Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It’s the big issue #500, and creators Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo pull out the stops for the final battle between magic and science.
Gimmie a gimmick: Marvel published two versions of this comic, a regular one and a special “Director’s Cut” edition filled with bonus features – just like a DVD! The regular version had a painted cover by Paolo Rivera.
New math: Also, this issue drops the volume number/legacy number thing, and reverts to the series’ original numbering, making this the bona fide 500th issue.
To recap, things aren’t looking good for our heroes. Dr. Doom has leveled up to become an all-powerful sorcerer. Using baby Valeria as his “familiar,” he easily defeated with the science-based FF. He trapped Franklin in a demon-filled hell-world, and he forced the FF to surrender. Inside Doom’s stronghold, he’s tormenting Ben, Sue, and Johnny. As the final insult, he’s trapped Reed inside a magical library with all the info Reed needs to learn sorcery and fight back. But Reed is truly beaten because his logical mind simply can’t comprehend the mind-bendingness of magic. That’s when we received a mysterious a message stating, “Knowledge isn’t everything.”
This issue begins with the reveal who is behind that message – Dr. Strange! He appears in a vision before Reed, getting Reed to speak an incantation. When he does, it allows Strange’s astral form to enter the library. Strange explains that Doom abducted and immobilized his physical body (this explains the scene with those tiny demons messing with Strange a few issues back). Strange can’t do much else to help, because all his concentration is focused on maintaining his astral form. Reed says, “You weren’t born a sorcerer. Someone taught you. Teach me.”
Doom, with Valeria in hand, attends to Sue, Ben and Johnny as they’re being, telling them they are puppets under Reed’s strings. In the library, Strange tries teach Reed a teleportation spell to them out of the library and back to Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. It only partially works, as the two of them teleport to the middle of Manhattan. They reach the Sanctum, where they check on Franklin. He’s being held captive by Haazareth Three, the demons Doom bargained with to gain his newfound power. The Haazareth Three can sense Reed and Strange looking in on them.
Reed tries to teleport his teammates away from Latveria, but only causes them pain instead. Strange gives Reed a big speech about not controlling magic, but working with it. He tells Reed to let go of his ego. Their actions alert Doom to Reed and Strange’s shenanigans. Doom attacks, shorting out Strange’s astral form. Before Strange disappears, he leaves Reed with a magic device with encouragement to learn to use it. The Marvel Wiki has no entry about this device, except to identify it as a “ringlet.” Reed tries and fails to use the ringlet. After he breaks down and admits he doesn’t know what to do, then the ringlet starts working.
Doom teleports himself and Valeria to the Sanctum, only to find Reed and the FF back together and back at full strength, thanks to Reed’s newfound power. Everybody fights! As the fight spills out into the streets of Greenwich Village, there’s a funny bit where Reed and Sue snatch Valeria away from Doom, and Reed drops the baby off a nearby daycare for some quick safe keeping.
Reed’s magic backing them up, the FF give Doom a beating, but then he comes back, knocking out Reed and pinning Sue and Ben against a wall. Sue turns Johnny invisible, allowing him to sneak up on Doom and blast him with extreme heat. Doom survives, and he confronts Reed. He seals Reed’s mouth shut, saying that Reed shouldn’t need to speak magic words. Reed silently attacks Doom with more magic, and eventually punches out Doom.
Reed then confronts Doom, saying Doom is not all-powerful, but mediocre. Doom believes he is both needle and thread, but is really one small part of a greater tapestry. The difference is that Reed knows this truth while Doom doesn’t. To prove his point, Reed summons the Haazareth Three, who come to collect on the bargain they made with Doom. They suck Doom into their hell-world. The FF take advantage of the situation by quickly flying into the portal and bringing Franklin and Dr. Strange out of it.
As Doom fights to escape the portal, he breaks down and apologizes to Reed. He says, “All those years ago, you tried to save me. I should have listened to you.” Reed answers with “You’re lying.” Reed says that all Doom ever wanted was for him to live in Doom’s shadow. “I will spend the rest of my life forgetting you,” Reed says. But Doom gets the last word with “Think again.” He touches Doom’s face with his glowing green goblet, and then he disappears into the portal with the demons. Turn the page and we see that half of Reed’s face is now horribly scarred, so that every time Reed looks in a mirror, he’ll be reminded of Doom.
If you bought the Director’s Cut issue, then you get all the behind-the-scenes extras. These include script pages cut from the final comic, Mike Wieringo design sketches, a pencil-to-ink-to-color comparison, a few “outtake” joke panels, a two-page Fred Hembeck comic, Stan Lee’s original one-page pitch for FF, and “Printography” which reprints all 500 issues all teeny-tiny across three pages. These extras were later reprinted in the hardcover and trade paperback editions.
Unstable molecule: What happened to Reed’s magical ringlet device? Look closely, and you can see it break apart into pieces when Reed punches Dr. Doom at the end of the fight.
Fade out: Sue creates invisible force field tentacles to worm their way inside Dr. Doom’s armor and cause him pain. Brutal stuff.
Clobberin’ time: Ben is still being beaten senseless by the Mindless Ones at the start of the issue. We’re not told where the Mindless Ones went after Doom was defeated. Probably back to Dormammu’s dark dimension, I would assume.
Flame on: This issue suggests that Johnny uses his all-destructive nova flame on Dr. Doom, but doesn’t exactly say that. Whoever’s updating the Marvel Wiki thinks this is the nova flame as well.
Four and a half: Once again, we only get fleeting glimpses of what Franklin is dealing with in the hell-world. This will be dealt with more (sort of) in upcoming issues.
Our gal Val: Doom continues to act like a surrogate father to baby Valeria, except one panel where Doom ponders how Reed might be driven mad if something unfortunate were to happen to her.
Commercial break: These two girls are supposed to be Aunt May and Peter Parker’s mom. Take that, hot Marissa Tomei!
Trivia time: Does the Marvel Universe have a magic system or not? It depends on which comic you read, but there kind of is one. You know all those weird names Dr. Strange throws around, like “Shuma-Gorath,” “Agamotto,” “Oshtur,” “Cyttorak,” and “the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth”? The idea is that these are cosmic, godlike beings, and when Strange invokes their names, they give him some of their power. Strange references this when talking to Reed, saying Reed is dealing with deities beyond his comprehension. As for Reed needing to let go of his ego in order to control magic, this also references Dr. Strange’s story, as he learned selflessness as part of his own magic training.
Fantastic or frightful? My favorite Reed vs. Doom fight is probably still issue 200, but this one is right up there. After making Dr. Doom seem unbeatable in issues previous to this, he’s taken down not by raw force, but by revealing that he’s not as invincible as he thinks. It’s a tale of ego vs. humility. The good guys win, but at great cost. It’s just terrific storytelling.
Next: Coney dogs.
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