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FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #5 (July 1962)

“Prisoners of Doctor Doom!”  
Script by Stan Lee 
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Joe Sinnot
Letters by Art Simek

One thing missing from The Fantastic Four until this issue was a good, original and unapologetic villain. And while today’s readers know for sure that Doctor Doom would go on to be the defining antagonist of the series, this first appearance only hints at what is to come from this character.

This issue is a very small step down from the previous issue. A lot of what happens in this issue falls back on some of the Atlas-style conventions that Lee and Kirby seem to be so intent on trying to escape.

We get our first look at Doctor Doom on the cover of this issue, which is nicely designed to convey Sue’s separation from the group but lacks the dynamism of the previous issue’s cover. The coloring also is weak — too much of that unusual gray shade that was common on Marvels of this era, plus the unusual choice of green for Doom’s mask and armor. I do, however, like the different colors for the word balloons.

Inside, Doom is introduced on the splash page playing chess with figures of the FF, with a couple of ominous-looking tomes titled “Science and Sorcery” and “Demons” perched nearby, along with a vulture of all things! Since it never came into play in the story, I always assumed it was a statue of a vulture. But Doom does have a pet tiger later in this issue, so maybe keeping exotic animals was part of the original idea for the character.

The Fantastic Four enter on page 2 with what is already becoming a typical intro scene with the Thing and Human Torch teasing and tormenting each other until a fight breaks out and Reed and Sue restrain them. It’s fun that Johnny is once again reading a comic in this issue. This time it’s a copy of The Incredible Hulk #1, allowing Lee the chance to indulge his penchant for self-promotion.

When Doom arrives, he throws a net over the Baxter Building and announces himself from a helicopter. I never noticed until re-reading this issue for this post that Doom’s helicopter is painted to look like a shark! That’s awesome.

What’s also awesome is that Reed explains Doom’s back story in a mere five panels! The emphasis in this retelling is on Doom’s interest in and talent for sorcery, which I never found as interesting as the idea that Doom is Reed’s equal in every way with darker, more selfish motivations.

It’s a good thing Lee explains all this so clearly, as Doom’s plan to take first Sue then the rest of the Fantastic Four hostage is rather silly. Even more strange is the idea that Doom needs the treasure of famous pirate Blackbeard badly enough that he has no choice but to send his enemies back in time to retrieve it. There’s a lot of holes in the plot, but it’s a good excuse to bring some pirates into the story, so it’s back in time we go.

 Every time I read this comic, I’m surprised to find that most of the really good stuff comes from the Blackbeard segment rather than the Doom part. Jack Kirby really should have done a pirate comic book because the way he handles the pirate action mixed with superheroes is pure fun. I especially love the Golden Age-style splash panel on page 14, with the Human Torch soaring into battle. And it’s no wonder the Thing wants to stick around — it really is the most fun he’s had in the series so far.

Reed’s trick is a bit dishonest — not that he should play fair with someone like Doom — but Doom’s original request is for the treasure, not the chest. To be fair, though, Doom does specifically ask for the chest on page 8 as he presses the button to send the trio into the past.

My next funky thought in re-reading this is that the cool sequence in which Doom returns Reed, Johnny and Ben has the characters doing what looks like a dance — it has to be “The Time Warp” — in the middle panel.  

Reed’s deception exposed, we start to get some cool stuff with Doom, who rolls out the first Doombot to get smashed to bits by the Thing. And again it’s the Invisible Girl who bails everybody out by taking advantage of Doom’s underestimation of her abilities to escape and free her colleagues.

Again the issue’s build up of steam seems to hit a wall as Lee and Kirby run out of room. So page 23 sees Doom abruptly escape via jetpack while Johnny’s power cuts out and prevents pursuit. I’m not sure how Johnny saved himself by grabbing that tree branch — Reed must have been too beat to do anything — but he does in time for a little heavy-handed foreshadowing about the next issue.


Al Williamson, 1931-2010


FF Re-read: The Fantastic Four #6 (Sept. 1962)

1 Comment

  1. fantastic four are the best. thanks for this article, insightful and entertaining as always!

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