Welcome to Marvel Librarian. Having missed out on comics in my formative years, I’m reading Silver Age Marvel comics for the first time, and writing about their highs, lows, and general weirdness.
We continue our impressive hit parade of classic character introductions here with one of Marvel’s most popular and enduring villains, Doctor Doom. In his initial issue, he lacks some of the traits he’s well known for – he doesn’t yet have a personal vendetta against Reed, nor does he rule the country of Latveria – but his personality and the way he blends science with dark sorcery is here from the start.
You can tell, because he has his “Science and Sorcery” college textbook sitting around, right next to his Fantastic Four HeroClix.
As Doom plots the Four’s downfall, Johnny Storm is engaged in a very important activity: trying to unsubtly advertise the floundering Incredible Hulk comic in the pages of the far more successful Fantastic Four. The Thing is not amused at being compared to a “comic book monster”.
As a kid, I ate up any and all meta-humor, so this would have certainly appealed to me.
Ben and Johnny fight, and Reed takes this moment to summarize the thesis statement of the Fantastic Four. Interpersonal drama among superheroes turned out to be a gold mine that Marvel had only just begun to mine.
Case in point: as the Four squabble, Doom surrounds the Baxter Tower with an unbreakable, asbestos-coated net. As Doom gloats about his capture, Reed recognizes his voice, and gives the first version of Doom’s backstory. Here, they were college classmates, but Reed doesn’t mention having any hand in the events that turned him into a villain (either to hide his involvement or, more likely, because they haven’t come up with this idea for Doom yet). As in the more well known version of his origin, Doom is disfigured when performing a forbidden experiment to contact the dead. He’s cast out of college and was last seen roaming Tibet looking for ancient secrets of black magic.
And sure, this is all fairly hokey, but the idea of a scientist-sorcerer as the nemesis of Reed Richards is a great idea, and you can see the seeds of how Doom became a classic.
Now that Doom has the Four trapped, he demands Sue as a hostage. The Four decide they have no choice and send Sue to Doom’s plane. Doom’s first demand now that he has Sue as a hostage is to… tell the other three to board his plane too. It seems like he could have just said that in the first place, right?
Did I mention that Doom’s “plane” is actually a helicopter painted to look like a shark? Because that’s just delightful.
Doom flies them to his fortress, where he tells the Four what he wants from them. While he keeps Sue as a hostage, he will use his newly invented time machine to send the other three back to the age of pirates to fetch Blackbeard’s treasure.
Reed is weirdly trusting of Doom considering he’s a weirdo who got expelled from college for black magic and now has kidnapped all of them.
The three go back to pirate times. Their first action is to get disguises from a bundle of clothes that a couple of pirates have stolen and are coincidentally talking about loudly right near where the FF have spawned in.
I love this.
The three go to a bar to try and get information on Blackbeard’s location. A nearby pirate captain spots them and decides to press them into his crew, so he gets them knocked out with drugged drinks and takes them aboard his ship. When the three awaken again, they easily take over the ship themselves with their superpowers, and Ben becomes the captain.
A pirate ship loaded with treasure comes into view, and believing it might be the ship of Blackbeard, the FF order an attack. With Johnny terrifying the rival pirate crew, Reed serving as a makeshift bridge between the two ships, and Ben leading the men into battle, they make quick work of it.
The crew begins to cheer for “Blackbeard,” and the FF realize that the Thing himself was Blackbeard all along. I thought this was a pretty fun twist on your usual time travel story, as I confess I didn’t realize that’s where it was headed.
Since the Thing is Blackbeard, the treasure they just captured is Blackbeard’s treasure by default. Reed points out that Doom requested “Blackbeard’s treasure chest” in those exact words, so he empties out the actual jewels and fills the chest with worthless metal chains.
Their mission is fulfilled, but Ben doesn’t want to leave…
Honestly, this makes a lot of sense. I can definitely see why Ben would be tempted by this.
It’s less sympathetic, though, when he decides he also needs to stop Reed and Johnny from returning. They’re easily captured, as Johnny is wet from falling in the ocean, and Reed… is defeated when they wrap a sail around him. C’mon, Reed.
Ben tries to set the two adrift in a rowboat, but before he can do so, the ship is wrecked in a storm. The three wash ashore on a desert island. Ben’s costume is gone, and he is remorseful for what he’s done.
Somehow, the chest that Reed filled with heavy chains has washed up ashore, too.
As Doom opens the chest, Johnny takes a moment to set up a potential plot hook for later.
Doom is furious about being tricked. He reveals that the Doom in the room with the FF is a robot, while the actual Doom sits in a different room with the captive Sue. He closes off the room with the Fantastic Three and begins to suck the air out of it. That’s a pretty good trap and very straightforward by Silver Age Standards.
Unfortunately for Doom, he’s either forgotten about or underestimated Sue, who locates the “violently explode the control panel” button. Doom always includes one of these in his inventions, because he likes the danger. Sue then runs and releases the rest of the team before their air can run out, and together they escape the fortress.
On the way out, they have to traverse a crocodile infested moat, and this happens. We’ve already had two instances in this very book of Reed using his body as a bridge for others to cross, including between moving ships on the ocean, but okay, Johnny can create glass now. Doom escapes his fortress on a jet pack, Johnny runs out of flame before he can catch him, and now they have a menace for another day.
This is another really fun comic, a pirate and superhero adventure all in one. The writing is more clever than usual, and it shows off the personalities of the Four well. Plus, who doesn’t love DOOM?
What do you do once you’ve established two iconic villains? Immediately have them team up!
This issue opens with a couple inconsequential pages of Johnny and Sue making their way to the FF headquarters as people on the street talk about how they doubt the Fantastic Four even exist. One thing I’ve noticed in these early issues is that they’re really not consistent about the level of secrecy these heroes maintain (with the notable exception of Spider-Man, who has his secret identity as a major character aspect). In one issue, the Fantastic Four and their alter egos are known to everyone and they make major television appearances. In another issue, people on the street doubt they even exist.
But none of that is really important because this issue is giving me one of my favorite things: A LABELED DIAGRAM.
This is an expansion of the diagram of the FF HQ that we saw a few issues ago. We’ve still got a missile launching silo that seems to only have the anti-vibration wall on the side facing the HQ, which I’m sure the neighbors love. The photo-analysis lab appears to take up more room than a plane hangar, and stands out as an example of how people in the 60s often didn’t correctly anticipate future tech. On the one hand, we don’t have “long range passenger missiles,” but on the other hand, today’s “photo analysis lab” would probably be a laptop. Similarly, we have a giant room labeled simply “computers.” Reed Richards’ scientific and engineering abilities far exceed any we have today, but circuit miniaturization was apparently not one of his interests.
I continue to appreciate the fact that they have a giant map room. If I ever become an eccentric billionaire, you’d better believe my personal fortress will have a giant map room.
Not only do they have a “trophy room and weapon collection,” but they have an entire ammo room. The NRA would be proud. What do they even keep in an ammo room? For that matter, this team is rarely seen actually using weapons, generally doing all their fighting with their natural abilities. An entire room dedicated to ammo seems more like the sort of thing the Punisher would appreciate.
Lee and Kirby decided they needed some filler for this issue, so the Fantastic Four spend a few pages answering fan mail. Honestly, though, this sort of thing was what I loved best as a kid, so I feel like it’s perhaps too harsh to call it filler.
Reed gets a letter from a kid in a hospital ward, and decides to pay him a visit by stretching from the tower all the way to the hospital window. While that’s a nice gesture and all, this panel is kind of terrifying. Also, maybe don’t call him a “shut-in,” Reed.
Ben gets a letter from the Yancy Street Gang challenging him to a fight. I believe this is the first mention of what would eventually become a very long running gag / character beat for Ben. I love Johnny’s smug face and Ben’s exaggerated shout in this panel.
Really, though, Ben is itching to get his hands on a real villain to fight, like the Sub-Mariner. No doubt, Namor is plotting the downfall of the human race right this very second.
…or maybe he’s just chilling and minding his own business.
We’ve seen what’s happening on the cover, though, so obviously this fun with dolphins comes to an abrupt end when Doctor Doom finds Namor to try and convince him to defeat the Fantastic Four together.
I can’t express how much I love Namor’s bachelor pad. He has the decor of a vacation rental on the Florida coast or a family seafood restaurant. The jellyfish in a glass ball is a great touch.
Namor basically tells Doom, “yeah, yeah, eternal vendetta against the surface world, I was gonna get to that tomorrow, okay?” As someone procrastinating actual work by writing about comic books, I can certainly relate.
I think I’ve mentioned before the weird and funny shorthand in these early comics of “in love = has a giant framed picture of their love.” Where did Namor even get this? Imagine Namor flying up to one of those old 24 hour photo processing stands to get this picture of Sue enlarged.
Doom goads Namor by vividly reminding him of how his civilization was destroyed in a careless H-bomb test. Honestly, that’s a great motivation, and I kind of feel that Namor is pretty justified in declaring war on the human race. No, he shouldn’t be attacking civilians, but if he formally declared war and stuck to attacking military targets, it wouldn’t really be unreasonable. It doesn’t get much more “act of war” than destroying an entire city with an H-bomb.
Doom has a plan that will allow them to both get revenge, a plan that hinges on the fact that Stan Lee still has no idea how magnets work. He has a tiny magnetic cylinder that is strong enough to lift an object of any size once it’s attached, and he’s going to have Namor smuggle it into the Fantastic Four’s compound.
All of that can wait, because first we have to deal with more important matters. Johnny saw something stuffed at the back of a bookshelf and – gasp – it’s Sue’s professionally enlarged headshot of Namor!
Where did she even get this picture? Off of Namor’s Tinder profile?
The group is peeved that Sue is crushing on Namor and demands an explanation. Sue says she herself can’t explain it. Honestly, this tiring love triangle might be a little more interesting if they actually explored a bit why Sue might be attracted to someone like Namor instead of constantly dismissing it as dizzy dames with irrational emotions. That’s a lot to expect from a 60s action comic, of course.
Namor manages to evade the Fantastic Four’s security and enter their innermost compound by… flying in through an open window. He states that he comes in peace, and Sue is the only one who believes him. Johnny tries to fight him by burning the ground out from under him, one of the only things Johnny could do that poses no threat to Namor whatsoever.
Reed and Johnny decide to search the building to see if Namor has planted a trap anywhere, which is one of the more sensible things that’s happened all issue. They don’t find anything, but before they can continue their truce talks, the entire HQ is lifted off its building and into the air.
This is a great panel! I love the dizzying perspective here.
Also, Namor is cursing Doom’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. What did he think would happen?
It’s revealed that Namor planted one of Doom’s magnetic devices in the basement, and it was too small for the Fantastic Four to find. Now, he’s using a spaceship to pull the building into space. Overhead, Doom crows about how he’s going to get rid of the only credible threats to his rule of Earth, Namor included.
The Fantastic Four don spacesuits with oxygen tanks, and Johnny performs his second very intelligent maneuver of the book by attempting to flame on in space where there is no oxygen.
Conveniently, the FF can’t use any of their planes or spaceships because the hanger has tilted, crushing them against the wall. Reed attempts to stretch himself to his limit to catch Doom’s ship, but fails when Doom turns on his rocket thrusters, burning him.
With Johnny and Reed out of commission, the task of saving the group now falls to Ben, who decides to beat Namor up for getting them into this mess.
Their fight is interrupted by more Doom gloating, as he explains his plan to jettison the building into the sun. This is top-notch Silver Age supervillainy right here. Go big or go home.
Namor has a plan. He’ll enter the building’s water storage tank in order to regain his full powers, and then leap from a window, skipping from meteor to meteor to reach Doom’s ship. We get this terrifying-looking perspective of Namor’s jump.
He makes it to the spaceship, but is almost defeated by the power of not understanding how magnets work when Doom uses magnetism to pin him to the hull. He manages to tear his way into the ship proper. Doom attempts to thwart him using an electric blast, but Namor can store electricity like an electric eel and shoot it back at Doom.
Doom is forced to eject from his ship, where a meteor hurls him into deep space, never to be seen again. It’s a real shame, this character had a lot of potential.
Namor uses the ship to guide the building safely back to its original location. The FF reflect on the fact that Namor saved all their lives when he could have easily killed them, as Namor destroys Doom’s machines and dumps them into the ocean. Sympathetic villains are one of my weak spots, and I appreciate what they’re doing here. Even with all the corny Silver Age plotting and dialogue and misuse of magnetism, the core story and character elements have heart to them, something to build on in the future as comics become more sophisticated.
Next time! Tales to Astonish #27, which introduces Ant-Man, is one of the most bizarrely plotted comics I’ve ever read. Please join me in admiring its madness.