Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. What does it take to run a country? What if that country has laser deathtraps? That’s question facing our heroes in issue #504.
The battle between the FF and Dr. Doom ended with Doom sent to Hell (no, really) and it left Reed’s face irreparably scarred. Now the FF have traveled to Latveria to keep Doom’s advanced tech from falling into the wrong hands. Once there, the FF saw the Latverian populace not knowing anything other than Doom’s rule, and potential invasion from neighboring Hungary. So Reed planted a makeshift FF flag over Castle Doom and proclaimed “We’re not going home.”
This issue begins with Nick Fury meeting with two unnamed U.N. officials about the situation. A Hungarian ambassador says Dr. Doom stole land from Hungary and the Hungarians are willing to re-take it by force. Fury says that Reed’s efforts are preventing violence and chaos from breaking out in that part of Europe. The U.N. Secretary General says Reed is a private citizen and his actions are wholly unsanctioned and carry grave consequences.
It’s morning at Castle Doom, and political protestors wearing Dr. Doom masks surround the place. Sue, Ben, and Johnny wake up wearing strange devices on their heads. Over breakfast, Reed promises to explain them when the time is right. Reed takes everyone outside to do some exploring. Outside the castle, more Latverians protest the FF’s presence there. The point is again made that the Latverians are misguided, thinking that Doom was benevolent because he supplied all their needs, but only in exchange for their absolute, unquestioning loyalty. Sue says it’s easier for them to live in ignorance rather than constant fear. It’s then that Sue realizes the head devices taught the FF to speak Latverian while they slept.
The FF arrive at a building with no doors or windows. Inside it, they find a guillotine, a symbol of Latveria’s violent past. (Except that there appears to blood all over the guillotine. Was it used recently?) They try showing it to the Latverians, who don’t know what to make of it. Fearing that the Latverians will think this is a threat from the FF, the FF then destroy the guillotine in front of everyone.
Then it’s back to the castle, where there’s more talk about how Doom controlled the media in Latveria for years and conditioned the populace to think of the FF as evil enemies. Ben argues that being a genius in astrophysics doesn’t necessarily qualify Reed to run a government, and that the Latverians should be allowed to work things out on their own with their newfound freedom. Sue says Reed is at his best when following his heart rather than his mind, and she encourages Reed to stop looking at Latveria like a science problem he can solve.
They venture into tunnels beneath the castle, fighting their way past all of Doom’s leftover automated defenses. This includes deadly lasers and a “temporal labyrinth,” in which the FF must travel through dinosaur times and back. They eventually reach a giant underground chambre full of nuclear weapons.
After being silent and stoic throughout the issue, Reed finally explains his thoughts. He says it’s inevitable that Dr. Doom will return from the dead, because he always does. Reed says that when Doom returns, he will again rise to power in Latveria through his wealth, sovereignty and diplomatic immunity. He further says that only the Fantastic Four has the power and the know-how to properly dismantle all of Doom’s weapons and infrastructure. “When he does rise again, he finds we’ve left him with nothing,” Reed says. The FF then join their hands together in their classic “4” pose.
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: Reed says his learn-a-language-while-you-sleep devices are an old design from several years earlier. I tried looking it up to see if this is a reference to a past comic, but couldn’t come up with anything.
Fade out: Sue’s rarely-used ability to make visible anything that is invisible comes in handy, as one of Doom’s leftover deathtraps is a hallway filled with invisible razor wire.
Clobberin’ time/Flame on: Ben wakes from a dream about a bra-wearing monkey (!) and Johnny ridicules him about this throughout the issue.
Commercial break: “Alpha, bring me my Zune!”
Trivia time: Although introduced with his classic title of “Colonel,” Nick Fury was full-on director of S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point, and was popping up all over the Marvel Universe. After this story arc, his next appearance was in the 2004 Secret Wars, where he’s the one who discovered previously unseen connections between a bunch of Marvel’s biggest bad guys.
Fantastic or frightful? On one hand, it’s frustrating that Reed doesn’t tell his teammates what he’s up to right from the start. Yes, he does have a history of withdrawing into himself like this, but it seems like all this drama and tension could have been avoided with one simple conversation. On the other hand, superhero comics are often criticized for the heroes for only punching and fighting, and not enacting any real social change, so here’s a storyline attempting just that.
Next: Mother Doom.
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