Fantastic Friday: Oh what a beautiful Doombot

Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. It had to happen eventually – we’ve reached Civil War, the mega-event that tore the Marvel Universe apart. Although issue #536 is merely labeled “The Road to Civil War,” it’s here all right.

We begin in space, with a tiny object flying toward Earth. Even though it doesn’t burn up in the atmosphere, astronomers assume it’s too small to do any damage. The object passes by an airplane, and then lands with a massive explosion in a field in Oklahoma.

Cut to six months later. It’s the middle of the night at the new Baxter Building. Reed is staying up late watching the news. Sue asks him “How did it go?” and Reed is hesitant to answer. Then there’s a flashback to Reed meeting with the Illuminati, the top-secret group of influential super-geniuses hoping to make a real difference beyond just fighting crime. In this issue, the group is Iron Man, Reed, Dr. Strange, Namor, and Black Bolt. Iron Man shows the group an early draft of a bill about to hit Congress – the Superhero Registration Act.

Iron Man explains the bill. Anyone with superpowers, any mutant, and anyone deemed a masked crimefighter must register with the government, after which they’ll be given jobs putting their powers to use for S.H.I.E.L.D. Further, the government has special plans to hunt down and detain anyone not registered. Dr. Strange says, “That’s disgusting,” but Iron Man says the Illuminati members should come out in favor of the bill. “We should cooperate now, before it gets ugly,” he says.

Back in the present, Reed and Sue watch the news, where Tony Stark and his new assistant Peter Parker arrive in Washington DC. Tony tells reporters that he’s only there discuss options with the committee on superhero registration. Sue doubts whether superhero registration will actually happen, speculating that it’s just election-year posturing. Reed responds, “It’s not that simple.”

Reed then gets an emergency message from General William Ray, saying there is an emergency in Oklahoma. While Reed rousts his teammates out of bed, soldiers in Oklahoma are under attack. They’ve set up a dome around the object from the start of the issue, and now someone has opened fire to get at it. Turns out the attackers are Doombots!

The FF arrive on the scene, speculating whether the Latverian provisional government is behind the attack. Reed says that if they’re using Doombots, they must be desperate to get whatever’s in the dome. The FF jump into action, and artist Mike McKone gives us this terrific two-page spread of Ben duking it out with a Doombot.

There’s several pages of fighting and banter, as all the Doombots act just like they’re the real Dr. Doom, and the FF not having it. Reed notices that the Doombots are only attacking the perimeter of the dome, spreading the soldiers out around its edge. The soldiers tell Reed that the first wave of the attack knocked out all their radar and imaging. Reed deduces almost too late that a missile has been launched at the dome.

The FF evacuate all the soldiers while Sue does her best to contain the missile’s blast. It leaves a crater in the space where the dome just was. Then the real Dr. Doom emerges, somehow back to life again. He says the object in the crater cannot be moved, and yet it is destined to belong to him. Turn the page and the mysterious object is… the hammer of Thor!

To be continued!

Unstable molecule: Why does the Reed/Sue conversation have to take place at 4 a.m.? He’s wearing his lab coat, suggesting that he was working late in the lab, but then he’s quick to admit to Sue that he was at an Illuminati meeting.

Fade out: Sue makes a joke about Reed going “bowling with the boys.” I assume this is her code word for Reed’s Illuminati gathering.

Clobberin’ time: We get a glimpse of Ben’s bedroom in the new Baxter Building, which is sparsely decorated except for some books scattered around. What happened to his ritzy new apartment from the recent Thing miniseries?

Flame on: Ben shouts “Flame off!” at Johnny during the fight, so Johnny won’t burn out his flame. Johnny scoffs at him, saying it won’t work.

Fantastic fifth wheel: This issue’s letters page has results of a reader poll asking for favorite FF alternate member. We don’t see the numbers, but the editor states She-Hulk is the winner, with Crystal and Luke Cage as the runners-up.

Trivia time: Dr. Doom hasn’t been seen since issue #507, when he dragged into Hell itself.

Where’s Thor at? He’s dead, as far as anyone knows in the Marvel Universe at this time. In Thor #85, we had the epic Ragnarok storyline, also part of Avengers: Disassembled, which saw the downfall of both Asgard and Yggrasil. This kicked off several years when there was no Thor in Marvel Comics (but if you know what’s coming in Civil War, you know there’s a bit of a loophole to that).

What’s the deal with the writing on Thor’s hammer? That’s been there ever since his first appearance, but seen since then only on rare occasions. The official explanation is that the writing is always there, but hard to see unless you look closely.  

According to the Marvel Wiki, the Illuminati has been operating since just after the first Kree-Skrull War, which was in the 70s in our time. In addition to a lot of Kree/Skrull action, the Illuminati were secretly involved in Infinity Gauntlet with Thanos and his gems, and they revealed the real origin of the Beyonder. And yes, they were the ones who really launched the Hulk into space. They’ll continue to be major players in upcoming crossovers Planet Hulk, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign and beyond.

Fantastic or frightful? After everything that went down in the Latveria incident, it’s a letdown for Dr. Doom not just be alive again, but to have him walking up to Reed in the middle of Oklahoma and them having a polite conversation. Fortunately, the big fight was filled with great classic FF-isms. The issue promises big things to come, even without the editorially mandated Civil War tie-in stuff.

Next: Hammer don’t hurt ‘em.

* * * *

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH.
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