Mondo Marvel #29 - Annuals 1964A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy
Welcome back folks, to the twenty-ninth installment of this grand experiment we like to call Mondo Marvel. And it's just in time for Christmas! And Lemmy's Birthday!
Yes, the God of Rock was born on this day in 1945, so Lemmy, this one's dedicated to you.
Because I'm sure he'd give a crap about this column.
Anyway, it's also Christmas Eve, and as a special present to me, this month lines up with the release of Marvel's 1964 Annuals! Which means I get a short column this time out. Thanks gang!
Back in Mondo Marvel #17 I had some things to say about Annuals and their place in comics today compared to the Sixties. Nothing too intelligent, just noting how at a time when the average story was done in one full issue, or in one section of an anthology title, the idea of a larger page-count could allow for a bigger story. Something special.
Well, since then, we've had a couple of developments to the way Marvel published their stories, as Lee and Company began making stronger connections between issues, and have even experimented with two-parters in both the full-length Fantastic Four and in the anthology titles, Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense.
This means that the Annuals need to try a little harder this year to be something special. And boy, do they!
I usually try to write this column without an eye to the future, to try and give it all a fresh read (and I know I don't always stick to that, but I do try), but this month I'm going to indulge myself a little bit.
You see, Fantastic Four Annual #2 is all about Doctor Doom, and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 tells of the first grouping of The Sinister Six. When I was growing up in the early Seventies two of my favorite comics weren't regular issues of a book, but the huge collection of Super Villain Secret Origins called Bring on the Bad Guys (1976) and oversized Marvel Special Edition #1 The Spectacular Spider-Man (1975).
These books reprinted the stories we'll be discussing today and they were awesome.
So don't be surprised if I start reminiscing about my fabled childhood. Let's get to it, shall we?
Fantastic Four Annual #2
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
"The Fantastic Origin of Doctor Doom!"
This year's Annual opens with the first of two original stories. Which, if you're not going to give us a extra-long epic adventure like last year's adventure in Atlantis, is perfectly acceptable in my book. Especially when one of those adventures is the secret origin of Doctor Doom!
I first read this in Bring on the Bad Guys back in 1976, when I was eight years old, and I loved it then. I think I kind of love it still.
I've been worrying about the use of Doctor Doom since his first appearance back in FF #5. He's been presented as a threat, but almost never as a fully credible one. Well, that's not exactly true. In the context of the stories, we're supposed to believe he's a real threat, but the actualization of that threat hasn't been very well orchestrated since that first time.
And it doesn't help that every time he's defeated, he's sent spiraling off into one void or another, either into space, between dimensions, or to microscopic size.
Finally we get a peek inside of his head, and we get to see just what made him the villain he is today. But not without some very interesting additions to his mythology that we haven't seen yet.
As it turns out, Doctor Doom is the supreme ruler of Latveria, a small country nestled in the Bavarian Alps. Wha? That kind of comes out of nowhere, but is a welcome addition to the character that makes him a much more interesting threat than he's ever been portrayed before. He's not just a bad guy. He's a political leader at the same time.
With this short story we discover that he was born to a poor gypsy tribe. His father was an honorable and trusted healer and his mother, who died before he could know her, was a sorceress. When his father is unable to save the life of the dying wife of the local Baron, the Baron trashes the gypsy camp and forces Werner Von Doom to flee with his young son, Victor.
The weather is too harsh for them, though, and Werner uses his own clothing to wrap up Victor in an attempt to save him from the freezing cold. It works and Victor survives, but he is overcome and dies shortly thereafter. This, as you might expect, pushes young Victor in a dangerous direction. He declares that he will someday get revenge on the entire world for the death of his father.
There's an interesting wrinkle to the story of Doom, and I'm not sure how intentional it is. There's a passive complicity to those who surround Doom, from his earliest days. The gypsies, who he eventually leads, thanks to his technological skills and drive, are well-aware that he's a threat to all mankind, but no one says or does anything about it. In fact, they encourage it so long as he's helping them out.
The same goes for the mysterious Tibetan Mystics he takes up with after his time at the State University in America (more on that in a minute). He quickly masters their knowledge of magic and rises to a leadership position. They craft his armor, and note to each other as he flies away, "Woe to the world now that Doctor Doom is born!"
Nobody's taking responsibility for what they are allowing to happen, and because of this, Doctor Doom is set loose upon the world. But, hey, at least back in Latveria everything is pretty good. Sure, the country still looks like it's filled with peasants, but it's made clear to the readers that Latveria has prospered under Doom's rule. So he's got some interesting, noble qualities that seem to be side-effects of his own selfish, megalomaniacal drive for knowledge and power.
Which instantly makes Doctor Doom the most interesting villain in the Marvel Universe, as far as I'm concerned, rivaled only by Namor and Loki.
As for his time at State University, we already knew that Reed Richards had attended at the same time (see FF #5), but it seems Reed knew a little more about him than he let on back when he first mentioned this info. Turns out, he had tried to buddy up to Doom and be his roommate. When Doom refused, Reed ended up rooming with the Touchdown King, Ben Grimm.
Reed also was hovering around the fringes of the event that pushed Doom over the edge. Doom was conducting experiments with matter transmutation and dimension warps, in an attempt to contact the nether world. At this point, we don't know what the purpose of these experiments are, but we can make a pretty healthy guess.
Regardless, Reed notices some mistakes in Doom's calculations, but his ego won't let him listen to Reed's advice and Doom goes on with the experiment, which then, literally, blows up in his face. With his good looks ruined and his time at State University cut short (he's expelled) he heads for Tibet and rebirth.
It's an interesting little bit of subtle ret-conning that Lee and Kirby are engaging in here. Aside from making Doom the ruler of a small country, we get an intriguing moment in his and Reed's shared history which helps to create an emotional link between the two of them. Doom isn't just obsessed with the Fantastic Four for reasons of professional jealousy, Reed was there at the very beginning. His pointing out of Doom's mistaken calculations have got to be a psychological sticking point for him.
It allows for a more personal relationship between the two of them, making them more compelling foils for each other. It also raises an interesting point of speculation. What if Doom had listened to Reed? Or better yet, what if Doom had roomed with Reed? If Reed and Ben hadn't met and roomed together, we probably wouldn't have the Fantastic Four at all.
Or a very different Fantastic Four.
Next up: A Gallery of the Fantastic Four's Most Famous Foes! In Order!
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
"Prisoners of Doctor Doom!"
Since this is a reprint of Doctor Doom's first appearance back in Fantastic Four #5, here's a link to our discussion of that issue.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
"The Final Victory of Doctor Doom!"
As per usual with The Fantastic Four, we open with our heroes interacting with New Yorkers. This time it's a bit more dangerous than usual, as the Fantasti-car is out of control and about to crash unless Ben can land her on a busy city street. He does, but accidentally damages a tourist's car in the process. This opens up a possibility that I can't believe hasn't been mentioned before.
The old man threatens to sue them and call the police, calling them a menace.
He's not wrong.
Luckily, an art dealer is on hand to offer the old guy a thousand dollar pay-off for the car. He then convinces Ben to completely demolish the car, which he is then going to sell as Modern Art and make a fortune. I'm not sure if this is a dig at the Art World, or a way of implying that even though they're dangerous, the FF is still a benefit to the New York economy.
Anyway, since this Annual is really all about Doctor Doom, we quickly catch up with him, hurtling through space (as we saw at the end of Fantastic Four #23). With only minutes of oxygen left in his armor, he is plucked out of space by a passing spaceship.
As luck would have it, it is his ancestor, Rama Tut, who's been cruising through space since being defeated by the FF back in Issue 19. And just in case this isn't enough of a coincidence for you, dear reader, for some reason, Lee and Kirby decide to interject a bizarre little time-travel paradox that, for the life of me, I can't understand why it even comes up.
Instead of just accepting that this guy from the 23rd Century is his ancestor, Doom suddenly postulates that, perhaps, they are one and the same person, separated by the centuries.
It doesn't really make sense, and I think Lee knows it, since he immediately has Rama Tut say it's possible, but explains away the paradox of their distinct histories with a cryptic, "Time is one of the greatest mysteries in life!" Hell, if Einstein couldn't understand Time then surely anything is possible.
Apparently, this is still the attitude toward time travel by some current Marvel writers who shall remain nameless.
Essentially all of this is background, anyway, and really only serves to get Doom back to earth. But instead of a team-up, Rama Tut heads back to the future and Doom heads for the Latverian Embassy.
And this is when we discover how Lee explains the fact that we never knew about Doom's ties to Latveria until now. It seems that Latveria has a Prime Minister, but there are rumors about a secretive leader who is actually in control of the country. Someone known only in international rumors as The Master. And with that, Doom's new status is worked into the tapestry of the Marvel Universe.
This also sets the stage for Doom's latest trap. This time it's a party at the Latverian Embassy, where the gang is drugged and start hallucinating. It's not a very well thought-out plan at this point, and then it's further undermined by Doom's own morose attitude.
He wonders if even defeating the FF will really make him happy and decides to look at his ruined face for the first time in years. Of course, it causes him to freak out and destroy the mirror, which alerts the FF that something is going on and leads to an immediate confrontation.
Which in turn leads to Sue calling herself a fool for believing her hallucinations of Reed cheating on her were true. But, sensitive soul that he is, Reed tells her it's not her fault. Or, in his words, "Not a fool, Sue... merely a female! You couldn't have reacted differently!!"
Yes, two exclamation points.
But with the plot spoiled, we shift to Central Park, where Ben is still trying to beat the crap out of Johnny.
The rest of the story is fairly inconsequential, except for the fact that Doom acknowledges what I suspected earlier, that it's all about Reed. And now that we have their first meetings documented and worked into continuity, we get the immediate payoff that I expected. After being tricked into thinking he'd defeated Reed, Doom is satisfied and leaves the others alive.
And when asked why they don't follow and finish him off, Reed invokes Doom's diplomatic immunity; a soon-to-be-recurring element in the further exploits of Doctor Doom.
All-in-all, this isn't as successful an adventure as last year's Annual, but it accomplishes almost the exact same thing that Namor's fleshing-out did. We now have an actual character with sympathetic aspects, rather than a one-dimensional villain. And we've got the second actual leader of a country with a mad-on for Reed Richards.
I guess when you're a bit of a dick like Reed, you collect powerful enemies.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
"The Sinister Six!"
Right off the bat, we're promised 41 pages of action and excitement, and to be quite honest, it's not an exaggeration! As I mentioned earlier, this was my absolute favorite Spider-Man adventure when I was eight. The reason is pretty clear. Six of Spidey's worst villains team-up to take him down in an epic, extended adventure.
It doesn't hurt that we get full-page, pin-up style, scenes of battle between Spidey and each of the bad guys. It also helps with that page-count, I'm sure.
But what of the story, itself?
Well, it's pretty much what you'd expect. After breaking out of prison, Doc Ock, who has gained the ability to psychically control his robotic octopus arms (after surgeons figure out how to remove them from his body – remember, they were fused to him during his origin accident), gathers together five other Spidey Villains and pitches them his master plan to defeat Spider-Man once and for all.
Although a couple of the villains suggest attacking Spidey all at once, they are over-ruled and it is decided that the villains will draw numbers and take on their nemesis one at a time, weakening him further and further until surely he will be defeated. This actually plays pretty well to the more egotistical of the group and so it begins.
By the way, we're talking about Doctor Octopus, Electro, Mysterio, Sandman, Kraven the Hunter, and The Vulture (not necessarily in that order).
In order to throw a little more drama into the scenario, Spider-Man, after obsessing over the death of Uncle Ben a little bit, wishes he didn't have powers. Then, lo and behold, his powers disappear in a bit of psychosomatic self-defeatism.
Luckily, they return just in time as our villains kidnap Betty Brant and, by accident, Aunt May, and Peter lets his inner bad-ass out to play. Seriously. He's determined to save them, so all of the fights are over pretty quickly. If he was this motivated all the time, there would be no crime in New York at all.
And that's pretty much it for the story.
There are a couple of things that helped to make this stand out to me as a kid (besides the awesome fights and splash pages of Spider-Man punching everybody in their respective faces). The first was the fact that there are cameo appearances by every single super hero in the Marvel Universe, except Daredevil for some reason. And each surprise appearance, whether it's Thor flying through a scene, Doctor Strange interrupting some teen-age bullying, or The Fantastic Four cruising through the city in their Fantasti-car, is accompanied by an editorial note reminding us that each hero (or team of heroes) appears in their own titles that we should all be checking out.
The second interesting and amusing thing about the story is the fact that Aunt May kind of likes Doc Ock, who is very polite and friendly to her, as well. Surely that will never come back to haunt Peter. Heh heh.
So this is quite a bit of fun, but ultimately doesn't really amount to much more than a 41 page plug for this and other Marvel Comics. In that sense, it's a bit of a letdown when compared to The Fantastic Four Annual, where the event is used to really flesh out the characters' world and motivations.
Oh well. You can't have everything. It was still a cool little story, especially when reprinted on gigantic Marvel Treasury Edition sized pages.
This is all followed by, as in the FF Annual, "A Gallery of Spider-Man's Most Famous Foes!" all listed in the order in which they appeared over the course of the series so far. We also get a short series of behind-the-scenes pages exploring "The Secrets of Spider-Man!" Then we get a series of Pin-ups.
But the most intriguing of these extras is "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!", which is an interesting little bit of self-parody that, knowing what we know now, I can't help but think is more true than it seems. Essentially it's two pages of Stan and Steve bitching at each other and sniping about the quality of their respective work. Lee and Ditko, the comic characters, don't really seem to like each other very much.
And that's that for this installment of Mondo Marvel.
What's that? Well, yeah, there actually is another Annual released this month in 1964, but it's the Marvel Tales Annual #1, and it's all reprints. Since I've already talked about all of the stories included in it, I decided to just ignore it.
It's not about expanding the Marvel Universe, anyway. It's a marketing tool, allowing people who were just discovering Marvel Super Heroes a way to find out more about them, and, you know, get them hooked on the ongoing series. It's kind of like crack in that sense.
Give the kids a taste and they'll start craving it.
I know it worked for me. Just look at me now.