Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Dr. Doom is back — and then some — as writer-artist John Byrne delivers the goods in issue #246.
We begin as we so often do, in Reed’s lab. He’s pondering about finding a cure for Ben, reestablishing that Ben has a mental block causing all the cure attempts to fail. His fear of losing Alicia is what keeps him a monster. Reed then gets a call from the Latverian embassy. This is the day the FF are returning Dr. Doom’s body to his homeland. Remember that Doom has been in suspended animation since issue #236. But wait — that’s secretly Dr. Doom on the other end of phone!
Speaking of which, we cut to Liddleville, the miniature town full of tiny human puppet replicants created by the Puppet Master. Puppet Master and Dr. Doom both had their minds transferred to Liddleville duplicates, and have been enacting a power struggle over who will rule the place. The real Dr. Doom appears, retrieving the puppet Doom’s body and squashing the Puppet Master puppet. (Yes, it’s confusing)
In Manhattan, the FF arrive at the Latverian embassy in a brand-new Fantasticar designed by Tony Stark. In a hidden room, Doom and Latverian Ambassador Leopold watch them arrive. Leopold questions whether Doom’s plan will succeed for fail, and Doom immediately strangles the guy to death for doubting him. (Dang!) The FF take what they think is Doom’s body inside, where — you guessed it — they are separated and plunged into a series of death traps.
Johnny is covered with fireproof goo, Sue is hit by a “vertigo beam” causing extreme dizziness, Reed tries to stretch but gets tangled up in a “spinning grappler,” and Ben is jolted with electricity. Then, each member of the team appears to be confronted by Doom in person. It’s at this point that John Byrne does a lot of cool stuff with page and panel layouts to show four fights happening concurrently, without it ever being confusing. Our heroes are each quick to deduce that they are fighting lookalike Doombots, and not the real deal.
Elsewhere, three more Doombots use high-tech gadgets to restore Doom’s mind from the puppet back into the suspended animation body, and the original Dr. Doom is back. The FF reunite inside the embassy, just in time for Doom to confront them. He reveals that while the FF fought his duplicates, they were exposed to an “inhibitor ray,” which prevents them from attacking Doom directly. Further, it turns out the embassy was some sort of spaceship-type craft in disguise, and they’ve all been traveling this whole time. Doom admits that he wants the FF’s help in retaking the throne of Latveria away from Zorba, it’s current ruler. The FF argues that Zorba is a good guy, but then Doom has Sue turn the ship’s bulkhead invisible, revealing the city outside the Latverian castle to be in ruins. “Look upon my native country, outlanters!” Doom says. “Look and tell me what you see!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Doom transforms Reed into a quasi-liquid state during the fight, but Reed merely uses this to short out the Doombot’s circuits.
Fade out: Sue escapes her Doombot by expanding a force field from inside its chest. The thing is, she does before knowing it’s a Doombot. Harsh, Sue.
Clobberin’ time: A whopping three pages are devoted to establishing how Ben can’t be human again because of his mental block. This will be further explored a few years later on in the Thing’s solo series following the first Secret Wars.
Flame on: Johnny’s solution to his death trap is simple. The fireproof goo sticks to his uniform, so he removes his glove and burns the Doombot with his bare hand.
Fantastic fifth wheel: When asking for their help, Doom reminds our heroes that he’s still an alternate member of the FF, having temporarily joined the team to fight the Overmind back in issue #116.
Commercial break: Are you man enough for MEGAFORCE?!?
Trivia time: In one panel, a tiny ship is seen departing Liddleville. This was the Micronauts, following their own adventure there in Micronauts #41. Remember that the Micronauts were normal-sized in their own universe, but tiny when on Earth, so having them visit Liddleville, where they normal-sized again, was only natural.
Fantastic or frightful? This is a fun issue, with multiple Dr. Dooms running around giving it a nice absurdist quality. It mostly exists to set up the next one, though, where all the good stuff is.
Next week: This land is my land, this land is NOT your land.
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