Fantastic Four #17

Featuring Doom’s most esoteric traps yet!

coverAugust 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

This issue picks up more or less right after last issue, but I hope you didn’t have your hopes up for more Ant-Man, or an appearance by the Wasp.

page 1
Goddammit, Sue.

There’s a quick recap of last issue’s events, with this curious addition.

knighting
He liked her so much he forgot how to spell Pearla’s name.

We are certain to see the microworld and its princess again at some point.

The hunt for Doctor Doom is on! Reed has a gadget that doesn’t look silly at all!

radarJohnny shows why he’s not the scientist.

heat sonar
He didn’t find Doom, but he may have just single-handedly triggered climate change.

To Johnny’s credit, he’s not randomly walking the streets harassing people and wreaking property damage.

pratfallthing continuedSue limits her efforts mostly to ruining one guy’s sales pitch.

toy gunAfter a fruitless day of searching, the team decides to return to their normal social lives. A helpful janitor helps them evade the throngs of admiring fans by taking them to the freight elevator.

janitor trickWhat the gasp!? That janitor is actually Doc Doom! And he’s placed tracking devices on our heroes! He retreats to his hidden lab and releases strange lighter-than-air robots designed to follow the tracking discs. He’s out to ruin our heroes’ night! I include these mostly because it’s just so weird. Also Johnny’s pick-up line might see a resurgence.

date ruinedthing ruinedsue ruinedreed ruinedThe team reconvenes at the Baxter Building and (with the help of a gadget Reed whips together) quickly sort out the problem. Removing the tracking discs causes the mysterious robots to disappear. The robots apparently served no purpose but to distract and embarrass the Fantastic Four. Doom was just trolling them!

His next move is most vicious – kidnap Ben’s girlfriend, Alicia! Their relationship is especially offensive to Doom.

doom aliciaDoom swiftly takes action, nabbing Alicia off the street and then warning the FF off – if they interfere, he’ll unleash horrors upon the city! Mass hallucinations! Vine spores that will overwhelm the city! And oh yeah he has Alicia.

With the team immobilized by fear and internal bickering over how to deal with Doom, Doom reveals his true desires.

plotMan, were things super different in 1963? Today, holding a position in government is the quickest way to guarantee that you’ll never make a difference to anyone, and having oodles of money the easiest way to guarantee that you will. Anyway, Doom is an old-fashioned guy I guess.

presidentOur first presidential appearance! John F. Kennedy! To put it in the context of the time, this issue came out roughly a year after the Bay of Pigs disaster, around the same time as his famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech. He was considering pulling out of Vietnam, but feared the political consequences.

The artistic choice to just show Kennedy’s hair is typical of Marvel presidential appearances. All of them that I can recall only show a profile, or a shadowed silhouette, or the hair or back of the head. DC was less coy with its presidential cameos.

I’m not sure if this is his first appearance in a Marvel comic (a quick glance at the Marvel wiki suggests it’s not), but it could very well be his last, at least as a contemporary president (and not like a zombie or something). Kennedy would be dead just a few months after this issue came out. Caroline is 5 years old.

640px-JFK_with_Caroline_on_the_Honey_Fitz,_1963
John and Caroline Kennedy, August 1963.

Man, that got serious fast. Back to the comic!

When the United States refuses his demands, Doom begins a one-man war on the country. It’s a nation under siege! Electronic devices all over the country start shutting down or malfunctioning. Factories and laboratories shut down, military complexes and equipment become useless. Will America’s enemies take advantage of the entire nation grinding to a halt?

commies(That’s obviously Khrushchev in the tasteful green suit there, but I’m curious if the others are based on real people or if they’re just fill-in caricatures.)

reed worksOur heroes aren’t just resting on their laurels, though. Reed has been working day and night on a plan. He’s found Doom’s hideout – a flying fortress that’s been hidden behind artificial clouds right above New York. Approach is impossible, though – the fortress is equipped with disintegrator beams that have been tuned specifically to kill each member of the FF, should they attack. Reed concludes that those odd robots earlier probably took detailed scans of them all. Their only hope – send in the one member of the team whom they can temporarily alter on a molecular level. Kirby does a great job conveying Reed’s overworked exhaustion in these scenes, his worry that if he doesn’t pull this off precisely right, it’ll mean certain, instant death for his best friend.

transformThey waste no time launching Ben into action!

flightWill he make it?!

white knuckleThis is pretty much exactly what Namor did way back in Issue 6 when he made his space-jump to Doom’s ship. Through sheer force of will monitorour heroes show their mettle!

Ben conveniently changes back to Thing just as he breaches the hull of Doom’s fortress, and makes short work of the disintegrator circuitry, allowing the others to join him. They immediately disperse to search the ship and divide Doom’s attention. Splitting up has never been good for the Fantastic Four, but, hey, maybe it’ll work this time.

Doom springs various traps on our intrepid heroes, but they manage to overcome them. Reed, Johnny, and Ben form back up as they close on Doom’s final position, and he hits them with his most devious device!

power spherespower spheres 2What a super cool idea! Given his recent dimension-hopping to microworld, it totally makes sense that Doom would come up with something that could shift an opponent to some other reality. It doesn’t seem that difficult to do, so he just had to figure out a way to weaponize it. Too bad for our heroes…or is it!

trickedI actually have to consider this a major blunder in the storytelling. This is a reveal that should have happened much later, after we see the upcoming action with Sue. How much more dramatic the final battle if she – and the audience – think them gone? Man, that would have been awesome. Anyway, Johnny tricked Doom by using a variation of the old “heat mirage” trick that he pulled back in Issue 10 (which worked on Doom then, too).

flame imagesMeanwhile, Susan has found their other target.

susan and aliciaDoes this count for Bechdel Test purposes?  It’s kind of on that line, but I’m still leaning toward no. They’re still basically just talking about Doctor Doom and the threat thereof. I do give credit for the  undermining of the Damsel in Distress trope, though.

The boys haven’t managed to lock down the good doctor yet.

doom-sueThis is Sue’s finest hour. Doom triggers the “moving bars” trap promised on the cover…

moving barsBut Sue’s not so easy!

sue judo chopOh snap! She just judo chopped a dude in armor with her bare hands! Too bad she gave Reed credit for it, though. Still, what a nerd to get beaten by the Invisible Girl, amiright? Doom has one last desperate gamble, though, as he pulls his trusty heat-wave gun and threatens to sweep the whole room with it.

Then the guys show up and save the day after Sue’s done the real work.

doom fallAnother obscure death for Doctor Doom! Everyone is reunited and happy.

endDoom had a strong showing this issue, with some pretty clever and awesome gadgetry that the heroes had to work hard to overcome. Similarly, Reed had a great role coming up with counters to his technology, and Ben had a couple of really great moments of heroic willpower.

But what was up with those weird balloon robots? That were intangible somehow? Surely if Doom could get close enough to the team to trick them with the janitor bit, he could have just taken the necessary scans of their molecular structure himself. It’s hard to swallow that he really cares about something so petty as embarrassing them.

Still, his threat was real and dire, and his taking Alicia hostage meant they couldn’t just blow his fortress out of the sky. It makes me realize that other than Alicia (and maybe Postman Lumpkin), the FF really doesn’t have any sort of supporting cast to speak of at this point in its history. In a funny way, Doom and Namor are the supporting cast. Recent stories involving Doom and Namor being basically the wacky uncles of the family take this to its logical conclusion.

MVP goes to Sue for kicking Doom’s ass all by her lonesome, but the effort is undermined by the last-minute arrival of the men for no reason. It’s never explained how they escaped Doom’s force screen – I would guess they had to backtrack and find another way to that side of the fortress.

Next time: You’ll have to wait to see the (awesome) villain teased in that last panel, because we have our first-ever annual! We finally get to see Atlantis in all its glory! And a special appearance from everyone’s favorite wall-crawler! It’ll be an epic-sized Critique Fantastique!

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