Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Most villains come up with an evil plot, but it takes a one-of-a-kind villain to come up with multiple evil plots throughout the course of a single story. That’s our boy Dr. Doom in issue #17.
The issue kicks off right where the last one left off, with our heroes just having returned from the microverse and Dr. Doom on the loose on Earth. We know this because the first couple of pages on a recap of what happened in the last issue. From there, we see Reed has developed a “highly refined radar sensitive to human flesh covered by steel.” (That’s awfully specific.) The other three team members head out into the city to search for Doom themselves, which is this issue’s the-characters-have-an-excuse-to-show-off-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing.
Turning up no clues, the four decide to get back to their social lives for a night out on the town, only to have their front door blocked by their adoring fans. One of the building’s janitors, a guy with sunglasses, a pipe, and a huge beard, helps the four into the freight elevator. Predictably, and ridiculously, the janitor is Dr. Doom in disguise. He affixes a tiny plastic disc to each of the four.
Here’s where things get just a little crazy. Doom unleashes a group of lighter-than-air robots, which look like floating bald ghosts after them. One of them goes after Johnny as he’s on a date with a girl named Helen. He attacks the robot, only to pass through it. Another robot hovers above Ben. When he tries to fight it, he too passes through it. A polka dotted robot (!) pursues Sue, able to follow her even when she’s invisible. Another one follows Reed, so he lures it back to his lab. Reed finds the little discs Doom planted on them, and the robots vanish. Cut to Doom’s headquarters – where that is, I have no idea – where he explains that all this has allowed him to watch and follow the FF’s every move.
Doom zeroes in on Alicia, with a villain monologue about how even with his vast intellect he can’t understand how someone like her can fall for someone as ugly as the Thing. This leads to his fretting over his own horribly scarred face. Doom activates his “grappler ray,” levitating Alicia off of a city street and up into the air, where we learn Doom’s hideout is actually a spaceship-like “floating laboratory.” Doom contacts the FF and says Alicia is now his prisoner. He says now he can do anything he wants, and the FF don’t dare try to stop him for fear of harming Alicia. Among Doom’s threats are an “illusion-ray” and fast-growing spores that can destroy the city in minutes. Doom then exposits that he will demand a position in the president’s cabinet. (What, no world domination?)
We get a scene inside the White House, where the president (his back is to us the whole time, but it’s obviously Kennedy) says he will not meet the demands. After that, machines all over the country start failing, and people everywhere are terrified of what Doom will do next. There’s even a scene behind the Iron Curtain, where the dictator known only as “Comrade K” worries that Doom will come after him next. (Nobody suggests sending the Air Force to blow Doom out of the sky. Maybe they don’t want Alicia harmed, either.)
Back at Fantastic Four headquarters, Reed explains that Doom’s floating ghost robots studied the FF’s atomic structure, and that Doom’s flying lab is equipped with disintegrator rays attuned to the four’s atomics. If any of them go near the craft, they’ll be disintegrated. Reed then comes up with a plan – turn Ben back into a human, and that way he can pass through the rays. It works, and Ben is human again. He pilots a small craft toward Doom’s ship. Halfway there, he starts to turn back into the Thing, but fights it long enough to breach Doom’s ship. Once he’s inside, his three teammates are able to follow.
Dr. Doom was prepared for this, apparently, because he has a series of death traps set up for our heroes. A spinning room sucks out all of Johnny’s flame. Reed narrowly manages to squeeze out of a room filling with quick-drying cement. Ben almost falls through a trap door, but climbs back up through sheer determination. Doom then thinks he has Ben, Johnny, and Reed trapped, and he sends them to another dimension. Instead, the three attack Doom, but Doom remains safe behind a force field. Johnny explains that he created three “flame images” he created of his teammates for Doom to attack.
Elsewhere, Sue finds Alicia, and the two switch outfits, allowing Sue to trick Doom into thinking she is Alicia. It works at first, but then Doom traps an invisible Sue behind some moving bars. She fights her way out of them, and even roughs up Doom with some judo moves she learned from Reed (!!!). The other three FFers arrive, so Doom, rather than fight all four of them at once, jumps out of an escape hatch and disappears into the billowing clouds below. Alicia is rescued, and all is well.
Unstable Molecule: Reed’s giant, clunky radar doesn’t appear to have any effect on finding Doom. He does come up with the plan to get inside Doom’s flying fortress, and his powers come in handy in escaping Doom’s deathtrap.
Fade Out: Sue doesn’t have to be rescued this time, and instead clobbers Doom with her judo moves. Has her martial arts training ever been referenced again?
Clobberin’ Time: Like last issue, we get a scene in which Ben turns human, but chooses to go back to being the Thing, which shows how much his character has progressed since the series began.
Flame On: Johnny is the only one who fails to defeat Doom’s traps, but makes up for it later by tricking Doom. Speaking of which…
Trivia Time: …Johnny’s ability to use his flame to create illusions was last seen in issue #10. Similarly, the fact that Sue and Alicia are look-alikes was last referenced in issue #8.
Fantastic or Frightful: So, Dr. Doom has just plain lost his mind by this point, right? He’s in full-on “Duck Amuck” mode here, with new dastardly plans on every page, each one crazier than the last. The issue might be overstuffed with action and weirdness, but it’s just not Stan and Jack at their best.
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