“Have I not told you how dearly I love my subjects? Do you think I would allow a single one to leave this realm?”
The Fantastic Four, en route back from the land of the Inhumans, are intercepted by Nick Fury and press-ganged into going on a mission of espionage for SHIELD. A powerful robot arm was sent to them by one of their agents who has since gone missing. Heading toLatveria, the FF are besieged by robots and eventually are captured. When they wake up, they are in an idyllic mountain village. But, when trying to leave they encounter a barrier, and the image of their captor, Doctor Doom.
Latveria, it seems, is a strong political threat, which (for the first time in this title, an eye-patched) Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. are keeping an eye on. It seems odd, therefore, that the Fantastic Four are allowed to waltz right into it, as well as the presumably Communist countries that surround it, without being challenged.
Latveria and Eastern Europe are very compellingly portrayed by Kirby. It undoubtedly springs from Kirby’s memories of being an infantryman in the first world war. In fact, the streets are complete with roaming tanks, checkpoints, and machine gun posts — and we have still not entered Latveria yet. We know as soon as we do, however, because a band of powerful doombots quickly attack and subdue our heroes, who are as surprised as we are to find themselves waking up in comfortable beds in plush rooms, where a street parade marches outside the doors, celebrating the Fantastic Four Fiesta Day.
This plot twist begins to reveal the conceit for the storyline — a direct cribbing of the plot of popular British TV show The Prisoner which had aired in the US the previous year. Kirby’s illustrations leave no doubt as to the intent of the creators, since not only sets (the rooms and architecture of the buildings) but even the extras seem to have been drawn from stills of the show. But the sixties modish fashion is completely in line with Kirby’s aestheticism, and the seeding is a fruitful one, since it lends a real sense of place and peculiarity to the ambiance.
But the plot is used to just as good effect. Whereas the TV show hinged on the mysterious identity of who “Number 1” might be, to know that in this story Number 1 is Doctor Doom — a ruthless megalomaniac genius — actually ramps up the tension considerably.The last scene shows Reed making a dash for the border, but he is very deftly thwarted by one of Doom’s automated defenses. This is the first time that the FF have been on Doom’s turf, and not the other way around. How will they escape with an entire village of agents and hidden technology against them?