“The Fantastic Four!! Hah! Little do they dream they are naught but pawns in the hands of Doctor Doom!”
The Fantastic Four are in their headquarters when suddenly an enormous electrified net is thrown over it. Their captor reveals himself to be Doctor Doom, whom Reed knows from his student days. Doom demands Sue as a hostage and the FF give her to him. Taking the rest of the FF captive as well, he sends them on a trip into the past to steal Blackbeard’s treasure. The FF agree and they are sent back in time. They steal disguises and are eventually captured at sea, where they take command of a pirate vessel. They then start attacking other pirates and soon amass a large treasure. It then transpires that the disguised Ben Grimm has become the Blackbeard of legend, and he declares his wishes to stay in the past, where he is revered, rather than go back to the present, where he is feared. However, a “twister” wrecks their ship. Washed to shore along with the treasure chest, the FF then find the time platform descending, returning them to Castle Doom. The treasure chest turns out to be full of chains — Reed had distributed the riches amongst the crew earlier. Sue manages to escape Doom and then free the boys. Doom escapes before the FF can apprehend him.
Issue Five is the first departure from the creature-feature brief of the previous episodes, but it is interesting to note that supernatural elements are within the range of Doctor Doom’s skills. He is said to have “mastered the mystic rites” and burned his face by looking into hell, which is pretty heady stuff for a kid’s comic. However, he employs no mystical elements in his capture and coercion of the Fantastic Four. His objective is to find the lost gems of Merlin that will make him invincible, but all else from the asbestos webbing, the time machine, and the very first (though unchristened) Doombot are technological feats.
Doom’s time machine is an imaginative device. It’s not a huge machine with chambers and levers and tubes — it’s just a simple square of light that either rises or descends on those who are to be transported, with, as yet, no real explanation of its means of operation. Elegant and iconic and probably more believable in today’s context of QED science.
The Thing proves to be the most interesting character of the group once again, by mutinying against his own teammates. It’s actually a heartbreaking moment, with that one baleful eye staring out past his disguise during an impassioned speech. It might seem more contrived, but you find yourself rooting for him, it’s a decision that makes sense and is an action borne out of loneliness and shame. It is only after a chance typhoon destroys the ship and releases Johnny and Reed that he agrees to return — after the slightest of apologies for his actions, which everyone seems to conveniently gloss over — no less a human response to such a display of vulnerability.
The treatment of Susan in this issue raises concern. Although she displays a little bit of fighting spirit at the outset of the adventure, the last part shows her doing little more than running around while invisible and pressing buttons. It is interesting to think that if Lee had power over all the words, and Kirby power over all the drawings, then it is only in her words that Sue is on par with the men in the group, and not in her actions.
From the previous issue’s ambiguous portrayal of Namor as antagonist, we now move to Doctor Doom who is an unequivocal evil genius. There’s not much to recommend him, on the face of it, over the now forgotten Miracle Man of just two issues ago, except for two small, unique elements of his character. For one, he is magnificently designed, with a frightful mask which is said to hide an even more frightsome face. The second is his shared history with Reed Richards which pops up here almost as an expositional expedient, but is what will bring him back to the FF again and again, and gives a meaning to his maddened hatred of the four.
The FF is settling into a groove in this issue, and the confidence here is one that is well-earned and deserved.