The excitement was building, at least for myself and my small collection of comic book reading friends, as FANTASTIC FOUR neared its big issue #200. The build-up had been going on for almost a year, and now that inker extraordinaire Joe Sinnott had returned to teh series after missing a couple of issues, everything was firing on all cylinders. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, this was all about to short-circuit, as FANTASTIC FOUR #200 never came to my local 7-11 and so I completely missed it–one of the most devastating moments in my comic book reading career. But that moment was still a month or two away as this issue arrived and made its way into my hands.
Marv Wolfman was the writer and editor of the series at this point, picking up on story threads left by his predecessor and friend Len Wein. But the places he took them were all ultimately Marv’s. I became a big fan of Marv’s work during this period and beyond, even before he got to NEW TEEN TITANS, which catapulted his popularity. If you had asked me at any point from around 1979-1983 or thereabouts who the best writer was in mainstream comics, I would have answered Marv without hesitation. Looking back on these stories, I see their deficits a bit more clearly with time. But they still work for me, even nostalgia aside.
So here’s where things stand. Doctor Doom has agreed to comply with an old Latverian law indicating that he has to give up the throne at a certain point. As such, he intends to pass it on to his heretofore-unacknowledged son. But there’s a greater plan at work here. He’s also got Alicia Masters sculpting a regal statue of himself as he once had ben, before the accident that damaged his features. And he’s arranged for Mister Fantastic to regain his elastic powers. Having now captured all four of his hated enemies, he and his aide Hauptmann are intent on using a device to transfer their cosmic powers into his son.
But what Doom hasn’t figured on is that Reed Richards has been restored even better than ever, and he’s able to break free of the device he’s imprisoned in and send Hauptmann running. Much of this story was designed to put teh spotlight onto Reed, a character who was often overlooked in favor of the Torch and the Thing, and make the readers realize what a badass he truly was. After several years of him being powerless, this was a welcome change. Now reunited for the first time in a very long while (the team had disbanded in the wake of Reed losing his powers) the Fantastic Four stand united, prepared to battle their way out of Doom’s castle.
But this whole build-up to issue #200 would have been in vain if Doctor Doom got beaten that easily, and so by the time the Fantastic Four have battled their way through Doom’s assorted guards and defenses across the span of several pages, the Monarch of Latveria uses Alicia as a shield, forcing their surrender. So they wind up back at square one, imprisoned, and the coronation goes on as planned. However, while sneaking into Latveria, Reed made an ally of Prince Zorba, the rightful heir to teh throne, and he and his men stage a rescue while the ceremony is in progress and everyone is distracted. So for the second time this issue, the Fantastic Four race forward, united in purpose and ready for a fight!
Bursting in on the ceremony, Reed and Zorba have a revelation to make: the crown prince isn’t Doom’s son at all–rather, he’s Doom’s clone. In these days, cloning was a much-discussed new field of science, and the word clone hadn’t taken on the more negative connotations in the world of comics that it eventually would. Anyway, with the jig up, Doom implores his clone to use his stolen powers to battle back his enemies–but when he attempts to, he is radically transformed by the cosmic energy, becoming something akin to the Thing himself. Doom is aghast–the whole point of his clone is that he’d be his perfect self in every detail, not a grotesque monstrosity. What’s more, though, somehow in empowering himself, teh clone has regained the essential honor and decency that Doom himself possessed before his accident. And so he turns on his creator, intent on stopping Doom’s mad schemes.
The Clone now possesses scaled-down versions of all of the FF’s powers, like a cut-rate Super-Skrull. As he and Doom battle, he hurls psychological insight against his creator, bringing Doom up face to face with the fact that secretly, inwardly, he hates himself despite all of his bravado and bluster. Unable to bear these revelations, Doom unleashes the full power of his armor and fries his clone to a crisp. And that’s where this issue is To Be Continued–but not before an end graphic promising that the next issue will contain the ultimate battle between Reed and Doom, and be double-sized as well. The notion of an anniversary issue being Annual-sized hadn’t been done before, this was a new idea–and it worked well enough that both Marvel and DC adopted the practice for many years thereafter.
3 thoughts on “BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #199”
I did get FF #200, new off the racks. Found it much more entertaining than the rather tepid FF #100, although IMO Marv Wolfman was laying on the hype a bit too much on those closing blurbs on #99. Still, I think the previous examples of Avengers #100, Captain America #200, and X-Men #100 had shown that an epic conclusion to a major multi-issue storyline was the way to go to celebrate 00 anniversary issues. Wolfman just kicked it up a notch by allowing for a double-sized issue, and would later do the same with Amazing Spider-Man. Later, the double-sizing would be allowed for other epic storyline finales, such as that of the Dark Phoenix tale, even for issues that didn’t have a numbering ending in 00 or even a 50. Anyhow, the with this issue, it was great to see Reed Richards back in action as Mr. Fantastic, fully powered and the Fantastic Four reunited after several months apart. The FF was still one of my favorite comics back in that period.
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This was a great run (though I admit I haven’t reread it to see if it holds up). Though I don’t recall Doom having much honor before the accident: he was an arrogant jerk in college and his teen years were spent swindling the rich and aristocratic out of their money (I’d love to see a What If where Doom stuck with that kind of Robin Hood MO)
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Man Pollard’s art was an absolute knockout for this entire storyline. And what a cover!