Monday, April 11, 2016

FANTASTIC FOUR #258

"INTERLUDE"
Story and Art: John Byrne | Lettering: Jim Novak | Coloring: Glynis Wein
Editor: Carl Potts | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Doctor Doom oversees the restoration of Latervia following his return to power. Eventually he concocts a plan to artificially recreate the power he once stole from the Silver Surfer and imbue it into someone else. Doom chooses Tyros, the one-time herald Terrax, for this task. Tyros is liberated from a hospital in New York and brought to Latveria, where Doom empowers him and sends him to battle the Fantastic Four. Following Tyros’s departure, Doom reveals to his robots that the alien warlord will perish due to power burnout in five hours.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The main point of timeline reference in this issue comes on the first page, when we’re told that the Fantastic Four’s encounter with Gladiator and the Skrulls in issue 250 occurred “several months ago”. Some may recall that within the pages of issue 244, directly following the fight with Terrax, “several months” passed there as well. I’m not sure why Byrne keeps advancing the timeline in such large leaps, but I don’t really like it. One of my favorite things about serialized fiction is how one story bleeds into the next with little passage of time unless absolutely necessary.

But at any rate, we can safely declare that well over a year has probably elapsed in “Marvel Time” since Byrne took over this series with issue 232.

Doom learns that Doctor Strange recently lost his apprentice, and briefly considers seeking out Strange for training in the mystic arts beyond his own rudimentary skills. Doom also implies that he’s never actually met Strange, which is kind of astounding considering both characters had existed for over twenty years at this point. (Though it’s also kind of cool as it reminds us that the superhuman community within the Marvel Universe didn’t used to be as narrowly claustrophobic as it is these days.)


Kristoff, son of the gypsy woman killed by King Zorba’s robots in FF #247, has been adopted by Doom as a ward of the state.

Doom conducts an inspection of his robotic decoys and finds that one of them allowed the assassin Arcade to strike a match on its shoulder in X-MEN #146. The Latverian monarch promptly eliminates the robot for insolently suggesting Doom might have had further need for Arcade, and thus not killing him for the affront. This scene seems to be viewed as Byrne being petty over Chris Claremont’s handling of Doctor Doom in that X-MEN issue, but personally I’m with Byrne here. The real Doom would have slain Arcade immediately over such an indignity.


Doom recalls stealing the power of the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC FOUR #57 – 60.

Hauptmann, brother of Doom’s former scientist, Hauptmann, is killed this issue when Doom uses him as a guinea pig for the Power Cosmic machine, following his treachery in IRON MAN #149.


As Doom searches for someone who could handle the Power Cosmic, Kristoff suggests Magneto and refers to Doom and the Master of Magnetism as “rivals.” This does not go over well.


When Doom’s robots invade the hospital to find Tyros, they spy Captain America and Iron Man discussing injuries sustained by the Thing in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #96. This part of the story takes place six weeks prior to the present day. In real life, MTIO was canceled with #100, published three months prior to this issue.

Tyros has been in the hospital for months, having been nearly killed by his fall off the top of the World Trade Center in FF #243. Somehow, even though he clearly looks like an alien and speaks no terrestrial language, nobody at the hospital has though to inform the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or SHIELD that he’s laid up there.

Doom briefly recaps Terrax’s origin.


Is It Clobberin' Time? The Fantastic Four don’t even appear in this issue, so I’m gonna say no.

The Quotable Doom: “You rage is magnificent, Tyros. And justly so. But direct it not against the person of Doom, for your life now rests in the hollow of my hand. I am master here, Tyros, and before you protest that irrevocable fact, you would do well to listen.”

My Thoughts: The title page declares it “perhaps the strangest issue ever of the FANTASTIC FOUR!” and that was probably true at the time. Nowadays, an issue devoted entirely to the scheming of a villain, recapping what he’s been up to while the series’ heroes have been doing their own thing over the past several installments, isn’t at all unusual. But in 1983, an issue of FANTASTIC FOUR starring solely Doctor Doom, with nary an appearance from any of the FF, would have been pretty unusual.

But it’s not jarring in the least. Though he only appears for about one story arc a year, and though he’s their primary antagonist, Byrne basically treats Doom as the series’ fifth regular cast member. In this way he’s ahead of his time, and perhaps ahead of his medium as well. This is the sort of thing one would expect from a primetime TV drama, but not necessarily from a comic book.

And besides taking an offbeat path for the issue’s concept, Byrne pulls off some fun artistic bits here as well, mainly confined to the first couple pages. Note the cover, for one thing: Doom’s gauntlet is shredding it to reveal the splash page inside. Pretty clever, if you ask me.


And then, after turning past the splash, we’re greeted by a beautiful two-page spread of prosperous Doomstadt, restored by the rule of Doom and serving as an optimistic mirror to the near identical establishing shot from pages 2 and 3 of issue 247.


Plus we get to see a side of Doom which isn’t often presented: he spends quality time with Kristoff and, despite the little outburst depicted up above, we’re told (and we see) that Doom has legitimate affection for the boy, as he bounces him in his arms and brings him to observe Doom’s work in matters of state.


Between all the above bits and pieces, this is easily one of the best issues of Byrne’s run so far. As I’ve noted many times previously, Doom brings out the best in Byrne. Nowhere is that more evident than in this issue focusing solely on the character.

11 comments:

  1. I love this issue. It's great to begin with, the Doombot A 76 sequence in itself and Hauptmann and everything, but it only got better when I learned it's Byrne at his most relentless regarding the whole Byrne/Claremont feud. Little Christoph gets taught an Important Lesson and then thrown around for daring to suggest that Magneto (in his UXM #150 "I, Magneto" form) would somehow rival Doom. Just beautiful.

    Hilarious coincidence (I assume it is one) is that over at The Gentlemen Austin will next X-amine X-MEN #1, where Claremont will bring out a backstabbing villain named Fabian something and totally exculpate Byrne from this sort of thing as far as he is concerned.

    Doom learns that Doctor Strange recently lost his apprentice, and briefly considers seeking out Strange for training in the mystic arts beyond his own rudimentary skills.

    This mayhap unintentional teaser will later on get served nicely by Roger Stern & co with DOCTOR STRANGE & DOCTOR DOOM: TRIUMPH AND TORMENT.

    Doom recalls stealing the power of the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC FOUR #57 – 60.

    Hot gosh dang it so recall I. They published the story as black&white one-shot just around when I started reading Marvel, and it stands as my first ever read FF story. I always loved it as a story and a coloring book.

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  2. Actually, the Thing got his injuries in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL 7 in a boxing match with The Champion. Ben was the last runner in a string of superstronghero boxers whose victory over or defeat by the Champion would decide the fate of their world. They were either defeated or disqualified in the bout. Ben went through three rounds and was pretty much broken physically, but his never-give-up-endurance/persistence won the Champion's respect and garnered Earth's survival (The plotline got adapted into a DEXTER'S LABORATORY episode involving Monkey, with the Champion changed to a space wrestler voiced by 'Macho Man' Savage). Issue 96 has Ben convalescing- and bored out of his mind- in a hospital, not realizing that outside its WW3 as the Marvel Superheroes prevent Marvel Supervillains from getting payback on poor Ben (Dr. Doom decides not to interfere, honorably preferring not to attack a wounded foe; Sandman manages to sneak in on Ben, wishing to thank him for giving him a chance at reforming in MTiO#86).
    In Roger Stern's run on DOCTOR STRANGE, the Sorcerer's relationship with Clea had become strained. Clea felt authoress Morgana Blessing's feelings for Stephen outmatched hers, and pleas from dimensional wizards to despose Umar's (regenting for an absent Dormammu) reign in the Dark Dimension convinced her to leave Earth (Stern felt the relationship was wrong in a 'teacher-student-'I-love-you,- Master-but-not-in-a-Jeannie-way' perspective), much to the doc's...D'Spayre (Stephen recovers). Rumors about a vacancy for an apprenticeship start flying everywhere without his consent. Tired of would-be seekers throwing themselves at him to take the rumored vacancy, Dr. Strange gathered them all together to inform them he had no intention of training a new disciple at the present time. This angers one applicant- Jimaine (Amanda Sefton)- causing her mother Margali Szardos of the Winding Way to attack the Sorcerer Supreme for rejecting her daughter. Dr. Strange is able to neutralize Margali, transforming her into an old gypsy woman. The woman is surprisingly thankful, revealing that the magicks she wielded had corrupted her and her family (especially her son Stefan, who became a child-killer before adopted son Kurt killed him).
    Roger Stern would unite the two doctors for the TRIUMPH AND TORMENT Graphic Novel.
    Definitely love the scene of Doom getting rid of Hauptmann.

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    1. One more beautiful thing to the list then: the scene of Dr. Doom pondering on Dr. Strange is a verbatim copy from the one in DR STRANGE #57.

      Also I may be trying too hard already but gotta wonder if Stern, the recently former editor of UNCANNY, by picking up Margali and Jimaine in the heels of X-MEN ANNUAL #4, is railing against Claremont's move there to reveal that Amanda Sefton has all along been Jimaine, Kurt's adopted sister who in secrecy has moved to become his girlfriend. Cos that's kind of corrupt and deprived.

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    2. Thanks for the info on Doctor Strange, angmc43. He's one of my big blank spots in Marvel history. I also appreciate the clarification of how the Thing was injured, as the footnotes in this issue aren't exactly clear about it.

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  3. I like when the writer lets you know a few weeks have passed between stories. It's more realistic. I imagine there are a number of quiet days a month, where the superheroes just relax and live their normal life, in between adventures.
    It makes more sense, than to think that superheroes spend every day battling one super-villain after another.

    Of course, with compressed Marvel time, it makes it harder to believe that there are any quiet moments. When everything that has happened in the Marvel Universe took place within ten years, it doesn't give a lot of room for quiet moments.

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    1. I don't mind a few weeks passing, necessarily. For me it's more having "months" pass. But I don't know... I mainly look to something like the Lee/Romita Spider-Man for how I prefer time to run in superhero comics. Those stories all just bleed one into the next with little to no reference as to how much time has passed.

      Another example I like is Roger Stern's Spider-Man (or really anything by Stern), where he'll have the hero fight Villain A in one issue, then the next issue is later that day and the hero fights a totally unrelated Villain B, and that might be a two-parter with its conclusion the following month, and then the next issue is set the following day and Villain C shows up -- so you have basically three stories with three villains across four issue set over 24 hours or so. It makes the characters' lives feel much more exciting.

      That said, Stern also has time pass on occasion, but he rarely states exactly how long it's been. You can simply tell because when the next issue starts, it's clear our heroes' lives have been calm for a bit; we just don't know for how long. That's how I'd prefer all writers do it.

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  4. The main point of timeline reference in this issue comes on the first page, when we’re told that the Fantastic Four’s encounter with Gladiator and the Skrulls in issue 250 occurred “several months ago”. Some may recall that within the pages of issue 244, directly following the fight with Terrax, “several months” passed there as well. I’m not sure why Byrne keeps advancing the timeline in such large leaps, but I don’t really like it.

    Could it be a work related accident of some sort? The months passing is necessary here because in the previous issue Galactus was noting that "too many times in recent months" he has stayed his hand from eating inhabited planets after Reed's saving him.

    Also, there may be need to reconcile the timeline with twenty-something UNCANNY issues from the referenced Arcade story to more recent issues because of certain developments leading to Reed's mysterious disappearance in the end of the previous issue.

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    1. It's possibly for story reasons; also I'm sure it has something to do with Sue's pregnancy. Byrne needs to advance the timeline so she can begin showing and eventually give birth.

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  5. Byrne pulls off some fun artistic bits here as well

    Oh, yes... I love that when Doom returns from remembrances how he stole the cosmic powers from the Silver Surfer, he steps right in to a room full of totally Kirby machinery. Obviously nothing less would suffice to a project like this.

    Also, gotta wonder if Byrne is deliberately suggesting that Doom isn't quite so full of excellency as he likes to let on: the craft used by the bots to recover Tyros from the hospital looks like someone stole and usurper the designs for Fantasti-Car, and the explicitly "special sky-sled of my own invention" does kind of remind you of one Spider-Man villain, at least on the basic idea. Technologically I'm sure it has nothing to be shamed of.

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    1. Good point; I can easily imagine Doom stealing designs from others in willful ignorance.

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  6. // Doom’s gauntlet is shredding it to reveal the splash page inside. //

    I always got a kick out of stuff in that vein. Oddly, while this cover is totally familiar, I don’t remember noticing the reflection of Doom’s face in the gauntlet before, although I surely must have.

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