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FF #2: Brain Damage in the Doom Nation [Annotations]

We’re back with another installment in our series of annotations for Jonathan Hickman’s FF run, this time taking a look at the second issue, “Doom Nation,” as well as the second installment of our exclusive question/answer with Hickman after the release of each issue. Once again, Chris Eckert and I are taking lead, so if you read this issue and wondered about the previous relationships between Val and Doom, or who the hell this Kristoff guy is, or you missed out on the pre-FF segments of Hickman’s run and need to be caught up — that’s what we’re here for. SPOILERS FOLLOW.IN THIS ISSUE: While Ben flips out over Doom’s recent induction into the Future Foundation and Dragon Man and Sue Richards try to keep him busy by getting him good and drunk, the Future Foundation — particularly Reed, Nathaniel, Valeria and Spider-Man — attempt to, as per Valeria’s promise, restore the brain-damaged monarch to his former intellectual glory. They succeed, despite a great amount of hand-wringing courtesy of Reed Richards, and Val and “Uncle Doom” declare they’re going to team up to defeat her father Reed — but… which Reed?

Pages 1-4: We kick this issue off with Doom pretty mercilessly mocking Ben for his inability to save Johnny from dying, which shows pretty definitely that while his intellect might have been compromised, Doom’s capacity to be a gigantic dick remains intact. This has really been the Dump on Ben Grimm party ever since Johnny’s death, and we’ll see his insecurities take further importance later on in the issue.

Pages 5-6: Reed’s trying to sell Sue and Ben on the whole “Doctor Doom is moving in to hang out with us” thing, and it’s not working out particularly well — accentuating the gap between the First Family and the Future Foundation, or at least what seems to be that gap. It says a lot, I think, about the relationship between Doom and the Fantastic Four that Val already seems to accept him as a member of the family, even going so far as to continue to call him “Uncle Doom.” While his role in her birth can’t be overstated, it’s still a bizarre appellation to use on a dude who tried to humiliate and kill your father, like, at least a hundred times. Both Val and Nathaniel are armed with some degree of future knowledge, creating what’s essentially a three-tier information system at the Baxter Building with those two on top, the Future Foundation below them and Ben and Sue (and presumably Franklin), feeling increasingly alienated from the group and less involved in its direction, at the bottom.

Also, note that Sue threatens to straight-up lobotomize Doom in the manner of the Council Reeds from Hickman’s opening “Solve Everything” arc. The spectre of that basement of infinite drooling Dooms will haunt a lot of this issue, as the question of restoring Doom’s intellect takes center stage.

Pages 7-9: The Future Foundation congregate in “the Room” and discuss the problem in front of them: restoring Doom’s mental acuity. After Spider-Man asks about the structural integrity of Doom’s brain — a question that impresses some of the Foundation members unfamiliar with his intellect — Reed confirms that it is structurally sound, and Val points out that the data can be retrieved from a backup, which Doom provides in the form of his heir Kristoff Vernard. The restoration of knowledge from a backup is a process with considerable precedent in the Marvel Universe, not least the restoration of Tony Stark’s memories from a hard drive backup in Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man.

Of course, this is only after some hand-wringing about the ethics of restoring Doom’s knowledge, with Bentley 23, the Wizard’s clone, expressing no small degree of hero worship.

There’s also a two-page sequence with largely statted art that serves to illustrate the extent and symptoms of Doom’s brain damage, which certainly seem similar to early-stage senility or Alzheimer’s.

Chris Eckert: For some reason, I assumed the solution to fetching a back-up Doom brain was going to be some sort of time travel deal, though in retrospect the Kristoff solution is even more obvious and elegant.

It’s an interesting contrast between “our” Reed and the Council, in that while all Reeds want to “Solve Everything,” ours refuses to see this as a solitary mission. He’s assembled the Future Foundation to help with the task, and he seems intent on helping everybody. From the outset of Hickman’s run, this has been reiterated, from his desire to get the Wizard “the very best care” and his adoption of the young Bentley clone. Time and again, in Hickman’s run and beyond, our Reed and our FF reach out to assist everyone, even hostile groups of Subterraneans, Atlanteans and aliens. This courtesy extends even to their most dangerous opponents. The Council runs around killing Galactuses, while “our” Reed actually brought our Galactus back from “the very brink of that final abyss” in F4 #244, where Reed explained that he could “no more stand by and allow you to die than we could turn our backs on any creature in need.”

So naturally, Reed is willing to help Doom. The two have put aside their differences before for Big Cosmic Event Threats, from The Infinity Gauntlet to Onslaught and beyond. Significantly, one of the only times Reed refused to reach out a helping hand to Doom was in Fantastic Four #500, in the aftermath of one of Doom’s scummiest revenge efforts involving Franklin and Valeria. Of course, this spurning of Doom led directly into Reed getting his face all scarred up, deciding to take over Latveria, being branded an Enemy of the State, alienating his family and ending up forced to kill Ben Grimm, so it’s possible he’s learned his lesson about not wanting to help people. (Don’t worry, Jack Kirby as God fixed everything I just described.)

Doom got his brain fried during the World War Hulks event. A group of evil geniuses calling themselves the Intelligencia were plotting to take over the world, and while Doom initially participated as a member, he betrayed them all, because hey, he’s Doctor Doom! He doesn’t need help, or so he loudly proclaims every time he’s done betraying someone helping him.

So when the Intelligencia’s plot kicked off, Doom was one of the geniuses — alongside Reed, Bruce Banner and others — they kidnapped and to harvest for brain power. With the help of Banner, Doom broke out of the Intelligencia’s brain draining machine, but naturally he tried to betray them, stealing all of their brainpower for himself. Unfortunately, he attempted this maneuver while still drained himself, so instead he gave himself brain damage.

The Intelligencia would be a logical future antagonist for the Foundation, and given that A.I.M. (a group that previously worked for them) broke out the Wizard (a founding member) last issue, it’s likely we’ll be seeing them in one form or another soon. This seems even more likely after this week’s Avengers #12.1, which saw the Wizard working again alongside the Intelligencia.

Pages 10-11: We find ourselves a bar scene with Sue, Ben and Dragon Man, as Ben examines why the new status quo makes him feel so useless. Dragon Man is almost a perfect example of why the transition in the team bothers him — he used to be a big dumb robot that hit stuff and Ben could hit back, and now he’s a pacifist and an intellectual so eager to give off an air of erudition that he wears professorial spectacles. He’s an android. There’s no way he doesn’t have 20/20 vision. He’s just the world’s first magically animated dragon robot hipster. There’s no way, with his intelligence, he couldn’t have known how much what he’s saying is gonna piss off Ben even further, too (as evidenced by his one-panel-long pint chug).

Also, this bar’s patrons are pretty nonchalant about the Future Foundation showing up, but I assume Ben is practically a regular at this point.

CE: Going back to his earliest appearances, Dragon Man has never really been portrayed as a violent or evil being. An android magically brought to life by Diablo in F4 #35, Dragon Man initially lashed out, but was calmed by the kindness of Sue, who commented that “everything that lives is responsive to kindness — to sympathy!” After this first encounter, Dragon Man seemed have been imprinted with an instinctive affinity to all women, from Medusa (F4 #45) to Dorma (Sub-Mariner #15) to She-Hulk (F4 #321) to Katie and Julie Power (Power Pack #6-8). In fact, the Power kids ended up taking Dragon Man in as a pet for a time, which is presumably why he turned up at Franklin’s birthday party back in F4 #574. I wonder if he’s still harboring a crush on Sue?

Pages 12-15: While Ben, Sue and Dragon Man are still drinking, Reed, Nathaniel, Val, Doom and Spider-Man head to Latveria to acquire the “backup” of Doom’s brain from Kristoff’s.

CE: Here’s a potentially interesting wrinkle regarding Kristoff’s “full portion of Doom”: It isn’t. Back in F4 #278 when Kristoff first got his Doombrain upload, it worked chronologically, and Kristoff demanded the upload stop after the events of F4 #6. Of course, it’s stated in this issue that Doom’s problems are with “intelligence” and “the dark arts”, two things Doom had long before his botched attempt to send the Baxter Building into space. But Doom is a character that writers always seem to want to power-up, often to ridiculous degrees. So this outdated “restore” may well erase whatever residual effects of the following Doom Upgrades:

  • The ability to swap minds with other people, as first seen in F4 #10
  • His temporary control of Galactus’s Power Cosmic in F4 #56-60
  • His temporary control of the Beyonder’s omnipotence in Secret Wars
  • Whatever mysterious offworld power upgrade he received before returning in F4 #350
  • His temporary control of the power of a Watcher in #375
  • His demonically-enhanced powers and Skin Armor from Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s “Unthinkable” arc
  • His ascension to Godhood at the end of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s F4 after living for millions of years
  • His theft of Asgardian genetic material and the Destroyer Armor in the run-up to Siege in Thor

Granted, most (if not all) of these power-ups have already been reversed or ignored after the fact, but if Marvel desires, this Kristoff-restore would be a decent No-Prize style explanation as to why Doom is not the supreme power in the entire Marvel Multiverse in future stories.

Looking back to fill in Kristoff’s backstory beyond the brief recap portrayed here, I was surprised at how sporadic his appearances have been. After being given Doom’s brain patterns in F4 #278, he was quickly defeated and the Four took custody of him, hoping to restore his brain after the Doom upload. They were apparently unsuccessful, and he didn’t appear again until Steve Englehart’s F4 run in 1987, where he escapes and manages to stage a coup against the actual Doom, who he brands a sad impostor. Doom and Kristoff continue to battle in the background of various titles until Walt Simonson’s F4 #350, when the apparent REAL Doctor Doom returns from “an extended leave of absence” with shiny silver armor, glowing red eyes and an apparent power boost. He destroys the previously-assumed-to-be-real-Doom(bot) and “restores” Kristoff’s mind using the codephrase “Ouroboros”! I suppose this should put Doom on the list of suspects for the mastermind over on the other set of annotations, eh?

Kristoff disappears for a few years, next turning up in F4 #396, which is where things get weird. Nathaniel Richards – not ‘our’ Nathaniel Richards, but the one-eyed body armor one seen getting strangled to death on the first page of F4 #582 — takes over Latveria, and awakens Kristoff out of stasis.

This Nathaniel is apparently the father of Kristoff, as he was nursed to health by a Latverian gypsy after “one of [his] adventures in the timestream ended rather badly.” When awoken, Kristoff is aware that he’s not the real Victor Von Doom, but still possesses “the memories, personality and scientific expertise” of Doom. Kristoff becomes a probationary member of the Fantastic Four, but his loyalty is tested when Doom returns in F4 #411. Kristoff pleads for Doom to reconsider his vendetta against them, and Doom’s response is backhand him, calling him nothing but a “failsafe” and “a receptacle.”

Spurned by one father figure, Kristoff rejoins Nathaniel, who at some point off-panel revealed to him their blood relationship. Once the Fantastic Four and Doom all apparently “die” in the Onslaught storyline, Nathaniel and Kristoff hide all of Reed’s technologies and go their separate ways: Nathaniel into the timestream, Kristoff into hiding in order to overthrow Dreadknight (yes, Dreadknight’s) rule over Latveria. Neither of them appeared anywhere between 1997-2008.

Pages 16-18: Readers of Christos Gage and Mario Alberti’s recent Spider-Man/Fantastic Four miniseries might wonder why Kristoff is now supportive of the man he was vowing to kill at the end of that miniseries, and if you’re still curious about that you can scroll down for the question/answer with Jonathan Hickman where that’s touched on.

With regards to the actual transfer scene, it’s notable that Spider-Man and especially Nathaniel are the ones who essentially icy-glare Reed into doing the right thing and actually transferring Kristoff’s knowledge to Doom, rather than vice versa. The implication, I’m guessing, is the reinforcement of the lessons of “Solve Everything”: Reed needs his family to keep him in check, or he makes monstrous, emotionally distant decisions. While the Reeds of the Council were more than happy to hunt down every Doom they could find in the multiverse, lobotomize them, and stick them in a basement, here “our” Reed is presented with the same decision and, instead, restores his archenemy.

Pages 19-20: Now that Doom’s back, it’s time for him to fulfill his end of the bargain he struck with Val back in F4 #583: as revealed here, to help her defeat her father. It’s likely, however, that this isn’t actually to defeat the Reed Richards we’re reading about here, but rather the other Reed Richardses of the multiverse that escaped in #583 as well.

When Val traveled through the Bridge into the world of the Council, the remainder of the Reeds seemingly died at the hands of the Celestials while Val and the remaining four Reeds end up on Earth-616. Those four Reeds then teleport away to different parts of the Earth, at which point Valeria remembers that “all hope lies in Doom” from Franklin’s prophecy in #574 and recruits him to help her get these Reeds run amok under control. These are Council Reeds, without the humanity and family that grounds ours; if Val’s willing to essentially hire Doom as a hitman to take them out, they must be pretty damn dangerous. That’s assuming that Val actually wants to round them up, and not join them, which was the claim she made to Doom when she made the deal. It’s difficult to figure out what she says is a calculated lie, what’s intentional misdirection, and what’s the truth.

If this is the case, this is actually the second time someone’s basically manipulated Doom into doing their dirty work for them — Nathaniel brought him to the future with college-age Reed and Ben in #581 specifically because his ruthlessness would ensure that the Beast would actually straight up die.

Last but not least, we’ve got this week’s Q&A with Jonathan Hickman, about Kristoff Vernard and his recent continuity.

ComicsAlliance: This issue saw the full reintroduction of Kristoff Vernard, Doom’s adopted son, into the title. We last saw him in Christos Gage and Mario Alberti’s “Spider-Man/Fantastic Four” miniseries, where his time living with the Richards family was revisited, and at the end, he swore he’d destroy Doctor Doom. Here, in the second issue of FF, he’s rocking the new Mario Alberti armor from that miniseries, but he’s practically fawning over his adoptive father. Is this simply a case where a different take on the character was needed for a different story, did something happen to re-ignite his faith in Doom, or is there another explanation that understandably you might not want to go into?

Jonathan Hickman: Several things at play here, but, I think, one satisfying conclusion.

First off, let me say that this is not a situation where I didn’t read the series in question. In fact, unless something has changed, you can see a pull quote by me on the cover of the collected version of said series. I not only highly recommend it, but think it’s a perfect example of Marvel comics DONE RIGHT (And, as an aside, I’d also recommend Chris and Mario’s X-Men/Spider-man).

Saying that…

There is a certain place we need to be with both Doom and Kristoff, and we need to be there within a limited window of time. So, given that, I really only have a few options:

1. Disrespect the other creative team and ignore what they have done completely.
2. Feign respecting what they have done by jamming a quick resolution into the book. However, I would argue that this is actually more disrespectful because it’s not just diminishing or whitewashing the previous work, but also cheating the readers out of a satisfying experience.
3. Imply that time has passed, something has changed, and hint at the possibility of more story.

Given those choices I’ll almost always pick option three.

That means when Doom says in Fantastic Four #583, “I have left myself with no other moves. Summon Kristoff Vernard from exile.” I’m telling the reader that there is more there, and, when it’s time to tell the Kristoff story, I have the opportunity to play with not just the now, and where he’s going, but also something in the near past that everyone will remember.

So, sorry for the long ‘craft’ answer, and to answer your original question pointedly:

Yes, he tried to destroy Doctor Doom.

He failed.

So next issue, judging by the cover, we’ll find out exactly what happened to all those missing Council members. See you in a week!

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