Re-reading the original Fantastic Four comics from the start. Comics of the 1980s were often accused of getting too dark, and, hoo boy, do things get dark in issue #278.
The issue begins with Dr. Doom saying, “The time has come!” But didn’t he die? Twice? Doom is saying this to his young adoptee Kristoff, who is in school, which is just him and a tutor. Doom says this is an important day in Kristoff’s life. Doom says this is a dark and ominous day for all of Latveria, and Kristoff must be prepared. They enter a room with a lot of other Dooms, and Kristoff figures out that they’re all Doombots. They inform him that the real Dr. Doom is dead, and the Doombots have been running the country in his place. They tell Kristoff that it is time for him to take their place as the heir of Dr. Doom and ruler of all Latveria.
The Doombots hook Kristoff up to a device called a “Remembrancer,” which causes him to relive Doom’s memories. (It’s an Animus! Is Doom a Templar or an assassin?) The next several pages are a retelling of Dr. Doom’s origin, but with many differences from the one we read in Fantastic Four annual #2. Young Doom loses his parents, romances the lovely Valeria, and learns his mother was once a witch. He studies dark magic and science in equal measure. In college in America, he doesn’t take Reed Richard’s advice before doing an experiment and the experiment blows up in his face. The big change here is that Doom’s facial scars are not as bad as we’d previously been told:
We then get a longer retelling of how Doom met the monks in the mountains and built his suit of armor. Then a shortened version of his first battles against the Fantastic Four. The flashback cuts short, with Kristoff now inside an “exo-suit.” He talks just like Dr. Doom, and no longer like a little kid, saying that he’s figured out how to succeed where Doom once failed in destroying the FF.
In New York, Johnny and Alicia (who is, of course, secretly Lyja the Skrull in disguise) are out for a night on the town, discussing how Ben is back on Earth, but off on his own and no longer a member of the FF. Then they come across a bunch of posters with racial slurs on them. (The “n-word” is prominently featured in this, a Marvel comic book.) Furious, Johnny finds the perpetrator, who is a teenage kid. He lets the kid go, but burns all the posters. A strange figure in body armor watches this from a distance.
At the Baxter Building, Reed is putting Franklin to bed, pondering how Franklin is recovering nicely from his fight with Mephisto last issue. Reed says the powers Franklin used in Mephisto’s realm are not the new mutant powers he’s currently manifesting, which are in the forms of prophetic dreams. He and Sue establish that they’ve lost the house in Connecticut, but will continue to strive to raise Franklin in a loving environment. In the building lobby, She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot are returning from their own night on the town, saying good night to Samuels, the nighttime doorman. She-Hulk and Wyatt kiss, establishing that they’re officially a couple now.
Once Samuels is alone, someone throws a brick through the building’s front window. Only, this is no brick, but a high-tech device of some kind. Not knowing this, Samuels steps outside. While he’s on the sidewalk outside the building, the entire skyscraper somehow, impossibly, lifts up into the sky. Johnny sees this and flies into action, barely reaching the building before it flies into space. Inside, Sue is keeping the atmosphere intact with a giant invisible force field. Kristoff, posing as Doom contacts Reed to gloat, saying he’s been planning this for weeks, right under the FF’s noses. Kristoff/Doom presses a button and the Baxter Building, now floating in orbit, explodes in a giant fireball, taking our heroes with it.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed’s broken arm appears to be healing nicely, because it’s just in a sling, complete with a big cartoony knot tied in the back.
Fade out: Everyone’s pretty casual about Sue extending a force field around the entire Baxter Building, showing how they’ve all gotten used to her increased power levels.
Flame on: Johnny compares the racist posters to something out of Nazi Germany. Could this be foreshadowing the upcoming WWII time travel story?
Fantastic fifth wheel: She-Hulk comments that she’s never treated like a monster or a freak in NYC, and that New Yorkers are generally polite around the FF.
Four and a half: There’s a lot of talk about Franklin’s new dream-based powers, which is setting up big things in his future.
The Alicia problem: When Johnny gets upset and flies off, Lyja thinks to herself, “If only I could help him realize he can open up to me!”
Commercial break: Everybody breakdance!
Trivia time: There are a ton of references to issue #6, in which Dr. Doom launched the Baxter Building into space. Kristoff-Doom insists that this time, it’ll work for sure.
It’s not explicitly said, but the probe that freed the Spider-symbiote, and that business with Doom’s mask coming to life and flying around, were both courtesy of the Doombots, setting things up for this issue. These things are often described as being Kristoff’s doing, but here we see they were done before he got fully involved.
Also note that Secret Wars II started at this time. For the next nine issues, the godlike Beyonder walks the Earth, and this casts a wide shadow over the whole Marvel universe.
Fantastic or frightful? The racism stuff is troubling, and the Dr. Doom origin flashback is a continuity headache. The little character moments are well done, though, and it’s one heck of a cliffhanger.
Next week: Have fun storming the castle!
Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.