Saturday, August 03, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #6

"Captives of the Deadly Duo!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers & Joe Sinnott
(September 1962)

Stan & Jack must have really known they had a good thing in Doctor Doom, because they wasted no time at all bringing him back. And why not? He's the best villain in the Marvel Universe! I mean, in all of it, throughout history.

You can also tell that the book's popularity has been building, too, as the first chapter of this story isn't devoted to the epic team-up of Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner, but rather to answering questions from fans and establishing just how popular the Fantastic Four are. I like the way Stan & Jack treat the FF like celebrities, both in our own reality and in the Marvel Universe. The first chapter is about 75% ordinary people ooh-ing and ahh-ing over glimpses of the Four in the streets, and then the FF talking about how much fan mail they receive (reflecting the influx of fanmail to the editorial offices).

But the big story here is that Doctor Doom enlists Prince Namor in his revenge against the Fantastic Four. He seems to have given up the black magic already (good decision; he's a science villain), and instead seeks out the Sub-Mariner, who has given up revenge on the surface world in favor of trying to find his people. Doom, however, rekindles the fires of hatred, and though Namor says he cannot hurt Sue Storm, he will fight the rest and help Doom with his plan.

The Sub-Mariner is incredible in this issue. It's revealed here that Sue still has feelings for him, and when the men discover that, they are pissed. They're all arguing about it, and just at that moment, Namor simply walks right in and takes charge, humiliating an angry Human Torch and being very flip to Reed about how he's going to take Sue out on a date. Sue would probably go, too; she demands that the men hear Namor out, and even stands in front of him when her brother first tries to attack.

Doom's plan is pretty magnificent. A great supervillain finds a useful ally. A genius supervillain makes someone believe they're an ally, makes use of them, and then double-crosses them. Namor, it turns out, was only meant as a distraction, keeping the Four occupied with their personal issues (and planting a magnetic device) while Doctor Doom uses magnets to pull the entire Baxter Building up into space.

What follows is some nail-biting stuff, as Reed's powers are somehow weakened in the vacuum of space (and he takes an exhaust blast to the face), Ben's more interested in fighting Sub-Mariner, and Johnny... well...

*sigh*... idiot.

In the end, though, it's Prince Namor himself who takes out Doctor Doom with his superior strength, superior determination, and superior awesomeness. It's an epic battle, with one very angry Sub-Mariner literally crawling and smashing his way towards Doom, even using Doom's electric shocks against him by collecting the energy and sending it back. (Remember, Namor has all the powers of the sea at his command, including the electric eel! Seriously, this guy is probably the third most powerful character in Marvel Comics at this point, after Thor and the Hulk.) Doom's only escape is to leap from his spacecraft and grab onto a passing meteor, whipping off into the void.

You know what's going to be fun? Finding out how Doom escapes his fate and returns. It is one of the best things about this character. He's never truly defeated; his victory is only delayed. In fact, he'd easily have won if it weren't for the Sub-Mariner saving the day.

The two most interesting characters in this issue aren't even stars of this book!

Other observations:

:: Here's where the Baxter Building is actually named for the first time. The Fantastic Four occupy the top four floors (it was five in the earlier diagram, so it's been redone here). We also find out that only the FF can access the express elevator with a special electronic signal in their belts.

:: We also learn about the Fantastic Four's uniforms for the first time here, as Reed explains to a hospitalized young fan (and to us) that they're made of unstable molecules that shift in structure as needed, but which--as we see in the story--can also withstand the pressures of outer space. This is the kind of science fiction I can accept; it basically does what the plot requires it to without getting in the way and without being too implausible.

:: Ben gets a letter razzing him from the Yancy Street Gang, the first time we ever hear of them. They get him so bugged that he folds up a 6-inch thick block of titanium to mail back to them--a nice, character-motivated demonstration of the Thing's strength.

:: I love that Namor keeps a framed 8x10 of Sue Storm in his undersea lair. Also, check out his swingin' pad:

Anyone else suddenly have "Music to Watch Space Girls Go By" going through their head?

Oh, and for her part, Sue also has a glossy 8x10 of Namor hidden in her bookcase. I would love to know where she got that from. I'm starting to wonder if they've been secretly making contact with one another. I mean, did they drop by Macy's or something and have the photographer take a keepsake photo for her? You'd think that might have made the news, especially judging by the stunned reaction of New Yorkers just seeing him walk down the street in this issue.

:: Who else lives/works in that Baxter Building? Who would even want to? Last issue it was netted, this issue it was literally dragged into outer space! What do you suppose the insurance rates are on that place?

:: No sad Ben in this issue, thank god; instead, we get into the pathos of Sue Storm, who clearly loves Namor and laments that his bitterness and anger have blinded him to his better instincts. You get the sense that she'd really marry him if he weren't so caught up in his pain. Let that be a lesson to you, kids.

Another epic issue of Fantastic Four, especially now that the team has been facing genuine threats like Doctor Doom and Sub-Mariner. As I said above, they were nearly done for this time, and only the intervention of another enemy saved them from certain death. Nicely done!

Next: the Hulk goes to the circus!

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