Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. The Reed-pretending-to-be-Dr.-Doom storyline is notorious among comic fans, but it’s only a few short issues. It officially concludes in this one, vol. 3, issue #31.
Recap: Thanks to cosmic weirdness, Reed was trapped in Dr. Doom’s armor while Doom was banished to another universe. To avoid an international incident (sort of), Reed impersonates Doom, moving into Doom’s castle and naming Sue the new Baroness Von Doom. But then Sue was contacted via sorcery by the real Dr. Doom who told her that the armor is corrupting Reed, transforming him into another Dr. Doom. After seeing suspicious behavior from Reed, Sue does some subterfuge and brings Doom from his universe into theirs.
As this issue starts, two sides face off inside Castle Doom. It’s Sue and Dr. Doom versus Reed, Ben, and Johnny. Reed attacks first, revealing that the armor has adapted to his stretching powers. Doom, in his new Phantom of the Opera outfit, fights back with a sword. Ben and Johnny try to break it up, but Sue stops them with a force field. Sue and Doom disappear in a flash of light. Reed prepares his defenses, stating that Doom knows every inch of the castle. He also destroys the teleporter so Doom cannot call reinforcements from the other universe.
Sue and Doom are down in the catacombs deep beneath the castle. Doom says that armor has turned Reed into a second Dr. Doom, while Sue says she would rather die before she lets that happen. In Doom’s lab, Reed keeps acting more and more like Dr. Doom, alienating Ben and Johnny. Ben checks in on the castle foundry, where Reed has been manufacturing more and more Doombots. Sue and Doom suspect that Reed’s scanners are locked onto her, but Doom isn’t concerned. Flying outside the castle, Johnny remembers that every person has a distinct heat signature, and he can use this to find Sue and Doom.
Reed and Ben are then attacked by all the Doombots, which have now been programmed against them. To stop the Doombots, Reed must deactivate the castle’s defenses, which plays into Doom’s hands. Ben, meanwhile, does some safecracking (!) and finds hidden tunnels in the walls. Ben and Johnny both find their way to Sue and Doom, who surrender peacefully instead of more fighting.
Doom and Sue are taken before Reed (sitting on Doom’s throne, to be extra insulting), and Reed says it’s time to end their feud once and for all. He has Dr. Doom killed right in front of everyone. Sue breaks down, saying that Reed would never take a life, not even Dr. Doom’s.
Reed does a big dramatic speech, saying that as monarch, his subjects must take priority. He goes on to say his “subjects” include all the Earth, after Latveria spreads across the entire planet and then out into the stars. The others accuse Reed of merely using humans as pieces of some great machine, while he argues that he will make humanity safe.
Reed is then attacked, revealing that Dr. Doom is still alive. Turns out Reed and Ben joined Sue’s side, Johnny used his fire and Sue her invisibility to fake Doom’s death. Ben subdues Reed long enough for Doom to unlock the armor, which transfers itself from Reed to Doom, kind of like how Gizmoduck would put on his armor in DuckTales. Doom reactivates the teleporter to return to the other universe, where he says he has unfinished business. He promises they will meet again.
Unstable molecule: During the opening fight, the caption says Reed and Doom are alike in so many ways, “they might be brothers.” Make of that what you will.
Fade out: Sue says her family has always had an innate sense to know when there are “incoming storms.” I believe this is a reference to the then-recent Before the Fantastic Four: The Storms miniseries.
Clobberin’ time: Ben finds the hidden tunnels with a big stethoscope and safecracking gear? I’m not sure what’s happening in that panel.
Flame on: Johnny’s ability to find Sue and Doom via their heat signatures is a new ability, but it also shows that he can think with his head, just like Reed.
Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue has Dr. Doom working alongside Sue, Ben and Johnny, so I think we can count this as Doom acting in his role as an alternate member of the FF.
Commercial break: Viva Rock Vegas!
Trivia time: This issue name-drops “Shadow City,” the alternate timeline the team visited back in issues 17-18, a world where Dr. Doom ruled the Earth with Sue as his wife. This would appear to solve that mystery, except there’s still the question of where teen Valeria came from. We’ll get back to Valeria next week.
Fantastic or frightful? At its heart, this is a story about the Fantastic Four breaking up and then reuniting. But all this drama is condensed over just a few pages with a lot of fighting and running around in between. This is another case where the story could have been three or four issues instead of being rushed into one. Or, maybe Marvel editorial demanded that the Reed-pretending-to-be-Doom thing had to get wrapped up. The good news is, the next issue takes time to deal with the fallout of this story.
Next: General malfunction.
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