157. Endgame

Fantastic Four 157

Issue One Hundred and Fifty-Seven, April 1975

Come, then! Let cries of battle fill this castle, nay this land — and hell yawns widely for the first fool who gasps for quarter!

Doctor Doom reveals the being that he created to store and channel the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic, a second version of the Doomsman, a synthetic human whom he controls. The Silver Surfer talks to Shala-Bal, whose memory seems to be returning the more she is around him. To further recover her memories, she kisses the Surfer. Meanwhile, the Fantastic Four are searching Doom’s castle becoming trapped in a steel room, it is only Reed who can allow them to escape by slipping through a hole in the walls. Once released, they encounter the Doomsman, who they are unable to gain the upper hand on. At that time, the Surfer is talking to Shala-Bal, who realizes that she is not the true Shala-Bal, but only a Latverian peasant named Helena who Doom has brainwashed. Spurred into action, the Surfer joins the battle against Doomsan and they are able to defeat him, in the process finding Doctor Doom himself. They begin to fight, but “Helena” intervenes, saying that the destruction they are causing is in danger of obliterating the art and culture of Latverian society. Both sides decide that there is not anything to be gained in continuing the battle and mutually withdraw. The scene then shifts to Hell where Mephisto gloats on the situation, revealing that the woman believed to be Shala-Bal was indeed the real Shala-Bal, Helena was only another false layer. He had orchestrated the entire situation, primarily by manipulating Doom’s mind, only to torment the Silver Surfer.

“Endgame” is a deceptively straightforward issue, and it contains a respectable twist at the end. Admirable for the series, it manages to maintain its thematic cohesion over three issues — historically three issue arcs have been far more miss than hit so far. The resolution deals entirely with the core question of the story which is who is in control of themselves, and why? That is the struggle that the Silver Surfer has been wrestling with, and at times he has allowed Doom to control him, at times he has rebelled, and at times he has put the Fantastic Four under his control. Doom, it would seem, has always been in control of the situation, always standing at least one step ahead of any of his opponents, until the very end.Fantastic Four 157 But really, it is revealed, Mephisto (making his first appearance in the title) was playing both (or all) sides against each other in a game against the Silver Surfer, that even the Surfer was not aware that he was playing. Doom was Mephisto’s unwitting servant, meaning that the man who knew he was in control of everything was really in control of nothing. That ending would seem bizarre and contrived, except that it is perfectly apt in the theme of the story. And it is the Fantastic Four who have always been on the back foot, even to the point of resolution, where it is Shala-Bal who reasons with everyone in the conflict, drawing attention to the fact that the fight is now pointless — the wheel has turned too many times, and the reversals have meant that no side has anything left to gain. If only more stories could have ended this way. However, a massive plot hole has been replaced by a smaller but significant one. The real question is how in the world would Doom ever have recognized what the Silver Surfers former lover from a distant planet even looked like in order to entice him into a trap? That is answered by the fact that it is Mephisto who transported her there and controlled Doom’s actions afterwards. But why does no one else wonder at that? Why does Reed or the Surfer himself not wonder at the knowledge that Doom couldn’t possibly have? It seems a gross oversight for any of these characters to have been so close-sighted.Fantastic Four 157 Rich Buckler continues to use panel shape and size to good effect. When the Doomsman shows up, the panels get physically larger to contain him, and Mephisto’s appearance is foreshadowed wonderfully through the shape of the panel borders in the pages immediately preceding that reveal.


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