After a quick recap of the previous issue, which reminds us that the FF have their powers back but are still trapped in Latveria, and all the Latverians managed to escape the big explosion safely. Ben decides to take the offensive by tossing a piece of wreckage at Doom’s castle. This maybe wasn’t so smart, because now everyone inside knows the FF have survived.
We then cut to inside, where Doom’s toady Hauptmann is talking to the artist, the one who was painting Doom’s portrait earlier. The artist says Hauptmann is the true evil, because he revels in Doom’s tyranny rather than be afraid of it. Hauptmann has the artist locked up and reports to Doom, who says he’s already aware the FF are alive. He says the guards are only to offer “token resistance,” because he wants Reed to enter this room. It’s Doom’s piano room, and he’s written a special concerto to play for Reed, on a special piano that uses “hyper-sound.”
Outside the castle, Sue and Crystal fall through a trap door, drawn downward by a “cushion of air.” (As opposed to… gravity?) Then there are a few pages of Reed, Ben and Johnny fighting the castle’s outer defenses, including a high-tech turret gun. Similarly, Sue and Crystal end up in a glass-walled prison, which Crystal easily shatters with her powers, represented here by yellow lasers coming out of her hands. Sue and Crystal then spend a couple of pages fighting their way through Doom’s guards before confronting Doom. Except it’s not a battle. Doom has prepared a fine meal for his “guests,” and he does a great villain speech about how they are indeed his guests, and the evening’s festivities will decide the fates of them all.
Remember that subplot from a few issues back about the mysterious underground house with the metal hatch opening? We’re back to that for a few panels, when a bunch of kids go nosing around the house and get scared off by a spooky noise. Where’s the Scooby Gang when you need them?
In Latveria, Reed, Ben and Johnny fight their way through wave after wave Doom’s guards, making their way inside the castle. Inside, Sue and Crystal actually sit down at the table and enjoy the meal. (Free food always tastes better, I guess?) Doom tries to play the “I’m really a nice guy” card, by saying that Latveria is a peaceful nation, and that mankind has no reason to fear him because he already has anything he could ever want. He sits at the piano, bragging about his world-class art collection. Speaking of which, that’s where Ben, Reed, and Johnny find themselves, in the art room. Reed suspects that Doom got the art by looting museums. (Harsh, Reed.)
In one corner of the room, we catch up with Hauptmann and the artist. Hauptmann is now decked out with a flamethrower, saying he has discovered the artist is really an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. The artist pleads for him not to attack, because the fire would destroy all the artwork, but Hauptmann doesn’t care. “What do I care for art?” he says. “Think of how I will be rewarded!” Reed approaches Hauptmann, who blasts the fire right onto Reed’s chest. Reed doesn’t so much as even say “Ow,” and instead tells the artist to take cover and orders Ben and Johnny to find Sue and Crystal.
Doom is still sitting at the piano, which conveniently has a little TV screen showing him what’s happening. He does not approve, saying, “What are a few vulnerable lives compared to the immortal art that might be destroyed? It must not happen! It will not happen!” He plays the piano, which sends its deadly sonic waves directly at Hauptmann. Hauptmann drops dead (!) right in front of Reed. (This is often referred to as the first time Dr. Doom ever actually murdered someone. Has anyone done the research and know whether that’s true?)
With that, Doom decides to let the FF go, giving them free passage out of Latveria. Crystal still doesn’t trust him, but he insists that he is many things, but not a liar. After all that business earlier in the arc about trapping the FF in Latveria, why does he let them go? The only spoken reason is one line, “I am weary of this game,” but perhaps Doom subconsciously knows he’s been beaten. His green Doombots are destroyed and the FF invaded his castle. On the other hand, this whole arc has had Doom declaring that he’s already won, and that he’s so sure of himself and the rightness of every action, that it doesn’t matter to him what the FF does. In his mind, he’s so much better than them, that he doesn’t care what they do, Doombots or no. Still, the issue’s final panel has Doom promising to fight again another day, so our heroes are somewhere on that dark mind of his.
Unstable molecule: Reed is so badass that he takes a blast from a flamethrower to the chest, and it doesn’t even faze him. I suppose it’s likely that the FF uniforms are fireproof with Johnny flying around all the time, but still, not even an “Ouch” or a “Watch where you’re point that thing.” Earlier, he squeezes through a keyhole as part of the assault on Doom’s castle.
Fade out: Sue handles Doom’s deathtraps with ease, and manages to disarm a Doombot while invisible.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is definitely the muscle in this issue, bombarding Doom’s forces by throwing huge objects at them.
Flame on: The Doombots have an air-gun on a turret, specifically designed to take out Johnny’s flames, but he avoids their attacks long enough for Reed and Ben to take down the Doombots from the inside.
Fantastic fifth wheel: Crystal doesn’t put up with any crap from Doom. As part of a royal family herself, she’s not impressed with his regal nature.
Commercial break: These Lee Jeans ads were a comic-within-the-comic starring boy hero Jim Driscoll. Anybody else think they’re just a little too butt-centric?
Trivia time: Many people have compared the Doom dinner scene to a similar scene in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Darth Vader reveals his presence at a fancy dinner table. Doom killing Hauptmann in this issue is also similar to Vader choking his underlings with the Force. Both George Lucas and Stan Lee have been playfully evasive in interviews over the years as to whether Vader was inspired/influenced by Dr. Doom.
Ben complains that Doom’s art room doesn’t have a single pin-up or Raquel Welch. Do I really need to tell you she is? An actress and model, Welch was one of the biggest sex symbols of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, with posters of her adorning many teenage boys’ rooms (and Ben’s too, apparently).
Fantastic or frightful? People say Jack Kirby had one foot out the door by this time, but, after re-reading this issue, I just don’t see it. His work is stellar, and the fact that this issue combines action, with the guys’ storming Doom’s castle, and character development, with an emphasis on who Doom is and what makes him tick, makes this one of the best Fantastic Four comics ever made. Yes, you could nit-pick it to death, but it’s nonetheless a historically important issue, one that opens the door for more sophisticated art and storytelling that we’d ever seen in the Silver Age. In short, it’s a true classic.
Next: House hunting!
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