Monday, October 29, 2007

The More Things Change...! (Marvel comics)
Fantastic Four #350 When: March 1991
Why: Walter Simonson How: Walter Simonson

The story so far...
Wearing a powersuit of Reed Richards' design, Ben Grimm attempts to maintain his position on the Fantastic Four while easing the psychological burden felt by Sharon Ventura; ex-girlfriend and former Ms. Marvel, who would suffer the same fate as Grimm to become a She-Thing!

Feeling the same social anxiety and personal discontent that Grimm himself experienced through his earliest days, the despondent Ms. Marvel is ripe for seduction at the hands of the nefarious Dr. Victor Von Doom -- recently returned Latverian monarch, and arch-nemesis of the original quartet that make up the Fantastic Four!

Travelling to Castle Doomstadt, Ms. Marvel willingly submits herself to Doom's experiments that promise to reverse the effects of her radioactive exposure, and restore her to her former humanity. Meanwhile, the reverse is true for the original Thing, who sacrifices his acquisition of humanity, and soon learns of Sharon Ventura's predicament in the clutches of Doom: cured, or killed?...

Previous Form:
Thing (#9): A top ten worthy string of team successes against; the Frightful Four, Sinister Twelve, Iconoclast, Paibok, and Ahab.
Dr. Doom (#57): A previous victory over the Thing and Yancy Street Gang.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Thing 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Dr. Doom 6 (Genius)
Speed: Draw 2 (Average)
Stamina: Dr. Doom 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting Ability: Thing 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Dr. Doom 5 (Lasers)

- Ace test-pilot Ben Grimm joined a trio of friends on a space race to beat the Russians into outerspace. The wreckless launch would change he and his colleagues forevermore as insufficient shielding would leave the quartet vulnerable to strange, unknown cosmic rays! Rays that would transform them into the Fantastic Four!

- As the Thing, Grimm has a rocky exterior that is both super-durable, and maneuvered by exponentially increased muscle capacity. Along with super-strength, Thing can also survive in harsh environments relatively unscathed.

- Victor Von Doom was the college rival of Reed Richards, noted as a genius in his own right, despite a legendary arrogance. It was this stubborn insistance that would lead Doom to conduct rushed experiments that merged the sciences with the occult, and ultimately would result in an explosion that would scar him.

- Travelling across the Himalayan mountains of Tibet, Doom would don a metal suit of armor crafted by monks, and adopt this visage as his own as the newly christened, Dr. Doom! His armor would be upgraded to include cutting edge technologies of his own invention, and supply him with the power necessary to overthrow his native Latveria, and become the world-threatening menace faced by the Fantastic Four!

The Math: Dr. Doom The Pick: Dr. Doom

What went down...
The Fantastic Four heed the warning of a messenger Doombot, and make the trek to the tiny European nation of Latveria. At Castle Doomstadt the FF quickly do away with a small army of Doombots, before each member endures a familiar series of tailored obstacles, each designed to push their unique abilities to the very limits.

Doom, with plans of revenge, does not anticipate the renewed strength of a once again transformed Thing. Grimm easily belts away falling chunks of concrete, before pounding through the stone walls of the castle to stumble upon the sleeping, and apparently cured body of Sharon Ventura!

As the burly Thing attempts to free Ms. Marvel from her bonds, a massive burst of energy explodes to knock him to the ground -- the assault of Dr. Doom!
The Thing charges at the team's old enemy, who notes the change in Grimm, once again knocking him back with a charge of an alleged 500,000 volts!

Blurring the lines of thirty years of storyline, the good Doctor swears revenge for one of his earliest defeats at the hands of the Fantastic Four, waged within the Baxter Building headquarters they once inhabited.
With a blast from his pistol-shaped anti-matter extrapolator, Doom manages to put the fear of God in Ben Grimm. Recognising the threat of this strange weapon, the muscle-bound Thing hurls a piece of rubble from the broken wall, strategically striking the weapon in Doom's hand.

With his calcified hide atingle, Thing marches at Doom with a menacing intent.
Though unintimidated, the brilliant Doom calls upon one of the many other weapons contained within the walking arsenal that is his armor.

A high powered laser beam proves Doom's weapon of choice, but it's effects err on the side of the bizarre, rather than offensive! Right before Doom's eyes, the Thing begins to metamorphasize into an even rockier, far more gruesome incarnation of his Thing-self!

Marching through Doom's futile attack, the Thing clutches the Latverian monarch's gauntlets and slams him against one of the cold Doomstadt walls.
Lording his increased strength over the FF's oldest enemy, Thing press against Doom's resisting efforts, clamping down with his monstrous mits.

With Doom on the verge of being crushed, it is the intervention of a now conscious Sharon Ventura that rescues the villain from crippling injury!

With the aid of the thermo-lance, Doom has sufficient time to recharge his own armor's weaponry and unleash an additional surge of voltage. The blast fries the further mutated Thing with energy sufficient to kill him!

Doom declares his lethal victory as a stoic Mr. Fantastic enters, having achieved the unlikely task of escaping Doom's clausterphobic entrapments.

Doom offers Richards the lives of his wife and brother-in-law in exchange for a duel through time that will allow the villain opportunity to display his brutal brilliance to one of the few minds capable of appreciating it. Richards accepts, no doubt aware of the possibility to undo the tragedy that had transpired.

The hammer...
Well, an appropriate if unceremonious end to our month of DOOM with a win to the Doc, and a rushed late entry. If you felt something was notoriously familiar about the tape, which I generally try to reinvent for repeat contestants, it's because it was taken from the previous encounter between these two [Fantastic Four #361].

To expand upon our use as a friendly fanbase resource, I might try to tailor more universal descriptions for the tape that can be reused, because yes. After what I would dare to call a pretty stellar run of on-going posting, I've hit a roadblock. I've hit a pain barrier. I've hit a soul sapping obstacle of magnitudes not seen since Daredevil: Ninja.

Not sapping enough that we can't finish on a high note, however!
First thing's first, if you're dying to know how things conclude, then you should head on over to check out Bully's treat-of-a post featuring the hijinks of Fantastic Four #351! Be forewarned, anyone with a pacemaker or occupation that required 20/20 vision might not want to proceed. Serious risk of heart failure, schizoid embolism, or going cross-eyed lies ahead!

As we conclude our chronicles of DOOM, I can't help but draw a drastically different discussion topic from FF #350. Bully ponders the time-space repercussions of events from #351, while another of our blogging contemporaries, Dave Campbell, falls just left of my point while he notes the off-page retcons of reality.

Simonson makes a bold statement by suggesting previous encounters with Doom were with robotic drones. He does so presumably in an effort to push an agenda of characterization that returns Doom to his more specific -- less zany -- villainous roots. Less intentional is the perpetuation of a new rivalry byproxy.

We see today a very careful and intelligent approach to storytelling, but pushing out of the eighties a decided shift was made gearing the process toward pencillers. This meant visual details gained greater importance over conceptual and character driven dynamics, better typified by the work of later industry superstars than perhaps Simonson, who clearly has a high-concept story here.

It's perhaps true of Marvel's earliest origins with the use of the 'Stan Lee method of writing' that involved glorified notations that were spun-out into full twenty-two page issues, later lettered with dialogue by Lee. It's this importance given to the artist from the company's neo-origins that perhaps make it predestined to steer the fate of the entire medium, which already has a predisposition to the visual.

New "artists" like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and the other Image founders become increasingly involved in the evolution of a product, proposing new values on the finished project. This invariably pushes the classic characters in new ways, forging relationships built on the subconcious visual values of characters.

Top 25 Nemesis':
#1 Black Adam (Captain Marvel)
#2 Dr. Doom (Mr. Fantastic)
#3 Bullseye (Daredevil)
#4 Deathstroke (Teen Titans)
#5 Sinestro (Green Lantern)
#6 Bizarro (Superman)
#7 Destroyer (Thor)
#8 Noob Saibot (Scorpion)
#9 Akuma (Ryu)
#10 Crimson Dynamo (Iron Man)
#11 Zoom (Flash)
#12 Cheetah (Wonder Woman)
#13 Ultron (The Avengers)
#14 Despero (JLA)
#15 Captain Cold (Flash)
#16 Venom (Spider-man)
#17 Wingless Wizard (Mr. Fantastic)
#18 Baron Zemo (Captain America)
#19 Sagat (Ryu)
#20 Darkseid (Earth)
#21 Abomination (Hulk)
#22 Thanos (Life)
#23 Dr. Octopus (Spider-man)
#24 Vulture (Spider-man)
#25 Green Goblin (Spider-man)
Dr. Doom, in my assessment, should classically be considered arch-nemesis of Reed Richards, but the popularity and visual quality of a character like Thing directs a new rivalry. A far purer example of this subconscious agenda is Magneto's evolution to become considered a bitter rival of Wolverine, as much as he opposes his original foe, Professor Xavier.

We see that particular shift eventuate a few years after this issue in 1993, with the visual spectacular of X-Men #25: the issue that strips Wolverine of his adamantium. It's with this example that we best illustrate the value of the visual at it's height, presenting a four-colour extravaganza of high-action splash pages, and the battle between a fan-favourite character with far more dynamic visuals than the typically restrictive, or ill-defined, Professor Xavier.

Again, it's not necessarily at it's strongest with Simonson's work, which immediately follows up with an issue-long confrontation between Richards and Doom, the classic archetypal foes. Even so, it is food for thought for the underlying subconscious that inevitably shaped a decade of comics, still very close to the essential basics of big battles, and long-running feuds.

These feuds ultimately take more bitter and varied approaches (such as Kingpin/Daredevil) as the written aspect regains it's importance in the recession of comics culture. We begin rebuilding the conceptual, and restore the importance of motivation and characterization in conflicts between characters.

Alas, we still have a ways to go to solidifying the guarantee of these rivalries.
The loss of the historical Doom/Richards rivalry is easily one of the most specific flaws in the feature film adaptation of the Fantastic Four. Stripping their rivalry to something far more immediate, along with much of the bitter history that makes Doom one of the most influential villains in comics, saw a very flat and unmotivated movie unfold.

Further extending the weakness of the Doom character is the tangiential litmus test of associated rivalries. Scenes featuring Thing and Invisible Woman stress the relationship of the nemesis far better than Richards' feeble, failing interactions. Of course, that dominoes into a whole range of issues, which also sees the empowering of Susan Storm and Jessica Alba's importance at the cost of reducing "Mr. Fantastic" to the proverbial damsel in distress. A talk for another time!

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 5

[This issue has not yet been collected, but you can check out a bunch of Simonson's lead-up work with the Fantastic Four while you wait, in the first volume of Visionaries! Cha-Ching!]


Pedro Cruz said...

Simonson is Kirby's heir when it comes to sheer power on the page!Awesome!

Mike Haseloff said...

That's a pretty big call!
I like his human characters. I don't know why, but they remind me of a sci-fi that I cannot name, describe, and may never have even existed... But that's what his people remind me of. :-p

Pedro Cruz said...

I agree. Simonson does have a sci-fi style which I'm not sure where to place either (maybe it came from his doing the Alien and Star Wars comics)... Would love to see him do more of that stuff, like his own Starslammers series.

Mike Haseloff said...

Yeah, it might even be... I don't know, if I tried to imagine a more mainstream, American version of some of Peter Chung's stuff, I could imagine it looking like Simonson.

I think the way he draws hair and some of the poses remind me subconsciously of Chung.

I didn't catch any of his writing on the Hawkwoman title, but I think I'd be reticent about new pencils. I think it's that thing of not wanting to take the sheen off the great stuff.

He did a couple of issues of JSA: Classified with Hawkman, and as much as the inks and colours really let him down... It wasn't great...