Fantastic Four #196-200
Issue(s): Fantastic Four #196, Fantastic Four #197, Fantastic Four #198, Fantastic Four #199, Fantastic Four #200
Reed has been working for a company that has very clearly been not been on the up-and-up, and here we find them using the Pycho-Man's technology to manipulate Reed.
Dressed as the Invincible Man, Reed is sent after the rest of the FF, who have recently gathered in Hollywood to visit Sue.
The mastermind behind this is a guy that looks like Victor Von Doom prior to his facial scarring.
While the rest of the FF are imprisoned, Reed is taken by this Doom clone to continue his work. The remaining members attempt to escape, but are stopped by the real Doom.
Meanwhile, the Doom clone has Reed sent up into space to re-create the accident that gave him his powers. That's a really lame way of giving his powers back that doesn't really explain why he lost them in the beginning. It initially seemed to have something to do with Annihilus, but was also used as a kind of metaphor for Reed being over-the-hill. This re-powering just makes it a technical thing, and kind of takes the uniqueness out of the FF's initial journey.
But i guess speaking of the lack of uniqueness of the journey that gave the FF their powers, the event also triggers the re-appearance of the Red Ghost (who first appeared in a successful attempt to recreate the FF's initial experience).
In fighting the Red Ghost, Reed demonstrates new abilities and increased power.
The new forms aren't entirely new, but it's something we haven't seen since the early days (see for example, his sledge-hammer hand in Fantastic Four #18) when Reed wasn't entirely distinguished from, say, Plastic Man.
The Red Ghost's powers have also increased. He has the ability to make other objects, like the floor of the space ship, intangible.
Ultimately, the Red Ghost isn't the main attraction in this arc, so he eventually escapes into space, and Mr. Fantastic survives his crash-landing and gets his Pogo Plane back from SHIELD so he can go after Doom (he somehow figures out that Doom is behind everything).
For esoteric reasons related to the placement of later issues, i'm noting that Reed lands the Pogo Plane in Latveria without incident and it's the last we see of it in this arc.
Reed hooks up with Zorba, the leader of the Latverian Freedom Fighters.
Meanwhile, Doom prepares to give his "son" the powers of the three members of the Fantastic Four that he has in captivity, and despite Zorba's help, Reed is captured as well. Their power is transferred, but while Doom is going through a lame corination process for his son and dealing with unrest instigated by the "sticks-out-like-a-sore-thumb" Zorba...
...the FF escape...
...and begin fighting their way through Doom's robot army.
The clone almost immediately turns on Doom.
There's something not quite right about the way his rocky form is stretching.
Doom kills his clone. And cries about it.
You'd think that would be it, but Doom also had Alicia create a hollow statue of Doom that he loaded with hypnotic technology to try and take over the UN...
...but that plot is foiled as well. The arc ends with a big fight between Mr. Fantastic alone against Dr. Doom.
Reed continues to utilize his powers in ways we haven't seen since the early days, creating a spiked mace with his hand, something that is more the MO of Apocalypse.
The point really seems to be to emphasize Mr. Fantastic's fighting abilities, which are usually downplayed in favor of his intellect. But since Reed has just gotten his powers back, i guess it's only fair.
Unfortunately, these stories are quite bad. Doom is very poorly written. But luckily the nervous breakdown he has at the end of the arc lets us kind of write off his rantings (although i find it very unconvincing that Doom would go catatonic just because he saw lots of reflections of his face).
This story also has Doom taking off his mask and showing it to the FF as well as letting Alicia feel it so she can sculpt his statue (although the statue is supposed to be scar free).
They admit in a later lettercol that they didn't even realize that Doom had never shown his face to the FF before until alarmed readers started writing in. it's a bad idea - the nature of Doom's scars is supposed to be a mystery. At least the readers still don't get to see it. And in the Fantastic Four #241 lettercol, it's stated that the official policy is that the FF didn't actually see Doom's face, "whatever may have seemed to be happening in the pictures".
Even beyond the the face reveal, Doom is used poorly. The idea that he'd create a clone of himself seems wrong and unnecessary. The idea that he'd feel like he'd need, or even acknowledge, Reed Richard's genius is flat out wrong. The whole scheme was unnecessarily drawn out and unfocused. And besides all that he's just used very generically...
...with a lame "take over the world" motivation. And by taking over the United Nations, which really overestimates the UN's significance; this is a point of complaint in later lettercols. I really find this to be the worst use of Doom i've read, and i'm counting his appearance in Dazzler and even Bendis' Avengers.
One thing i do like is that Reed is written like an arrogant ass like he used to be back in the Silver Age. When the Thing questions his decisions, Reed snaps "That cuts it, Ben -- if you think you can run this team of misfits better than me -- do it! If not, shut up and let me think!".
I guess the other thing worth acknowledging is that instead of a goofy anniversary issue where the characters fight robots or illusions of all their past villain, there's a run through of the FF's rogues gallery throughout the break-up period, from Diablo to Namor in the issues prior to this, to the symbolic use of Psycho-Man and the Invincible Man, and then the Red Ghost and Dr. Doom.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (10): show
A D? Really? Wow. I'll admit that they went a bit over the top in trying to make Doom seem more evil (not to mention he was at the piano too much), and it was certainly a gaffe that they let the FF see his face, but I thought that overall, this story was very well done. Lots of suspense and pretty good action. I'd give it a B+, taking the solid art into account as well.
By the way, in another letter column, they stated that there was a reason that the FF didn't look surprised when they saw Doom's face, but they didn't say, or even hint, as to what that reason was. I wonder if it's ever been revealed, though as you intimate, it's been retconned away, anyhow.
Hi Dave, thanks for leaving your thoughts on these issues. If you haven't already, see the Q&A section which addresses the quality ratings. I'm a pretty harsh grader, i guess, and the characterization of both Doom and Reed seemed really poor to me in these issues, and idea of giving Dr. Doom a nervous breakdown at the end felt like a real cop-out. I also think Pollard at best does a standard Marvel House Style for the period and in these issues the art seemed sloppy and rushed. Still enjoyable to those of us who just like Marvel comics, but they weren't something i'd share with anyone not already hopelessly addicted to the genre.
Please continue to comment where you disagree. I normally won't respond; i don't want to have the "last word" on these issues and i'll let your comment stand as-is, but in this case i just thought i should clarify where i'm coming from.
One problem I had with this story- why didn't Reed think something was weird if his boss looked exactly like Doom before the accident? Ben doesn't seem to notice the resemblence either (although to be fair, some writers write Ben as just having met Doom once before the accident, others make it sound like Ben ran into Doom all the time before the accident.)
According to Jack Kirby in Amazing Heroes #47(5/84) Doom only had a small scratch on his face.
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