Fantastic Friday: Skin game

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Ever since the new team of Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo took over the series, it’s been lighthearted character-based stories. But now, in vol. 3 #67 legacy #496, it’s time to get serious.

We begin with Dr. Doom, but not a Doom we recognize. Instead of his famous armor and cloak, he’s wearing a simple suit with a plain metal mask over his face. He is consulting with a fortune-teller, who senses that his destiny was recently altered, and that he dwells on remorse. He explains that because of his genius, he has seen the whole of creation, but it has never truly brought him what he sought in life. He states, “A new life can begin.” The fortune-teller senses that Doom is referring to his lost love Valeria, who went into hiding after their last encounter. Doom says, “I will trade everything that I am for her love.”

We then see that Doom is in a tourist-y boardwalk in Cassamonte, Georgia, where there are a bunch of psychics around. Doom scoffs at them all for imitators of true magic-users. He also takes a moment to scoff at America in general, going on about how uncivilized it all is. He’s here because this where Valeria’s trail has gone cold.

At the next fortune-teller, Doom reflects on his youthful romance with Valeria. She was there to comfort him when his mother died, and the two of them found his father’s secret stash of magical books and items. They both studied Doom’s father’s work. Doom combines magic and science, while Valeria becomes an accomplished Sorceress. They fought to protect their families from outsiders, until an American man came and offered Doom the change for an education in NYC. The flashback ends, and Doom gives the fortune-teller crap for “cheapening” the art of divination.

At his hotel, Doom has an encounter with a woman and a small child. The child breaks out crying in Doom’s presence, even though the child is blind, and therefore not frightened by Doom’s mask. In his hotel room, with all the electronics unplugged, Doom lays out some Tarot cards, focusing on one, marked “The Star.”

The next day, Doom consults yet another fortune-teller, which means it’s time for another flashback. Familial obligations meant that Valeria could not join Doom for college in the U.S. She begged him stay, be he left in hopes gaining more knowledge and power. She gave him an ultimatum – his college life or life with her. So he left her behind. Then it’s the part of the story we’re more familiar with, Doom using a combination of experimental science and dark magic to find his mother’s soul in the afterlife. The whole thing blows up in his face. He’s forever scarred, and he blames that darned Reed Richards for interfering.

The flashback ends, and this fortune-teller reveals she’s no phony, but a genuine sorceress. She tells him Valeria’s house is just down the street, and she knows Doom is in town searching for her. Doom confronts Valeria, giving her a locket with photos (paintings?) of the two of them inside. He asks her to come back to Latveria with him. He says he has removed his famous armor to no longer be the man he once was. With Valeria, he can be a new man.

To prove his point, Doom removes his mask in front of her. (His face remains in shadow for the readers.) She doesn’t react in horror, and Doom takes this to mean that she still has feelings for him. He reiterates how he has changed, and that he’s willing to renounce science if she merely takes his hand. “Your love will make me a changed man,” he says. After another moment of indecision, Valeria gives in and takes his hand.

The locket then flows with green light, and creepy runes appear all over Valeria’s skin. Doom says that when he was young, he chose science over sorcery, but now she’s going back on that choice. He further explains that he’s recently been in contact with a group of netherdemons who promised to make him a great magician, but only if he sacrificed something of great value – something only Valeria could give him.

Then things get really weird. Valeria’s flesh separates from her body, leaving only a skeleton behind. Valeria’s skin wraps around Doom, forming a new set of armor, complete with some of the glowing runes. “I will miss you more than any will ever imagine,” Doom says, “but I will always hold you close to me.”

Unstable molecule: We could almost call this the second Dr. Doom only issue of Fantastic Four, except Reed does appear in two panels in the flashback. Another flashback panel is of Doom fighting all four of the FF, and that’s all we get of our heroes this issue.

Our gal Val: This issue makes no mention of Doom insisting that Reed and Sue name their daughter Valeria in exchange for his saving her and Sue’s lives. Rest assured, though, that this fact will be brought up before this story arc is over.

Commercial break: Heck yeah Heroclix! The Hulk one got stronger the more damage it took.

Trivia time: Tracking Valeria’s story through Marvel history is a little tricky. Their romance was initially told in an expanded retelling of Doom’s origin in Marvel Super Heroes #20. They were first reunited when Diablo kidnapped her and Doom came to her rescue. When she saw the man Doom had become, she rejected him. Later, in Incredible Hulk #144, when Doom succeeded in mind-controlling the Hulk, he hoped this would impress Valeria. Valeria sabotaged Doom’s plan, rejecting him again. Even though she convinced the Hulk not to kill Doom in the final battle, she then went into hiding in the end. As of this writing, Valeria has never returned, remaining dead to this day.

What inspired this change of heart for Dr. Doom? We don’t really know at this point. His last appearance before this was in Standoff, an Avengers-based crossover where he attempted to conquer the country of Slokovia while the Avengers fought amongst themselves.

Based on my cursory googling, the star card of the Tarot usually represents a hopeful future with bright prospects, but some sources say quite the opposite, symbolizing loss, theft, and abandonment.

Fantastic or frightful? It seems goofy at the start of the issue to see Dr. Doom walking around in a suit talking to fortune-tellers, but the story reveals a reason for it all. The ending is one of the most notorious Dr. Doom scenes, and one that a lot of comic fans point to as being among the height of his villainy. It also promises big things to come as the series gears up for the big 500th issue.

Next: Baby’s first supervillain.

* * * *

Want more? Check out my new book, MOM, I’M BULLETPROOF, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app. It’s a comedic/dramatic/romantic superhero epic!

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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