Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #73

Background

This story begins, believe it or not, in the closing pages of Daredevil #36, January 1968 with the arrival of Dr. Doom. In DD #37, February 1968. Doom easily defeats Daredevil who is worn out after his recent victory over the Trapster, Doom brings DD to the Latverian Embassy where he tries to hypnotize DD with his hypnopticon. It doesn’t work because, unbeknownst to Doom, Daredevil is blind. Still, Doom maneuvers DD to a spot in his lab where a Plexiglas cylinder drops down over the hero. Doom appears in an identical cylinder next to DD. “None but Dr. Doom has ever successfully created a workable body-transferral ray!” he announces and, soon after, Dr. Doom’s consciousness is in Daredevil’s body while Daredevil’s consciousness is in Doom’s body. In DD #38, March 1968, Doom, in Daredevil’s body, leaves the embassy to initiate his plan against the Fantastic Four, leaving DD in Doom’s body locked in a dungeon. But DD calls to the guards and, thinking he is Doom, they release him. Daredevil uses Doom’s equipment to contact the FF. He tells them he is Daredevil but they think he sounds like Dr. Doom. DD convinces them that they have switched bodies. He tracks down Doom who is on his way to the Baxter Building and gives him a radio. He then returns to the Embassy and orders the Latverian ministers to declare war on all of their neighbors. Doom as DD hears this news on the radio, returns to the Embassy and switches bodies again, putting DD back in his own body in order to ensure that he can’t misuse the power of Doom again. (Oh well. It was a stupid plan anyway.) Before he leaves, Daredevil destroys the transferal machine. He heads to the Baxter Building to warn them that Doom is still alive (They thought Doom died back in FF #60, March 1967.) even though he already convinced them that Doom had taken over his body. Stan has done a pretty good job of keeping this straight up to this point but he falls apart at the end. He has Doom contact the FF but he uses a voice modulator to make him sound like Daredevil. Mr. Fantastic has the Thing check the voice “against DD’s voca-file.” When the Thing confirms it, Mr. F says, “That means Doom is alive!! DD just warned me…he’s coming to attack us…disguised as Daredevil!!” Except Reed shouldn’t be surprised at this because DD told him that earlier, convincing him even though he had Dr. Doom’s voice. Now Doom disguises his voice to sound like DD and tells Reed that Doom disguised as DD is coming to attack him but if so then the “DD” that is warning the FF should have Dr. Doom’s voice. As he did before when Reed got this warning the first time. Doesn’t he wonder why he’s getting this warning a second time but this time in DD’s voice? Wasn’t he told that Doom was in DD’s body, which means that Doom would have DD’s voice? And yet, Reed Richards is falling for all of this. One of the world’s smartest men. Pfft!

Anyway, that’s where the story ends in Daredevil #38 as Stan proudly announces “that this swingin’ epic will be concluded in Fantastic Four #73.” That’s our cue.

Story 'The Flames of Battle'

  Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #73
Summary: Spider-Man, Thor, Daredevil
Editor: Stan Lee
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inker: Joe Sinnott
Articles: Daredevil, Doctor Doom (BTS), Human Torch

The cover is simple enough. It shows three members of the Fantastic Four (Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, and the Human Torch) on the left facing off against Daredevil, Thor, and Spidey on the right. The blurb “Giant Guest Star Bonanza!” is wedged, rather uncomfortably, beneath the logo. It’s nothing to speak of, really, but someone at Marvel must have liked it because the same design is used just two months later as the Avengers face the X-Men on the cover of The Avengers #53, June 1968

and then about a year and a half after that as the Avengers face the Squadron Sinister on the cover of The Avengers #70, November 1969.

Can anyone think of any other examples?

On the splash page, the story is subtitled, “In Which the Fabulous FF make their deadliest mistake.” I can’t wait to find out what that is. In the meantime, let’s look at Kirby’s splash illustration with everything pointed just over the reader’s right shoulder. Going from bottom left to upper right, we have the Thing staring at something over our right shoulder, a huge floor-anchored, complex gun pointed over our right shoulder (helmed by Mr. Fantastic) and the Human Torch flying toward our right shoulder.

Page 2 panel 2 recaps the same confusing business from DD #38. The Thing says, “Anyway, how can ya be sure that ol’ Hornhead is really Doom?” “Because the real Daredevil called to warn us!” says Reed. “But how d’ya know it wuz the real DD?” asks the Thing. “Don’t you remember? We checked his voice against the audio record on on [sic, yeah the lettering stuttered] our voca-file!” Yeah, but, if Doom has taken over DD, then why would DD have DD’s voice? Never mind. We’ve already been through that.

Page 2 panel 4 shows Daredevil’s blind staring eyes. His red eye lenses are missing. Is this Jack screwing up or a moment for dramatic effect? His eyes are not seen again in the issue.

Okay, so, Daredevil is heading to the Baxter Building to warn the FF about Doom. The three FF members on hand await. (“There was time to get Sue safely out of town,” says Reed.) The Torch flies out, sees DD coming, and attacks. During the brief fight, Johnny calls DD “Doom” and DD thinks, “So that’s it! He still thinks I’m the other DD!” as if there were actually two Daredevils rather than that Doom took over DD’s body. I think all this confuses every character. Or rather Stan is confused so all of his characters are confused. This brief fight is not the Torch’s shining hour. Daredevil maneuvers him so he crashes into a water tower, dousing his flame and knocking him out.

Daredevil pulls Johnny out of the water only to find Spider-Man standing there. “Am I too late for the party? What gives, Horn Head?” asks Spidey. DD explains that the FF think he is Dr. Doom. “They think you’re Doom? You’re puttin’ me on!” says the web-slinger. DD has no patience for this. “If you think it’s a gag, then cut out! Who needs you?” he barks. “You really mean it, eh?” says Spidey, “You are in a jam! Okay, then, you can count on your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man! But, if we have to stand up to the FF, we’ll need help!” DD starts to protest that he isn’t looking for any help but Spidey cuts him off. “Reee-lax, son!” he says and web-swings away. “While I was cavorting around town, I noticed just the joker we need!” he says, “If he’s still there, we’ll be in business!” (Spidey is web-swinging along as he says this. Is he still talking to Daredevil? Actually, with his hyper-senses, DD can probably still hear him…but Spidey doesn’t know this.) Spidey heads toward a wobbly Thor. (And I’m not talking about any union connections. “He’s just getting up,” thinks Spidey, “The big fella looks like he’s been thru a war! Well, nothing like a good fight to shake him out of it!” In a footnote, Stan reminds us that Thor has just been in a severe battle with the Wrecker in Thor #150 but if you check my review of Thor #148, you’ll see that there is no time in any of those issues to fit this episode in. (Also, shouldn’t there be a lot of destroyed buildings nearby?) Spidey tells Thor that “There’s trouble brewing between the FF and Daredevil” but Thor doesn’t want to hear it. “The power of Thor is needed elsewhere.” “Wow! I never thought you’d turn chicken!” says Spidey, pushing just the right button. “Thou darest accuse the son of Odin of cowardice??” bellows Thor. “You figure it out, Curly!” says Spidey. (I love Spidey’s irreverence toward a “god.”)

Daredevil continues his approach to the Baxter Building. But, you know, now that he knows that the FF think he’s Dr. Doom, why not go home and call them up like Doom did, then tell them that all is well once again? Because then Stan and Jack would have to fill the whole issue with a phone call. DD doesn’t make it to the roof. Mr. Fantastic stretches his right arm out and grabs him.

What follow are 14 pages of fighting followed by a one page denouement. Reed wraps his stretchable arms around DD and the Thing moves in for the kill. Reed tells him “We’ve got to find out what he did to the Torch first,” then shoots Ben with a “nerve blast ray” to send him falling back.

Let’s pause for a moment. A nerve blast ray? What ray is this? Where did it come from? If Reed is holding it, we never see it. Besides, both of his arms are wrapped around Daredevil. If it’s the big gun we saw earlier, how did he fire it with both of his arms wrapped around Daredevil? Here’s what I think. It all takes place in one panel (page 6, panel 2). In the artwork, we see Daredevil kicking the Thing, who is thrust back. There are all sorts of force lines emanating from DD’s foot. But the dialogue has the Thing say, “Yer nerve blast ray! Ya used it against me?!!” while Daredevil thinks, “I had a feeling it wasn’t my kick that stopped him!” This looks like a classic disconnect between Stan and Jack. My guess is that Jack drew this with the idea that DD’s kick knocks Ben back and Stan took a look at that and decided that DD’s kick shouldn’t knock Ben back so he added this “nerve blast” dialogue.

DD breaks free of Reed’s grip. They fight as they argue as to whether DD is himself or Dr. Doom. The Thing recovers enough to grab DD by the ankle but Daredevil twists around and leaps on top of him, knocking him back into the big gun which, it turns out, is the “demolo-gun,” not the nerve blast ray. The gun turns on and starts firing, knocking pieces of the Baxter Building off the roof. (No mention as to whether anyone is crushed down below in the street.) Reed yells to Ben to “Smash it!” Why not just turn it off? Ben smashes it, allowing DD to escape.

Seeing all the destruction, Thor decides he should stay and help. Spidey tells him “It cracks me up to watch you fly, holding onto that crazy hammer!” but Thor lets him know that Odin has stripped him of his “enchanted powers,” meaning he cannot fly. So, Spidey web-swings over with Thor hanging on. Instead of going directly to the roof, they stop and swing hand-over-hand on some webbing strung up like a tightrope. (Don’t ask me why.) Thor tells Spidey he doesn’t relish fighting the FF. “I don’t like the idea of slugging it out with them either!” says Spidey, “But mostly because they’ve got a bad habit of never losing! Any one of those characters has the power to hold off a small army! Even Moishe Dayan would think twice about tangling with them!” So who is Moishe Dayan (usually spelled Moshe Dayan)? Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) was the eyepatch-wearing Israeli Defense Minister during the Arab-Israeli 1967 Six Day War. No doubt Spidey’s mention of the FF holding off a “small army” got him thinking in military terms. Since the Israelis won the war so quickly and definitively, Spidey is using Dayan as the epitome of military strength. If even Dayan would think twice about tangling with the FF, then look out!

Remember how DD tricked the Torch into smashing into a water tower? Well, the Torch comes to on the roof of that water tower and it looks like no one ever smashed through it in the first place. (To be fair, we can’t see the entire roof but what we can see looks fine.) He sees Spidey and Thor heading for the Baxter Building and reasons that they may be enemies in disguise. “Doom was a master at creating lifelike robots! And it’s just possible that those two are his latest handiwork!” So, the Torch confronts Spidey and Thor, ordering them away. Instead, Spidey swings off and the Torch follows, leaving Thor to tackle the Thing. (So, that was a neat trick, eh? Now our threesomes are paired up in battle: Spidey vs. the Torch, Thor vs. the Thing, DD vs. Mr. Fantastic.)

There’s a great Kirby full-page drawing of Thor and the Thing pounding on each other, with plenty of force lines and glowing impacts. Elsewhere, Spidey leads the Torch to a chemical plant where the Torch blunders once again. Last time, he plowed into the water tower. This time, he runs into the fumes from a chimney that ignite from his flame. Meanwhile, the roof collapses under DD and Reed, sending them down into one of Reed’s laboratories. Reed completely envelops DD with his pliable body but DD finds a “power rod” and zaps Reed with it. “How could you spot that rod when I had you totally blindfolded?” wonders Reed. He decides that only a robot could “operate so well without being able to see.” So, Reed, wait! Now he’s a robot? You’re going to dispense with the idea that he is Doom inside DD’s body? Why not accept the fact that he’s the real DD?

The Thing/Thor fight continues. The Thing wonders, “How can any blasted robot manage to talk as corny as that?” after Thor has come out with one of his spiels. So, now the Thing also thinks these are all robots? Where did he get that idea? Did he hear Johnny? Did he hear Reed? Ben worries that he is pulling his punches because “Ya look like the good guys,” but when Thor says, “To think that the once-proud Fantastic Four have turned to craven savagery?” Ben takes offense and lets loose. Except that his haymaker hits something with a SPTANG! “But it wuzn’t Thor!”

Below, Mr. F. and DD continue to duke it out. Reed demands to know “Where the real Dr. Doom is,” meaning he has completely bought into the idea that DD is a robot, I suppose. He throws a punch at DD’s head but hits something invisible instead. It is an invisible force shield projected by Sue Richards, the Invisible Girl. (Still, Girl at this point in the series.) She had also used a force shield to stop the Thing’s punch. Now, she tells Reed that he is making a mistake and that “He is the real Daredevil.”

How does Sue know? “It was on the six p.m. TV news! Doom’s in Latveria - - he was addressing a conference of ministers! Then, when I learned Spider-Man, Thor, and Daredevil were seen at the Baxter Building - - and an explosion was reported - - I couldn’t stay away!” And Reed says, “I guess that clears things up, DD!” Whoa! Whoa! Waitaminute! That may clear things up for Sue, who was around in DD #38 when Daredevil first called in to report that Doom had stolen his body but it shouldn’t clear up anything for Reed and the rest because, by this time, they have decided they are fighting robots. Doom could have easily sicced his robots on the FF and gone home to Latveria.

But that’s the end of it. Spidey and the Torch show up, friends again, apparently. The Thing says, “I figgered it wuz you guys alla time! No blamed robots could fight like that!” Reed shakes DD’s hand and says, “Well, as Mayor Laguardia (New York mayor from 1934-1945) used to say – when I make a mistake, it’s a whopper!” The Thing mentions that Thor has already left to “fight some creep called the Wrecker” and Stan reminds us of Thor #150. (There’s that troublesome Thor #150 again.) Ben wonders what they should do about Doom now that they know he’s alive and Johnny says, “As long as Doom remains in Latveria we can’t touch him!” Sue and Reed embrace, a big symbolic heart glows behind the Baxter Building and that is that.

Next: The Silver Surfer and Galactus! Sounds great! Too bad we won’t be reviewing that one. Or that we didn’t review that one instead of this one.

So, what was the FF’s “deadliest mistake?” I suppose it was assuming that DD was Doom or a robot but nobody died so it wasn’t that deadly. What would have been cool was if DD was a robot and ended up killing the FF while their guard was down. Now, that would have been their deadliest mistake!

General Comments

The FF touted itself as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” and, from about issue #35 to issue #67, it had a good argument. But this is issue #73, when Jack Kirby was tiring of using all of his good ideas with such little return and this issue has nothing of note in it. Even the fights are predictable and pedestrian. Instead of a grand melee as implied on the cover, the characters pair off so that Daredevil battles Mr. Fantastic, Spidey takes on the Torch and Thor fights the Thing. A Spidey-Torch fight is nothing new for a Spidey fan so the novelty of Spidey guest-starring in the FF is offset by an all-too familiar scenario. And not much comes of it anyway. A quick trip to the chemical factory where the Torch ignites some fumes, then the two of them show up at the end with no further explanation. Spidey is awful quick to want to attack the FF to begin with. “They think you’re Doom? You’re putting me on!” Then let’s go fight the FF! It’s all a pretty lame excuse.

There are things I like here. I like Spidey’s “You figure it out, Curly” line and some of the rest of his dialogue. I like most of the Kirby artwork, particularly the full-page illustration of Thor taking on the Thing. But even Jack’s artwork is a little sloppy as if his heart isn’t in it. On page 2, we see Daredevil’s eyes, on page 6, DD kicks the Thing and drives him back (but Stan patches this up by introducing Reed’s completely unseen “nerve blaster”), and on page 9, the water tower into which the Torch crashed seems to be repaired.

The story is full of lapses. Why does the FF believe DD is Doom by his voice when DD should have Doom’s voice? Why does Reed ask Ben to destroy the demolo-gun instead of turning it off? Why do Spidey and Thor decide so quickly to join DD and fight the FF when they’ve gotten no proof that DD is not Doom? If Reed has decided that DD (and Spidey and Thor) are Doom’s robots, then why does Sue’s report that Doom is back in Latveria convince him that DD and the others are the real thing? And wasn’t Sue supposed to “safely out of town” to begin with? How did she get back so fast? Ugh!

Overall Rating

I want to like it. I love Lee-Kirby FF, even some of the post-#67 FF. But not this one. It’s a sad conclusion to the DD/Doom battle, which had some cool moments in those Daredevil issues. I’m only giving it one web.

Footnote

Who says a “From the Beginning” review has to be good? Not Brand Echh #7 is next.