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This was released as part of a series of Marvel Novels by Pocket Books, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, in 1979. It claims to be about The Fantastic Four, but oh boy is it ever about Doctor Doom! He is very much the main character throughout, carries most of the plot, and is surprisingly coherent with his comics equivalent, unlike the FF who have some major changes made to their origins.
I missed this one altogether when I was putting together my original corpus, and only discovered it this year because of a story in Bleeding Cool about it being reissued later this year as an audiobook. In my defence, none of the sites I looked at mentioned it, and it isn't in the Grand Comics Database because it isn't a comic, but it would have been amazing to have been able to include it in my PhD analysis as it's got so much to say about Doctor Doom.
The story features Doctor Doom turning up at his college reunion, in a vaguely similar way to what happened back in Fantastic Four #143 by Gerry Conway. However, where that was a cunning ruse to lure Mr Fantastic into his grasp, this time it's ... well, it's a cunning ruse to lure Mr Fantastic into his grasp, except here Doom turns up at the reunion unnanounced, rather than organising it, and invites all of the attendees to come back with him to Latveria for a week. Weirdly, they all agree - I guess in America people take a packed suitcase to college reunions, just in case?
Doom takes everyone on a tour of Latveria, as he is wont to do (for example in the Spider-man cartoon), and everyone is duly impressed, except for the FF who, of course, get stuck in some deathtraps. While they're safely kept out of his way Doom zooms back to the Baxter Building where he gains access to the Negative Zone, harnesses its power, then goes to Stonehenge where he manages to pierce the veil into the after-life, so he can try and rescue his mother.
All of the above takes most of the book, and it goes at a right old clip. It's very easy reading, but you do get the feeling that Marv Wolfman wrote it at a similarly fast pace, as there's lots of repetition of words and quite a lot that doesn't make sense. He also has a tendency to say things are "indescribable" before going on to describe them in the same sentence.
Doom is very Doom throughout the story, but the Fantastic Four do get tweaked a bit, notably the first meeting between Reed Richards and Sue Storm, which now takes place at a party which Sue is attending as a Famous Model And Actress, rather than the original rather creepy version where she's a young girl and Reed is the college-age lodger in her family home. It's a nice way of re-doing it, although the fact that she's an actress doesn't really get used anywhere.
There also seems to be a big assumption that the reader already knows who the Fantastic Four are. We get a re-tellinbg of Doom's origin threaded through the book, but very little about the FF and how they work. Ben Grimm, for instance, just turns up as an orange monster without any explanation or much description. I guess there was a feeling that people who didn't know Marvel comics wouldn't be bothering with these novels, although that doesn't explain why there's so much of Doctor Doom's background in there. My guess is that it's a similar idea to Noah Hawley's "Doctor Doom" movie proposal - his origin story is, like Spider-man's, the sort of story that works as a screenplay, with a character learning and changing across three acts, whereas the Fantastic Four's origin is basically "some people go into space and have an accident", which isn't quite as engaging.
There's some politics in here too, similar to the ideas Wolfman explored in Fantastic Four 198-200 around the same time. Johnny Storm meets (and inevitably falls in love with) the beautiful leader of the Latverian resistance, who asks why they don't overthrow Doom and free her people, Reed Richards says they can't possibly do that, the people must rise up themselves. By the end of the book the people have done just that, "inspired" by the FF, but even then the Latverians are shown as weak and probably unworthy of rebellion, with many of them wondering how they'll be able to get enough to eat without Doom.
I say that the people rise up, as that's how it's put across in the narration, but that's not really what happens. Once Doom gets into The After Life he meets his father and mother, both of whom renounce him for being evil, and he's dragged off, presumably into hell, removing him from power. The people of Latveria don't really do anything, and the only inspiration provided by the FF is that they manage to escape from the Death Traps. As I say, this is very much the story of Doom, who pretty much gets everything he wants and only fails at the final hurdle due to Being Evil.
The whole thing ends with Boris, who has been in it quite a lot, sitting in Doom's throne room. Somehow he's not been arrested as Doom's right hand man, and is just setting off to live the rest of his life when he hears the sound of Doom calling to him from wherever he is now... THE END! It's a lovely, if not entirely unexpected, B-movie ending for a very B-movie storyline which featured a whole lot of Doom. I would thoroughly recommend reading it for anyone who can find it, or indeed listening to it when the audiobook comes out. I know I'll be buying it!
link to information about this issue
posted 1/10/2021 by Mark Hibbett
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