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Fantastic Four #503

Posted: Monday, September 8, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Mark Waid
Artists: Howard Porter (p), Norm Rapmund (i)

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot:
The book opens in the gift shop on the ground floor of the Baxter Building, where we see the conversation amongst the various Fantastic Four fans is largely centered around the idea that the team hasn't made a single appearance all week. We then look in on the missing foursome, as we find them in Dr. Doom's Latveria, where they are busy driving off an invasion from a neighboring nation that had hoped to take advantage of Doom's absence. We then follow the four as they make their way to Doom's castle, and along the way they are quick to discover the people of Latveria are not happy to see them, as they've been taught that the Fantastic Four are evil. After Reed manages to circumvent Doom's various security features, we see he quickly makes his way to Doom's labs, where he brings an end to the Doombots attempts to squirrel away Doom's vast collection of technology within a dimensional pocket. We then see the team spends the rest of the night protecting this stash from the various super-villains & terrorist groups that are looking to add to their own collections. After a long night, we join the team the next day as Ben, Johnny & Sue are shocked to discover that Reed has made plans to stay in Latveria, in spite of the fact that they are despised by the native population, and have lives they want to get back to at home.

Comments:
This issue plays up one of the more overlooked aspects of Dr. Doom that I personally have always found fascinating, as the idea that Victor Von Doom is the ruler of a foreign nation has always been fun little character element. I mean it's not as uncommon as it once was, as over at DC we have Lex Luthor running around as the President of the United States, and since Dr. Doom made his debut, we've been introduced to the Queen Bee (ruler of Bialya), Sonar (ruler of Modora), Count Vertigo (ruler of Vlatava), and of course Darkseid (ruler of his own planet). Still, Dr. Doom was the first super-villain to have a day job as the ruler of a foreign nation, and in an odd little twist this role has always served to balance the character, as while he was allowed to be a raging super-villain with the typical villainous ranting & ravings, writers were also allowed to play up the idea that he couldn't simply be locked away, as he held a position of power on the global scene. In fact some of the strongest Dr. Doom appearances as of late have been the direct result of his role as the ruler of Latveria, as how could one not enjoy his little meeting with T'Challa in the pages of Black Panther, or his brief but memorable role in the recent Thor arc. I love the idea that Dr. Doom's absence has a noticeable aftermath, as we see it was Dr. Doom's presence that kept the wolves from the door, and now that he's gone his nation has become a plum target for every super-villain, or terrorist group with visions of global domination dancing about in their heads.

The decision that Reed appears to make on the final page is rather interesting, as it does seem to fly in the face of the team dynamic, in that while Reed is generally looked upon as the leader that all the others look to when it comes to fashioning a plan, more than any other team the Fantastic Four are all about teamwork. I mean when Reed tells one of them to jump, they tend to jump as the years of experience have impressed upon them that Reed knows best. In fact this is one of the only times that I can actively recall Reed coming up with a suggestion that left the others truly stunned, as the only other moment like this that comes to mind played out way back during John Byrne's run when he told the assembled heroes that they had to save the dying Galactus' life. Now what makes Reed's current suggestion so unsettling is that his recent battle has left some serious concerns about just where Reed's head is at, as while he does seem to have a plan, we can no longer be entirely certain that it's the ideal one for the situation. I mean Mark Waid has made it fairly apparent that Reed has some serious issues that he hasn't really addressed, and frankly there's nothing quite as disturbing as the idea that Reed's current plan might be driven more by emotion than logic. Than again one also gets the sense that we're supposed to be unsettled by Reed's declaration.

I was not a fan of Howard Porter's work on the J.L.A., as I felt his figure work was shaky at best, and overall the work simply wasn't able to deliver the big scale action that was playing out in the pages of that series. So when I noticed his name in the credit box I have to confess I was not exactly overly excited. However, I must admit Howard Porter's work has either tightened up considerably, or I've simply been exposed to so many artists whose style contains a wildly distorted view of the world, that his art now looks quite conservative. Still you can tell it's a Howard Porter issue, thanks to the steady barrage of falling leaves. Now I did find the colors on this issue looked a little muted & washed out, but the big impact moments worked exceptionally well, as the one-page spread of the damaged Baxter Building was a great looking shot, as was the page where the Human Torch makes his presence known to the advancing Hungarian army. I also have to say that I rather enjoyed his take on the Thing, as Ben's rocky hide has a wonderful textured look to it, and while he comes across as a bit large when he's side by side with his teammates, he certainly makes for an imposing visual. The setting of Dr. Doom's castle was also nicely done, as it looks & feels like an old medieval environment, so the various flashes of advanced technology really stand out.

Final Word:
I like the idea that Dr. Doom being trapped in Hell has made a wider impact than we normally see when he's been defeated, though most times he's managed to keep up the ruse that he never left via his Doombots. Still, I love the idea that the Fantastic Four have to defend Doom's technology from the various groups that would love to lay their hands upon his vast hoard, and that the nations that border Latveria suddenly realize how vulnerable Doom's nation is when he's not around to protect it. I also like the underlying tension that now appears to exist within the Fantastic Four, as Reed is no longer acting like he's part of the team, but rather he's making some fairly drastic actions, and just assuming the others will back him. I also like that the issue takes some time to address the notion that while he ruled the country with a iron fist, for the most part the people of Latveria were content under Dr. Doom's rule, and that they view the Fantastic Four as foreign invaders, who have longer been the hated enemies of their leader.



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