Thursday, March 3, 2011

117: Fantastic Four #23

Fantastic Four #23
November 12, 1963

  • Right off the bat, we can see we've got another story starring the FF's main baddie, Doctor Doom. Okay, cool; we like him. But the cover doesn't sell much beyond that, and it's a point worth thinking on. Back in the day, when comic books were largely an impulse buy, the cover was considered the most immediate and striking tool in making that sale. (See, for instance, DC editor Julius Schwartz's thoughts on the matter.) At a glance, a kid perusing this on the rack might wonder, "What's different about this comic? How does this story differ from other Doom stories we've seen so far?" And, going from the cover, we just don't know.

    After giving Sue far too little for far too long, they're making up for lost time.  Her new powers
    debuted just last month, and the story opens with her saving the day yet again!

  • Something else that's slightly inexplicable is the reintroduction of Doom's time machine, first seen in Doom's debut tale back in FF #5 - odd, because it doesn't actually figure in to the story in any meaningful way. I mean, it's cool, but after those first few pages, we're left wondering: Why? It's tempting to conjecture if they were actually setting the stage for a future story that would make use of the time platform, but that seems unlikely; not only does this go against the improvised, make-it-up-as-they-go feel that's characteristic of this early time of Marvel, but we also see that it only takes a few lines to mention the time machine and where it came from. So who knows - maybe Stan and Jack just wanted to open with a crazed dinosaur run amok!

    A what now?!  Okay, this master trap isn't just nonsensical - it's trippy!
    Could the bizarre worlds of Dr. Strange be an influence here?

  • This time, however, Doom's not attacking on his own. Instead, he bails out a trio of baddies and then uses his technology to amplify their natural traits, so that the suave con man has preternatural hearing (perfect for detecting someone who's invisible), the circus performer who's resistant to heat is made completely fireproof, and the strong man of the group has his physical power increased a dozenfold. Thus creating a foil for the Thing, the Torch and the Invisible Girl, this leaves Reed Richards for Doom himself - and we thus have, for the first time, a dark mirror to the Fantastic Four (though one that never again functions as a foursome, and will be forgotten the following year in favor of the FF's more famous villainous quartet). Of course, as soon as they've taken down the Four, Doom immediately betrays the others - which is dumb and premature, because when the FF escape, he's outnumbered four once again. You might think he'd avoid turning on his cohorts, after doing so to the Sub-Mariner in their first team-up scotched his plans. Then again, why should he have learned from his mistakes? Subby certainly didn't!

    Even when they try to work out their differences, it ends up being a laugh!

  • Over the course of this tale, Reed is once again being an arrogant clod, barking orders and dismissing his friends. While you can understand why Stan might have leaned in this direction for easy conflict - and it's worth remembering that over at DC the heroes hardly bickered at all - it is beginning to feel as if we've seen Mr. Fantastic (and note the arrogance in the name alone!) offending his friends and teammates with his attitudes more often than offering warmth and support. Fed up, the other members consider that they're tired of Reed's position as leader of the group, and maybe it's time for someone else to take the reins. But then they all bicker about who it should be!

    The Special Announcements section in the letters page
    gives a good idea of what was going on at the time.
    (click to enlarge)