Story I Read: "The Micro-World Of Doctor Doom" (Fantastic Four #16 July 1963)
Those of you who have read my past reviews will have noticed the amount of poor writing I have encountered recently. As it is still quite early in the construction of the Marvel universe and it has still not been fully decided if these characters are all going to exist in the same universe some characters, naturally, are all over the place. The Fantastic Four on the other hand are usually the most structured and canonically sound. It’s obvious Stan and others seem to want to create a structured mythology for the quartet. By this time Sub-Mariner had made many appearances and Doctor Doom was well established as the archenemy. There had been three crossovers as well: two with Spider-man and one with the Hulk. The campy quartet of heroes can usually be depended on to have passable, detailed and sometimes enlightening writing. This story in the spectrum of FF is somewhere in the middle. Not too astounding but not Incredible Hulk level ineptitude either.
Until now in the stories of FF, the narrative had largely been linear, meaning beginning at the beginning. In this issue however epic structure is employed and thus the action begins in the middle. Torch enters the penthouse to find his partners “shrunken to the size of toys.” After some shock and awe by the Storm boy they all regain their normal size. The story hits the ground running and immediately wets my appetite for mystery.
Shrinking seems to be a favourite mechanism of the early Four having been used at least three other times in prior tales. Otherwise, in Marveldom up to now, changing size had also been the favourite theme of Hank Pym, so naturally this lends for a perfect opportunity for a cameo. Sadly his cameo feels empty. He shows up to give Reed an enlargement serum and this makes no sense as Reed has already used his own version of shrinking juice. Somehow Richards is bowled over by the idea of a chemical that can play with mass. Perhaps it is still too much to ask for canonicity in a world that paints every character with a broad brush. That brush’s work is most obvious in the female characters.
To find broad strokes look no farther then the women. Princess Pearla of the Micro-Atomicans is a vacuous piece of property traded between Doom and Torch. Sue Storm not only refers to the three other members of the Fantastic Four as “her children,” she doesn’t even consider herself part of the team just an invisible tag along. She too has a moment of vacuous writing when upon seeing Ant-Man for the first time, promptly falls in love with him. I look forward to the moment my Marvel journey takes me out of the socially inept early 60s.
Excitingly not all social and sexual mores are backward in this one. The relationship between Alicia and Thing is really blooming. Ben exclaims that she “loves him for him.” It is heartwarming to see an attempt at writing a compelling woman, though I am sure it’s more a crass joke about the ugliness of Ben Grimm. Only a blind girl could love Thing. The weird abuse hurled at Thing from his three partners may explain some of his sour mood. The Four can be really dysfunctional.
|Look at all that BLUE and also black fog.|
Also dysfunctional in this comic is the art. In contemporary Marvel publications, some drawn by Jack Kirby himself, detailed backgrounds have begun to appear. In this one, however, the bland blue background is back whether in New York or Micro-Atomica. Perhaps Jack’s hand doesn’t have the stamina to detail a 22 page issue. Maybe Marvel doesn’t have the cash for all the ink. Whatever the reason, in Stan’s stories, there always seems to be a thick fog beyond the action.
Whatever fogginess is present in the art there are great strides in the style of action presented. Clearly Stan is attempting to experiment in story structure, however at times narrative seems to get in the way of the whole issue’s arc. The amount of flashbacks really hamper the progression of the tale from the barn burning beginning to the petering retreat and disappearance of Doom. When the Micro-Atomicans make their debut not enough time is given to explaining how their existence really works. I spent most of the story wondering if they were still in the same plain of existence being really small or in some parallel universe. The hampering quandary in my mind was negotiating clear locations of two planets within the sparse floor of Reed’s lab. Is there a full universe on the floor of Reed’s laboratory? I’m still confused. I’d except that idea if only someone had have made it clear.
Dr. Doom, luckily, is extremely clear in his motivations for tyrannizing these small people. All the hate stems out the events in Fantastic Four #10. Not only is Victor clear and well fleshed out. The idea that a former events have a bearing on the present is astounding and harkens for great things to come!
For experimentation, Alicia and Thing, and a story that feels more like a tale and not just a series of obstacles for heroes to overcome, I award this story with a 3 out of 5. I won’t give it a higher score because of the sloppiness in structure, sexism and shoddy art.