17. Defeated By Doctor Doom!

Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)

Issue Seventeen, August 1963

“Now  I shall go to work with a vengeance — and my final purpose shall be — their complete destruction!

The Fantastic Four return to this world and say goodbye to Ant-Man. They decide to go looking for Doctor Doom who escaped from them in the previous issue. Unknown to them, he has disguised himself as a janitor at their building. Once they have gone he releases some lighter-than-air robots to pester the FF. After that he manages to capture Sue with a “strange grappler ray” which sucks her into his laboratory hidden inside a cloud. Reed puts together a plan and they are able to invade Doom’s flying lab. The boys are captured, but Sue manages to escape, confronting and nearly beating Doom, who escapes once the boys escape and come after him.

So I am officially rebutting the claims I made in the last post about the FF having their first two-parter. There is practically no continuation from that issue to this, except that the villain is Doctor Doom, who has a completely different set of goals and objectives. No plot element carries over (apart from the FF saying goodbye to Ant-Man in the first panel), and it could very easily have just been another stand-alone adventure had the creators decided to push Doom as an antagonist once more.

And as an antagonist, Doom lacks conviction. He admits at one point that he devoted an entire phase of his plan to “embarrass and confuse” the FF by having balloon-like phantom robots follow them around. Although this part of his operation was later to have a more specific use, it’s outburst like this that gave rise to the derogatory term “comic book villain”. Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)Doom himself is thinly portrayed as a mad scientist (and, gasp!, master of disguise! — how does that work… does he put the mustache over his mask, or his hideously scarred face?), with a secret base in the clouds — he has not yet claimed his statesman aspect. The motive for his actions are confused and amount to demanding a seat in the president’s cabinet (or else he will declare war on the U.S.) and a compulsive desire to kill the FF. We’re not told how Doom got from being expelled from Micro-World to a point where he could shut down the industry of the U.S. let alone to infiltrating the FF’s Baxter Building as a janitor, and once again the FF start to search for someone in New York mostly on foot.

Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)It’s pretty uninteresting except for three rather inspired moments. The first is actually the phantom-balloon-robots. They are so ridiculous looking that they are actually kind of creepy, and the idea of a large, buoyant, intangible creature floating above you, just behind your shoulders, is something straight from a nightmare, and the revelation that they were scanning the FF the whole time is (for me) a thrilling one.

Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)The second moment is another genuine FF moment, and shows The Thing transformed back into Ben Grimm by Reed approaching Doom’s spacecraft and trying desperately to maintain his human form long enough to slip past the ship’s sensors. Through force of will, he barely makes it, and the lead-up and execution of that moment is timed perfectly.

The third is perhaps the most important and exciting, finally we Sue as a powerful and dynamic member of the team as she goes hand-to-hand with Doctor Doom. Having Sue slam a door shut and shout “You’re making one small mistake, my friend! It is you who are my prisoner!” is a brilliant moment and it really shouldn’t have taken 17 issues to get to. It’s not a perfect moment (she was taught judo by Reed; and Alicia, the only other female in the cast, has now taken her place as chronically helpless bait), it is a welcome one, and all too brief.

Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)It’s worth a read, but overall it is sub-par.


[NB – this cover is also one of the first of Kirby’s multi-scene FF covers, which are usually done extremely well, and will be copied many times by future FF artists.]

Fantastic Four Issue Seventeen (17)

The real power behind the Kennedy oval office revealed: JFK’s hair!

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