Monday, October 15, 2018

In Victory, Defeat!

Previously, we've seen the Fantastic Four as well as the Silver Surfer drawn into a scheme set in motion by Doctor Doom in order to bind the Surfer to his service--a plan that depended on Doom's marriage to none other than Shalla Bal, the Surfer's long-lost love from his homeworld of Zenn-La, in order to force the Surfer to destroy the FF in exchange for Shalla Bal being released from her vows. Initially, the Surfer was prepared to comply--but instead of slaying them, he delivered them to Doom at his castle in Latveria as his prisoners (with the FF's covert cooperation).

During that time, we also learned that Doom's true purpose in involving the Surfer was to gradually draw off and adapt the sky-rider's cosmic power to reside in an artificial being of his own creation--a plan now revealed as the FF escape their imprisonment and search the castle for Doom in order to finally strike back at their foe.  Meanwhile, the Surfer continues to brood at his helplessness in being so near to the woman he loves and yet so far, due to an apparent loss of her memory presumably inflicted by Doom. And to raise the stakes in this three-pronged conflict, the deadly Doomsman is summoned to life!

We've reached the climax to this three-part tale from early 1975--
and from the looks of its cover, there's plenty of "doom" to go around.

As to why the Doomsman has been named the Doomsman II, some of you may be familiar with his predecessor, the original Doomsman that appeared with the launch of Doom's try-out series in Astonishing Tales (co-starring with Ka-Zar) in 1970. At the time, the Doomsman initially resembled a mummy before he finally shed his bandages; later, however, his appearance changed noticeably when he resurfaced as Andro, who returned to Castle Doom from the exile inflicted on him by his former master in order to lead a revolt of Doom's oppressed "humanoids."

With his second Doomsman, Doom has obviously upgraded the model, particularly if it's now designed to channel the cosmic power of the Surfer. Yet later we'll see that, though the Doomsman is imbued with the Surfer's power and speaks with his voice, he exhibits none of the Surfer's morals or compassion in dealing with his armored master's enemies.

Meanwhile, aside from her protestations of ignorance as to the Surfer's claim that she is more than she believes herself to be, there's been no interaction to speak of between the Surfer and Shalla Bal, since the lion's share of the story thus far has been split between the FF, the Surfer, and Doom (with the latter practically stealing the show). But with Doom occupied with his android's creation, and the FF at large, there are at last a few moments to explore the mystery of this woman and hear any thoughts she might have that would provide a clue as to how she came to be in this situation. With the Doomsman now animate, Doom has deactivated the "chair" which has served to adapt the Surfer's power to the android--and Shalla Bal finds herself drawn to the passive yet powerful figure who insists there is a connection between them.

Elsewhere, however, things are heating up in a much different way. Since Doom's central goal in this entire affair has been the destruction of the FF, he doesn't waste time in deploying the Doomsman--and to the FF, going up against the Doomsman may well prove fatal, since in essence they'll be fighting the full, unrestrained power of the Silver Surfer. As we've seen, Round One against the real Surfer was no contest, with the FF soon at his mercy--something which we can assume is in short supply with the Doomsman.

At the same time, the veil is finally being lifted in regard to "Shalla Bal," though not in the way that the Surfer had hoped. Yet the truth, in this case, will set him free--that is, allowing him to race to the defense of the beleaguered FF. And with the Surfer's might added to theirs*, the threat of the Doomsman is quickly routed--as another enemy, waiting in the wings, snarls his own challenge.

*With the exception of Medusa, who has contributed very little to this story overall. Artist Rich Buckler has given a fair shake to just about everyone, but Medusa might as well have stayed in New York. You wouldn't find Madam Medusa of the Frightful Four hesitant to tackle Doom himself.

With Helena's entry into this conflict, hostilities are brought to a sudden halt as she makes a plea for peace--but her knowledge of Castle Doom's history falls a little short. Can you recall why the reason she gives for avoiding an all-out war within the walls of the castle may no longer be valid?

Granted, this isn't the first time where Doom has called a truce because of antiquities housed in his castle (in that particular instance, threatening his art collection was a capital offense). For now, this entire conundrum could be solved by Doom saying something like, "Fine! I will meet you all outside, well beyond these walls--and Hell yawns even more widely for the first fool who drags his feet!" But since we have to stick to the script, it would seem that Helena isn't factoring in the previous destruction of Doom's castle by none other than the Surfer, when his power returned to him following Doom's defeat at the hands of the FF three years prior. If we're to follow the paper trail from there, the second wave of artifacts and archives Helena speaks of were already in place when the castle was later destroyed following Doom's conflict with the Latverian rebels who attempted to seize his throne--which means that at the current time, the castle holds little of historical value.

Nevertheless, Doom appears to be on board with Helena's version, and I'm not about to be the one to argue with the man.

Yet even Doom is unaware that there is another villain present in this drama--one whose long-standing enmity with the Surfer has been well documented, and who has used time and patience (as well as a woman who is now off the radar of everyone involved) to craft a plan that has resulted in the culmination of his revenge.

Between Doom, the Surfer, and Mephisto, there isn't much of the spotlight left to shine on the FF in closing out this story--which seems appropriate, since only darkness thrives here.


Fantastic Four #157

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Rich Buckler
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Joe Rosen


B Smith said...

I've commented on previous occasions what I fan I am of Roy Thomas's FF scripting at this time; #157 was the beginning of that period, and for the next two years Roy knocked 'em out of the park again and again, encompassing everything from melodrama to pathos to broad comedy (Impossible Man vs Marvel Comics, or the Frightful Four hold membership auditions).

One thing I appreciated was that there was rarely a simple conclusion to any particular story. In this one neither Doom nor the FF "win" in any given sense, and the reader is shown that it's part of a much larger scheme. Stories continued in this vein, with no victories gained simply through Ben punching someone's lights out, or Reed whipping up yet another gadget to save the day...there was often a coda to remind the reader that things weren't always so cut-and-dried in such situations, and it made the stories richer for it.

If the interview in Comics Journal #61 is anything to go by, Roy was managing to do this while encountering less than pleasant times in his work and personal life - whether it affected his comics writing is anyone's guess...also, thanks to no internet and an inability to find a decent dictionary or encyclopaedia, it took me years to find out what "Zugzwang" meant :-)

Comicsfan said...

B., those are excellent observations. Those Thomas FF stories read so seamlessly to me in terms of quality that, if he were hitting some bumps in the road at the time, he seemed adept at categorizing them to such a degree that they didn't appear to throw him off his game. Those stories are among the FF's most memorable, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I also think B Smith made a pretty good point about Roy Thomas. He did introduce a new shade of (moral?)complexity to these stories. I figure that's probably because he was from a different generation and was looking to experiment a bit with what comics could do.