Earlier this month I mentioned, with great shame, that there had been a distinct lack of the villainous exploits of Doctor Victor von Doom. So, I decided to rectify that by making January something of a Doctor Doom Appreciation month. And what better way to appreciate Doctor Doom than by regaling you with his very first appearance? Because let me tell you, Doctor Doom is one of the rare characters who appeared fully formed in his very first story. Hell, not even the members of the Fantastic Four came out as perfectly as Doom does in this story. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were clearly still throwing things at the wall, seeing what stuck at this point in the history of Marvel comics, and it’s great to see how quickly Doom stuck. It’s obvious by now that I’m completely obsessed with Doom and his many misadventures, and it just makes me so incredibly happy to know that right from the beginning Doctor Doom was absolutely perfect. True, I have a particular fondness for stories where Doom gets to match wits with someone other than his famed arch-nemeses, but sometimes it’s nice to get back to basics and see Doom battle with Marvel’s First Family. And let me tell you, it involves far more pirates than you’d imagine.
The story begins with Doom sitting alone in his castle, plotting the destruction of the Fantastic Four. He’s convinced that he’s the only person in the world who has the skills and determination to accomplish such a task. He’s just casually sitting around with a vulture and his ancient tomes on “Demons” and “Science and Sorcery.” You know, like you do. Doom then boards a helicopter and flies off to New York, seeking out the Fantastic Four in the Baxter Building. Inside we find the FF just goofing around, reading the first issue of the Incredible Hulk, which is a little strange, but these early Marvel books were full of self-referencing behaviors. Ben and Johnny are squabbling over their copy of the comic, until Reed has to rush in and separate them like children. He then goes into dad mode, just lecturing them about being a better family, when he’s rudely interrupted by the amplified voice of Doom. He then drops a massive net over the Baxter Building, while Reed starts to recognize the voice of the man who has ensnared their home.
Reed then tells the rest of the FF, because apparently Ben wasn’t clued into this story at this point in the series, the story of Victor von Doom. He tells them about how Doom was a brilliant but conceited student at the same university as him. Doom was fascinated with both science and magic, and tried to marry the two to create a machine to contact the netherworld. However, the machine malfunctioned, destroyed the laboratory, and wounded Doom’s face. He was expelled and the last Reed heard he joined up with a group of monks in Tibet, and was presumed dead. But, clearly not, because here he is, dropping nets on their house.
Reed is very concerned about this, because he knows what a devious and cruel mind that Doom has. So, he suggests that they just go through with whatever his requests are. Ben obviously isn’t a fan of this plan, so he reaches out of a window and grabs hold of the net, trying to pull it off. Unfortunately, Doom thought about that, and he’s able to run an electrical charge through the net, zapping the Thing. This is enough to worry the Four, so they decide to listen to Doom and see what his demands are. And, they’re pretty simple. He wants Sue. The boys begin planning some way to stop Doom, but Sue insists that the best way to handle this situation is to just go through with it. She says that Doom doesn’t seem like the kind of person they can scare off, they’re going to have to defeat him. And, to do that, they’re going to need more information. So, she volunteers to go with Doom and get as much information she can off of him. She climbs up to the top of the Baxter Building and gets tied up by Doom, who then lowers a small capsule for the rest of the FF to get inside.
With the entire Fantastic Four under his control, Doom then flies them to the next stage of his plan. He takes them back to his castle headquarters, which I guess is inside New York State? I’m not quite sure, but, whatever. They land at the castle and Doom brings them into a throne room to discuss things with them. He places Reed, Ben, and Johnny onto a large platform in the middle of the room while he lounges on a throne with a pet tiger, like a badass, and starts to tell them his proposition. He explains to them that he has recently perfected a device that can transport people throughout time. And he has brought them here in order to use them as pawns in one of his nefarious plans.
Doom has discovered that the fabled pirate Blackbeard owned a set of magical jewels that were part of his massive hordes of treasure. So, he figured that the Fantastic Four would be the perfect patsies to send back in time and steal the jewels for him. They obviously ask why he just doesn’t go himself, but the answer to that is quite simple. He needs to stay back in his castle and run the controls! Perfectly logical. He promises them that if they go through with this he’ll release Sue and the rest of them. So, not liking the situation, Reed and the guy have no real choice, and they agree to go along with Doom’s request. Doom then presses a button on his throne, and the platform that Reed, Ben, and Johnny were standing on activates, and slings the heroes back in time.
Before they know what hit them the guys find themselves in that past, surrounded by pirates, and realize they need to think quick. They decide that their first step will be to get some clothes, so they come up with a devious plan to snag some. They follow some sketchy guys who are stealing a massive bag full of clothes and the Thing jumps out from behind a bush and scares them so bad they flee and leave the clothes. That’s probably in the Art of War. With the clothes stolen they then find anything that fits them, and get ready to blend in. They do run into some problems with Ben though. Luckily, by covering him in a big fake beard, an eye-patch, and an enormous hat they’re able to distract from the fact that Ben’s got rocks for skin.
With their costumes complete they decide to hit a local bar and get some information on Blackbeard. They don’t know quite how to find the famous pirate, but they figure they could run into someone who knows them. However, as they’re plotting in the bar they’re noticed by some shady pirates, who decide that they’re perfect candidates to be shanghaied and brought on their latest voyage. They send the boys some laced alcohol, and when they drink it they almost immediately pass out. And, when they’re woken up they find that they’re on a ship, setting sail. Ben is the first awake, and when he realizes what’s going on he decides to deal with the situation subtly and rationally.
Oh, by that I mean he smashes straight through the ship and starts beating the bajesus out of the pirates. They’re all pretty terrified of this incredibly powerful man who is managing to fight off a whole group of them, and that just gets worse when Reed and Johnny wake up. Reed starts stretching all around the ship, knocking out unruly pirates, and Johnny is using his powers to melt the swords of the people dumb enough to try attacking him. The pirates are pretty terrified by the sudden appearance of these three seemingly magical beings, and quickly kowtow to them, not wanting to incur any of their wrath.
However, right as the pirates begin giving up, their ship is attacked by another group of buccaneers. Reed notices that the attacking ship seems to be quite fancy, and he thinks that there’s a good shot that this could be Blackbeard’s ship. So, he and the rest of the guys decide to rally the pirates together and attack this other ship, hoping to find Blackbeard’s treasure. Our wonderful heroes then drop the whole pirate shtick, take off their costumes, and get ready to assault the other pirates with their powers. Johnny flames on and flies over to the rival pirate ship, attacking them with fireballs and scaring the crap out of them. Reed stretches between the ships and creates a bridge for the Thing and the other pirates to run across, creating a veritable boarding party.
They then quickly are able to fight the pirates, and defeat them. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of Blackbeard, so they decide to just search through the treasure. They find the jewels that Doom forced them to find, andReed decides to pull one over on Doom, and dumps the treasure out of the chests, putting chains inside instead. So, with their task complete, they decide it’s time to head back to their own time, and confront Doom. There’s just one problem…
Yeah, Ben had decided that he doesn’t want to go back to his old life. He wants to stay here in pirate times and live like a king. Hell, he even realizes that he has somehow created a paradox where he’s actually Blackbeard, and the pirate never actually existed, so they’ve come back in time to steal his own treasure. And, because Reed and Johnny won’t deal with Ben staying behind, he decides to have his new crew take them hostage. But, as soon as Ben does this and his teammates are tied up, a cyclone comes racing towards their ship, destroying it. All of the pirates apparently drown, and Ben, Reed, and Johnny all wash up on the shore. Ben admits that that momentary lapse in judgement was wrong, and apologizes for potentially having them killed so he can play pirate.
They obviously forgive Ben, and then happily notice that despite the massive cyclone, they still have the chest full of fake treasure to bring back to Doom. And, as if on cue, Doom decides that he’s given them enough time, and uses his time machine to bring them back to the present. The three heroes are a little disorientated by being suddenly dragged forward in time, and takes advantage of that confusion to make things even weirder. He explains that one of the jewels inside of Blackbeard’s treasure was actually once owned by Merlin, and will grant whoever holds it invincibility. He thanks the guys for fetching the gem for him, and then opens up the chest for a rude surprise.
Doom is not pleased by this sudden and inevitable betrayal, and starts attacking the Thing. But, when Ben fights back with a massive punch, they learn that the Doom they’ve been dealing with was actually a Doombot. The real Doom is elsewhere in the castle, and now that he knows the Four have betrayed him, he seals the room, and begins pumping the oxygen out. He explains that he’s going to watch them suffocate from his control room, and once they’re dead continue scheming to take over the world. Luckily though, the real Doom brought Sue along with him, and she’s able to overload some circuits on his machinery, destroying them and releasing the guys. She rushes downstairs, invisible, to reunite with them, and they get to work stopping Doom. The reunited Four manage to escape the castle, and use their powers in tandem to destroy any sort of escape that Doom could possibly have up his sleeve, and Johnny even manages to surround his entire castle with flames. However, they didn’t realize that Doom had one more trick up his sleeve. He turn on a hidden jet pack, and is able to fly away from his ruined castle, and is even able to out-maneuver the Human Torch, escaping the wrath of the heroes and living to torment them for decades to come.
So there you have it. The very first scheme that Doctor Doom ever pulled in the Marvel Universe. And, it’s kind of perfect. I wasn’t kidding when I said at the top of the article that Doctor Doom arrived almost fully formed. In this one issue we see that Doom is a brilliant scientist and magician, that he has a dark past with Reed Richards, that he has access to castles, that he muddles around with time travel, that he uses robot surrogates in dangerous situations, that he is almost always in the quest for powerful relics that will make him all-powerful, and that he always has tricks up his sleeve to escape. Really, the only thing missing her was Latveria. Everything I love about Doom is present in this story, and we get the added bonus of having Doom’s whole plan revolve around trying to steal jewels from pirates because they belonged to Merlin. Hell, this story reveals that in the Marvel Universe there was no such thing as Blackbeard, it was just the Thing! That’s such a wonderfully weird detail that’s just kind of glazed over in this story. We manage to get introduced to one of the most formidable and adaptable supervillains in comic book history and get a really fun time-travel pirate plot all in one issue. These early comics really had a lot of heavy lifting to do, establishing the groundwork that would eventually support fifty years of storytelling, and an issue like this accomplishes all that while still being an absolute hoot to read. And, it gave us Doctor Doom. For that alone it deserves remembrance and love.
Fantastic Four #5 – “Prisoners of Doctor Doom!” was written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, 1962.
Categories: Marvel Madness