Thursday, January 30, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #16

"The Micro-World of Doctor Doom" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(July 1963)

Even with a book as great as Fantastic Four, it's been a long wait to see their greatest foe again. We haven't seen Doctor Doom for six months, since he switched bodies with Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #10. In that issue, he was defeated when he stood in front of his own shrinking ray and shrank down into nothingness. A gruesome end, if in fact you thought for a second he was dead. But this is Doom; of course he's not dead. He may not always have a plan, but he can always find a way to control the situation.

So where has he been? Well, let's get to that.

The big mystery this issue is that the Fantastic Four have been shrinking. The Human Torch bursts into the Baxter Building one afternoon to discover that the other members of the team have shrunk down to the size of toys. It turns out that all four of them have, at various times, suddenly been shrunk down, only to be restored moments later. Just what the heck is going on?

Reed's idea is to get in contact with Ant-Man, who gives him samples of his reducing and enlarging gases to experiment with. Things calm down for a while, until the four of them start hearing--at random times--a woman's faint voice telling them to beware of Doctor Doom. Reed had assumed that Doctor Doom was dead--after all, he hasn't been heard from in a very long time--but before he can even formulate a theory, the FF start shrinking again. They all take the enlarging serum as they're shrinking, which somehow stabilizes the process and brings them right down into a micro-world: the Micro-World of Doctor Doom!

Doctor Doom, always planning, shrinks the FF even further, then tells them his story: the reducto-ray in issue 10 shrunk him so far down that he entered a microscopic world called Sub-Atomica. Through his genius, he became court scientist to the King and his daughter, Princess Pearla, until he was able to build another shrinking ray and shrink down the King and Princess, take them prisoner, and make himself ruler of Sub-Atomica. Ever since then, he's been toying with the FF, changing their size, until he could capture them.

The Fantastic Four fight back--I love how they handily fight Doom's soldiers, even though they're the size of dolls--until, of course, Doom captures Sue and they have to surrender. The FF are put in a prison tank with the King and Princess Pearla (who is immediately attracted to Johnnny, like every extradimensional gal), which sits at the bottom of a lake of acid. Pearla was the one trying to warn the FF about Doom, whose plan is to marry Pearla, sell the Fantastic Four as slaves to the Lizard Men of Tok to gain their allegiance, and go about conquering the rest of the micro-verse.

Now, as much as I don't like the device of Sue always getting captured, she's the one who comes up with their avenue of escape: Reed turns their prison chamber into a floating capsule to get through the acid (since, obviously, as Sue says, the walls themselves are resistant to the acid). When they get back to Doom's chamber and enlarge themselves back to Doom's size, they discover that Ant-Man has followed them into Sub-Atomica, and Sue frees him, too, and she's even the one who grabs Doom's gun and tries to kill him with it. If not for a well-placed escape door--come on, it's Doctor Doom--she would have ended this whole adventure right away.

But instead, Doom gets away; he rushes to his secret enlarging ray and decides to wait in the Baxter Building for the FF to return. While the Four and Ant-Man restore the King to the throne and then head into the enlarging ray, we're all set up for an epic showdown between the world's greatest heroes and the world's most diabolical villain... next issue!

Stray observations:

:: Why is Reed's first idea to call in Ant-Man? It was established in Tales to Astonish #43 that the public doesn't know that Ant-Man can change his size, so how would Reed know about it? This story kind of treats it like Reed's in on it a little, and Hank gives him samples of his reducing and enlarging gases, so, you know, even if Reed didn't know before, he does now.

Really, Ant-Man only appears here to publicize the big retool from Tales to Astonish #44 and more firmly establish his place in this shared Marvel Universe. I think that only leaves Thor and Iron Man as the major Marvel characters who have yet to crossover with anyone else, though that will obviously change. Incidentally, the Wasp only cameos in this story, appearing in one panel. Ant-Man tells her to stay behind. So the job of being ridiculously girly falls to Sue, who fawns over how cute Ant-Man must be at normal size. Jeez.

:: Another question about Reed calling in Ant-Man: he says it would take too long to develop his own shrinking serum, but he whipped one up pretty well for Kurrgo back in Fantastic Four #7. For that matter, why not just use the reducto-ray Doom invented in FF #10 that sent him to Sub-Atomic in the first place? I wonder why they need to go to all the trouble of an Ant-Man crossover.

Oh, on an unrelated note, buy Tales to Astonish, kids, Ant-Man's cool now.

:: When you think about it, Sub-Atomica's kind of a silly name for the micro-world. I mean, how do they know they're in a microscopic world? Would we?

:: There's another scene in here where Reed finds a serum to change the Thing back into Ben Grimm.

Except for Ben accidentally calling Alicia "Sue" (which makes Reed's troubled look unintentionally hilarious), I do really like how Alicia always reacts so poorly to times when Ben is "normal." She wants the man she fell in love with. And I love how Alicia's love is what's made Ben more comfortable with being the Thing. He probably feels more accepted by her than his own friends, honestly. No wonder he's always at her place. Here, Ben even tells Reed to lay off trying to "fix" him and instead work on something to restore Alicia's sight. So Ben's found some measure of peace, and that makes me very happy.

:: Speaking of Sue, she gets to do some actual science in this issue! She's trying to find a combination of sprays that will mask her scent, so animals won't be able to find her when she's invisible. Seems like a handy idea. It's nice to see her experimenting with her powers.

:: My favorite moment of bickering:

Get to work, Johnny.

:: The letters page this month features a lot of readers who are quite angry about Fred Bronson's letter back in Fantastic Four #12 suggesting that the Thing be kicked out of the mag! Gregg Smith of La Jolla, California, even suggests Fred just watch Ding Dong School, instead. Ouch! Readers also declare their love for Spider-Man and Thor, though Tom Dietz of Kent, Ohio, feels that Steve Ditko's art isn't very good (he's wrong). There are a few letters from female readers, too... where did this BS about how girls don't like comics come from? They may not stay with comics--my sister, who read a lot of X-Men as a kid, didn't--but girls read comics, okay? If you think otherwise... yeesh.

Stan also takes the time to tease Marvel's newest character, Dr. Strange, who will appear in Strange Tales #110 (which will be not my next Marvels post, or the next one, but the one after that) and solidifies the name Marvel Comics Group as the homebase for all of these great heroes.

And then there's a plug for the next issue, of course. This is the first time in Marvel history when a story has ended on a cliffhanger to be resolved in the next issue, and brother, it is worth it!

But first, in the next Marvels: Thor and Loki unite!

No comments: