Dr. Doom may be Marvel’s most important super-villain. However, he was not the first character to wear the mantle of the super villain. Namor: the Sub-Mariner, having starred in the preceding issue, held the distinction of being the first debuted villain of the Silver Age. The Doctor is not even the first costumed villain for Fantastic Four #1’s Mole Man wore styled garb in his underground lair.
Looking back, as I have the luxury to do, over the complete collection of Marvel adventures Doom stands out like no other. His iconic armoured face and green hood is witnessed in some capacity in every comic stream. Perhaps, this is because of his personal connection with Reed Richards or this is because of his supposedly infallible genius. Whatever the reason, Victor Von Doom has faced every major superhero that Stan Lee created and the others that followed. Sadly his later greatness can’t be fathomed from his first appearance for Doom is upstaged by a whimsical pirate adventure.+
The Fantastic Four, from the outset, embraced the campiness of the 60s sci-fi. Science fiction was still a relatively new genre and relied heavily on a series of pulpy plots that had been recycled thousands of times since the 40s. I have spent plenty of time talking about the stupidity in creation of the Skrulls and the aimlessness of events that occur in these comics spurring from “what if” scenarios. The more fantastical the story, the more nonsensical the plot. This is what severely hampers this issue.
Sea piracy has been around historically since at least Ancient Egypt. During that period a group of people history has referred to with the creative name ‘The Sea Peoples’ harried the coast line of one of the world’s first organized civilizations. As time moved forward, the practice of piracy took on many forms. Whether it was shanghaiing new merchandise for slavers or stealing much saught after wears, piracy as a way of life created a bane for every major empire from Rome to Spain. Spain took piracy to a whole new level with the development of the writ pirate or privateer: a criminal who raids other ships in the name of the state.
Francis Drake, noted defeater of the Spanish Armada, was a writ protected pirate and spent many of his years in pursuing Spanish fleets for the fruits of the New World. When the famed Captain Kidd established the legendary code of Piracy in the Caribbean Sea shortly after, Piracy left the annals of undesirables to the stuff of legend.+
From the 30s into the 50s, Saturday movie matinees were full of campy adventures on the high seas, filled with swashbuckling rogues and dastardly outlaws. Some were based on real life characters like Blackbeard or Grace O’Malley, others came from a land of pure fiction like Errol Flynn’s timeless classic Captain Blood (1935). But whatever the inspiration, the world created by these films was a colourful, grandiose place, that did little to reflect the gritty and dangerous reality real pirates of the Caribbean lived in. It is into this Saturday matinee pirate world the Fantastic Four enter.
Time travel is a favourite mechanism of the Marvel creatives. I have written two articles, recently, on how it seems their favourite destination seems to be Ancient Egypt. Why this is, I cannot say, but what I can say is they love traveling to periods full of mystique and magic. Ancient Egypt is one of these as is the golden age of Caribbean piracy. Robert Louis Stevenson knew this when he created that brilliant bible of pirate lore: Treasure Island. Apparently, Stan Lee understood this as well.
Dr. Doom, hearing of jewels that once belonged to Merlin used to be in the possession of the the famed pirate Black Beard, kidnaps Sue Storm to blackmail the men of the Four to time travel in an effort steel the jewels from him.Long story short, they go, rather unwillingly, and happen upon a pirate crew. Sure enough they get into a rabble rousing fight using their skills and soon become pirate kings. Because Thing has been wearing a dark beard and eyepatch to cover up his no doubt startling visage, he actually creates a paradox which makes him the basis for Blackbeard. This makes little sense as Blackbeard is a real person, but Marvel has never cared too much for accurate history.
Finding some sense of respect as the grizzled sea outlaw, Thing informs the other two that he is staying on the ship. This is a great moment that once again shows that Thing just wants respect and love. He nearly chooses to stay in the period. Of course, the moment only occupies a few panels and Ben quickly has a change of heart, but it is another wonderful glimpse into the angst Mr. Grimm deals with endlessly.
After this great time adventure, there is an obligatory fight ending with Dr. Doom flying away. Though it is exciting, if a bit predictable, the villain could have been anybody, yet, this is Dr. Doom’s debut. He’s given a little bit of backstory saying that he grew up with Reed Richards and was expelled from school after he stages an black magic experiment that not only disfigures him, but destroys half the school. Through his constant obsession with knowing all the secrets of the universe and therefore being the ultimate mind is mentioned in passing, Doom just doesn’t pose much threat. It’s clear that he is intended as a reoccurring character with the fact he escapes and sets up an extravagant plan to destroy the Four, but since so much time was spent on the adventures in pirate times, little room is given to Dr. Doom to strut his stuff.
Perhaps, knowing that Doom would become a reoccurring character and the arch-nemesis of the Four, Stan Lee only wanted give the readers a slight taste of him. But because of the haphazard jaunting from a time travel adventure to a more classic villain vs. superhero theme ,this issue leaves the reader in a state of confusion.
It was fun to see a little of that Saturday Matinee flavour enter this comic. Even if it did upstage the debut of the great Dr. Doom.
Story I Read: “Prisoners of Dr. Doom” (Fantastic Four #5 Jul. 1962)
Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Thing’s moment of self reflection, the fact that the Historical Blackbeard is Thing in disguise. The retroactive influence this story has on Fantastic Four #19.
Cons: The time travel distraction. The lack of development of Dr. Doom. The absence of Sue Storm.
Upcoming Wikia Review: “The Porcupine” (Tales to Astonish #48 Oct. 1963)