Script: Stan Lee
Art: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letters: Art Simek
You don’t need to be much of a comic book fan to know that one of the mortal enemies of the FF is Doctor Doom. If you were paying any attention in 2005, when the Fantastic Four movie came out (you know, the one with that hunky Scottish actor, Ioan Gruffudd), then you would have at least some idea that there is in the world of super-villainy a character named Doctor Doom, and he and the FF don’t get along very well.
Doctor Doom. Isn’t that a great name for a villain? I love the alliteration. In fact, this might be a good time to mention that in the Marvel Universe, a lot of characters’ names are the product of alliteration: Reed Richards, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker, and on the villainous side, in addition to Doctor Doom, we have Mole Man, Green Goblin, and of course, one of my favorites, Paste Pot Pete. It’s good use of language, it makes for melodious monikers, but Russ tells me it also serves another, more practical purpose. Apparently Stan created so many characters, that he sometimes had a hard time keeping track of them all. Using double consonants was one mnemonic device he used to help him remember who’s who in his galaxy of stars.
As we begin our story, we witness another “Stan-ism” that frequently appears in Marvel Comics, and which always gives me a chuckle. Johnny is reading “a great new comic mag,” which is, in fact, The Incredible Hulk! Stan was never above a little bit of self-promotion. And why not? It’s free advertising!
Not only that, though, when Johnny mentions that Hulk reminds him of Thing, it creates an opportunity for all four of them to go into their routine: Johnny and Thing squabble, then fight, Sue reprimands her brother by cooling him off with a spray of water, and Reed steps in as the “Dad” to break it up and lecture the two misbehaving boys.
Okay, enough of that. A nice little reminder of how these four interact with each other, then our story begins. The lights go out! Turns out somebody has dropped a net over their building, and it is conveniently made out of asbestos, the only material capable of foiling the Human Torch. (In FF stories, we will find an unusual number of objects and locations are composed of asbestos.)
From the helicopter hovering above the building, Doctor Doom announces his presence. Reed recognizes his voice, and immediately launches into storytelling.
Two things I want to bring up at this point: one, this is a shortened version of the Doctor Doom origin story. A more detailed account will follow in Fantastic Four Annual #2. Secondly, I want to make mention of the artist device used to separate the “narrative within the narrative” from the original narrative.
You’ll notice that whenever a character begins to tell a story, the first thing we see is a “head shot” next to their spoken words. In addition, the edges of the “story within a story” panels are, for lack of a better word, scalloped. (Well, that’s what I call it, and as Russ points out, that’s what a girl would call it. Is there a more official term? If anyone knows, please clue me in!) These visual clues let the reader know that they are seeing what the speaker is saying. So in some sense, the reader is in a better position than the “actual” audience, the other characters in the story, who can only hear the story.
Reed explains that Victor von Doom was a brilliant college student who dabbled in the Black Arts, attempting to contact the netherworld. After an accident in his scientific laboratory, not only was his face badly disfigured, but he was also expelled from school. Reed knows that “when last heard of, he was prowling the wastelands of Tibet, still seeking forbidden secrets of black magic and sorcery.” Reed also predicts that a run-in with von Doom could be “the most dangerous adventure of our career!”
Of course. But that’s pretty much what he said when they met up with the Miracle Man. I think we’ll find we very often have this proclamation of “What we are about to face is bigger and badder than anything we have ever faced before!” It’s part of that hyperactive hyperbole that is so prevalent, (and I might add, so very effective) in Marvel Comics.
To start things off, Doom demands that Sue be sent to him as a hostage. There is initial reluctance, but in the end it is agreed that this is the only way to bring the villain out into the open.
After he has Sue, Doom demands the others board his “ship” (which is actually a helicopter), and he sucks them up in a dome and takes them to his castle, where he reveals that he has invented a time travel device, and wants them to go back and retrieve Blackbeard’s treasure. (He can’t go, of course, because he has to stay behind to operate the time machine).
Doom sends the three men (well, one man, one boy and one “Thing”) back to pirate times, where they immediately realize they’ll need a change of clothes. Fortunately they find two pirates arguing over a “booty” of laundry. Now, I just have to ask, what kind of pirate steals CLOTHES? This struck me as not only way too convenient, but completely silly.
Nevertheless, Thing scares away the pirates, leaving them with “a whole bundle of suits and boots.” (Thus providing the reader not only with alliteration, but rhyming as well!) They dress up, and even Thing is passable as a pirate.
They go to a pub, where some pirates at another table decide they would like these three to join their crew, and have the waitress —uh, barwench—slip them a mickey. They wake up aboard the pirate ship, and when the scalawags try to give them trouble, our three heroes use their superpowers to win the fight.
This ship comes immediately under attack by another pirate ship, and once again our guys use their powers to win the fight.
To tell the truth, I was kind of disappointed that they didn’t find Blackbeard on the first pirate ship, but as soon as the second ship showed up, I knew they would be meeting Blackbeard soon enough. And of course they do. No surprise there. Storytelling as expected.
But what I never expected was this:
Once the treasure chest is secured, the pirates hail Thing’s power, calling him “the mighty bearded one” and proclaiming “Hooray for Blackbeard!” So. Thing IS Blackbeard. How wild is that? Completely out of left field, totally unexpected. Now, seasoned comic book readers may have seen this one coming. And aficionados of time travel stories may not be as blown away by this development as I was. But for me, that was totally unexpected, and completely cool.
So, since Thing IS Blackbeard, Blackbeard’s treasure actually BELONGS to the Fantastic Four. Which means they are not actually stealing anything…are they? This little plot twist, in addition to being cool, permits our heroes to maintain their law-abiding integrity. Because we couldn’t actually have the FF committing acts of thievery, could we, even if it is for a good cause.
Next, Reed gets a clever idea. He decides that if Doom wants the items in this chest, there must be “some dangerous power” within, which they should never let him have. So, let’s empty the treasure from the chest, split it among the pirates, and fill the chest with chains to bring back to Dr. Doom. “For we never promised to bring the treasure itself,” he says. “We kept our word. We are bringing him Blackbeard’s treasure CHEST.”
Once again, this keeps our heroes’ virtue intact. They fulfill their contract as per the letter of the law, and are NOT providing a dangerous villain with artifacts of evil power. When you look back at their original conversation with Doom, however, he does in fact twice say that he wants “the treasure” but just before he pushes the button to send them into the past, he concludes with “You will have forty eight hours to bring me Blackbeard’s treasure chest.” So which is it…the treasure…or the chest? This whole “letter of the law” thing is a bit weasley, if you ask me.
But we’ll forgive a bit of weaseliness, because we’re about to come up on another fantastic plot twist. Thing decides he LIKES being Blackbeard, and has no intention of going back to the 20th century! Here he is more than just a freak, he’s a leader of men! He has the pirates wrap Reed in a sail, and Johnny is still wet, so neither is a threat to Thing’s dream of pirate domination. He’s ready to send off his two former comrades in a rowboat, when…
A twister comes out of nowhere and destroys the ship!! The three meet up on a deserted island, where Thing apologizes profusely for his recent activities. “I musta got carried away by being accepted—as a normal man—even if it was only by a band of cut-throat pirates!”
As it happens, the chest has washed ashore with them, and at the precise moment they are wondering how Dr. Doom is going to get them back to the present, Doom is pressing the button.
Returned to Doom, they present the treasure chest, and Doom reveals that yes, indeed, the jewels in the chest belonged to “Merlin” and have the power to make their owner invincible. (Of course the name “Merlin” is loaded with magical connotations, no need to explain further.) Doom opens the chest, realizes he’s been duped, and Thing springs into action, meaning to destroy him. But we have another plot twist! Yes, Thing wallops Doom, but it turns out… it is only a robot!
The real Doctor Doom is in a hidden room above them. And he’s pissed. More pissed than usual. He begins to drain the air out of their room. Soon they will be dead. Right? No, wrong. Because while Doom is focused on destroying Reed, Johnny and Thing, he’s forgotten all about Sue. I mean, she’s just some dumb girl, right? Why would he need to pay any attention to her? What danger could she possibly be to his dastardly plan?
Sue becomes invisible and short-circuits the control panel, which causes an explosion and opens an escape hatch. She saves the others, just before they run out of oxygen. Yea, Sue!
But it’s not over yet! Now they have to get out of Doom’s castle. Reed knots himself around some window bars and pulls down the wall. As they approach the moat, Johnny “boils a section of water away, and fuses it to the ground, turning it into a glass-like substance,” which they can then walk across, much to the dismay of the hungry crocodiles, who were hoping for a hearty mid-afternoon snack (though I doubt they would have found Thing very tasty).
Next, Johnny paints rings of fire around Doom’s castle, in an attempt to smoke him out, but Doom is ready for that. Not only does he welcome the flames (“I hope he burns my fortress to the ground, so none will ever learn my many secrets!”) but he also has a way of escape:
Taking a moment to extol his own virtues, even in this moment of utter defeat, Doom blasts off in his “rocket-powered flying harness.” Johnny pursues, but Doom gets away. Better luck next time, Johnny. And Reed. And Thing. And Sue. Because Dr. Doom lives, to fight another day, in another tale!!
So! Have we finally met a villain worthy of the Fantastic Four’s powers? Someone who can give them a run for their money without wimping out (“We hate being Skrulls!”) or resorting to smoke and mirrors? One thing for sure: by the end of this story, our heroes have not defeated the villain, but he has cleverly escaped them. For that alone, Doom zooms to the top of my list.
Here is an opponent who might be able to cause some problems for them in the future. For one thing, he has a time machine! Or rather, he HAD a Time Machine, because we must assume it was destroyed in the fire. But one of Doom’s attributes is that he is smart, in fact, super-smart, very likely as smart as Reed Richards, and if he built that time machine once, he will probably be able to do it again. In fact, he will probably be able to do that, and a lot more, and a lot worse.
Another one of Doom’s attributes is that he is angry, and desperate. Well, okay, that’s two attributes, but they are two that, when combined, I think we will find the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Now, I happen to know a little bit more about Doctor Doom than what we get in this story here, because I have gone ahead to Fantastic Four Annual #2, where we get a fuller history of this character. If you are a newcomer to the Marvelous Zone, for the moment just take my word for it that we are going to discover a plethora of angsty personality issues as we get to know Doctor Doom better in the issues that lie ahead. Our introduction to this super-villain is merely the tip of the iceberg!
But you know what? I think I just summed up Doctor Doom in my last sentence when I called him a SUPER villain. So far, I think we have only met “villains,” bad guys whose propensity for evil is limited. So far, perhaps, we have only met villains who engage in villainous acts. But in the case of Doctor Doom, I think we would have to say, he doesn’t just DO evil, he IS evil.
But enough about Doom! There is so much going on with our heroes in this story. I think it would behoove us to take a moment to consider what character developments Stan concocts in this latest tale.
Even before we got to this fantastic story of time travel, of our four heroes, I think I would have to say that I find Thing to be the most interesting. He has, by far, the most compelling personal story. We’ve stopped several times now to hear him lament his situation. The others can carry on normal lives, whip out their superpowers when needed, then put them away as if nothing ever happened. But not so for Thing. He’s got to live day in and day out with a superpower that on the face of it, makes him just plain ugly, a social outcast. It’s a sad situation.
So I think his reaction to dressing up like a pirate is entirely believable. Pirates are generally a gnarly looking bunch, and in his disguise, Thing really does fit right in. You’ll notice that the first thing he does as a pirate, when they are in the tavern, is to suggest, “Ahoy matey, let’s see if we can date one of these pretty barmaids.” Think about it. As Thing, I don’t think Ben Grimm has been going out on too many dates. He’s probably lonely. He was not a bad looking guy before, and as a test pilot, he probably had lots of dates, lots of women interested in him. It totally makes sense that as soon as he feels he is acceptable to the society in which he finds himself, he’s looking for attention from the opposite sex.
And then later, after he’s become Blackbeard, he is not only accepted, but also revered by the pirate crew! Sure he wants to stay! As Thing in the 20th century he is a freak. Lots of power over his physical world, but no power in running his personal life. I’m reminded of the scene from the first FF movie, where Thing tries to pick up a cup, and some utensils. He can’t even manage a meal, never mind personal relationships! But here, as the captain of a pirate ship, with men under his command, this is REAL power, much more significant than the power to clobber and smash heads. And it’s also acceptance, on a wide scale.
It’s interesting that it takes an “act of God” (the twister) to shake him up and bring him back to his senses. It’s also interesting that as soon as Thing apologizes, Reed and Johnny immediately forgive and forget. I guess they do understand, on some level at least, what it must be like for him. I thought that was a great moment, the way there really was no moment, in resolving Thing’s temporary lapse.
Of the four, Sue is next on my list of characters with interesting personal issues. It’s only vaguely stated here, but in future stories I know there will be moments when Sue feels that her contributions to the group are largely under-appreciated. Sometimes, I think, she feels invisible in more than the most obvious way.
As Doom is carrying out his plan, Sue says “He’s forgotten all about me.” Sue doesn’t have the “fun” of going back to pirate times, but of course it would be a bit problematic to have a girl in pirate times. Unless she remained invisible the whole time. But the story didn’t need her there, it needed her in Doom’s castle, where she could be “forgotten.”
And once she’s forgotten, she is empowered to do the things that need to get done, to save the day. Sue’s power may not be big and showy, but when push comes to shove, being invisible and forgotten and not taken seriously end up being the biggest threat of all to our super-villain.
THE TREASURE CHEST
One more thing, and then I’ve got to move on. I’m wondering about gems of Merlin that were in the chest, which the FF distributed among the pirates, only to have a twister sink the ship. One must assume these magical gems are now lying on the ocean floor. In fact, Johnny makes a point of saying that he hopes Sub-Mariner will not get them. But what if Sub-Mariner DID get them at some point, and that accounts, at least in part, for his powers? Is it possible that elements from these two stories could ultimately be woven together in the fabric of the Marvel Universe?
And what about this: okay, we know that the jewels in that chest have the power to make their owner invincible and Thing is Blackbeard and he is the owner. Therefore…he is invincible. Right? I mean, in many ways, Thing IS invincible. How did he get that way? Does the fact that he was Blackbeard in the past and owned these jewels have anything to do with WHY the accident in space happened in the first place? Were the jewels looking to fulfill their destiny by making their owner invincible, and they settled upon bombardments with gamma rays as a way to achieve that end? Is it all part of one giant cosmic puzzle? Talk about stories being tied together! Maybe I’m stretching here (like Reed), but I once you get into the fantastical aspects of the marvelous zone, I think all possibilities are worth considering.
A FEW QUESTIONS
I know I said one more thing, then wrote about two, and I ask you to indulge me just a few moments longer. In a more practical consideration, I have to wonder why the letterer chose to write out words like “forty eight hours” and “twentieth century” rather than using the numerical equivalents, which would have saved space in some already very busy comic panels. Or, is it in fact the letterer who makes these decisions, or Stan, or someone even above Stan? I don’t know, I just know that some panels are already so busy with lettering, that any way to shorten a phrase should be a welcome alternative. I mean, we’re not writing a dissertation here, folks!
At one point, as a pirate, Johnny mentions that he feels like Errol Flynn. What! Errol Flynn? Is this supposed to be a reference to pop culture? Didn’t Errol Flynn do pirate movies in the 40’s and 50’s? If Johnny’s a teenager in 1962, what does he know about Errol Flynn? He would have been in diapers when Errol Flynn movies were all the rage. I think perhaps the writers are showing their age a bit, not Johnny’s, with this reference to Errol Flynn.
I have one more question about time, and again it comes from something Johnny says. At the end of the story, when he boils the water and fuses it to the ground, turning it into a glass-like substance they can walk on, he comments “Here’s something I’ve been wanting to try for months.” This is our fifth FF adventure, and already, apparently, our heroes have had their powers “for months.”
How much time has passed? Have they only had these five adventures so far, or has other stuff been happening between the stories Stan has chosen to chronicle? If there have been other adventures during these “months,” why don’t we get to see them? Or can we assume that these five adventures have kept them more than busy during this time? And if so, what are they doing when they’re NOT having fantastic adventures? Getting haircuts? Going shopping? Watching TV?
I guess we don’t really need to see that stuff. I guess it would behoove us to wait for their next true adventure, before we rush out with our twelve cents to buy the next fantastic issue of the Fantastic Four. But before we do that…we’re going to go back to The Hulk, and find out what happens when he grapples with The Terror of the Toad Men!
Toad Men? It’s actually more exciting than it sounds, so please join me again next week, when I once again travel into The Marvelous Zone of Marvel Comics.
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