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The story picks up right from the end of Fantasic Four #305 with Doom demanding that the FF lend him Franklin for a bit. Doom has clearly been doing his homework, taking us through some of Franklin's recent adventures in 'Power Pack' and elsewhere, but Reed Richards is not going to let him borrow his son for anything. It's all very well Reed saying "I've seen how you care for the welfare of children - with poor, brainwashed Kristoff", but as far as I can see the FF haven't been looking after him much better - they've basically kept him locked up in a padded cell for two years without a change of clothes. Doom isn't bothered by this accusation, stating that Kristoff was activated "in error" and is now superfluous, which also seems a bit odd. We were led to believe that Doom cared for Kristoff, although the whole "mind wiping" plan does make me doubt that, but still it seems like a lot of effort to go through just to dump him when he's "activated" too early. Does he have other children lined up for future contingency plans?
Doom tries to persuade them of his good intentions by swearing an oath that he will sacrifice himself before he allows Franklin to come to any harm. Unsurprisingly this cuts no ice, so he turns on his heals and heads back to the Embassy. Just when it seems that the rest of the annual is going to be the FF sitting around having a nice chat (as so many comics seem to be during this period) Doom attacks the Baxter Build... sorry, Four Freedoms Plaza, and a very long fight breaks out between the FF and Doom's devices. The FF win, but amongst the wreckage we see the true point of Doom's plan - there was a sneaky robot in there all along! The robot snatches Franklin just as the FF are trying to launch into the previously mentioned chatting, and zooms off. Johnny gives chase and is so angry that he calls Doctor Doom the worst thing he can think of, not once but twice! "Pond scum!" Were the Comics Code Authority asleep on the job here? How did they allow such filth to get past them? The robot catches up with Doctor Doom in his aircraft, whereupon he tells Johnny that if Reed had lent him Franklin as asked he would have honoured his oath, but now he doesn't have to. Sorry, what? He made the oath earlier without any conditions, we all saw him do it, so surely he can't just go back on it now? Part of the fun of Doom and his Solemn Oaths over the years has been seeing him get around them while still maintaining his self-image as a man of honour, but this is him just saying "Nah, not doing that now."
Doom then demonstrates some previously unseen child-handling skills, telling Franklin that his mother was "taken away from me by the bad man named Mephisto!" Doom calling somebody "bad man" doesn't feel right - he's not usually one to treat children like children - but it works and Franklin agrees to help, and off they go to Latveria.
Back at Four Freedoms Plaza the FF are indulging in some Claremont-esque bickering, furiously trying to blame each other for what's going on. Sue finds this as tiresome as I do, and tells them all to calm down and get ready for the flight to Latveria. As they set off we finally find out what's happened to Kristoff, as he uses a handy flute (?) to call the kidnapper robot back to his cell. It's nice to see that Kristoff has actually had a change of clothes since last time, and his cell looks less padded, but it still has bars on the window and is very definitely a prison. What's nice about this scene though, and the use of Kristoff throughout the rest of the story, is that it massively leans into the idea that he thinks he's Doctor Doom. He doesn't act like a child pretending to be him or anything like that, he's pretty much a second copy, who knows all Doom's secrets and Cunning Plans. Well, technically he should only know Doom's secrets up to and including his first appearance in Fantastic Four #5 , as per his own origin story in Fantastic Four #278, but this is pretty much ignored for this entire story. It's a shame, as I quite like the idea of Real Doom fighting a version of himself from right at the very beginning of his super-villain career, but as we'll see the plot requires him to have a lot more knowledge than he should have.
A prime of example of this is what happens next, as Kristoff flies all the way to Latveria on the robot's back and... hang on, what? Kristoff arrives just after Doom and the FF, so must have flown at pretty high speeds, and while everyone else was safely encased in supersonic vehicles Kristoff was hanging onto a robot while wearing a pair of shorts. Before we can deal with anything there, he rushes off to a nearby barn on the edge of the country where he keeps a spare Doombot and Doctor Doom suit. All right, how does this work? According to Kristoff's earlier appearance he was only Doom for a very short time, just long enough to abandon his mind-wipe and relaunch his attack on the Baxter Building. We know that this was all done in haste because the Doombots at the time said so, so when did he have time to set all this up? There's at least some attempt to embed this into the continuity, as the Doombot remarks upon his new "raiments" and Kristoff talks about how he must get the his robots similarly re-designed, but it doesn't actually help it make any sense!
Once again we're not given time to ponder this as Kristoff and the Doombot hop into Latveria's apparently extensive tunnel system where they bump into the Fantastic Four, at which point Kristoff sets off a trap that he can't know about because... well, you get the general idea. At this point we finally cut back to the real Doctor Doom, where it seems that Paul Neary has been doing some research, giving Boris the very same lamp he had in Astonishing Tales #8. Clearly this lamp is now seen as a Signifier Of Boris, as we also saw him using it recently in
Mephisto turns up as requested, and Doom's evil plan is revealed: he's going to give Mephisto Franklin's soul in exchange for his mother's! DAN-DAN-DAAAA!!! The FIEND! But hold on a minute, how does that work then? Can you just swap one soul for another? And if so, do you need to do it in person, or could Doom have just sent Mephisto a fax to make the offer? And what happened to the idea of people going willingly? If this is all that's required, couldn't Doom have done this ages ago?
And also: what was the plan going to be if the FF HAD let him take Franklin with him, and he'd have been bound to keep his oath? Surely none of this would have worked then?
A theme of this comic seems to be that whenever Steve Englehart writes himself into a corner like this he throws in the sudden arrival of some Action, and that's exactly what he does next. Kristoff arrives with his army of Doombots, throwing everything into disarray. Mephisto is confused, and so are the Doombots! It looks to me as if Neary is quoting the Worried Doombots from Kristoff's first appearance, and I like the way that Englehart writes them the same way, like Civil Servants who are not quite sure that what their master is saying is quite correct, but feel professionally bound to go along with it. Mephisto's had quite enough of all this and decides to go home to hell, taking Franklin with him. Again, this feels like cheating - is he allowed to just pop up to earth and steal any soul he fancies? I mean, I know he's Marvel's version of the Devil so should not be expected to play fairly, but if he can do that why doesn't he do it all the time? Why go to all the bother of Tempting or Tricking people if he can just take whoever he likes?
Reed sees Mephisto disappearing, so quickly picks up a remote control for the Psychic Dampeners that Doom had set up on the castle (somehow) and follows Mephisto into hell through a wormhole, where he switches off the Dampeners. But surely those were only effective in Latveria weren't they? So why do they need to be switched off when they're in another dimension? Either way, Franklin's power is unleashed, Mephisto decides he can't be doing with this much hassle, and both Reed and Franklin get sent home again. Once they get back Franklin's full powers are working again, and he decides he's going to punish Doom by sending him to hell. His dad tells him not to, as "no-one deserves to be sent to Mephisto", which I'm not sure I quite agree with. Doom has been an absolute swine here - I'd even go so far as to call him "Pond Scum"!
The final section of the comic is the aftermath, where we get Doom and Kristoff competing to be the most sad about "their" mother's death. At lot of this story has been nonsensical, but I do like the way that Englehart does this, with each of them getting annoyed at the other for being a fake version of themselves and blaming them for what's gone wrong. Reed Richards tells Real Doom that this was his fault all along, and Real Doom agrees. To me, this is a much needed return to Doom as Honourable Character, able to admit his own mistakes. We've not seen enough of that version in this issue, but it turns out that the Doombots prefer Straight Out Evil Doom, and decide that anyone prepared to admit weakness must be a fake. This is all a bit daft, but also brilliant! If we squint and cross our fingers we might even be able to see it as an acknowledgement of how much Doom has evolved as a character over the past 26 years, going from a straight-out villian (as portrayed by Kristoff) to a quasi-honourable human being who is at least partially self-aware. It's also a Really Cool Twist which allows Kristoff to take control of the situation, ordering the Doombots to attack and forcing Real Doom to display yet more of his characteristics by a) blowing up some robots and b) fleeing the scene while c) insisting he is definitely not fleeing the scene. All that remains is for Reed to have one more go at persuading Kristoff he's not really Doom, by saying "I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you once more that you're not Doctor Doom?" If that's been his methodology all this time then it's not really surprising that Kristoff's had absolutely no progress for two years, and here he brushes this aside, so that the FF are left to simply wander off and go home in an ending that is either a subtle nod to "The Most Off-Beat Ending Of The Year" in Fantastic Four #87, or just Englehart and Neary getting to the last page all of a sudden. And that's the end of that! As I say, we're very close to the end of this selection of comics and other texts, with just a couple of cameo appearances to go before we have a bit of a tidy up with a few items that got missed along the way. It would have been nice to have another classic story to finish off with here, but in a way it's nice to have something like this instead, which leans heavily into continuity but is also filled with big fight scenes, nonsensical plots, and some Really Cool Bits. That sums up an awful lot of what we've been reading!
link to information about this issue
posted 27/8/2021 by Mark Hibbett
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