Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Marvels: Fantastic Four #10

"The Return of Doctor Doom!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(January 1963)

At last, the Marvel Universe's greatest villain returns! When we last saw Doom, he had managed to drag the Baxter Building into outer space but, to escape the Sub-Mariner, he jumped into open space and grabbed onto a passing meteor.

So how did he manage to return to Earth?

Well, first let's just mention my single favorite thing in this issue of Fantastic Four. Remember how I said that one of my favorite things about this early version of the Marvel Universe is that Marvel Comics actually exist in that universe? Well, a few pages in, we're in the office with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (faces always obscured), and they're trying to come up with a new villain. They lament that they can't use Doctor Doom because he was lost in space, when suddenly: in walks Doctor Doom! Yes, Doom just walks right in to menace Lee and Kirby, even taking off his mask, much to their horror. We don't see what's under it, but we do get this wonderful monster movie moment.

The pathos of Doctor Doom. Nice.

Anyway, Doom's big plan is for Stan and Jack to call Mr. Fantastic and ask him over to the office to discuss story ideas, because apparently, within the Marvel Universe, the very comic you're reading is the result of the Fantastic Four themselves relating their adventures to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! That. Is. Brilliant. Superheroes in charge of an aspect of their own marketing. These guys are really celebrities.

So Reed comes in, Doctor Doom immediately hits him with a knockout gas, and the next thing you know we're in Doom's lab and he's telling us how he survived his meteor ride, and it's another one of those brilliant Doom survival stories.

As the meteor took Doom out into open space, he was found by a ship peopled with beings from another galaxy, the Ovoids. They took Doom in, and he learned some of their science secrets, including the mental ability to switch bodies, before being deposited back on Earth. And at the end of his story, Doom has successfully switched bodies with Reed Richards!

There's quite a fight scene between Reed and Doom; Doom is actually quite pleased to not only have his mind in Mr. Fantastic's superpowered body, he also feels freed because he no longer needs to be a prisoner inside his own mask. I'm kind of touched by that little note of humanity.

Once the Fantastic Four have Reed captured and imprisoned, Doom--in Reed's body--begins building a new device, the Reducing Ray, which he promises will increase their control over their powers, to the point where even Ben will be able to only become the Thing when he wants to, rather than being trapped in his rocky form. Everyone thinks this idea is wonderful, but of course, Doom is actually just going to zap them with the ray until they are physically shrunk down into nothingness, destroying his enemies.

Reed, however--still in Doom's body--is able to escape and, interestingly, goes to Alicia Masters for help. She feels an aura of goodness around him, convincing Sue that something's off. When the Thing busts in, he's so incensed to find Doctor Doom threatening Alicia that he really seems about to tear Doom's head off, but after hearing Doom talk to him, he suddenly becomes convinced that something's amiss, unable to hit Doom but not thoroughly convinced.

The way the whole confusion gets resolved is that Johnny just conjures up a heat mirage of a stick of lit dynamite. "Reed" tries to escape the room by stretching up a vent, while "Doom" jumps on the dynamite to pull the fuse out, and it's obvious to everyone that this selfless action could only be committed by Reed Richards. Confronted by the Fantastic Four again, Doom loses the mental control he was exerting and his mind goes back into his own body, and Reed back into his.

In the end, of course, Doom is defeated by his own evil plan: he's hit by the Reducing Ray and, in a science moment that may or may not violate the law of conservation of mass, he shrinks and shrinks and shrinks into nothingness.

Or does he?

I mean, come on, it's Doctor Doom. You know a few issues from now he'll be back, explaining how he's turned even this to his advantage. It's why he's the greatest comic book villain ever.

Other notes:

:: I like how we tend to ease into issues of Fantastic Four now, always getting to establish the family dynamic and show off some more uses for their powers. In this issue's first four pages, we see Reed conducting another experiment, then responding to a signal flare. Reed, Sue and Johnny are trapped in Reed's lab because of a door lock jam, really only so that we can see the limits of Reed's stretching capability as well as Johnny's latest ability (he's apparently able to concentrate his flame so that there's no heat). Then, as they make their way to answer the flare, they have to fight the crowds of New York City; the FF are big celebrities, and they all want autographs or locks of hair or to mash on Sue. It's like the Beatles a year too early.

Turns out the flare was just Ben's idea to get the three over to Alicia Masters' studio, which seems like the sort of thing you could have maybe just used a telephone for. He wants everyone to see that Alicia has turned away from puppets and started making sculptures. She has the uncanny ability to make lifelike sculptures of their villains just from descriptions.

Even this is used as key character stuff, as Sue protests that Alicia's included Sub-Mariner among their gallery of enemies, prompting Reed to try to speak to her about her feelings for Prince Namor. She doesn't, of course--she's just too torn--but it's a good reminder of this one thing that's still gnawing at their feelings.

:: Speaking of celebrity stuff, I love the little detail in a later scene that when the FF come out of Alicia's building, there are kids down on the street playing with the Fantasticar.

:: It's kind of funny how, when Doom is in Reed's body, he's a bit out of character, using phrases Doom would never use but that would come naturally to Reed, like "You're whistling in the dark, mister!" or "All right, sister! You're asking for it!" It's one of those things that seems a bit like a mistake but which you could also argue is some kind of transference or something.

:: And tonight, the role of Benjamin J. Grimm will be played by Ed Helms.

:: In the letters page, Stan promises that, giving in to fan demand, the Thing will face the Hulk in an upcoming issue. Marvel's greatest rivalry begins soon! Stan also acknowledges that a lot of readers have written in asking why the Human Torch is trying to keep his identity a secret when, in Fantastic Four, he's part of a quartet of international celebrities whose identities are known to everyone. Stan promises that will be addressed in Strange Tales #106.

Also in the letters page: Stan asks that people drop the salutation "Dear Editor" and instead write "Dear Stan and Jack," a great move towards strengthening relations with fans. Stan also reveals that they no longer have any copies of the first nine issues to sell to readers, that only 8 readers think Sue Storm should be dropped from the team (and 639 demanded she stay), and that so far votes favor adding no new members to the team. Stan also promises that the Spider-Man comic is coming soon. (It is, in just another couple of months!)

There's also a letter asking interested parties to inquire about a comics fanzine coming out of Miami. The letter is from fandom pioneer GB Love, whom you can read about here and here. It's kind of exciting checking out the letters page and seeing the early Marvel fandom gelling together.

Another great, fun issue of FF, the best of the Marvel books.

In the next Marvels: the Hulk faces an underground conqueror! And commies. Of course.

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