Ask Chris #95: Hey Dr. Doom, What’s Another Word For Pirate Treasure?
Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why every week, Senior Writer Chris Sims puts his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!
Q: What is the most ridiculous, outlandish plot a super-villain in comics ever had to take over the world? — @Wowmonstershow
A: With the exception of Cobra Commander, people who are actually set on world domination tend to come up with plans that at least have something that at least seems like it could work. I mean, Ra’s al-Ghul once tried to get people to worship him as a cult leader, but he did it by building an orbital death laser. Even if the whole cult thing didn’t work out — it didn’t — having one of those is essentially its own reward.
That time Dr. Doom sent people back in time to get pirate treasure, on the other hand, is just weird.It happened way back in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic Fantastic Four #5, and there is nothing about this story that isn’t completely bizarre. Honestly, the fact that such an undeniable cornerstone of the Marvel Universe is this strange really explains a lot about how it works now. If you’ve ever wondered where the logic came from that allowed the Punisher to be turned into a Frankenstein’s monster until he was healed up by a gemstone that used to belong to an immortal caveman who fought Godzillas, just keep in mind that this story came out only a few months after the one where the FF defeated an army of alien invaders by making them read comics and then turning them into cows.
What really makes this one notable, though, is that it’s Dr. Doom’s first appearance. He’s easily one of the five best comic book characters ever — the other four being, in order, Spider-Man, Batman, Jimmy Olsen and the Thing — and what’s really interesting to me is how much of what defines him is already in place in this issue. There were plenty of stories that followed that added to his character, but the grandeur, the power, the obsession, the plans that don’t quite make sense but are still deadly to his enemies, it’s all here. Virtually everything you’d say to describe Dr. Doom except the word “Latveria” is in this comic.
In fact, most of it’s on the very first page:
It’s not exactly subtle about it, but that one image gets across a lot of information. We know that Dr. Doom is a master of both science and sorcery, and also that he’s into books that have the titles written on them at unusual angles. We know that he’s obsessed with the Fantastic Four, at least to the point that he’s made custom action figures of them that are slightly too large for the chess board that he got out to illustrate his point about how they’re pawns. And most importantly, we know that he talks to himself, about himself, in the third person. These are defining traits.
Incidentally, I really wonder whatever happened to his pet vulture. I don’t think you ever see it again, and that’s a shame. Vulture von Doom would’ve made a great villain for the Pet Avengers.
And the information just keeps coming when Doom heads over to New York and throws a net over an entire building, an act that is truly amazing in the amount of sense it doesn’t make. And the best part is that Reed Richards sees this, and basically just says “Oh yeah, I went to college with this guy.”
I honestly love that Doom’s entire origin is presented as a flashback that takes up a little more than half a page, as though it’s something that we’re expected to already know and just need a quick refresher on. But really, even in a column where I spin simple questions off into thousand-word tangents, nobody needs me to tell them that Lee and Kirby were pretty good at making comic books.
We’re here to talk about the utter lunacy of his plan, and the first sign that things are going to be awesome: Dr. Doom kicking it on a throne with his pet tiger.
First of all, Dr. Doom has a pet tiger. Second of all, he is using it to keep the entire Fantastic Four at bay, as though it presents a legitimate threat to someone who can set his own body on fire and fly. Third, Dr. Doom has a pet tiger. Where are all these pets coming from? And where did they go?
But there’s no time to discover the strange fate of Hobbes von Doom, it’s time to get down to business:
Here’s the thing: I’ll buy that he can build a time machine with no questions at all. The thing I have trouble figuring out is why Dr. Doom got four other people to go back and get the treasure that he wants. At this point in the story, the dude is clearly capable of getting things done himself, so why not just pop back to the 1700s and get the treasure himself?
I guess the most likely explanation is that kidnapping your college rival and forcing him into your actual working time machine is the mad scientist equivalent of showing up to your high school reunion with a supermodel and/or astronaut, but my theory is a little more practical. When you think you’ve invented a time machine, the only way to really test it is for someone to go in there and see if it works. Yes, Dr. Doom is arrogant, but he’s not stupid, so pitching his arch-rival in there to see if it works just makes sense. Even Doc Brown put a dog in the DeLorean, which, now that I think of it, might explain where all those pets ended up.
As for why he wants it, this isn’t just Blackbeard’s Treasure; it’s Blackbeard’s Merlin’s Treasure, a bunch of magic gems (and according to Kirby’s art, at least one tiara) that will somehow render their owner invincible. Because that’s what you want to send your worst enemy to get, right? Something that will make its owner invincible? Of course it is.
So back to the past they go, and while the time machine is a fine example of Latverian craftsmanship that works like a charm, they immediately run into a problem:
Unless they want to screw up the timeline and have a whole bunch of pirates after them, this has suddenly become a stealth mission, and that really introduces a thrilling aspect to the story. How are they going to get by without being seen, especially when their powers are so visually flashy? It presents a great puzzle for Reed to figure out, and one that could be destroyed at any second by Johnny’s impulsiveness or Ben’s temper, adding an element of danger to it.
Or they could just find a gigantic bundle of pirate disguises in the next panel. That works too.
Reed and Johnny are able to disguise themselves pretty easily, but because he’s a big orange rock monster, the Thing requires bit more effort. He gets a wig, a fake beard, an eyepatch, the whole nine yards, and it’s so convincing that when they stop into a nearby tavern to see if they can figure out where Blackbeard’s holed up, a few of the locals mistake them for pirates and give them some drugged grog so that they can pressgang the FF into service on their pirate ship. And in the craziest turn this story’s taken yet, it works. Grog 1, Cosmic Rays 0.
Once they wake up on a ship, though, it doesn’t take the FF long to beat up the pirates and get control, and, being the heroes that they are, they immediately attack the nearest ship and allow their men to slaughter everyone aboard. And in the process, Bashful Benjamin J. Grimm…
…becomes the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Blackbeard.
Going back in time and finding out that you were the person you were going back in time to find is the oldest trick in the sci-fi writer’s toolbox, but in this case, having the legendary Blackbeard turn out to be an orange rock monster sort of ignores the fact that there was, you know, a real guy who actually existed. But at this point, we are far beyond the use of facts.
By definition, anything they find is now technically Blackbeard’s treasure — an awfully convenient development — so they grab the first chest they find, dump out the (presumably) magic jewels, and fill it up with heavy chains so that they can trick Dr. Doom. They do and it does, but because this is 1961, there’s still time for one last deathtrap.
They get out of it and try to capture Dr. Doom, but because he’s Dr. Doom, he flies away on his jetpack and y’all can run and tell that.
He didn’t want that castle anyway. Jerks.
I’ve mentioned before in my discussions of Cobra Commander that you can tell how awesome someone’s master plan is by how many impossible things they have to do just to get to something that shouldn’t be all that hard, so let’s review Dr. Doom’s to see how it stacks up:
Step 1: Build a time machine.
Step 2: Capture the Fantastic Four.
Step 3: Send the Fantastic Four back in time to get magic gems that make whoever owns them invincible. (NOTE: In order to do this, they will most likely have to fight the owner of these gems.)
Step 4: Take the gems that make their owner invincible away from their new owners, the Fantastic Four.
Step 5: Jetpack.
Seems like kind of a long shot to me, but to be fair, Dr. Doom was a master of science and sorcery who owned a helicopter and a tiger. You don’t get to that point without taking a few risks.
Q: Whatever happened to Dave Campbell, of Dave’s Longbox fame? — Anthony, via email
A: For those of you who might not be familiar with him, Dave Campbell was a guy who got into blogging about comics around the same time I did, and he was known for doing breakdowns of old issues that were way, way funnier than mine. Needless to say, I had to destroy him.
Fortunately for you, Anthony, I kept his email address after I destroyed him, and asked him for a brief update on what he’s been doing since he finally dug himself out from under that pile of early Image books I dropped on him:
After retiring Dave’s Long Box, Dave Campbell became the Pet Blogger for ABC.com.
Disillusioned after Lance Bass failed to win the Fall 2008 Dancing with the Stars competition, Dave quit blogging and hit the open road with nothing but a backpack and a dream, hoping to rediscover himself and the real America. Today, Dave wanders the backroads and city streets of this great land wearing a seasoned leather bomber jacket and old blue jeans, helping widowers and farmers in need.
Or those last two sentences could be bullshit and Dave is actually one of the writers of Write More Good, a contributor to @FakeAPStylebook, and a Marketing Big Shot for videogame developer ArenaNet, makers of the upcoming Guild Wars 2. You make the call.
Thanks, Dave! Although you left out the part where I still have more hair.
That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!