For my purposes, my friend Mike Parsley's generous loan of Fantastic Four Masterworks, Vol. 4, as well as Avengers Assemble by Busiek/ Perez (1999) came at a fortuitous point, the day I was hired to make my new comic. Why? Because there's so much about the art of making fun superhero genre comics to be learned by entertaining the bright young kid in each of us with work that, for such a disposable medium, stands the test of time! Funny Things About old Marvel Comics For one, it's a jovial exercise to envision finding these comic books as they came out, brand new, either introducing you to the world of comic books, or providing your highly-anticipated next fix of adolescent bliss. The way you used to just find comic books sitting out in convenient stores, drug store spinner racks, hospitals, grocery stores---every day life, then BAM! Comic Books!? That's one additional layer to the experience. Part of a flawed system that left you without issues, that brought you mangled copies? Sure! But what a massive boredom breaker to you as a kid...and when you know where to find them, this holy sense of mission sets in privately each time you begin your trip to the place with the latest comic books...
I'm going to say more about pin-ups at the end. They're a tradition---a single page pose of a character, graced with either a few words describing them in relationship to the heroes (in the case of the villains) or personal autographs to the fans (the heroes and friends, of course! Though whoever did the first villain-autographed pin-up surely had a good laugh...). For logistical reasons --filling up pages in my new completed comic book, anticipating that the story was still of indeterminate length and needs to end a page count that is in interval of four-- this nostalgic touch was a great way to personalize the characters in our content. Pin-ups often filled out a format of comic books known as the king-sized or double-sized annual.
The annuals themselves also deserve mention. In the days before back issues were readily found, the reprints included in those annuals were a big help to new fans who had missed out-of-print stories, such as, in the case of FF Annual #2, the first appearance of Doctor Doom in issue five, two years before. Comics went out of print as soon as their production run for the month was complete, so finding the older stories was a chore dependent upon luck, sometimes more so if you lived in rural areas. Comic book shops were still basically a generation away when this annual hit the stands in 1964. I still find the Thing laugh-out-loud funny!
His reactions when the Fantasticar stalls and lands in traffic crack me up. Our hero's frustrated, bewildered, embarrassed...and finally surprised by a crazy offer from a guy who turns out to be an art dealer! Who would've guessed a car personally demolished by the Thing qualified as a "Clobbering Masterpiece"? Goes to show, commercial art relies on marketing. I opened my heart to the giddy intensity of these tales, and in that spirit, experienced so much Benjamin J. Grimm hilarity that I wanted to drag in anyone nearby to appreciate the sarcasm and brilliant parody housed in the speech balloons of this sometimes tortured, self-effacing man-monster. The absurd elements that either infuse the imagination or lose the reader really work in service to the characters.
If they are not as psychologically dark as some modern creations, they nonetheless, in their best representatives, have three-dimensional qualities. The inner and outer conflicts, sometimes between friends and family, kept a balance with the occasional silliness that I believe keeps a story from being just dopey. an extra from FF Annual #1
The uncertainty and self-sacrifice of each of the heroes endears me. Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch, sometimes has as much trouble fitting in as his counterpart Spider-Man, a.k.a. Peter Parker, or his best friend, the Thing. As the youngest, he sometimes doesn't feel taken seriously, and sometimes, he doesn't behave with wisdom beyond his years. But how perfect! Reed and Sue have their share of doubts about not only the missions, but their relationship, which we see grow over the course of the stories (#31-40) in this Masterwork. In fact, it's a crucial time for them. They could still end up in someone else's arms, a fear brought straight to the fore by Victor Von Doom's plan. In fact, why don't we discuss Doctor Doom, here, starting with the first story to portray him as the protagonist, as he had been,in days when he still could have played the hero? Ah, but dark forebodings, family secrets and anger at an world of injustices already had their say...< text-align: center>
The Gypsy Rebel In the origin of Doctor Doom, as presented in Annual #2, there's something of the traditional European folk tale. Merciless tyranny, from ill-tempered lords and barons, provides most of the true villainy of the story, with Victor Von Doom, described as the son of a "kind, gentle folk hero father and an enchanted, mysterious mother," playing the hero, which in his own mind, he remains. His view of the world---about the abuse of power against the weak, the need to be dominant or be destroyed, his own wounds from his losses, inflicted upon his family---necessitates the type of pro-active, Machiavellian means that justify his ruthlessness. He's a type of Byronic hero.
Credit to Stan Lee, too, is due: Doom's father begs of the gypsies to keep someone safe...Victor cries out no one will have to keep him safe, but Boris knows it's the world that must be kept safe, from the rage and genius of Victor Von Doom. It's not apparent how his discover of his mother's sorcerous materials also leads to his robotics genius, but as he grows to maturity, Victor becomes a Robin Hood-type folk hero, tricking the vain, landed gentry with items like a fiddle that plays itself (until he leaves), a golden statues that turns later into mud. He enrages and baffles the lords, while giving away his gains to the poor. He's formidable, but his foes are commanded by brutal people. You can find yourself rooting for this guy! Alas, the American who brings him a scholarship one day also opens the door to Victor's fatal flaw. Possessed of an imperious and aloof nature, the handsome young gypsy "with the features of a demi-god" spurns the friendly overtures of Reed Richards, who finds him in a laboratory and wants to share a common love of scientific experimentation, if not maybe be roommates. (I wonder how his dad ended up with a last name like "Von Doom" but...) It's a terrible mistake Doom makes that alienates him more profoundly...and motivates his hatred for Reed, setting up the main story (which follows the twelve-page Doom origin) in this annual. One thing that makes Doom stand out: he actually becomes the legitimate political power in his country, but as for what lessons he learned about power? It's a question of whether or not the people really feel he's made them prosperous, or the harrowing lengths of propaganda demanded by Doom, who considers himself protector and master. What better way to defend his Balkan nation...than to rule the world? "Final Battle" is a terrific story with loads of wacky humor, spaced with dramatic beats that dominate its quick pace. Doom's plan for turning the Four against one another will get a brilliant twist in the end by Reed. An invitation to a gala at the Latverian embassy proffers the question: just who IS the ruler of Latveria? The outrageous and melodramatic elements actually serve to give the ending resonance. Only Doom's outer space rescue by Rama-Tut at the beginning feels rushed, untapped. It's a good idea initially, tying up Doom's apparent demise in his last appearance.
At least Lee reminds us of the paradoxical mystery he raised about the existence of Rama-Tut and Doom in #19: are they related? The only thing that doesn't wash is the idea of Rama being Doom, a question Doom poses. Lee only wanted to reference the theory. He gives them an excuse not to tackle the FF together, leaving this Doom's show, as Lee/ Kirby intended.