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The Alien, The Ally, And... Armageddon!

Doom hasn't been seen in The Fantastic Four for over two years, apart from the brief appearance of an android duplicate in Fantastic Four #100, but here he finally returns to his home title, after much wandering across the Marvel Universe, for a story which brings the full range of his character developments into sharp focus.

Reed Richards has been kidnapped and mind-controlled by a being called The Overmind, last of the Eternals. The Thing and The Human Torch set out to find him, eventually discovering Reed fighting back against his kidnapper. The pair try to help but get thoroughly beaten, leaving The Invisible Girl to turn up and discover, to her horror, that her husband is completely in thrall to the alien villain. She heads off to look for help from other superheroes, only to find that they're all otherwise engaged or out of contact. Apart from showcasing the breadth of the Marvel storyworld, and suggesting that interested readers can find out exactly what the other heroes are up to by buying their associated books, this also answers the constant question asked by fans: why don't superheroes ask each other for help when they face a bigger than usual threat? Turns out they do, but everybody's always busy!

Wracked with despair, Sue pauses her hoverbike on a rocky shore, where she sees a vision of Agatha Harkness, Spooky Nanny to her son Franklin, who suggests another candidate via the medium of Spooky Vision. Doctor Doom! Sue thinks about it for a moment and decides to give it a go, heading off to the Latverian Embassy (where Doom always seems to be at home, when not in his own stories). On arrival two goons refuse to let her in, so she jumps through the window to find Doctor Doom... vaping? She asks him to help them fight the Overmind but he refuses, saying his only regret is that someone else is destroying the Fantastic Four. Sue then says something that cuts Doom to the quick and, perhaps, speaks to any readers who've been following his development over recent years. Could this be a recognition, in the text itself, of how Doom's character has changed, especially when appearing as guests in other character's series? We've seen hints of his complex, tortured character when he's been in the lead role of his own stories, but otherwise he has very much put aside the honour and nobility shown in his origin story, in favour of posturing and pettiness.

As ever, Doom's pride gets the better of him, and he agrees to help, setting off with Sue to discover Ben and Johnny lying unconscious, utterly defeated. When they wake up to see Doom standing over them they spring into action, and are shocked when Sue tells them what's really going on. They reluctantly agree to fight alongside him, and return to battle. Doom works out a strategy which the others follow and, rather brilliantly, it totally works, until the possessed Reed Richards returns and takes Sue out of action. This leaves Doom to fight alone, unprotected by her force field, refusing to give in. We've seen a lot of Doom ranting and raving lately as opponents fly off without finishing a fight, but here he's clearly behaving heroically, sacrificing himself to stop a major threat.

At this point The Stranger, another cosmic being, arrives, tells The Overmind that he's too great a threat to the universe, and sends him into exile into a subatomic void before leaving as quickly as he'd arrived. It makes the efforts of Doom and the FF seem utterly pointless, as the Human Torch himself complains. The whole team wake up, with Reed himself again. Sue looks over to check on "poor Doctor Doom" who is absolutely fine, thank you very much. The story ends with The Watcher turning up to tell them that, actually, it wasn't as pointless as it seemed. The Stranger only knew The Overmind had returned because he'd been forced to exert his full power during the battle, alerting The Stranger to what was going on. Basically, they were hopelessly outclassed but the fact that they - or rather, Doctor Doom - tried really hard made someone much more capable notice.

It's an unsatisfactory ending to a story which has shone some very interesting light on the changes Doom has gone through, and the fact that other characters have noticed. Will this be reflected in his future development? Tune in next time to find out!

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posted 13/12/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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... Though Some Call It Magic!

After all the unexpected enjoyment of Doom's guest appearance in The Incredible Hulk we return to Astonishing Tales for the final story in the run of his own series, which is called either "Some Call It... Witchcraft!" or "...Though Some Call It Magic!" depending on whether you believed the cover or the splash page. Or perhaps it's both together?

Whatever it's called this is an absolute stone cold classic story from Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, building on their own previous work and that of others to give us a beautifully written and drawn story that sheds light on a brand new aspect of Doom's character that would have repercussions for years.

It starts with Doom being called for by his manservant Boris, a character introduced in Doom's origin story back in Fantastic Four Annual #2 and only seen since in the re-telling of that story in Marvel Superheroes #20. Returning to the interpretation of Doom as the heroic, misunderstand leader of his people, is Conway's attempt to move him away from the deluded lunatic we've seen in recent stories, and show once more the tortured man behind the mask. This is demonstrated when the two characters make their way to an "old oaken door" and, in his thoughts, Boris reveals a very different Doom to the one we've seen lately, whose voice has always been "calm". These seems like a wildly inaccurate view of Doom's behaviour, but perhaps Boris has seen a different side to him that the one we've seen screaming and shouting at adversaries over the years? Here he is behaving much like Alfred does with Batman, nominally a servant but acting more like a worried parent.

Outside the people of Latveria watch the castle in fear. They explain to a young woman (who has been "abroad") that every Midsummer Doom engages with dark forces in an attempt to free his mother from hell. The fact that Doom's mother was a witch has been mentioned before, but her damnation and his annual battles to save her are new information.

We see Doom beginning the process of this fight, by summoning up... Satan! It's a bit of a shock to see The Actual Devil named as such here, as usually Marvel prefers to call him "Mephisto". There's a bit of badinage between Doom and Lucifer, before Doom requests that they get on with it. The deal, apparently, is that Doom fights a monster of Satan's choosing and if he wins his mother will be freed from hell.

Kagrok The Killer is summoned, a Gollum in bandages basically, and he and Doom do battle, with Doom very nearly winning, right up to the moment when... he doesn't. Satan disappears, taunting Doom with the promise of a rematch next year, and Doom leaves the room, falling into the arms of a waiting Boris. This is a beautiful bit of characterisation from Conway and Colon, with the severely weakened and distraught Doom accidentally allowing himself a moment of humanity with one of the few people left who knew him as a child and, apparently, remain genuinely loyal to him now, before realising who he is and refusing human contact once more. The story ends with Doom stalking off alone once again, promising to do better next time. As I say, it's a classic story which will inform the development of Doom's character right up to the present day. It also ends with the promise of a story called "Deathmasque", leading one to believe that there was meant to be another solo Doom story. If they'd all been as good as this one it would have been amazing, but it was not to be, and readers would have to wait several months for Conway and Colan to continue the tale as promised.

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posted 7/12/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Monster And The Madman!

One of the great things about reading through all of Doctor Doom's appearances like this, that I get to be surprised by finding surprising developments in the most unlikely places. I would never have expected to see vital parts of his fictional biography taking place in a couple of obscure issues of 'The Incredible Hulk', but that's exactly what's happening with this story.

This is meant to be part two of the tale covered in my previous blog, but the issue starts with a bizarrely misleading splash page, showing The Hulk fighting Iron Man. At first I thought I'd skipped an issue, but then saw the footnote which pretty much predicted my reaction! The next page rather cunningly pulls back to show General Ross giving a talk about previous meetings with the Hulk, and leads into the traditional recap of what happened last time, featuring Dick Ayers doing a copy of his swipe of a John Buscema image from last time. Next the scene shifts to Latveria, where we find Bruce Banner working in Doctor Doom's lab as an apparently loyal team member who leaps to join in with the hailing of Doom when he enters the room (Latverians love hailing as we've seen many times before). However, Doom is not alone - he has Valeria with him! We last saw Valeria back in the (brilliant) Marvel Superheroes #20, leaving Doom's castle determined never to see him again. It seems that Roy Thomas, who also wrote that story, must have regretted this decision, and he had Valeria address it early on. Seeing Doom profess his love for another individual is distinctly odd - one supposes, based on his previous actions, that he must have some secret plan, but for now it looks like he means it.

He introduces Valeria to Banner, who immediately gets agitated and turns into the Hulk, allowing Doom to play the kindly protector, trying to show Valeria how much he cares for his subjects. He uses his tranquilizer ray (which I guess is an upgrade on the Hypno Gas) to calm the Hulk, who transforms back into human form. If Doom was doing this to impress his unwilling girlfriend, however, he rather blows it when he snaps at her entirely reasonable shock at what she's just seen. It turns out that he does have a cunning scheme after all, although this one is designed to make Valeria fall in love with him. SPOILERS: Doom is unlikely to be getting work as a relationship counsellor.

His plan is to tell Valeria that a neighbouring country (presumably the one very briefly mentioned last issue) wants to attack Latveria. When she begs him not to strike the first blow he gladly agrees, knowing that at that moment his lackeys are down in the lab ready to bring the Hulk back by shooting Bruce Banner with a jolt of electricity. Once they've done this the Hulk immediately bursts out of the castle and heads to the border, as programmed to do by Doom, with a gamma bomb strapped to his back!

Doom's plan continues apace, with a lackey running into his room to tell him that the Hulk has escaped, having stolen the Gamma Bomb. He pretends to bravely take responsibility for the error, and declares that, regretfully, he must now detonate the bomb to save innocent lives before the Hulk is able to reach a populated area. Doom is feeling pretty pleased with itself - he's actually detonated a bomb over enemy territory AND he's impressed the girl he likes, and who amongst us can say they have never dreamed of achieving something simmilar? But then another lackey comes in with a genuine message - his plan hasn't worked! The bomb really did blow up over unoccupied territory, and Valeria reveals that this was her doing. She knew what was going on all along, and had undertaken a complicated scheme to revive Banner and get him to reprogramme himself so that, as the Hulk, he could take the bomb to a safe place.

I tell you what, with Cunning Plans like this, it's no wonder Doom thinks they're well matched!

Doom, however, is most miffed by this turn of events and declares that his love for her is finally over. However, before she can be thrown into the dungeons, the Hulk returns and he and Doom launch into battle over the skies of Latveria, watched by terrified locals. Is it me, or have the Latverians got somewhat Groovy since we were last there? They're right to be worried though, as the battle quickly puts Valeria in danger. Doom leaps into action to help her, leaving himself open to attack by the Hulk, who tries to squeeze him to death. Doom gets out of this one by refusing to give up, until the Hulk gets bored and lets him go.

Valeria runs over to Doom, apparently convinced that he's not such a bad sort after all. This reminds the Hulk of Betty Ross, and leads to a rather brilliant image of him with The Glums. Poor Hulk! The issue then comes to an end with a very similar sequence to that seen in the recent Thor 183, with Doom ranting and raving at his enemy to come back and fight him. Is this a new trope in the making? We'll have to wait and see!

And thus ends a surprisingly Doom-heavy episode of a series in which another character is meant to be the lead. This is a pretty good run of Doom stories, and it's about to get even better when we return, in our next blog, to an absolute classic!

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posted 30/11/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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This issue kicks off with Bruce Banner on the run from the police in a story entitled "Sanctuary" which, rather brilliantly, comes with a little editorial note which says the title is taken "With apologies to William Faulkner". I haven't read the Faulkner novel, but I'm pretty sure it's not much like this!

Banner is chased across town and is about to be captured when a mysterious limousine appears and offers him a ride. We don't have to wait long to find out who the car's owner is, as Bruce looks to one side and sees... Doctor Doom! As yet, there's nothing to tie this into Doom's adventures over in his own stories. It seems like there's one Doom who exists in Latveria (and elsewhere) over in "Astonishing Tales" and another who spends his time in the Latverian Embassy, bothering superheroes in New York. This Doom is very much on-book with his New York adventures, riding around in the same car that he used to kidnap Daredevil a little while ago, but when he gets back to the Embassy we see his two personas - the arrogant dictator and the man of the people - start to come together. The army surround the building, but are, as usual, unable to gain entrance due to "diplomatic immunity". Doom and Banner watch from an upstairs window, with one of Doom's guards behind them sporting a rather special helmet. These guards have evolved quite a bit since they were first introduced by Jack Kirby, changing from Robots, to Armoured Guards with small nodules on their heads, to what appears to be a member of the Mickey Mouse Fanclub (Latverian Division). Meanwhile, General Ross is wondering what Doom's playing at. "What's Doom doing here in the states anyway?" he asks himself. "We'd heard he was busy planning to conquer a nation bordering on his own!" At first I thought this might be a reference to Doom's recent trip to Wakanda, but that's in Africa, not bordering Latveria. As we'll see later, he's talking about plans Doom has closer to home, none of which have been mentioned before, which is especially odd because Roy Thomas , the writer of this story, had recently written some of Doom's solo stories. Thomas is usually very keen on continuity and tying things together, so it seems a bit strange that he ignores so much of it here.

Doom decides it's time for action, and unleashes his secret weapon - the Hulk! The Hulk leaps instantly, and silently, into action, apparently under Doom's control. He smashes up a bunch of tanks and then leaps away, at which point the army point their remaining guns at him, shoot, and much to their surprise, kill him! This is all a bit of a shock to everyone, and each of the regular characters - Bruce's girlfriend Betty, her father General Ross, Major Talbot and the psychiatrist Doc Damson - take a moment to reflect on what it means to them personally. Doom, meanwhile, does something that we haven't seen him do for a while, and has a good old laugh. He's very pleased with himself because the Hulk that the army destroyed was yet another of his robots - he's VERY good at those isn't he? The real Bruce Banner/Hulk is safe and sound, although very annoyed. Banner is about to vent this fury and transform into his alter ego, but before he can change Doom blasts him with sleeping gas. Roy Thomas may not be directly linking this into Doom's regular continuity, but I do like the way he's using established parts of it throughout this story. Doom's car, his enjoyment of a chortle, and now his use of gauntlet-launched sleeping gas have all been seen in previous outings, rather than (as with Larry Leiber's stories) just being chucked into the mix to keep things moving.

Similarly, Dick Ayers seems to have had a look back at some of Doom's earliest adventures, notably the spaceship that he used way back in Fantastic Four #6 (an issue which also saw a good old Doom guffaw) AND in the Hanna Barbera Cartoon series! This part of the story is all quite similar to Thor #182, when Doom kidnapped Thor's alter ego Don Blake, right down to the description of Latveria as "a storybook nation". I wonder if there was a directive from somewhere to always call it that? When Doom gets out of his plane there are immediately two call-backs to his own adventures, one subtle, and one markedly less so. These Latverians really do love hailing people don't they? It looks like Doom has decided to take their latent Nazism and keep some of it for himself, as they seem to like it so much. He's also carried through one of his ideas from Astonishing Tales #5 where he made himself a note to "arrange for spontaneous outpourings of joy among the peasantry to greet my homecoming"! I must say, I'm starting to think I was wrong about Roy Thomas for not directly linking this story into previous ones, he's just doing it very subtly.

There's another callback in the artwork too, as Ayers basically swipes a panel from John Buscema. The issue ends with Doom revealing his plan in one of those monologues he's so fond of - he's going to use his 'subliminal inducer' to brainwash Banner so that both he and his alter ego will be fanatically loyal to Latveria, and Doom can use the former as a scientific advisor and the latter as a weapon. It's a good plan, although it's a little disappointing to find Thomas, after so much good work, giving in and inventing a brand new device to generate a cliffhanger.

Still, other than that it's been a great story digging into all sorts of continuity, and we'll see how it all works out next time!

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posted 23/11/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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...And If I Be Called Traitor!

This story carries on from the last, but now with added Gene Colan, who brings a touch of swirling, gothic class to a story which, as far as I can see, has absolutely nothing to do with its title!

Doom is underneath Wakanda, where he's come to steal some Vibranium but has been cornered at gunpoint by The Black Panther. Doom uses a trick that he's been fooled by himself many times, appealing to the Panther's pride and challenging him to lay down his weapon and face him man to man. The Black Panther, rather foolishly, does exactly that, and Doom demonstrates how daft this was by zapping him. This is all very much in character for Doom, claiming to believe in Honour whilst doing the opposite, and refusing to taint himself with tawdry combat whilst doing exactly that.

Whilst The Black Panther is taken away to be imprisoned Doom muses about his plan, giving a handy catch-up for anybody who didn't read the previous issue but also introducing the idea that he might want to enslave the people of Wakanda at some point. This is new information, added by Gerry Conway who takes over from Larry Leiber with this issue. It's also a new idea for Doom, and another example of his journey away from the righteous, justice-led revolutionary of his earliest days and towards the fascist dictator he's now become.

Doom's despotic plans are illustrated with a monologue about how brilliant he is, which Gene Colan illustrates gorgeously - 'Astonishing Tales' has felt like a bit of a second-rate title up until this point, but with Conway and Colan on it it's become something slightly special. (SPOILERS: it will become even more so in the next issue!) "And so I must hurry" he says to himself, coming down from his dreams of world domination to basically think "Well, best be getting on with it." He returns to his ship where two worried lackeys have managed to break the engine. They refer to him as "Herr Doctor" - another example of his transformation into a movie-style Nazi. Doom decides the only way to get something done is to do it himself, so sets off to make repairs, stopping off on the way to taunt the imprisoned Black Panther. While doing so he refers to him as an "equal" and "a prince of the blood" which, of course, Doom himself is not. Once more, his roots as a persecuted gypsy seem to have been forgotten, or perhaps this is Doom ignoring his own beginnings and placing himself amongst the royalty that he once sought to overthrow?

Once he's gone the Black Panther breaks out of his chains (remarkably easily) and sets off to halt Doom's plans. We see scenes in Wakanda (which is still being portrayed as "primitive" in this series rather than the Afro-Futurist techno city of the Kirby version) which is being torn apart by Doom's machine. His men try to stop him, but Doom is having none of it. Is it me, or does the fact that the lackey's name is "Ramon" make it seem as if Doom is arguing with his hairdresser? The Black Panther sees all this going on and decides to act, and it's around here that one begins to realise that Gerry Conway is solving the perennial problems of having Doom as the lead character by simply portraying him as the villain in someone else's story - if this issue had been officially released as a Black Panther story with Doom as the guest villain I don't think it would have been done any differently. Doom has always had a big chunk of the focus whenever he's guested in anybody else's title, and doing it this way means that Conway can get in all the villainy that the fans actually liked about Doom without having to make out that he's a hero.

Thus The Black Pather is able to leap into action, beat up some guards, and point a gun at the Vibranium core, threatening to blow it up if Doom doesn't leave, just as he would have done if he was the official lead character. Doom decides to believe the Panther, turning around his ship and heading home. The Panther wonders whether he really would have blown up the core, while Doom reassures himself that he could easily have disarmed him, but that the Panther's demonstration of bravery proves that he would have made a rubbish slave. That wasn't the reason Doom had gone to Wakanda - if he could have disarmed the Black Panther then he could have taken the Vibranium he'd come for - but perhaps this is Conway giving Doom a justification for his retreat.

And there the story ends. It's been a bit confused but the team of Conway and Colan has made a great start on the character, which unfortunately will only last for one more issue. Before that though, next time sees another guest appearance, when Doctor Doom finally meets the Hulk!

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posted 9/11/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Tentacles Of The Tyrant!

After the last issue's attempt to portray Doom as the hero by pitting him against Actual Nazis, this one tries a different tack, keeping Doctor Doom as the clear bad guy and sending in a superhero investigate what he's up to. Normally such a story would concentrate on the superhero, but here Larry Lieber concentrates on Doom. It's a good idea, enabling him to use the aspects of the character that fans enjoy, such as his arrogance and gadgetry, without having to water them down or try and find someone even more despicable to make him look good.

Doom's villiany is in place right from the start where we find him torturing somebody for information, although it's made clear that this is only done for practical reasons, rather than sadism, as when the prisoner tells them what they want to know - that the mineral Vibranium can be found in Wakanda - Doom has him released, despite the ideas of his goonish henchman. This is all part of Doom's self-image as a good person - yes, he'll certainly torture and kill people, but never just for fun. Heaven forbid!

With the information extracted he dashes back to his lab where he puts together a scanning device in the shape of Hawk, and he sends it off to Wakanda to see what he can see. As ever this involves his most favourite form of communication - Skype! A nearby poacher spots the 'hawk' and decides to shoot it down, despite the fact that he knows that its a protected species. Doom reacts by simply killing him. To be honest, I'm with Doom on this one, and if that makes me a "lily-livered conservationist" then so be it!

The robot bird flies to Africa and quickly spots the Vibranium, so Doom blows it up. "What Doom does not need, he destroys!" he says which, as a lily-livered conservationist, seems a bit of a waste of resources to me. This does give George Tuska an opportunity to flex his design skills , in a beauitfully constructed page which sadly also shows that American attitudes to modern Africans are even less enlightened than their attitudes to Eastern Europeans. Talkin of which, Doom terrifies the local Latverians (who seem to be heading for a jazz club) by starting up his tunnelling machine and generating a most unusual sound effect. A little while later he arrives in Africa where another beautifully constructed splash page shows the people of Wakanda having their daily life interrupted by a mysterious earthquake, caused by the arrival of Doom's tunnelling craft beneath a volcano. The illustration shows images of Africans living in huts, throwing spears, and hanging around with ostriches, which is reductive at best, but also plain wrong for Wakanda, which is surely meant to be a technological paradise? I always remember getting annoyed when I was first reading comics about how Britain was depicted, all Big Ben, moustachioed bobbies and tudor cottages, so goodness knows what an actual Wakandan would think!

The terrified Wakandans call their leader, the Black Panther, who flies back from Avengers Mansion to be with them. Hmmm... is it me or does that also look a bit racist?

The Panther goes off to investigate and discovers Doom trying to repair his ship's regulator. Normally this would be the start of the adventure, with the superhero arriving to discover a villain up to no good, but here it's the end of this instalment, with the Panther presenting himself to Doom in the final panel, ready for a promised battle next time. Apart from the depiction of the Wakandan people, this has been a much more successful way of using Doom as the lead character, telling a conventional superhero story from the villain's viewpoint without trying to turn him into something he's not, thus giving the reader more of the character they have paid to see without having to reduce any of the reasons they like him. The only question that remains to be answered though is: why on earth is the story called "The Tentacles Of The Tyrant"?

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posted 2/11/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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A Land Enslaved!

The splash page for this story picks up minutes after the end of the last issue, with Doom leaving the French Riveriera by jetpack, talking to himself about how boring it all was and how happy he'll be to get home. His internal dialogue reveals the contradictions that have developed over recent year, between his earlier depiction as a 'hard man' ruler governing his people with an iron rod for their own good, which Roy Thomas has favoured, and the more corrupt, deluded dictator he's been depicted as more recently, especially when written by Stan Lee. Here Larry Leiber hedges his bets, with Doom saying "As a shepherd belongs with his flock, so must a monarch remain with his beloved subjects!" and then immediately adding "... lest the misbegotten dogs grow restive and rebellious in their master's absence!"

There's more of this when he finally arrives home, "How quiet and serene the realm is!" he says to himself. "In the future I must arrange for spontaneous outpourings of joy among the peasantry to greet my homecoming!" Little does he realise that Latveria has actually been taken over in his absence by the Red Skull, and the populace converted to Nazism. Perhaps this isn't such a leap as it may at first have seemed - after all, during Rudolpho's rebellion the people did seem very keen indeed on hailing him. The Red Skull attacks Doom, using the tried and tested method of deploying his own weapons against him. This has happened several times now, and one might have thought that a self-proclaimed genius like Doom would have made sure he had safeguards against all of his own inventions, but once again he falls victim to his own devices, this time "the one weapon I've no defense againts - chemi-sleep gas!" Get some defence against it then!

Doom is imprisoned in an 'adamantine mummy case' and put on public display to demonstrate the futility of rebellion against the new leadership. The case is designed to heat up, to torture the incumbent, but this time Doom has a plan. All he needs to do is use a 'thermo-energizer', yet another previously unheard of device, which converts heat into power which he then uses to break free. As in previous issues, Larry Lieber seems quite happy to invent new superpowers as he goes along, robbing his stories of tension as the reader just assumes that Doom will remember another gadget that he's never mentioned before which will get him out of bother.

Still, it's a good job he escapes, as at the very moment that new regime is busying itself by shipping people off to concentration camps. I must admit that this made me feel a little uncomfortable. We know that the Red Skull and his Exiles are Nazis - they tell us all the time and drape swastikas everywhere - but they're presented almost as comedy caricatures, so this sudden reveal of Actual Proper Nazism is a bit of a gut punch. As previously discussed, Lieber is making the baddies as bad as possible to ensure that we can root for Doom as the hero, but this seems to be in rather bad taste.

Doom charges up to the castle and, never one to make the same mistake twice (well, not all the time) he goes underground, heading for the power station where he finds the fusebox for the weapons systems and switches them all off. This allows him to get into the main castle, by which point the Skull has ordered his men to "reverse the input lines and attach an auxiliary power box", which means the weapons are back online. The Skull orders the use of a flame-gun, ignoring objections that his own men will be killed, and his men obey. I think this is meant to show how ruthless the Skull is, but it doesn't exactly paint Doom in a great light either. Presumably the men he is fighting are all Latverians who have been forced into service for the Nazis, but Doom is only concerned with his own safety, and does nothing to protect them. This is not the behaviour of a conventional superhero - Doom remains a villain, even if one we're meant to cheer for.

He then plunges the temperature of his armour to "sub-freezing depths" (yet another previously unmentioned power which, surely, would have come in handy when the sarcophagus was boiling him alive) and proceeds to duff up all of the Exiles one by one, chucking them all into an underground room which then fills with gas. The Nazis are convinced it's going to kill them, but then wake up later to discover that it's been used to shrink them instead! Doom pops them into a miniature rocket and blasts them back to Exiles Island, chortling to himself about the great gag he's played on them - it wasn't shrinko-gas he used, but hypno-gas, which they will wake up from soon and realise they were conned! How this works with regards to his revenge, or why he doesn't kill them, or how he puts them in an actual rocket, are not discussed, and the issue ends with a rather marvellous series of silhouettes from George Tuska, depicting Doom relishing his own brilliance. Like most of this series, this has been an odd story which has struggled to find ways to make Doom a lead character whilst still enjoying the villainy that made him a fan-favourite. The method used here, of simply making him fight someone even worse, doesn't work as well as that used by writers like Stan Lee or Roy Thomas, where they try to find reasons for his villainy, and the issue as a whole is at times in rather poor taste. Maybe that's why Larry Lieber tries something a little different in the next story, sending Doom off to fight The Black Panther!

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posted 25/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Invaders!

This story deals with an issue central to the entire series - how do you deal with having a super-villain as the hero of the story? Along the way it has a lot to say about American Cold War attitudes to Eastern Europe.

It starts with Doom standing in the ruins of his castle, apparently continuing directly on from the previous issue two months ago, with no mention of the various other appearances he's had since then. After a very brief recap ("To defeat the rebels I had to destroy my palace!" That's it!) he immediately switches on his video communication system to issue orders to his subjects. The Latverians trudge along to do his bidding, disgusted with themselves for the way they put up no resistance. In this story Latveria is standing in for Eastern Europe, and thus its people are viewed with a kind of disdain throughout, as weaklings unable to overthrow the yoke of dictatorship as Americans had two centuries before. They agree to "labour night and day" on Doom's reconstruction project, at which point Doom himself flies off, leaving them to get on with it. The problem for the storytellers, Larry Leiber and Wally Wood, is that with such an unlikeable character as their lead they need to find a way to make the reader sympathise with him. One way to do this is to have him fight against somebody even worse, and so they bring in pretty much the worst of all villains - the Red Skull. Here we see him hanging around with a group of quite ludicrous national stereotypes - the Exiles, a group of old Nazis looking for somebody to give them direction. The Skull gives them this, taking them wth him to Latveria because "after years of subjugation by Doctor Doom, the Latverians have little spirit left." It's a bit of a risky trade-off if you ask me - the people might be easy to subjugate, but won't their current ruler be a bit annoyed when he comes back?

The Red Skull seems to think it's worth the risk so he and his gang fly over to the "Story-book kingdom" of Latveria and make short work of beating up the local populace. Meanwhile Doctor Doom has flown down to the Riviera, where he's wandering around the resort, looking for fun. Apart from being a fabulous image, this neatly encapsulates certain US attitudes towards Eastern Europe, and indeed other countries around the globe, during the Cold War. Here we see that as soon as the strong ruler leaves the country it is taken over by much worse characters - the worst of all, in this case. This is an echo of US Foreign policy during this period, when dictators would be supported abroad in the belief that they would at least prevent the arrival of something much worse, whether that be Nazism or Communism. Doom's dalliance at the beach is a metaphor for other dictators losing concentration and becoming (even more) decadent, rather than ruling their people.

fter having a couple of thieves try to rob him and being barred from the roulette table Doom soon tires of the life of the idle rich, so he flies off again, looking forward to getting home. However, there's a very different scene waiting for him when he gets back which... well, let's have a look: The Latverians have not only been defeated, they are now Actual Nazis! And that's it for this issue, and a story in which Doom has behaved absolutely appallingly, though theoretically less badly than those who wish to oppose him. It's not exactly a ringing endorsement of his leadership and, yet again, it's a very very different portrayal than that which we saw when we were first introduced to Latveria. We'll see how it goes next time, when Doom fights the Nazis!

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posted 19/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Their Mission: To Destroy Stark Industries

Doom only appears in flashback in this issue, which concerns a determinedly mulitnational criminal version of Mission Impossible setting out to bring down Tony Stark's company. While they get ready Tony Stark mopes around thinking about his history as a superhero, musing over some of the adventures that he had with The Avengers. The only problem with this, continuity-wise, is that Iron Man has as yet to met Doctor Doom, at least in the stories published so far. Doom has appeared in a couple of issues of The Avengers, but this was during the Kooky Quartet era and Iron Man was not a member then!

I don't recognise the two villains on the right of the picture, so I guess that the artist, Don Heck, decided he needed to bump up the star quality and, as usual, Doctor Doom was the first choice. We've seen on many occasions that, if there's a gang of baddies, you need Doom in there amongst them to prove that they're proper supervillains, and that seems to be what's happened here!

Next time we're finally back in Doom's own series to find out what happens with The Doomsman - at last!

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posted 16/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Trapped In Doomsland!

Doom has his own ongoing story in Astonising Tales during this period, but the fact that that only comes out every other month means that there's plenty of time for Stan Lee to continue with his own version of the character in the second part of a two-parter in Thor.

The story picks up right where the last issue of Thor left off, with the Thunder God being chased by a guided missile. Rather than risk the Latverians below he throws his hammer Mjolnir into the sky, so that the missile will follow that instead. The plan works, but without his hammer Thor crashes to the ground and, after sixty seconds (non) hammer time he transforms back into his human form as Don Blake.

The hammer lands nearby, and the locals wonder whether to go and find it. Here we see again how the Latverian people's attitude to Doom has changed. Where once they saw him as a benevolent leader, now he is the head of a terror state with eyes and ears everywhere on his frightened people.

Doom's own delusion about this is shown yet again, believing his own lies about what a kindly ruler he is. "I merely sought to protect you all!" he says after shooting at them with his finger lasers, before attempting to gain the hammer for himself, under the guise of keeping his people safe. Of course, Doom is not worthy to lift the hammer, so he places it under a protective force field and then stomps back to his lab to set his robot hounds to find the missing Don Blake.

After a brief interlude in Asgard, where we see Odin watching the proceedings, we catch up with Don Blake who has managed to find the missing Professor La Farge, father of Cosette who he promised to help last time. To Blake's surprise the Professor does not want to come with him, apparently convinced that it's a trap set by Doom. Blake returns to the town square, where he tricks some of Doom's soldiers into blasting a hole in the ground near the hammer. The guards trot off to report their good work to their masters, leaving Blake able to jump into the hole, dig around the edge of the force field and up through the paving slabs, to grab hold of the hammer and turn into Thor again. This whole bit is massively silly - why did they wander off without checking for a body and why did Doom only make the force field semi-circular? - but it does at least get the comic's title character back into action. He flies back into the castle, only to find Doom waiting for him in a fantastic depiction by John Buscema that was destined to be re-used several times for merchandise and advertising. Thor tricks Doom into taking Mjolnir, which he is again unable to hold onto. Unfortunately this leaves Thor weaponless and with only sixty seconds to get the hammer back before he transforms once again. Thor is often spoken of as the most powerful character in the Marvel Universe - the only one, for instance, who could conceivably fight DC's Superman - but Doom puts up a good fight here and almost overpowers him, only losing out due to some loose flooring titles. Thor flies out and destroys a whole bunch of missiles - the very missiles that Professor La Farge has spent all these years building - before zooming back to collect the kidnapped scientist. However, when he does, he's in for a rather nasty surprise. Whoa! So Cosette's version of events was untrue all along - a child's imaging of what had happened, designed to cast her father in a good light whilst all along he was happily in league with Doctor Doom!

The Professor accidentally kills himself in a hail of bullets directed at Thor, and dies cursing his daughter's name. Thor leaves the area, more worried about how he's going to explain all of this to Cosette than the threats hurled at him by a furious Doom. The story ends with Thor back in Manhattan, forced to tell Cosette that his daughter is dead, and coming up with a rather clever way of telling her what happened. It's all true! As I've said in other recent blogs, it's easy to mock Stan Lee's writing sometimes, but things like this remind you of why he was so successful. It's been an exciting story with moral twists and turns, helped along the way by some gorgeous art by John Buscema. It also includes coherent characterisation of Doom which follows on, and builds upon, the work Stan Lee has done on the character since his creation. The only problem, as we shall see in the next blog, is that it no longer lines up with how other creators are depicting him!

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posted 11/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Fearful Secret of Bucky Barnes!

Doctor Doom cameos in this issue and, as it's written by Stan Lee, he's shown as a pompous despot who'll fall for anything if it means proving his own genius.

In this case he's drawn into a very complicated plan whereby MODOK, head of AIM, has convinced another supervillain to use a body double of Captain America's old sidekick Bucky to try and confuse him (Cap) enough to be defeated in battle. This plan fails, but it turns out that that was all part of MODOK's own scheme, which was to convince Cap that this double was the real deal long enough for him to reveal that - aha! - he was a robot all along, designed to kill him, either by hand or, in the last resort, using an Automatic Destruct Control. Of course, as any long-term comics fan would guess, the plan fails because the robot has Bucky's memories and can't bring himself to murder his hero. Come on MODOK, you've got a massive brain, surely you could have thought this all through beforehand?

The bit involving Doom happens in a flashback when MODOK decides to think back, "to enjoy the success of my plan," which is jolly handy for the reader. He recalls how he recently inflamed student demonstrations past the usual point of disagreement, into a riot very similar to the one seen recently in Thor.

In this case Captain America turns up, and places himself firmly on the side of The Kids. This gives MODOK the idea for his Exploding Robot Duplicate plan and he decides, sensibly, to get the help of the world's greatest Exploding Robot Duplicate manufacturer - Doctor Doom. This is an interesting example of the way that the wide Marvel Universe was used by now - there's no real need, story-wise, for it to be Doctor Doom who builds thr robot, why having him on hand and in continuity means that Lee don't need to bother creating a new character to do it.

Of course, they don't really need to show the robot being built at all, but the flip-side is that, with a great character like Doctor Doom available, you might as well.

MODOK uses the oldest trick in the book to get Doom to work for him, issuing him with a challenge and then suggesting that it's impossible, forcing Doom to go odd in a strop, determined to prove him wrong. We then get a wonderful Mad Science montage of Doom building the robot which, "thanks to the genius of Dr. Doom" will have "the personality of his human counterpart as well." That definitely was not in the specifications - so it turns out that MODOK's plan collapses because Doom did his work TOO well. This is a neat little touch which, I have to admit, I only spotted myself on the second reading. I guess one can get too used to Stan Lee dashing off stories full of plot-holes and weird turns, so that when he's as clever as he is here, it's easy to miss.

Doom's part in the flashback ends with him handing over the goods, communicating as ever by video. And that's that for what turns out to be a very clever, perfectly in character (or Stan Lee's version of the character at least) version of Doctor Doom. The next time we see him it'll be back in the current continuity, still under Stan Lee's guidance, and back in Latveria.

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posted 9/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Doom Must Die!

This is one crazy comic.

Some of the craziness works in favour of the story, as more and more ideas are piled on, but elsewhere you get the distinct impression that Larry Leiber was making things up as he went along. There's several occasions, for instance, where Doom suddenly uses a new, previously unmentioned power, to get himself out of a fix, often a power which would have solved other problems earlier on in the story with ease.

The splash page shows the last issue's revolution against Doom in full swing, with rocket-powered rebels zooming into the castle where Doom and The Faceless One are still facing off against each other with the Doomsman in the middle. Both Doom and The Faceless One instruct the android to attack the other, and these two equally forceful but opposite commands cancel each other out, leaving him free to exercise his own free will. Because that, apparently, is how voice-recognition software works in Latveria,

Both villains back away from the robot, but then Doom decides to try Mind Fusion, a simple process whereby he can take control of the Doomsman's mind because it is based on his own. I don't recall this ever being mentioned as one of his abilities before, and does lead one to wonder why he didn't try it sooner. ,Still, it works, and the Doomsman turns on The Faceless One, grabbing him an unescapable grip.

It's at this point that we get the best twist in the whole story: It turns out that The Faceless One is not a humanoid in a round helmet after all, but a weird space ball on robot spider legs! He skitters off, blowing up his body and managing to fool Doom into thinking he's left the castle by sending his spaceship away without him. Doom then turns to the other matter on his to-do list - quelling the rebellion. He does this easily by using unspecified "energy" which is "generated by forces far beyond your comprehension", another example of a new super power that could have come in handy on plenty of previous occasions. He's acting like a Silver Age Superman here, seemingly unstoppable with a new power for every occasion.

Doom immediately finds himself under attack from "Anti-Particles", one of his own inventions that, again, have not been mentioned before. The Faceless One has got into Doom's control room and, rather wonderfully, is also using his favourite method of communication against him. Doom is chased out of the castle by a range of his own weapons, until an astonished group of rebels watch him disappear from existence altogether. Thinking their rebellion has accidentally succeeded, Rudolpho is proclaimed their new ruler and the crowd start doing that slightly dodgy "Hailing" that they're so worryingly keen on. Their happiness does not last long, as the castle starts to vibrate and, up in the sky, a massive image of Doom appears, informing them that he cannot be beaten and, even now, his earthquake generator is destroying the building. What on earth is going on here? How did he escape whatever weapon the Faceless One turned on him? How did he do the big Sky Face? Why is his castle built on a fault line, and how come there's such a thing in the Bavarian mountains? The only thing that does ring true here is Doom's actions - an earthquake machine is exactly the sort of precautionary device he'd install, and destroying his home to stop somebody else getting hold of it is precisely the reaction you'd expect. Part of the reason this story gets away with as much as it does it that Leiber writes a great Doom, if not a sensible plot, and Wally Wood makes him look very exciting. One does have to wonder though, where are all the robots and soldiers that he usually has access to? Doom may be in character, but Latveria is not.

The rebels flee, with a much more heroic than usual Rudolpho leading them away, carrying a wounded Ramona in his arms, swearing to try again. Meanwhile the Doomsman is called to The Cave Of Sorrows, another freshly mentioned area, where he finds Doom sitting on a throne. There's no explanation of how he got there.

Doom decides to test the android, freeing him of mind control so he can fight a couple of handy robots (where were they when he needed them earlier?) before attacking Doom himself. Doom takes back control, admits that his plan to create an army of super-powered androids might have been flawed, and then... falls asleep? This, of course, was another trap. The android finds it has been freed and goes to attack Doom who reveals that he was just pretending, so teleports the Doomsman into another dimension. Doom does at least have some history of transporting people to other dimensions, but even so, why did he need to test the Doomsman at all, and again, why didn't he use this power earlier on The Faceless One? Actually, that's a point, isn't he still in the control room? Is it me, or does this feel like Lieber and Wood completely forgot about The Faceless One, and had to stick this bit of dialogue in at the last minute to explain it away?

And that's the rather rushed end to the story, which finishes with Doom ranting about how he's undefeatable, and the "next time" box offering a challenge. What indeed? Astonishing Tales came out bi-monthly, so it would be a while before regular readers found out... and it'll be quite a while for us too, as there's several other stories between now and then!

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posted 5/10/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Prisoner, The Power, And Dr. Doom!

This story is an early example of the problems that come up when a wandering character like Doom gets tied down to his own series. Previously he's been free to pop up wherever a creative team want to use him, but now he has his own series there are continuity questions to consider. When last we saw him he was in a Mexican stand-off with The Faceless One and The Doomsman in Latveria, but this issue calls for him to be elsewhere. The story deals with this problem by... completely ignoring it.

The story begins with Thor giving himself a brief recap of his previous adventure, where Loki impersonated him to stir up a load of trouble. His thoughts are interrupted however by a right old racket on the streets below, which turns out to be an argument over a demonstration outside the Latverian Embassy. I do like the way Stan Lee is trying to engage with modern politics here, using the Latverian Embassy as a metaphor for all the other embassies young people were protesting outside, and about, at this time, while being sure to have all viewpoints expressed, with John Buscema illustrating a (still dynamically drawn) old lady worried about this all causing a war. It's also another example of Lee falling in love with his own idea of Doom being unique among supervillains in that his power is partly derived from diplomatic immunity. To be fair, it's a great idea, but it's noticeable that he returns to it every time he writes Doom now.

Thor changes into his human identity of Don Blake to investigate, but quickly gets caught up in things as the demonstration turns into a riot, forcing him to transform into Thor again to scare people away and escort an injured girl - the same girl who instigated the demonstration - to safety. When the girl awakes she finds Don Blake watching over her again, who asks her what she was protesting for.

This seems a bit odd to me - surely you don't need a personal connection to protest against an authoritarian regime - but it turns out she has a link anyway, and proceeds to explain how her father was kidnapped by Doom years ago, and how she was kept as a hostage to ensure that he complied with Doom's wishes. During this flashback we once again see Doom as the sauvely relaxed liar who believes all of his own propaganda - very much in line with Lee's own recent characterisation, but different from the version seen in the contemporary story in Astonishing Tales. The girl, Cosette, escaped recently with the aid of the underground, who are shown here in an unambiguously heroic light, again differing from the story running simultaneously in Astonishing Tales. Don Blake decides to help, and turns back into Thor only to be interrupted by a message from Odin, who calls him back to Asgard fro a brief interlude involving the ongoing sub-plot of The World Beyond. That doesn't concern us here, suffice to say it's all very mysterious and then Thor heads back to Midgard to undertake a cunning scheme of his own. He's planted a Fake News story in the Daily Bugle, claiming he can cure any facial injury, no matter how severe. Thor thinks, correctly, that this will bring Don Blake to the notice of Doctor Doom, but doesn't seem particularly bothered about all the other victims of facial injury who, surely, will see this and be filled with false hope.

Over at the embassy Doom reads the piece and we get a re-run of two recurring Doom tropes - ripping up a newspaper in rage, and standing disconsolately in front of a mirror. As mentioned, this is all a bit difficult for the Marvel Universe's ongoing continuity - we know that Doom is currently fighting against a revolution in Latveria, so what's he doing in America lounging around in the embassy? When most of the titles were written by Stan Lee this was not an issue (except when he forgotten what he'd written previously, of course) and the Marvel Universe was able to maintain coherence, but as it expands, and other writers want to use the same characters, this is becoming a problem which, in the coming decade, would require solutions.

Stan Lee regularly places Doctor Doom in the Latverian Embassy, which not only reinforces his position as a head of state with vaguely defined diplomatic immunity, but also allows him to interact with the rest of the superhero/villain community. Here he's able to pop out in his limousine, find Don Blake wandering the streets, and kidnap him using a Molecule Displacer. He's then driven out into the woods, where he uncovers a secret helicopter/missile ship, which he uses to fly a sleeping Don Blake to a noticeably peaceful and intact version of Latveria. Doom takes Blake into a private room and prepares him to see "a sight that no other human eyes save mine have ever yet beheld", which isn't quite true, but anyway. He takes his mask off and Don Blake reacts with spectacular unprofessionalism. I think Doom has every right to report him to the American Medical Association. It's not exactly tactful, is it? Blake is, quite reasonably, chucked in a dungeon with his walking stick placed just out of reach. He needs this stick to transform into Thor and... quickly manages to get hold of it and transform, in a brief sequence that is not quite as exciting as it was maybe meant to be. Thor bursts out of the dungeon and into the cliffhanger for the next issue - Doom launches a missile to bring down a "foreign object" spied overhead, leaving Thor with a "deadly dilemma". We'll find out what happens soon (SPOILERS: Thor makes it out OK), but before then we're back to Latveria to see what's going on with The Doomsman!

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posted 28/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The second issue of Doom's own series begins with a masthead declaring him "Doctor Doom, Master Of Menace!" It's an odd way of celebrating, well, villainy, and is part of the ongoing difficulty these stories have in portraying Doom as the hero of the story whilst he carried on behaving like the Mad Scientist/Evil dictator he has always been. Modern versions of this sort of story, like Brian Bendis's "Infamous Iron Man" series, tend to try to make Doom more sympathetic by giving him regrets, or at least better reasons for his villainy, and although that does happen later in this series, there's still a lot of menacing, mad science, and dictating.

Inside Castle Doom we find Ramona and Rudolfo imprisoned after their attempted revolution in the last issue. Rudolfo speaks ominously about "The Faceless One", leaving Ramona (and us) to wonder what he's on about, as this person has never been mentioned before. "There is much that you do no know, Ramona!" he replies, before leaping up the wall and ripping open the bars.

His escape is short-lived, as he bumps into Doctor Doom who immediately works out what's going on - Rudolfo is, of course, a robot! I must say, I do like the way that Roy Thomas sticks to the idea that Doom is a genius. rarely fooled by events that are commonalities in a superhero universe such as robot doubles or, as with his uncovering of Ramona's true identity last time, human lookalikes.

There's still a big surprise for Doom though, when he's told that this is not just any robot double, but one he built himself as a stand-in for Rudolfo at Doom's own coronation. This is not only a neat way of explaining where the revolution obtained a robot, but also fills in a missing piece of Doom's origin story. Filling in the gaps between previous stories is something that Roy Thomas would go on to do many times in the future, and here it feels very satisfying to get a glimpse of a previously unseen episode in Doom's past as part of the ongoing story.

Miles away the real Rudolfo is watching the destruction of his robot double. His viewing is interrupted by the arrival of the previously mentioned Faceless One, who not only reminds Rudolfo who's boss ("I call you what I will, because you cannot regain your petty throne without my secret help!") but also tells him what happened to the Doomsman, who escaped last issue. This android with Doom's brain patterns has fought his way across country and into the Soviet Union, bashing up tanks and striding through explosions. "We must have him as our ally!" says The Faceless One, so the pair of them hop into his Spheroid space shop and zoom off to find him.

While that's going on Doom is hanging around with Ramona, allowing her the chance to kill him as a test, which she fails ... or passes, depending on how you look at it. She's unable to kill him anyway, reassuring him that it is safe to allow her to wander the castle. "It is beneath me to imprison a woman" he says, a load of nonsense which, surely, is his way of hiding the fact that he just likes having her around?

He tears himself away from his passive aggressive stalking to return to his favourite place - the TV lounge - where he watches the resistance attacking yet more of his robots. It's noticeable that the narrative text refers to the resistance in phrases like "skulking rebels" during this story, not "noble revolutionaries" or "resistance fighters" as they might be termed elsewhere. Doom is a terrible person but, it seems, nobody else is much better.

The rebels attack and Doom goes off to fight them, leaving the castle apparently unguarded, so that The Faceless One and the newly recruited Doomsman can easily sneak in, kill the remaining guards, and kidnap Ramona. Doom flies back and easily battles his way through the rebels, merrily gunning them down in a manner which almost, but not quite, seems heroic. In a way this is all feels very modern, reminiscent of something like "Game Of Thrones" where we find ourselves cheering on morally "complex" characters doing dreadful things to other baddies in order to get their way. The story ends with Doom and The Faceless One finding themselves equals in battle, only to be disturbed by the sudden entrance of the Doomsman, who ends the story stood between the two evil characters, with nobody sure what will happen next. We'll find out - next time!

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posted 21/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Unto You Is Born... The Doomsman!

A year after his tryout in Marvel Superheroes #20, Doom finally gets an ongoing series, albeit one shared with Ka-Zar, another Marvel Super-heroes alumni. However, even with only half an issue, Roy Thomas and Wally Wood pack in an awful lot of story, continuing the characterisation of Doom that Thomas began the previous year, as a tortured soul determined to succeed at being a ruthless dictator, whatever his heart might say.

The story begins with Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong finding a strange globe on the moon which, when shown to Nixon on their return, turns out to be yet another remote broadcasting device belonging to Doctor Doom. As has been frequently mentioned, he does love to taunt people by television, and he's gone to an enormous amount of trouble to do it this time, teleporting a spherical screen a quarter of a million miles just to show how clever he is! We then cut to Latveria, a "storybook kingdom" "nestled high in the bavarian alps" where the people scatter in fear as their dictator approaches, recreating once again the classic scene of Doom walking amongst his people, first seen back in Fantastic Four Annual #2 and repeated many times since. He's off to view his latest Mad Science project, unaware that the Latverian Resistance is plotting against him. Right from the start, the Latverian Resistance is shown to be a somewhat dubious organisation, who seem to be oddly fond of "hailing" people. Their leader is Prince Rudolfo, technically the heir to the Latverian throne. He is, not to mince words, a bit of a dick, and some of the members of the resistance are uneasy about allying themselves with someone who makes no secret of the fact that all he cares about is putting himself back on the throne. Rudolfo resembles Doom in many ways, but the key difference is that Rudolfo has done nothing to earn his rulership, whereas Doom at least led a revolution - something which could go either way in American readers' affections, depending on whether he's "good" revolutionary (like the Americans themselves) or a "bad" one like Lenin. Making Rudolfo resemble a Nazi is a way of nudging the readers' sympathies away from him. After all, it's Doom, not Rudolfo, who is the hero of this story, so traditionally storytelling would dictate that he's the one the readers should be sympathising with.

Similar, Rudolfo's Cunning Scheme to bring Doom down does not exactly endear him to readers. He has recruited a girl who resembles Doom's lost love Valeria (introduced in Thomas's previous issue) and he intends to use this resemblance to destroy his opponent. How Rudolfo knows about Valeria, or what she looks like, is not discussed.

Thus the girl, Ramona, is deposited in a faked car crash where she is seen by some of Doom's robots, who have instructions to bring anyone resembling Valeria to their master. The entire scheme falls apart instantly, and rather wonderfully, as Doom (who has extensive history with body swaps and doubles) immediately, and very sensibly, uses his Hypno Probe to see if the girl is who she appears to be, and quickly discovers that she is part of Rudolfo's plan to overthrow him. If only more superheroes and villains took the time to check things before flying into action there would be a lot fewer misunderstandings!

Interestingly, rather than thrash about with rage, screaming at subordinates, Doom wanders off to have a bit of a mope on the balcony, demonstrating that this is the sensitive version of Doom who we saw in Marvel Superheroes and his original origin story, rather than the deluded despot seen in recent issues of The Fantastic Four. When he finds out that the plan has failed Rudolfo tells his men that this was all part of an even more Cunning Scheme to put Doom off his dictatorial stride (is he related to Reed Richards, I wonder?), much to the disgust of the resistance members, who quite rightly point out that risking their lives so easily makes him no better than Doom.

The Cunning Scheme does seems to be working, however, as an emotional Doom finds himself unmasking in front of Ramona/Valeria. Underneath the mask she sees not his true face, but an illusion he has set up of his previous handsome looks, leading her to say "Yours is a face - a woman could love!" This is all too much for the sensitive, self-aware Doom, who rushes from the room regretting his own weakness. "I cannot - will not live a lie!" he thinks, as he returns to the Mad Science dungeon which is, he believes, his only true home. This is some beautiful characterisation by Thomas, aided by some lovely artwork by the great Wally Wood, who still manages to convey Doom's inner turmoil through body language, despite facial expressions being all but ruled out beneath a full face mask.

Doom decides to get on with his day job, which today involves placing his own brain patterns inside a robot. While he's busying himself with the mundanities of the nine to five Rudolfo (who doesn't get any subtle shades to his characterisation) launches his attack, sending Ramona into the lab where she catches Doom with his mask off and no illusions in place to conceal his true face. Appalled by what she sees, and the evidence of the Mad Science he's working on, she tries to smash up the lab, cutting power to the castle in the process and allowing the jetpack-wearing resistance to storm the barricades, unhindered of the robot guards who, apparently, were plugged into the same power supply which has now been cut off.

During all this the creature Doom was developing - the "Doomsman" - also manages to escape and flee the area, heading for the next issue.

It's all going well for Rudolfo until Doom himself enters the fray, using technical wizardry to confuse the interlopers with multiple mirages of himself. When they finally work out which one is the "real" Doom he explodes, and they discover that it was a robot all along, primed with explosive. The real Doom, as is his wont in whatever characterisation, is watching, and gloating, from the safety of his castle. He does this while sitting in the same broadcasting booth that was seen in Fantastic Four #85, demonstrating that Wood is attempting to work with the visual continuity established by Jack Kirby, even while Thomas is diverging from the characterisation being pursued by Stan Lee. The story ends with Doom celebrating victory over his enemies while still harbouring personal doubts. The Doomsman is still at large, with a copy of his own brain inside a super-robot body, meaning that "I may have created the most formidable enemy of all!" He may be sensitive, but he's still Doom and still arrogant - whether he's right, however, we'll find out next time!

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posted 14/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Doom In Advertising

Doctor Doom does not appear in this comic at all, which is a shame as it's drawn by Gil Kane and looks gorgeous. The reason it's found its way into my database is that the entry on The Grand Comics Database lists Doom as appearing in an advert for Astonishing Tales #1. This is part of the problem with using data submitted by lots of different people at different times without clear guidance on exactly what they should be including. Other adverts appear that don't get included, while some adverts that do don't list every character, so it's impossible to get a clear view on what's happening across the full range of comics published.

It also forces me to go beyonad Marvel Unlimited in search of explanation - it's a great site, but it only tends to include story pages, rather than the adverts and other editorial material, so in this case I had to find scanned copies elsewhere, which actually turned out to be very handy as it also showed me this advertisement: This was NOT listed on GCD, showing once again how haphazard the listings are. I'm very glad to have found it though, as Doctor Doom is one of the characters on the decal stickers sheet, and once again he's the only villain amongst Marvel's most popular heroes. This is something I'll be covering elsewhere, outside of this blog, when I look at the "non-narrative" appearances of Doom, but it's a great find. Thanks, non-standardised data enterers!

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posted 10/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Long Journey Home

This comic is a landmark 100th issue (not including annuals) of an uninterrupted run from two of the absolute greats of comics, promising every single villain ever. And it's a big disappointment. Doom's on the front cover, right in the centre, fighting Mr Fantastic, but he only appears very briefly in the issue itself, and even then it's not the "real" Doctor Doom.

I know that this is almost the end of that run, when Jack Kirby was fed up with the way he was being treated and was clearly no longer pouring his all into the artwork, but coming only a year or so after "The Power And The Pride!" it all looks very mundane, and the story itself is a big let down.

The plot, such that it is, sees The Fantastic Four (and Crystal) attacked on their way home from a mission. They crash land and are attacked by Kang The Conqueror and a particularly pedantic Doctor (not "Doc") Doom. There's just time for Doom to bring up the whole "Are Doom and Kang and Rama-Tut the same person?" nonsense (I wish he wouldn't, it makes precisely NO sense) before Crystal zaps a tree and, basically, kills them both. Luckily for all concerned it turns out that Crystal isn't a murderer, as these were just androids, created by The Mad Thinker and The Puppet Master. They have loads of these androids, which apparently have "the powers and the memories" of the originals, but still AREN'T the originals, which makes the whole thing feel a bit of a let down. It's the 100th issue and the Fantastic Four are fighting The Mad Thinker and The Puppet Master, not exactly the Premier League of their bad guys.

Their plans to conquer the FF collapse when they unleash an android version of The Hulk, who refuses to obey orders and instead sets about destroying the lab. The Puppet Master tries to shoot him and accidentally hits some explosives, blowing them all up. Thus, not only do the FF not fight most of their baddies, they don't even win!

It all ends with the team hitching a ride on "a specially requisitioned NATO plane", and congratulating themselves on the face that they're still together. This is surely Stan Lee talking to Jack Kirby, but it rings very hollow indeed. They're far from at their best, and they won't be together much longer, with Kirby leaving after issue 102. It is, as stated earlier, a disappointing way to wind up one of the greatest runs of superhero comics... EVER!

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posted 7/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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In The Darkness Dwells... Doom!

It's another issue drawn by John Buscema for us today as he fills in for the regular series artist, the great, sadly departed Marie Severin who was, according to the credits box, "vacationing in the beautiful Bahamas!"

It's a great looking story, packed with Buscema's dynamic art, packed with straining figures as a de-powered Namor struggles to escape from the US Army. Eventually he finds his way to the back of a building which, as luck or otherwise would have it, turns out to be the Latverian Embassy. What are the chances? Namor is allowed in, and he's saved from the army, only to be attacked by what appears to be a lazer-powered vacuum cleaner. It's all part of the security system operated by Doctor Doom, who quickly shows up calling himself Namor's friend. The Sub-mariner quite rightly points out that the last time they met Doom betrayed him, and Doom dismisses this as an "old mistake" which should not get in the way of their common goals. This is the same Doom who, very recently trapped Diablo in a post-apocalyptic nightmare future for daring to propose an alliance, in a story also written by Roy Thomas, yet here is talking team-ups, it seems, with anybody who happens to pop round the back door. Perhaps he sees Namor as more of an equal - he does also rule his own kingdom, as he points out, which could "swallow Latveria whole."

In general, however, Doom's characterisation here tends to match the one which appeared in the recent Marvel Super-Heroes appearance, rather than that seen over in The Fantastic Four, with Doom using his own wits and technology rather than the power of the state. Maybe he just behaves differently at home to how he does when he's in the embassy?

Actually, maybe he does? Let's keep an eye on that in future!

Namor refuses the offer of an alliance, which Doom accepts with apparent ease. All the Sub-Mariner wants is a glass of water to restore his strength, so Doom promises to pop off and get him one. However, instead of heading to the kitchen sink, Doom gathers a few henchmen together to tell them his cunning plan - to lock Namor in the embassy and remove all traces of water from the building! What a fiend! It's noticeable that the Embassy staff are very different from his servants in Latveria, looking more like hired mercenaries rather than Latverian peasants, although the ambassador does at least try to discuss diplomatic niceties with his boss. If Jeff Sessions ever read this comic, I wonder if he'd sympathise? Doom tells Namor what's going on, and the Sub-Mariner fights back. Last time there was a scrap in the Embassy Doom duffed up Daredevil easily, but here the de-powered Namor is a much trickier opponent, forcing Doom to call in his "army of mercenaries" to bring him down. Again, this is a return to earlier versions of Doom without armies of killer robots, but maybe this really is what happens when he's in America. I guess there isn't a diplomatic bag big enough to bring his Robot Factories over, so he has to rely on hired human help instead.

The mercenaries aren't up to much, and eventually Doom realises that he has to step in himself, going head to head with his former ally and unleashing Heat Rays which drain Namor of moisture and, basically, start to burn him to death. Namor pretends to be defeated, but in one last act of defiance manages to break one of the Heat Ray Guns, unleashing "pent-up flames" on the building. As the lackey says, this is a bit of a problem because they don't have any water in the building to use to put it out. I'm not au fait with 1960s US Fire Regulations in Diplomatic Buildings, but surely they would have had some capacity for dealing with such a threat? Like a fire extinguish, or even just turning off the Heat Rays?

Luckily for all concerned the New York Fire Brigade turns up, blasting water into the building which not only puts out the fire but douses Namor in water, allowing him to regain his strength and flee. Doom is unable to stop him because, he says, doing so would violate his Diplomatic Immunity. Yet again Doom (or, rather, Roy Thomas) seems to contradict himself. Back in Marvel Super-Heroes Doom specifically said that he didn't care about Diplomatic Immunity, yet here he is saying that he's prepared to let an adversary escape, rather than risk losing it. I'd argue that the truth of this is that Doom really does care about his immunity, and he was just getting over-excited and showing off in front of Diablo before.

So the story ends with Doom's character appearing to vary according to where he is. This version of him seems to be a continuation of his appearances in Daredevil and, going further back, The Peril And The Power!, where he's willing to get directly involved in conflict, rather than the version we've just seen in The Power And The Pride! who prefers to operate from afar. The clear similarity between the latter two story titles now makes me wonder if the change into a deluded despot was a deliberate attempt by Lee and/or Kirby to evolve the character into something new, possibly as a commentary on current events in Eastern Europe, with Roy Thomas and others instead building on the quasi-heroic character first introduced back in Fantastic Four Annual #2. Or maybe we can explain it in-universe by saying that Doom, like so many of us, just acts differently at work to how he does at home?

Either way, it's a fascinating development for the character, which hopefully we'll be seeing more of soon as we approach his first appearances as an ongoing (shared) lead in Astonishing Tales!

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posted 5/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Space Spanner Returns

There's just a single cameo appearance by Doctor Doom in this issue, but it's one that draws into question the intelligence of The Silver Surfer, for LO! he has been called a spanner of space before, and he definitely acts like a right spanner here.

The story starts off with a Dr Frankenstein and his hunchbacked assistant doing various experiments which lead to them being attacked by a village mob. Throughout the story this Frankenstein talks about his ancestors, and the villagers shout about wanting to be rid of Frankensteins in the plural, which means that there must have been at least two more before him, who also created monsters. How this all worked, and how the family managed to maintain a castle in the same village despite all the monster creation, is not explained. Instead we see the current holder of the name sitting at home watching videos of one of his predecessors, which look suspiciously like certain old movies... The Silver Surfer eventually comes into the story when he notices the angry mob heading for Frankenstein's castle. "Once again I must bear witness to man's inhumanity to man!" he sighs, like an Intergalactic Morrissey, then zooms down to disperse the mob. He then flies into the castle to meet the man he's just saved, and remarks that the last time he did this it was to meet Doctor Doom. "I gave him my trust... and lived to regret it," says Moz... sorry, the Silver Surfer, who then goes on to make EXACTLY the same mistake again. Maybe on Zenn-La things like cloaks, histrionic protestations of innocence, eeries castles and evil henchmen are associated with delightful toddlers and fluffy kittens? It's the only explanation for what a total pillock he is here.

He allows Frankenstein (who is called FRANKENSTEIN for heaven's sake) to conduct an experiment on him, which creates an Evil Duplicate, which leads to a massive battle than involves the Air Force being called out, and ends with the Surfer beating his rival because he can concentrate for slightly longer. The story ends with a, to me, hilarious picture showing the Surfer lying on his bed... sorry, an asteroid, moping like a massive teenager about how misunderstood and sensitive he is. It's one of Stan Lee's daftest scripts, but it looks gorgeous throughout, with Sal Buscema providing thrilling inks for his big brother John's wonderful pencils. They even make a rabid rabbit looking exciting! Next time there's more John Buscema as Doom meets, and fights, Namor The Submariner once again, in a story that is a big step towards Doom's 70s characterisation and position as an occasional lead character.

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posted 3/9/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Power And The Pride!

The previous issue began with a splash page of the Fantastic Four standing around explaining the plot to each other, and exactly the same thing happens at the start of this one. Everyone looks heroic, and I guess it gets the recap out of the way (rather than having it woven through the first few pages as was more usual), but it's a jarringly old-fashioned moment in what goes on to be a thrilling comic.

As the FF explain to each other, their powers are back but they're still trapped in Latveria, so they're making their way to the castle via the medium of chucking lumps of other buildings around as they go. Meanwhile, inside the castle, artist who Doom captured to paint his portrait suggests to the lackey Hauptmann that they should use all this confusion as an opportunity to escape. Hauptmann is having none of it and reveals that he is an ex-Nazi who transferred his allegiance to Doom when the Third Reich collapsed. This confirms what I've suspected in previous issues, and solidifies the connection between Doom (and by extension the Eastern Bloc regimes he represents) and Fascism. This link will be swiftly peddled back when Doom gets his own series, and it sticks out here as an uncomfortable oddity in his long-term character progression. Doom doesn't think one race is better than any other, he just thinks he's better than everyone!

Hauptmann takes the news to Doom who, quite understandably, points out that he's very much aware of his arch enemies lobbing chunks of churches at his home. He explains that he has (yet another) cunning plan to deal with them - Hyper Sound! Rather than finding out what this actually means we're instead shown the progress of the Fantastic Four as they make their way into the castle. What usually seems to happen at this point is that The Invisible Girl somehow gets kidnapped, but this time both her AND her maternity cover, Crystal, fall into a trap, leaving the men to fight some Doombots. At least, I think they're Doombots - they have purple skin and robotic clothing, and I'm pretty sure they behaved like Doombots in earlier issues, but now they seem to be human beings in electronic uniforms. I wonder if this was a bit of confusion between Lee and Kirby? Whatever they are, Sue and Crystal fight even more of them when they land in an underground bunker, fighting through until they burst in on... Doctor Doom and a slap-up feast! Doom plays the perfect host, indulging in small-talk about Sue's recently arrived baby. As usual, he's claiming to be a gentleman, treating the women as guests and providing them with food, drink, and also culture, in the form of a recital on the piano. We get the first inkling that there might be something more to this than meets the eye when we see that he has yet another viewing screening set into the piano, which he uses to keep an eye on the rest of the Fantastic Four. The men uncover a room full of priceless art, stolen by Doom. However, before they can browse the catalogue Hauptmann bursts in with a flame thrower, determined to win his master's approval by murdering his arch enemies. What he doesn't reckon with is Doom's apparently genuine love of Art - he cannot bear to see his collection destroyed, and so is forced to use his Hyper Sound piano to kill his aide before he can burn down the gallery. This is another example of Doom's strange code of honour. He claims to be a man of taste and education, who appreciates great art so much that he's not only prepared to kill his aide to preserve it, but also to ruin his own carefully laid plans to do so. By blasting the Hyper Sound Piano at Hauptmann he has, apparently, used it all up, so there is no way of killing the Fantastic Four any more. Thus he sets them free, in the pre-advertised "Possibly the most off-beat ending of the year!" So ends what would be Lee and Kirby's final Doctor Doom story - and what a way to go out, throwing all the excitement available into the mix but also developing one of their greatest characters even further. The Doctor Doom who was happy to work alone and then chuck himself out of a window when it all goes wrong is now long gone. This revised version of Doom is all-powerful, ensconced in his own world, and even more contradictory and deluded than ever. "The Master of Latveria does not lie", he says, which is a great big fib as well he knows! He's become one of Marvel's greatest, most complex characters, fully deserving of a series of his own - as we shall soon see!

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posted 29/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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This Man! This Demon!

We take a break from our ongoing story for something very different, but vital to Doom's development, in Marvel Super-Heroes #20.

The title "Marvel Super-Heroes" first appeared as the name of a terrible cartoon series in 1966 (which I have moaned about previously) with an accommpanying one-off "Marvel Super-Heroes" comic to go with it. The series which this issue is part of, however, was originally called "Fantasy Masterpieces" and was dedicated to reprints of Golden Age stories. It continued to feature these when the name was changed to "Marvel Super-Heroes" with issue 12, when a "try-out" feature was added as the lead story. The experiment with try-outs had some success, showcasing the first appearances of Marvel's own version of Captain Marvel, The Guardians of The Galaxy and the revived Ka-Zar, although after this issue it would return to all reprints again.

These stories went down well enough for Doom and Ka-Zar to go on to share lead roles in "Astonishing Tales", and you can see why, with Doom at least. This is a really enjoyable character study which adds greater depth to Doom's personality, although it does grate a little when read alongside the story being published simultaneously in "The Fantastic Four". This version of Doom is much more in line with how he's been previously portrayed, as a vain, tortured man who believes he's doing the right thing, rather than the deluded dictator he's transforming into elsewhere.

The story has been very rarely reprinted, appearing as part of "Giant Size Super-Villain Team-Up" a few years later and then in the collected "Essentials" version of the same, but that's about it. It seems odd, as it's a great piece that has lasting repercussions for the way the character would be portrayed.

It all kicks off with Doom reliving some of his past defeats by The Fantastic Four, in an effort to learn what went wrong. I'm all in favour of some personal growth, but right away this differs from the current portrayal of a Doom who doesn't believe he ever is wrong. Here he's quite clear about how many humiliations he's previously faced. His revision is interrupted when the characters from the "3D Playback Tape" come to life and fight him. Doom does pretty well fighting the illusory Fantastic Four (which at least shows that his studies have been worthwhile) until they fade away, and Diabol reveals himself as being behind the attack. Diablo is there to propose an Alliance, which Doom refuses and, as is the rule for meetings of Supervillains (and most meetings of Superheroes too) they immediately get into a fight. This ends in a stalemate as Doom's science cannot beat Diablo's ... er... Chemistry, so the latter reveals that he has another means of persuading Doom to join him - a hostage! This is a neat turnaround, as it's usually Doom who goes around kidnapping people. The sight leads Doom into a recap of his origin story, this time with another character added, a "childhood friend" who is inserted into a fairly straight retelling of the story, complete with precise reconstructions of a lot of the imagery. In a very neat bit of retconning the as yet unnamed girl is skilfully slotted in between the frames. The script is co-credited to Larry Lieber and Roy Thomas, with Lieber apparently doing the first half up to page 11, but this does feel a lot like the kind of retelling of history that Roy Thomas would later take much delight in, in series like "The Invaders". Valeria (as she's finally named on page 10) begs the young Victor to stay in Latveria, but he's determined to to go to America to learn as much as he can about science, as part of his bid for power - the only thing he cares about now. "I have no love... no compassion, not a tender feeling to share with anyone," he tells her, leaving Valeria to mourn the man he once was.

It's all a bit "Ghost Of Christmas Past" really, and once Doom returns to the present day Diablo even tells him that he'll be visited again shortly, though admittedly just by Diablo returning to see if he'll change his mind about teaming up.

The first half of the story then ends with Doom pondering the fact that seeing Valeria has had an unexpected emotional effect upon him. This feels very much like a deliberate end of a "chapter", and the fact that the following page is a splash, recapping what's happened so far, leads me to wander whether this was originally intended to be a two parter? Each part is the same length as Doom's half of "Astonishing Tales" would be, and it make senses of Lieber stopping halfway through and Roy Thomas taking over, so I wonder if this was meant to be the start of that series, but put into "Marvel Super-Heroes" instead? Don't ask me, I don't know!

The second half begins with more of the self-pity Doom would regularly exhibit during his early years, in a panel which seems to be specifically drawn to recall those stories. Again, this is very different from the current version of Doom who, only a couple of months ago was not only able to look at himself in a mirror, but was ready to force others to do the same too. The Grand Comics Database suggests that this story comes before Fantastic Four #84 in continuity, but there's nothing in the text to suggest that it does. Perhaps the Doom currently appearing in The Fantastic Four is just having one of those days where you act like a bit of a dick?

He's definitely in full-on Emo mode here though, eventually consoling himself with the idea that he shouldn't get all upset about his physical appearance when he is who he is - Doom! Positive self-image! You go Victor!

Diablo returns to taunt Doom with images of Valeria, which leads to him taking decisive action and flying off to America, where he finds that - finally - the government has decided that it might be a good idea to maybe put some guards around his old castle/headquarters, rather than letting just anybody wander in as has previously been the case. Once past the ineffectual guards he discovers Diablo holding Valeria hostage. How Diablo got in, or how Doom knew he'd be there, are not explained, but then we don't ever find out how Valeira was kidnapped either, or where she's been all this time. Instead Doom decides to destroy the guards surrounding his castle, because he's the kind of guy who likes to take direct action rather than hiding behind politics. Um... I beg your pardon? Isn't this the same Doctor Doom who has regularly used diplomatic immunity as a key part of his plans and actions? This level of contradiction makes me wonder if Roy Thomas is trying to say something about how the character has changed from his original personality, losing his dynamism to become a statesman instead. It certainly bares little resemblance to the character appearing elsewhere!

Diablo has a cunning scheme to use Doom's time machine to alter the course of history, which Doom listens to patiently - after all, others have listened to enough of his mad rants, so it's only polite that he should do the same. He uses his listening time to get close enough to the Time Machine so he can activate a force field, cutting him and Valeria off from Diablo. Another fight ensues, during which Diablo lures Doom onto the Time Machine and then switches it on, only to find that Doom had earlier changed the settings (he did, we saw him do it!) so that it's the person activating the device, not the person stood on its platform, who gets transported. Diablo thus teleports himself into a nightmarish post-nuclear future where everybody else is dead. You've got to admit, that's a pretty good trick!

Valeria, however, does not think so. When Doom turns to her, ready to "recapture a lifetime together" she immediately and firmly rejects him. She asks if her appraisal of him is wrong, and he cannot reply, leaving her to walk off.

The last page sees Doom alone, in shadow, "knowing, at long last, that it is not his burnt scarred face... his grim metal mask... which are now and forever his merciless prison... but the man himself... the tortured, twisted being whom the world calls only... Doom!!"

Wow! What an ending! What a story! What a great examination of a character which does not entirely line-up with how he was simultaneously portrayed elsewhere!

These two portrayals of Doom will fight it out over the years to come, with one occasionally taking precedence over the other for a period, such as when Doom was all-out evil in Waid & Weiringo's run on "Fantastic Four", only to become tortured and reflective in Brian Bendis's recent "Infamous Iron Man". For now though it's a quick return to the deluded dictator in the conclusion of Lee & Kirby's tribute to "The Prisoner" - next time!

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posted 22/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Victims!

This issue starts right where the last one ended, with the Fantastic Four trapped in a Village in Latveria without their powers, waiting for some Killer Robots to attack. If you didn't already know this you'd be quickly brought up to speed by the team explaining it to each other in the opening splash page - in the modern age of Recap Pages it feels a bit clunky, but once that's out of the way we're into the action, with Reed Richards telling the villagers to go and hide in their homes while the FF try to protect them. At this point another of Doctor Doom's mobile TV screens arrive, with him expressing his regrets for any inconvenience caused by the accidental unleashing of a horde of killer robots. When Reed Richards questions the sincerity of this non-apology Doctor Doom is utterly horrified that anybody could be so ungrateful in what are trying circumstances for everyone. This is all very much in keeping with the new developments in Doom's character, where his delusion has reached such heights that he seems genuinely surprised that anybody would not be grateful for his benevolent, if fatal, leadership. It's also pretty funny!

Next we see him musing on the fact that his plan has not been entirely flawless. The Killer Robots really have escaped, but cunningly he has installed a secret weakness within them that means that, if they ever turn upon their creator, he will be able to stop them. Ooh, I wonder what it could be? Something very clever, no doubt!

The Robots smash their way through walls and arrive at the village, where the Fantastic Four discover that their powers are gradually returning. The villagers help them fight back, but, as Doctor Doom watches the mayhem from a balcony on his castle, it seems that it will not be enough to save them. His aide Hauptmann warns Doom not to underestimate the Fantastic Four. Given his employer's track record in dealing with staff suggestions this is a spectacularly brave/foolish move, but luckily for him Doom agrees, and hopes that the team are destroyed before Reed Richards discover the secret flaw in the robots. It's worth noting that the name "Hauptmann" is German for "Captain", a fact that would be familiar to many readers from years of reading war comics. It seems that Stan Lee is once again nudging Doom towards Nazi territory, inferring that Doom's men, if not Doom himsefl, are relics of fascism.

While the battle goes on in the village Doom decides to show Hauptmann his back-up plan, in case the otherwise almost entirely flawless main plan hits any problems. He shows his aide a model of the target village, which they have looked upon many times before. However, with the click of a switch Doom reveals that there is more to the village than meets the eye! "Why?" says Hauptmann, though "What the HECK is THAT?" might have been more to the point. It appears that the village is built on two GIGANTIC sticks of TNT with skyscraper sized fuses, poised delicately close to similarly gargantuan sparks. In a series full of fantastically ludicrous ideas, this is one of the most fantastically ludicrous, and you've got to admire Kirby's chutzpah in not only thinking he can get away with something as utterly daft as this, but then actually getting away with it!

Back in the village the FF and the villagers prepare to meet the robots. The only thing they have to defend them is a very vaguely defined "control unit" that can open pits in the ground and throws people into the air. It was hidden in one of the turrets of a bridge... for some reason? Anyway, this sequence is VERY exciting, as we watch the robots getting closer and closer before finally arriving with Mr Fantastic immediately clicking a switch to do... something! I very rarely talk about the lettering in these comics, but crikey, look at the "Krrash!" and "Klak!" in these two panels - amazing work by Sam Rosen!

This time the device triggers a "hidden turbulence pressure engine", which rather handily throws all the robots up into the air and into the river. Hang on, the major flaw in the robots was that they were too heavy to swim? That was IT? This sounds very much like Doom trying to make out that a major design flaw is in fact a FEATURE. I wonder if that was Jack Kirby's intent all along, or whether Stan Lee added it in to explain how chucking the robots in a river is enough to defeat them?

Doom is utterly incensed, and presses the button to detonate the gigantic sticks of TNT. Hauptmann begs him not to do it - "Think of the people!" "I... forgot!" says Doom. This is another instance where I wonder if Stan Lee added a line of dialogue to excuse Doom flat out murdering a whole bunch of his subjects. He'd already condemned them to death with his Killer Robots, but maybe he's able to excuse that as an "accident", whereas this is killing them more directly. It's the only time in the whole issue where he does genuinely give a thought to his people - when Latveria was first introduced he seemed to genuinely care about them, but this reminder of such previous behaviour tends to highlight the fact that he's now a heartless, self-fixated dictator.

The whole town is destroyed, but luckily one small section - the bit where the FF and the townspeople had all gathered - is protected by what appears to be a force field. It was The Invisible Girl! She was so worried that she made Nick Fury tell her where the rest of the team had gone, sorted out a babysitter, and then ... somehow made her way to Latveria, secretly entered the country, discovered where they were, and then snuck over to save them all.

That sounds fair enough.

With the whole team back together at last it's time to go and "tackle Doom", as The Thing says. "Next: The Wrap-up!" says the final panel, but before that we've got another visit to Latveria to fit in, in a very different story indeed!

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posted 17/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Brand Ecch No More

This would be the final issue of 'Not Brand Ecch' until it was continued in a special issue 48 years later. It goes out as a confusing mixture of satires on Marvel's own output, mash-ups of other companies' characters, Mad-style film parodies, one-off gags, and a Forbush Man story. It's a sort of summary of the entire run of the comic, and therefore also features several appearances by Doctor Doom.

He's there on the cover, as part of a group of pretend trading stamps. Once again, he's there as a representative of supervillainy. This is a role he's fallen into over the course of this series, being used as an avatar of evil, almost apart from his own character in the main Marvel Universe.

His first appearance within the comic itself, however, does make a small reference to the more usual characteristics of Doom, via some balloons that say "Visit Beautiful Blatveria". This is a "humorous" reference to the nation of Latveria which has become a much bigger part of Doom's character in recent years, notably in the storyline occurring simultaneously in "The Fantastic Four". The wording on the balloons is just an extra detail, rather than the gag itself, but it does at least refer to an aspect of Doom himself, rather than using him as a symbol.

Normal service is resumed for his final appearance, as part of a crowd of superheroes, villains, and other company's characters on a Valentine's Card featuring Forbush-Man. The remarkable thing about all of Doom's appearance over the course of the series is that he has been used almost exclusively as a representation of the wider "Supervillain Community". In most cases another character such as Magneto or Doctor Octopus could have been used without losing any of the humour, but almost invariably it's Doctor Doom that is chosen. This demonstrates how important and how recognisable he is within the Marvel Universe, even at a time when he is almost absent from stories within the main continuity. I've been surprised to find such a rich seam of material in what appeared to be such an obscure, ephemeral series. I can't say I'll miss reading 'Not Brand Ecch', but I'm glad that I did!

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posted 15/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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Prisoners In The Village

This issue continues directly from the one before, with Doctor Doom talking to a captured Fantastic Four through an "electronic spy scope" (or "Skype call" in today's money). This is a distinctly different Doctor Doom from previous encounters. He's always enjoyed taunting his enemies from afar, but here he does it in the guise of kindness, telling them that they will now be looked after under his rule. Doom's character has changed, from a wise leader who only undertook villainous activities for the benefit of his people, to a deluded dictator who believes they are foolish children who must be severely punished if they ever stray. It's a view of dictators and their propaganda-based denial of reality that reminds me of the various "Number Twos" in "The Prisoner", and indeed by dictatorships in literature and real-life.

Reed Richards compares Doom to a slave master, which he takes great umbrage at, not on any moral grounds but because slaves were known to escape, and nobody ever escapes from Latveria. In order to make sure of this he orders the team's food to be drugged so they can be subjected to more of the hypnosis which causes them to be unable to use their powers. This leads to a long sequence focussing on Doom as he orders his subjects around and then sets a trap for some political prisoners, allowing them to think they've escaped so that he can use them as a test for his new killer robots. During this sequence Doom's self-delusion is reinforced, as he talks about his own hatred of violence just after almost throttling someone, and then going to watch prisoners being beaten up on his own instructions. Doom uses such language constantly, not just to trick other people but also when he speaks to himself, showing that it is a worldview that he actually believes in. He is no longer the solo Mad Scientist carrying out his own plans, nor is he the noble revolutionary leading a nation, he is now an avatar for the real-life "supervillains" that Cold War Americans saw ruling Eastern Europe.

The escaping prisoners are soon killed by the robots, which leads Doom to herald the next stage of his weapons testing - "the destruction of an entire village." The story then cuts to an image of The Fantastic Four, sitting in the self-same village. Moving the action to a village, especially an ornate and otherwordly one, draws immediate comparisons with The Prisoner again, set as it was in The Village, shot on location in the ornately designed and otherwordly Portmeirion Village. The Fantastic Four eat the food supplied for them, and then pass out. This does seem a bit foolish, as it's by no means the first time Doctor Doom has given them drugged food, and this time they wake up to find that they are terrified of anybody even talking about violence.

While this is going on Doctor Doom is having his portrait painted. Unusually for him he has demanded that his real face be represented. Doom has always been distraught about the destruction of his face, frequently thrown into fits of rage at the injustice of his disfiguration, so it's odd to see that he is now capable of not only looking at himself in the mirror but also appearing without his mask in front of other people. Way back in his origin story he stated that assuming the mask meant an end to Victor von Doom and the beginning of Doctor Doom, so does this mean he is reverting to his previous form? Or is his self-delusion now expanding to the point where he could one day convince himself that he is not ugly?

He's not there yet though - when an underling expresses the wish that Doom should like his painting, he is swiftly told not to be such an idiot. The sitting is interrupted by another Skype call, this time from some Standard Robots calling to tell him that the new Killer Robots have escaped and are heading towards The Village...sorry, towards the village, where a helpless Fantastic Four await. It's not clear whether they've really escaped, or whether it's all part of Doom's masterplan, because this is where the comic ends, on a classic cliffhanger.

The end of Lee and Kirby's run is often spoken of as a decline from their much-lauded middle-period, but I must say that so far this storyline has been terrific, in terms of plotting, characterisation, and fantastic imagery. It also marks a major turning point in the character development of Doctor Doom, which hopefully will continue as the story progresses!

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posted 8/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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The Name Is Doom!

It's been a whole year since Doctor Doom last starred in a Marvel comic, and a full two years since the climax of The Peril And The Power, but I think it was worth the wait! Not only is this a great late-period Lee and Kirby story, full of big ideas and amazing artwork, but it also marks a huge shift in Doom's overall character, moving him definitively from his origins as a mad scientist who more or less worked alone to the dictator in charge of a whole country's worth of mad science that he would remain as into the seventies and eighties.

This change in Doom can be seen from the front cover, where he lurks menacingly above the Fantastic Four, who are trapped in the weird world of Latveria. The four-part story which starts in this issue was later acknowledged by Lee and by Kirby as a homage to "The Prisoner", the Patrick McGoohan series based in "The Village" which was first broadcast in the US around the time that Kirby would have been plotting out these issues. He would later go on to pencil an adaptation of the series in 1976 which would not be released until after his death.

It's a little while before we get to Latveria though, as the first few pages follow the Fantastic Four on their way home from the previous issue's storyline with the Inhumans. At the end of the third page the story moves to "a forbidding castle, deep in the heart of the distant Balkans" where an old man is trying to escape a terrifying "him". The reader isn't told where this village... sorry, small Balkan state is, or who the man is fleeing (although they could probably guess from the cover), which makes the next page reveal even more powerful than it otherwise would have been. Which is still VERY powerful! Doom has always been self-deluded, but this character trait is really cranked up here, as he bemoans the fact that some of his citizens are ungrateful for all he does for them - he provides clothes and food and all he asks in return is total obedience. Previously he's either derided his citizens or acted protectively towards them, but now he moves into full-blown dictator mode, acting as a representative of an American view of life in Soviet Russia. This is a brutal tyrant, who tells his people that they are blessed by is rule, and to be happy or die - he is basically Stalin. Meanwhile the Fantastic Four are getting a briefing from Nick Fury, who has found a Robot Arm that is so deadly that it takes the combined might of the Fantastic Four and Shield to bring it back under control when it escapes from containment. Fury suspects that this must be the work of Doctor Doom and, fearing the development of terrifying new super-weapons, he asks the Fantastic Four to investigate.

The idea that Doom is harbouring weapons of mass destruction is one that will be returned to many times over the coming years, with any attempt to take action against him often thwarted by the politics of his position as a national ruler. Sometimes Doom will be seen as a representative of the Soviet State, other times a hard to swallow alternative, but here is shown as being even worse than America's sworn enemies. When the Fantastic Four travel incognito through "the heart of Communist-occupied Central Europe" they find that even KGB Agents fear Latveria. As soon as they enter the country the team (with Crystal doing maternity cover for Sue, who's just had a baby) are attacked by Killer Robots. Reed Richards claims to have had a plan to "let" the Robots capture them, though given the trouble they had fighting a single hand I imagine they'd have struggled to do anything else when there's at least six whole ones attacking. Unfortunately for Reed's "plan" Johnny loses his temper, so the team have to fight anyway, and end up losing. When their defeat is complete Doom himself appears, ordering the robots to take them away as his prisoners. When the team wake up they find themselves in a surreal world, treated as revered guests in a distinctly odd version of Latveria. Previously the country had been an American's idea of what Eastern Europe might be like, based as much on old movies and Kirby's experience of Europe during the Second World War as reality, but here it is deliberately strange, in obvious homage to "The Prisoner". Rather than the dungeons they might have expected, the find themselves in the midst of a parade to welcome them. This is, of course, all part of Doctor Doom's plan. However much things change, Doom will always have a plan, and he will always watch it unfold via television. There's just time for Doom to threaten an underling with "the penalty for looking discontented" before the story ends with him appearing on another TV screen to tell the Fantastic Four to be happy... or die! The ever-watchfulness of Doom ties in neatly with the homage to "The Prisoner", but what I think is really interesting here is his development from someone forever leaping out of windows to escape, just a few years ago, to a fully-fledged dictator, ruling an entire nation with maniacal zeal. There's a lot more of this to come!

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posted 1/8/2018 by MJ Hibbett
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An examination of Doctor Doom in The Marvel Age written by Mark Hibbett