opinion would facilitate this procedure's success, assuming that was his train of thought.

At any rate, after making attempts to contact both the FF and the X-Men, the only two people who remain free of Doom's control travel to Los Angeles to petition the help of the city's resident super-group, two of whom are old friends of the Beast. Regrettably, Hank McCoy's association with Magneto isn't going to cut him any slack in terms of the reception they receive upon arrival.

It's his time to waste, of course--but with Doom monitoring his movements, there was really no reason for Magneto to have expected a different reaction from the Champions (or the X-Men, or anyone else he might have approached) than the one he received from the Avengers; nor does it benefit him to have the Beast along, since the Champions have been warned about Magneto's "lie" that he's seeking to stop Dr. Doom. So both men are helpless to do anything but defend themselves from the attacks of the team--and, as before, Magneto all too easily loses sight of the goal and instead focuses on crushing his opposition. It's certainly the one aspect of Magneto's character that Mantlo is consistently attentive to--and while I'd rather see Magneto have more of a plan in dealing with Doom than meeting the attacks against him in kind, I can't really say that his behavior is out of character.

During the battle, however, word comes that Doom has travelled to Washington, D.C., presumably to put an end to his boredom and finally acknowledge his triumph in public by seizing the reins of power--though he finds the ingratiating manner of American politicians to be as transparent as that of his own subjects. Mantlo handles the clashes between Washington protocol and Doom's regal nature and hair-trigger temperament well--including the surprise that Doom's protective detail experiences at being rebuffed in anger, to say nothing of their shock at seeing that he's already arranged for a more than capable personal bodyguard, one that will be on hand in anticipation of a final confrontation.

As for the Champions, normally their arrival could tilt the scale against Doom, since he must also defend himself against Magneto; but in Magneto's attempt to divert the Hulk into attacking Hercules, he ensures that Doom counters by following suit with the remaining Champions as well as the Army troops present and providing Magneto with a new wave of opposition. It's a chaotic situation for Mantlo to manage, yet in his various Marvel assignments he's often excelled at keeping track of players amidst chaos.

Meanwhile, the Ghost Rider has discovered that his unique nature has made him immune to Doom's neuro-gas, and he joins the Beast's defense against the troops as well as Angel and Iceman; and with Darkstar and the Black Widow incapacitated by restraining metal, that leaves Magneto free to turn his attention to Doom.

Finally, the battle's climax arrives when the Beast, dealing with the Angel in a mid-air struggle, concludes that the defeat of Doom is crucial to prevailing in this situation, a tactic which might have failed were it not for the Ghost Rider--and the fact that Doom, to my utter astonishment, has failed to take the same antidote to his neuro-gas that he provided Magneto.

Though this story ends here for all intents and purposes, it's nevertheless a curious conclusion that Mantlo provides for Doom's scheme, as well as for the story itself. Doom may be caught in a paradoxical loop caused by the fact that his own neuro-gas has been turned against him; yet however confused he is at the moment, he's bound to notice that whatever haughty demands he might issue offhand to those surrounding him (with the exception of course being the question, "What happened here?", which no one but Magneto could answer) are surprisingly acted on immediately and without question--followed by more specific demands to test his observation, and so on and so on. In addition, upon his return to his castle, one glance at his neuro-gas equipment will allow him to put two and two together and, presumably, pick up where he left off.

Yet in future stories involving Doom, we're left to assume that whatever occurred this day is a mystery he's decided to live with. If Super-Villain Team-Up had continued with Doom in the book, it's fair to wonder how Mantlo would pick up the threads with the character from this point. As it is, the slate is apparently meant to be wiped clean here where the neuro-gas is concerned. Just the same, if you find yourself at loose ends one day wondering what you should be doing with your time, you might want to avoid crossing paths with Doom--or the command you receive might be a lethal one.

Bill Mantlo's parting notes for Super-Villain Team-Up.


Anonymous said...

I had the issue of SVTU when I was a kid, and I absolutely loved it. It was my introduction to both Magneto and the Champions, and I spent years wondering what happened in part two, with all these characters and the Hulk no less.
Picked up a used copy many years later, and, yeah, it wasn't that great, but I finally got some closure, for cryin' out loud!
The SVTU issue showed the tragic grandeur of Doc Doom, and featured a knock-down, drag-'em-out fight with the Avengers, who's comic was hard to find where I was growing up for some reason. I was thrilled by this issue!
I also had no idea who Iceman was, but he sure looked cool in that last panel!
Great post, C.F. Brings back some memories. I even remember my Ma buying it for me in a drugstore. Them were the days.


Comicsfan said...

Glad to oblige, M.P.!

Big Murr said...

Fan boy type questions and flights of fancy...

The Vision needs to breathe? I can't find a definitive yes or no on that score. Seems odd to me that the android is bending knee to Doom.

Now my mind is searching for characters who wouldn't breathe the insidious gas. The first name: Ultron. This convoluted nonsense of Magneto trying to recruit his enemies, the heroes, would ideally be swept away if Magneto sought out the robot killer. A rationale could be cobbled that Ultron would not care for Doom being in the way of the robot's schemes to humiliate the Avengers and exterminate humanity. Magneto would have an adamantium maniac for an ally, but since adamantium is controllable by magnetism, Magneto is safe enough.

Comicsfan said...

Well, B.M., the standing definition of the Vision (if we're relying on Hank Pym's analysis) is that he's "basically human in every way... except that [his] body is made of synthetic parts." We've also seen in this particular story that Magneto is able to congeal his "blood," while Pym further discovered evidence of the Vision's equivalent of antibodies and blood cells; so it stands to reason his body would have the same reaction to a gas attack as you or I, while we've also seen that he's vulnerable to being drugged. Then again, to throw confusion into the mix, he's been shown to be able to survive in airless space, and not by simply holding his breath--so we're probably better off punting the issue down the road for the sake of our sanity. :)

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