Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Doctors: Thor vs. Dr. Doom, part 1

Thor 182 (Nov 1970)
"The Prisoner-The Power-And- Dr. Doom!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema
Inker: Joe Sinnott

Karen: If that isn't an old school, Stan Lee title, then I don't know what is! We're going way way back to 1970 for this two-part tale. The first thing I noticed when glancing through this issue is what a classic look it has, with the combination of Buscema and Sinnott. The art is clean and powerful. It has a terrific cover. Unfortunately, Stan Lee's script doesn't deliver the goods.

Doug: I have to declare, this story was some Silver Age finery -- but as you said, we've crossed that undefined boundary into the Bronze Age. A Bronze story this be not. It has all of the hallmarks of a yarn that might have been spun in one of the two-fers, like Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish. But the art... ah, the art. What a classic teaming of talent. I know Big John did not prefer the inks of Sinnott, but in my eyes the combination is virtually without peer.

Karen: I think this book falls squarely into a transition period from Silver to Bronze -but I'd agree that it has more of a Silver Age feel. Our story opens with Thor moping around on a roof top, when he spots a brouhaha at the Latverian Embassy. A young woman is protesting Dr. Doom's reign when a fight breaks out and she is accidentally injured. Thor carries her off to the office of his alter ego, Dr. Don Blake. Transforming himself into the physician, he treats the girl -apparently with a cup of water! - and she tells him her story. The girl's father, a scientist of some sort apparently, was kidnapped by Doom and coerced into building missile silos for the tyrant, while he held the girl as a hostage. Evidently, this went on for years, as Cosette, the girl, grows from a child to a typically gorgeous Buscema woman. She eventually escapes with the help of the Latverian underground, and comes to the US to protest. OK, let's be honest: this is pretty weak stuff here. While I have tremendous respect for Lee, I do feel that much of his later work seemed half-thought out. I mean, Doom needs someone to construct missile silos for him? Really?

Doug: Yeah, you raise some issues worth nit-picking about. While I tho
ught the splash page image of Thor on the rooftop was a solid picture, it seemed more a posture for Spidey or Daredevil than the God of Thunder. I also found it odd, and this is through the lens of the Avengers stories we are finishing up (where Moondragon is all over Thor about "slumming" with the Avengers, due to his great power in relation to the "mere mortals"), that Thor is floating around Manhattan looking for a way to prove himself and finds that outlet in the form of a political protest. In regard to the missile silo angle to this story, I had to chuckle at Stan's plot vehicle -- all this while in the back of my mind I'm thinking of Doom's time machine, and then later some of the gadgets (of his own invention) he employs? Sheesh...
Karen: Blake begins cooking up a plan to get Doom to come to him, since Thor can't attack a sovereign nation. But just as he sets that into motion, Odin summons the thunder god to Asgard. Buscema does a great job of expressing the All-Father's power, with a shot of his angry eyes over the New York skyline.
Doug: What did you think about that line, that Thor couldn't attack a sovereign nation? Was that due to his Avengers Priority status (was that around at this time? My memory may be betraying me)? I'm thinking you're a Norse god, you can whatever you darn well please!

Karen: Stan was always utilizing 'diplomatic immunity' for Doom. I assume that the super-heroes wouldn't attack Latveria either because they'd be declaring war. It's a convenient story device! Thor is mystically 'beamed' to Asgard and into the throne room of Odin. Odin makes some pronouncement about "the world beyond," but before we can fi
gure out what he's talking about, Thor begs him to let him go back to Earth to settle unfinished business. Wasn't he always doing this? Odin agrees and sends him back.

Doug: Yep -- recycling, I call it. And what of poor Sif? For a goddess who would always be quick to pick up her sword and follow the warriors into battle, she sure is soft, constantly moaning over Thor and how much danger he's in. Hey, lady -- you ever see him take down a frost giant, or tangle with the Midgard Serpent? I think he can handle just about anything the ol' Earth can throw at him!

Karen: Back on Earth, Blake's reporter friend Harris Hobbs has planted a story -front page headlines, no less -that Blake has developed a new method of plastic surgery -"Any face, no matter how disfigured, can be made normal again!" Of course Doom bites, and races out of the Embassy to find Blake. Of course this IS Doom we're talking about, so rather than throwing Blake in the back of his limousine, he uses a doohicky on him that teleports Blake into the car, in some sort of weird energy form.

Doug: But he can't build a missile silo that can launch an ICBM. Uh-huh. I'm not really up on this era of Thor (yet). Was this Hobbs fellow a recurring character? Of course he writes for the Daily Bugle; I don't recall him from any issues of Amazing Spider-Man or Daredevil that I've read.

Karen: Hobbs had been
around back from the Journey Into Mystery days as I recall, but he appeared infrequently. They arrive at a hidden hangar, and Doom takes Blake aboard his aircraft, still unconscious. The fantastic craft crosses the ocean in minutes and Doom informs Blake that he will serve him. He tells him that if he fixes his face, he'll be rewarded, but if he fails, "You shall learn the fullest measure of the wrath of Dr. Doom!" The next segment is highly effective, as Doom slowly removes his faceplate to reveal his scarred face. Well, not to the readers, just to Blake, who reacts with shock. He blurts out that there's nothing medical science can do for Doom, which earns him a place in the dungeon. Luckily for him, they throw his wooden cane in as well! He struggles but eventually reaches it, and bangs it on the floor to transform into Thor. As the thunder god breaks out of the dungeon and shoots off into the sky, Doom fires off his Stalker missile! The thunder god realizes that if he outruns the missile, it may fall on the innocent people below! What a dilemma!
Doug: Well, let's talk about Doom's face. Is this the first time we've ever discussed Doom on one of our two blogs? By golly, I think it is! So, what's your take? Are you in the school of "horribly disfigured" (after all, if we're to believe Kirby's depiction from Fantastic Four Annual #2, it was an explosion in his face at point blank range that initially caused the damage), or do you line up more along believers like myself who think that he has a tiny scar above his eye or on his cheek, and his vanity won't allow him to mentally accommodate that blemish? Regardless, the scene in Fantastic Four #200 when Doom is forced to face a prism of mirrors while without his mask, thus driving him mad, is a great image supporting the psychological damage from whichever scenario you go with.

Karen: I'm torn over this one. I like the idea that Doom is such an egotist that a small scar would cause him to go round the bend. Yet, on more than one occasion, when his mask has been removed, people have reacted with horror. So I think he probably is badly scarred. Actually,
Fantastic Four Annual #2 made me think that maybe immediately after his initial accident, he might have had only a small scar. But then when he went off and had his armor made, he put the mask on before it had cooled, thus causing his horrible scarring. Now why he would do that to himself is a whole other subject to debate!
Karen: This is a very simplistic story that is only saved by the Buscema art. Even then, it would be hard to defend this tale against detractors of the Silver/Bronze Age. The plot is contrived and lightweight. It certainly doesn't measure up to previous Lee efforts, and this was true of much of his later work. Hopefully we'll get some payoff in the next issue.

Doug: As I said, this story is one of the closing efforts of Stan Lee as a writer, and it does feel like -- for all of the innovations, characterization, and bombasticism (is that a word? it is now!) that Lee pioneered in the Silver Age -- it's stuck in the mud of time. Having mainly focused on writers such as Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, et al., this one's a bit... shall we say... "quaint". But I still liked it for what it was -- 20 minutes of fun diversionary time. Can't get that nowadays.


david_b said...

Nice story to review.. Yes, I bought this ish on eBay a year ago for the nice cover art, and loved Sal's art inside, but story-wise..?

Very light weight. I was actually disappointed with the ending, but not surprised as nearly all the story seemed like 'filler'. I bought the Submariner ish with Doom (which came out around the same time..) and that was slightly more entertaining, but still a let-down in the scripting department.

Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Doug & Karen, your review is pretty spot on. Stan was past his peak by this time. He seemed to be just going through the motions without any genuine inspiration anymore. At least Roy Thomas had tremendously improved by this time and was coming up with some gems in the Avengers, X-Men and Conan, but otherwise this was a fairly lackluster period for Marvel. Things didn't really improve until the likes of Englehart, Gerber and Starlin started to really hit their stride in 1973.

Anonymous said...

The idea that Doom had only a tiny scar would at least be more original than the "horribly disfigured" explanation, which was a cliche' even before Doctor Doom was created (Phantom of the Opera, Two Face, Peter Lorre in "The Face Behind the Mask"). But there were scenes (as in Fantastic Four #10) where people saw him unmasked and were horrified. BTW, IIRC, there was a story in the Spider Man newspaper strip in the 1970's where the villainess was a former fashion model seeking revenge on someone she (unfairly) blamed for an accident that scarred her face. She got killed in the end. When they brushed back her hair (which had concealed half of her face) she had only a tiny scar that her warped imagination had exaggerated beyond all reason.

Anonymous said...

Doctor Doom had a teleportation device, a time machine, and a force field that could surround all of Latveria, but he needed someone to build missile silos for him. In Tales of Suspense #88-91, the Red Skull used an anti-gravity ray to levitate New York City. Later in that same story arc, he tried to hijack a nuclear submarine.

Mario said...

These are great ideas of Lee without Kirby. He move Dr. Doom and Silver Surfer on Thor and Magneto on Fantastic 4.
Old fox.

Kid said...

I think we can assume that Doom is so busy plotting to take over the world that he's decided to delegate such 'ordinary' things as missile silos to others. Vic only concerns himself with more outlandish inventions, like time machines, etc. The ordinary doesn't interest him.

As for Doom's face, it's clear from the very beginning that the lab accident scarred his face horribly, as witnessed by the bandages around his head in the FF #5 flashback. As Karen points out (as have others elsewhere), donning the mask before it had cooled wouldn't have done his fizzog any good either. The small scar on the cheek or chin was a retroactive revision by Kirby years after the fact. In all the close-ups Jack drew of a masked Doom in the FF mags, the skin around his eyes is markedly scarred.

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