Friday, January 7, 2011

Fantastic Four Fridays: The Doctor is In ... Sane

Fantastic Four #156 (March 1975)
"Middle Game!"
Roy Thomas/Len Wein-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott
Doug: Hey, kids -- we're in the midst of five fabulous Fridays of the FF. This ish, as aptly titled, is the middle part of a 3-parter featuring Dr. Doom and the Silver Surfer. So let me quit yapping and get to the P's and Q's of it all!

Doug: This one actually kicks off with a big recap of the previous issue's battle between the Surfer and the FF. If you'll recall, Dr. Doom has somehow taken possession of Shalla Bal, the Surfer's love from his days before he became Galactus'. He controls her mind and body, and has allegedly wed her. However, he offered her back to Norrin Radd, but only if he would destroy the FF. So as that battle had taken place in #155, in this issue we see Doom at his monitors, watching the story unfold. However, he is infuriated when the Surfer stops short, and destroys a custom chess set he'd been fiddling with.

Karen: I was really stunned by the length of the recap! Sure, it uses a framing device from Doom's perspective, but it's essentially 5 pages that retell the events of last issue, and contribute precious little to the story.
The characterization of Doom here is nothing new; he's always been very manipulative. I did think it a bit odd though that they threw in some comments from Doom about how wielding the Surfer's power, as he did back in FF 57-60, was somehow beneath him. At least we got an explanation though for how the Surfer wound up in Latveria -through Doom's machinations, of course.
Doug: I agree with you on the length of the recap. I, too, was struck by that. And even though it was told from Doom's perspective, it wasn't all that much different. I am wondering if the switchover from Wein to Thomas on the scripting duties caused this -- maybe neither guy had enough time to do a full script, so this was the convenient solution. But talk about a "jumping on point" for new readers...

Doug: The Surfer surprises Doom, however, by delivering the FF in an entranced state.
It's the Surfer's contention that while he could not bring himself to slay his former allies, he would give them over to Doom for the same treatment. What did you think of this part? I am really finding that Wein/Thomas are writing a Surfer that is far from Stan Lee's messianic tragedy as existed in the Surfer's solo series. This Surfer may be more interesting in his weaknesses, but it is somewhat of a shocking departure from past incarnations. This portion of the story continues into a discussion of power, with each man displaying his own version of destruction. I disagree, however, with the Surfer's statement that the two are equally matched.

Karen: The Surfer is extremely conflicted here. His love of Shalla-Bal has clouded his reason. However, we do find out that the FF agreed to be put into the trance.
I'm sure the Surfer assumed that they would devise a way to break free. To be honest, although I liked the Surfer, he was often portrayed as a whiny, self-pitying wreck. That didn't appeal to me very much. I did like the Surfer's demonstration of his power cosmic when Doom struck him. However, like you, I don't think Doom has anywhere near the Surfer's pure, raw power and the scene with him undoing the destruction the Surfer had caused rang false to me.
Doug: Ah, don't super-baddies in their vanity always end up making fools of themselves?
You know what being creative is? It's the writer and artist coming up with some new contraption that looks effective, but in the end won't work worth a dime! So here we have four such inventions, each designed to dampen the individual powers of the FF. Why not just off them!! That would be bad for future sales, wouldn't it? And the way the FF break out of this mess is really pretty simple-minded. But effective.

Karen: As Reed says after their escape, it was "too contrived...too simple!"
I guess we can conclude that Doom is a bit like a cat -he enjoys toying with his prey before he kills it!
Doug: Karen, last chapter you commented on Buckler's panel lay-outs.
He really does an effective job again this issue. The fight scenes are full of energy, and really give off a high-speed feel. Doom unleashes an army of humanoid robots to delay the now-free FF. It doesn't delay them much. And at the end of the line is Doom himself -- not! Just a Doombot.

Karen: I really dug Buckler's art, if I can throw out a 70s phrase here! Great story-telling, and dynamic work -and how about that shot of Ben charging out of Doom's prison? Outstanding

Karen: Did you notice Johnny saying they would take down the Doombots in "one swell foop" rather than "one fell swoop"?!
I'm just wondering if that was a mistake, or if Thomas/Wein were trying to make a comment on Johnny? He never did finish college....
Doug: Ha! No, I didn't catch that. Funny how the eye sees but the mind interprets -- went right by me. The real Doom waits and watches on a monitor. Seems while the Surfer was awaiting the end of the FF and the return of Shalla Bal, Doom had tricked him into sitting in a chair -- a chair which would siphon the Power Cosmic away from the Surfer and into an as-yet-to-be-seen construct that will finally destroy the Fantastic Four! Stay tuned!


Edo Bosnar said...

Like I said before, I've never seen Buckler's work on FF, and I'm really impressed with it - at least the panels you posted here. In fact, it seems to me it's getting better from issue to issue.

Anonymous said...

I think "swell foop" was a "Pink Panther" reference. Peter Sellers used it in one of the movies. Although it's a common enough spoonerism that I've heard it a few times in a few different places.

(I know it can't be a Xanth reference, since that book is only 10 years or so old.)

It might be blasphemy, but I like Buckler's Ben better than Buscema's or Romita's. I think the overall shape and size is closer to Kirby's.

Karen said...

You'll get no argument from me -I always liked Buckler's work on the FF, particularly when he stopped aping Kirby so much and started doing his own thing. Going back to these books I realized just how overlooked this era is -these were some solid comics.


toni ramsell said...

If anybody is interested i have the original artwork of pages 30-31 of this issue 156 "Slaves of Doctor Doom'
for sale??


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