Friday, March 1, 2013

Marvel Comics Silver Age DisContinuity 006
Fantastic Four #5

One of the greatest guides to the concept of continuity in a specific series is The DisContinuity Guide: The Unofficial Doctor Who Companion by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, first put out in 1995.

From my point of view the genius of this work is in the way the authors peel back the layers of a complex text like Doctor Who, and start back at the beginning, when we didn't know anything about the series or what it would eventually evolve into.

This allows us to see the ways in which the universe was expanded, sometimes carefully, often times not. We get to see undeveloped themes and the earliest examples of new themes.

Like an evolutionary biologist studying our small, brown furred burrowing human ancestors, we get a look at the way things were without the baggage of the way things are. 

Marvel Comics Silver Age DisContinuity 006

Fantastic Four 005

Prisoners of Doctor Doom! Part 1
Part 2 Back to the Past!
Part 3 On the Trail of Blackbeard
Part 4 Battle
Part 5 "The Vengeance of Doctor Doom!

Publication Date / On Sale Date:
July 1962 / April 10, 1962

Writer / Artists:
Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Man in the Iron Mask, Death, Blackbeard, The Time Machine, Merlin,

No Prizes:
On the first page Doctor Doom's armored hands are flesh colored, not gray.

On the last panel of page four the borders are done in the flashback style, but the flashback ends in the previous panel.

Ben Grimm (as Blackbeard): Why can't I stay? The future holds nothing for me! In the twentieth century I'm nothing' but a monster… a freak! But here I'm somebody! I'm a leader of men!  I'm a captain! I'm the guy who started the Legend of Blackbeard! The kids will read about me in school some day! I ain't given' this up… Never!


Right away, on the cover, we are introduced to an unfortunate trope featuring Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl. She is once again kidnapped and held hostage, much as happened to her in the third issue. The really weakens her as a character and team member. Sue is redeemed a little at the end of the story when she rescues the rest of the team.

On page one we get our first good look at Doom, manipulating the FF like chess pieces. The two books we can read the titles of are Demons and Science and Sorcery, and these books are the key to Doom's character: he's not just an evil scientist, he combines super science and sorcery into an entirely new kind of villain. The vulture (stuffed or live?) is a nice touch.

Doom wraps the Baxter Building in a large, unbreakable net. Reed recognizes Doom's voice as belonging to a college student named Victor Von Doom. We are treated to Doom's first origin story. Apparently Doom's "forbidden experiments" center around "trying to contact the nether world." Before this story all the fantastic elements have been based in science, but with the arrival of Doctor Doom we find that science and sorcery are both sources of great power.

The location of Doom's fortress in this issue is a matter of some speculation. The helicopter Doom uses is capable of reaching his "stronghold" within minutes. This doesn't sound like a transatlantic voyage.

I like that Doom hold's off the Thing, the Human Torch and Mr. Fantastic by threatening them with a tiger.

Doom's plan is to send the FF back in time to retrieve Blackbeard's treasure. Reed is convinced that whatever other fault's Doom might have, he is not a liar. They can somehow trust this kidnapping blackmailer. Kirby's idea of time travel here is wonderful in its simplicity.

The FF steal some period clothing and disguise the Thing, who takes to his costume naturally. Dressed as pirates, the FF is quickly shanghaied. After waking onboard the ship the FF quickly take command, just in time for another ship to attack.

After successfully repelling the invasion of the other ship, it turns out that the Thing IS Blackbeard. As Reed puts it, the Thing "came back to the past to find… Himself!"

The Thing goes crazy, and decides to stay in the past as Blackbeard. He ties up Johnny and Reed, and prepares to send them out onto a boat and back to the future by themselves. Fortunately a tornado hits which washes Reed, Ben, Johnny and Blackbeard's treasure chest (now full of chains, not the jewels Doom wanted) onto the shore of some desert island.

A quick note about how hard it is to write time travel. When Stan Lee writes " At that instant, across the gulf of centuries" how is it that this both makes sense and we understand it when in fact such a statement is nonsense?

First the FF is put off by a tiger, now a moat full of crocodiles?

And just to prove how cool he is, Doom escapes by jet pack.

Johnny is reading "A great new comic mag" which happens to called "Incredible Hulk." Now. stay with me while I get a little geeky here, but the comic Johnny is reading is not the same comic I wrote about here.

Comics in the Marvel Universe are different from the books we read here in our world. For one thing, in the continuity of Marvel, the secret identity of the Hulk is not yet known, so the comic about his exploits can not reveal his identity as Bruce Banner. Kirby must have realized this on some level because thought the cover of the book Johnny is reading is somewhat similar to the book as it exists in our world, exact details are difficult to make out, and the Hulk is colored purple, of all things.

Also, the back cover of the magazine in Johnny's hands is a gigantic pin-up of the purple Hulk, not an advertisement as it was in our world.

A little note about the ephemeral nature of comics: Johnny is quite happy to light the Hulk comic on fire just to rattle the Thing, and has no sense of it possible future value. In the last issue of the Fantastic Four Johnny found some old Sub-Mariner comics in a Bowery hovel and thought nothing of leaving them there. Comics back then just did not have the value they have today.

In addition to Blackbeard, who is historical person revealed to be the Thing, there is also a mention of Merlin, who is an actual magician who enchanted gems that make the possessor unstoppable. Real magic has entered Marvel continuity.

Johnny is concerned that Merlin's Gems, after falling out of Blackbeard's treasure chest, might fall into the hands of the Sub-Mariner, who they encountered last issue.

There's an ad in this issue for the Incredible Hulk 001:

New York City, the stronghold of Doctor Doom

Bottom Line:
The introduction Doctor Doom, perhaps the greatest villain in all the Marvel Universe, makes this a very special issue indeed. However, Doom's plan is pretty stupid.

Beyond the weirdness of Doom's plan and its ultimate unworkability, there is Doom himself. From the moment we first see him on the cover, we are enthralled. Kirby modeled Doom on Death, hence the hood and robes. The armor is to remind one of a skeleton. Doom is such an iconic and amazing character, combining as he does technological and scientific prowess with sorcery and magic, that George Lucas ripped the character off for Star Wars in the form of Darth Vader.

Doom's origin is given short shrift in this issue. It would be fleshed out in the coming years, with details accruing to it. Eventually we would learn that Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom and Ben Grimm all attended college together. There is no mention as to how Doom got his armor, or any mention of his hideously scarred face beneath.

This issue also has one of my favorite pieces of Kirby art ever, and amazing, almost animated sequence:

I would love additional comments and insights.

1 comment :

  1. Huh. The ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing has brown eyes in this issue.