Fantastic Four #10

Something I completely forgot to mention about last issue: FF #9 established that the team earned its money on Reed’s inventions, selling his patents. It’s a huge part of the Fantastic Four canon and I just kind of glossed over it. It didn’t have too much bearing on the plot and I’m so accustomed to the idea that I almost didn’t notice it. My bad! I’m sure they had a lot of letters asking how the team paid for its stuff, and this was the easiest way to explain that away.

On to Issue 10!

January of 1963, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Lee and Kirby in the book! A villainous Mister Fantastic? The improbable return of Doctor Doom?! There’s no burying the lead here!

Any excuse to get a girl in front of an x-ray machine, eh Reed?
Any excuse to get a girl in front of an x-ray machine, eh Reed?

We find our heroes in the lab, performing an experiment on Sue. Johnny likes to stand around on fire, even though the last few issues established that his flame is somewhat limited. It’s okay. The limitation is silly and it actually says a lot about him that he’s so comfortable with his powers.

Suddenly, they spot an emergency FF flare out the window! It must be from Thing, the only member of the team not present. It’s from nearby, so Reed decides to forgo the Fantasti-car, which is really just the latest in a string of bad decisions on Reed’s part. What follows is a couple pages of the trio stretching, burninating, and generally wreaking havoc and getting harassed as they make their way across town. Johnny nearly immolates a crowd on the sidewalk, and Reed has to stretch his way out of a crowd of admirers. Sue gets accosted by a be-hatted admirer (who hilariously uses the exact same language used by a creepy fan letter from a while back), then turns invisible and causes a car wreck. So yeah, great call on the Fantasti-car, Reed.

So Thing, what’s the big idea?

statues

It is awesome that they’re developing Alicia, even if she still doesn’t have a last name. We learned previously that she’s at least as good as her (late?) father at crafting puppets, and now she can apparently sculpt completely badass statues of people she’s never met. (The cynical part of me has to ask if this is more cross-promotion, like they were trying to sell a action figures or something, but  Mego didn’t have the license to produce any super hero figures until the 1970s.) Best of all, it leads to this hilariously awkward moment:

awwwwkwardHoly shit Sue is still mooning over Namor! And this is the first mention of any romance between Reed and Sue at all since that single panel in Issue 1. I love the cheesy poses Sue always takes when she’s talking about Namor; you can tell these are the same creatives who spent the 1950s producing romance comics. Johnny speaks for the thousands of teenage boys reading this book, though, and that’s the last we hear of it this issue.

bullpenI like the little plugs for their other books they slipped in there for Thor, Hulk, and Ant-Man (aside from Hulk, I don’t think any of these guys had their own titles yet, so they would have been referencing Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish). I wonder who the other lantern-jawed guy at the upper right would have been if not obscured by the dialogue bubble? Captain America wouldn’t appear (in the contemporary Marvel Universe, anyway) until over a year after this, and Iron Man didn’t exist at all yet. Regarding False-Face, as far as I know there’s never been a False-Face Marvel character BUT there was an old Batman villain named False Face, a master of disguise who first cropped up in the ’50s, and then again for one scary-as-shit appearance in the ’66 television series. I wonder if this was a little dig at the Distinguished Competition?

This is not the first appearance of Lee and Kirby, despite what the Marvel wiki will tell you. According to my handy Marvel Comics Guide to New York City the duo appeared in Amazing [Adult] Fantasy 12 in May of 1962 (which series would later become the birthplace of Spider-Man, but of course you knew that already). So this is their second appearance in a Marvel comic. Later, titles like John Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk would make breaking the fourth wall somewhat routine (at least in the more humorous books) whenever the heroes were angry at the people telling their stories.

A few years ago I met Ron Frenz and got to chat with him about Amazing Spider-Man 275, which is pretty much the comic that got me to fall in love with comics, and he pointed out how he’d drawn himself, the writer, and the editors into some of the crowd scenes. I’m sure that kind of thing was common.

doom entersWha-wha-whaaaaa?! This marks the first Fantastic Four villain to seemingly come back from certain
(•_•)
( •_•)>⌐■-■
(⌐■_■)
doom.

What’s weird about this scene is that Kirby and Lee seem to want it both ways here – they’re claiming credit for having created Doom, but also implying that they are merely documenting the real-life adventures of the Fantastic Four.

faceAlso notable is that this version of Doom’s costume is more or less the version of his armor that he’s known for, with the big belt and the pistol and everything. Less necromancer and more mad scientist with a penchant for medieval castles. We also get a reminder of Doom’s as-yet unseen disfigurement. I think this is probably meant to serve both as an indication of why he wears the mask and why he’s so willing to commit the atrocities he does later in this issue. It’s a rare moment of self reflection from Victor Von Doom that he would probably see as a weakness.

He demands that Lee and Kirby call up Mr. Fantastic and invite him to the office. Fearing for their lives, Stan makes the call and sets the trap in motion!

sprungAnd Reed falls right into it. I love Doom’s bravado here, his claims of super “mystic science” known only to him. It’s hilarious given what we learn over the next couple of pages. Like Miracle Man before him, Doom’s showmanship often exceeds his talent.

When a stunned Reed awakes to find himself in Doom’s secret laboratory, the villain explains his unlikely survival. While drifting through space on the meteor, he gets picked up by a ship full of highly advanced aliens from another galaxy called the Ovoids. They display powers such as telekinesis, mind transference, and teleportation. Also, they’re super gullible.

ovoids
And yet if I keep a closet full of bodies somebody calls the police.

So it’s not so much “mystic science known only to me” so much as “some gadgets I stole from a bunch of space rubes who couldn’t be bothered to check my Wikipedia entry on the local planetary networks.”

Mr. Fantastic gives him some of the old “you’ll never stop us” routine, but it’s too late!

switcherooBrain swaps are a tried-and-true sci fi/fantasy trope. My personal favorite is the “Switch” arc of the original Quantum & Woody run from the late ’90s, but it’s hard to beat this one.

Reed, in Doom’s body, tries to attack the recently en-Fantasticked Doom, but Doom makes short work of him using Reed’s body. (This is way more difficult to describe than I thought it would be. Can we get psychoa nice, simple time paradox story next?) Reed doesn’t realize that there are weapons and other gadgets built into Doom’s armor. That’s fine, he’s probably still disoriented by the transfer.

The rest of the team bursts in and Doom has no trouble fooling them, despite Reed’s pleas and the fact that Doom-as-Reed looks like a total fucking psychopath.

Ben and Johnny offer up some crackpot schemes to imprison Doom (Reed) as though he’s not just a dude in a suit, and then Reed (Doom) offers up the airtight plexiglass prison cell located in the basement of Doom’s lab. The rest of the team pretends to care about whether Doom will run out of air and die, and then they abandon him to his fate.

prisonNo! What will Reed do?

Back at the Baxter Building, the heroes make a startling discovery.

animals
If they hadn’t made all that money from their movie last issue they could have just sold miniature giraffes for like a million bucks a piece.

I don’t know Thing, how does it tie into that headline? Or maybe you shouldn’t be so self-centered and assume that every newspaper story is about you.

Reed (Doom) comes in to find them horsing around with his animals and quickly explains. He’s developed a reducing ray! Now, if you recall, Reed is already familiar with reducing technologies, having revealed a reducing gas on Planet X just a few issues back. The guy knows his way around a Pym particle. So I’m finding it just as likely that Doom didn’t actually invent this, he just found it laying around Reed’s lab. Why he felt the need to go kidnap half the population of the Central Park Zoo is a mystery for another day, however.

Reed (Doom) proceeds to smoothly lay out some…rather dubious science facts to explain that no no no, the reducing ray is great because it will actually increase all of their powers!

dinosaurs
Though I would have taken every science class I could if this were true, so maybe Doom is onto something.

No more limitations on the Torch’s flame! Sue will be have complete control over her invisibility (she doesn’t now I guess?)! Thing will be able to switch back and forth from his rocky and human forms!

it is to laughWell, the team buys it, because they are god-damned idiots. They start squabbling over who should use the ray first, and Reed (Doom) kicks them out, ostensibly to keep perfecting the ray, but really it’s just because he can’t hold a straight face any longer. After they leave, he reveals that his plan is really to shrink them until they can be shrunk no longer! There will be nothing left of them by the time he’s done!

As Doom rightfully chortles over the fast one he’s pulled, Reed is working desperately to escape. He manages to use Doom’s helmet to open a crack large enough to squeeze one of the cage’s oxygen tanks, and then strikes it with sufficient force to explode a hole in the wall.

splodeNow, look. I’m not an expert on plexiglass prisons. I’m going to set aside the unlikelihood of causing the air tanks to explode by mere impact. And I’m going to grant that Doom’s (Reed’s) armor will protect him from the millions of deadly shards of glass now flying through the air. But why would the oxygen tanks be inside the cell to begin with? And more importantly, he has Doctor Doom’s armor. We know this thing is loaded with lasers and whatnot. Just use that! And it points out how arrogant Doom is to leave him with his armor intact!

Well, anyway, Doom (Reed) goes to the only place where knows he won’t get instantly pummeled senseless.

suckeredThis armor is the worst. The vase didn’t even break!

Trivia note: this is the first time we’ve gotten two female characters talking to each other! They’re talking about dudes, though, so I’m saying it still doesn’t pass the Bechdel test.

Interestingly, Alicia isn’t fooled by the Doom body that Sue has just laid out on the floor. Nobody listens to her, though, and nothing comes of it. One of several threads in this issue that don’t come to fruition.

alicia
Easy there, Sue, you just took him out with a well-aimed vase to the head. It’s not even a real antique – you can tell by the cross sections.

tripThe rest of the team arrives and sweeps Doom (Reed) back to headquarters. Reed (Doom) worries the jig might be up and hastens to get the unsuspecting trio in front of the reducing ray so he can shrink them away forever. Doom (Reed) wakes up and begins his pleas anew. The team actually starts to listen this time, though. Doom may have given himself away with his villainous banter! It’s kind of funny, because there are actually several moments in this issue where Stan slipped up and assigned Doom dialogue that is not terribly Doom-esque (“All right, sister!” and “You’re whistling in the dark, mister!” come to mind). Johnny comes up with a plan!

johnnys planA completely ridiculous plan, of course, but a plan nonetheless. And it works! Doom (Reed) heroically leaps on the illusion dynamite, while Reed (Doom) makes a break for it, but Ben grabs him. His ruse is discovered!

switchbackThis is actually the first time we’ve seen Doom’s face beneath that mask, albeit in false color. There’s oddly no sign of scarring or disfigurement. Maybe what we’re seeing is more Victor’s mental idea of what he looks like than the reality?

In desperation, Doom attacks!

stunnerIn his panicked, wild assault, Doom shoots the control panel for the reducing ray!

struck
If Doom expects Reed to help, he clearly hasn’t been reading previous issues.
end
Help me! Heeeeelp meeeeee!

I would love for Doom’s deaths to become a running joke, like Sue’s invisible hijinks. That’s not really what Doom becomes known for, of course, but I’m hoping we get a few more of these, “Oh damn, that was not pretty!” *shrug* moments from the series. Ben gives Reed credit for the victory even though it was Reed falling for a trap to begin with that got them all into this mess.

Overall, I like this issue, but there are a lot of dangling plot points that never get used properly:

  • Doom takes the Ovoids’ teleportation and mind-swapping technologies, but neglects their telekinesis.
  • The tension between Sue and Reed is introduced, but never comes up again. Surely in a story where one half of the troubled couple has been swapped out for his worst enemy that should have been a concern. Especially in a trope often used for relationship issues (the Freaky Friday effect). Dan Slott’s recent Superior Spider-Man, in which Doctor Octopus manages to seize control of Spider-Man’s body, does some wondrous things with that idea. Of course, Slott ran that story arc for like a year or so, so it’s not really fair to compare them too much.
  • Alicia and her uncanny aura readings! She read Ben so well in her first appearance, and pulls the same stunt this time, but nobody acknowledges her instincts. I was actually expecting her to figure into the final confrontation, perhaps freeing Doom (Reed) at a crucial moment, but that didn’t happen, probably because they wanted to give Johnny and Ben something more to do.

There is, however, a lot of really good Doom material in this issue, despite Stan’s slip-ups with some of his dialogue. His arrogance, petty spite, and fundamentally cowardly nature cost him everything in this story (contrast that to his last appearance, where he did everything right and only lost because Namor was a total badass). His claims of unparalleled genius are constantly undermined, often in funny ways. Maybe deep-space exposure effected him in ways he hasn’t realized yet?

The rest of the team doesn’t look better by comparison, though. They swallow every line from Reed’s mouth. While it does establish Mr. Fantastic as their leader, which they’ve kind of given lip service to previously but hadn’t shown in action much, it makes them look like the gullible dolts Doom knows they are. And Reed himself doesn’t look particularly smart for being the supposedly great scientist who didn’t bother to investigate what gadgets were inside Doom’s suit of armor, the only resource believably available to him while trapped and slowly dying in that prison cell.

I’m glad the romantic tension between Sue and Reed has been established, though. It allows that relationship to get back on track.

I leave you this week with this excerpt from the letter column, featuring a hyphenation betrayal most foul.

hyphenNEXT TIME: A day in the life of the Fantastic Four! And just who – or what – is the Impossible Man!

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