Today’s Super Comics — Fantastic Four #67-70, 500 (2003)

Doctor Doom finally figures out how to one-up Reed Richards in Fantastic Four #67-70 and 500. And yes, those numbers are correct. Marvel likes to have it both ways with numbering—reboot for a new #1 to designate a jumping-on point, then revert to the original numbering for anniversary issues.

Anyway, there’s one subject area where Reed is in over his head. He can’t comprehend magic. The world’s smartest man is an idiot when it comes to sorcery. But Doom understands the fundamentals, and as the son of a gypsy, it’s an established part of his heritage. So in his ongoing quest to humble Mr. Fantastic, Doom rejects science in favor of magic and strikes at the Fantastic Four through their children.

There are no higher stakes than imperiled children. Not even saving the whole world or universe reaches that level, because the scale is too grand to remain relatable. But your kids are in trouble? We can all understand that terror.

The script by Mark Waid nails the characterization of both Doom and Reed, particularly how arrogant they can both be. The storyline shows how they’re perfect antagonists for each other. They reflect each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and their conflict has always been personal. Appropriately for an anniversary issue, there’s history here, and the feud escalates to the next level.

Marvel has published many superb Fantastic Four stories over the decades, and this is in the top tier. And it begs the question—why isn’t Marvel currently publishing Fantastic Four comics?

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Karl Kesel

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by Waid & Wieringo Ultimate Collection, Book 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Runaways #5 (2005)

There’s certain rite of passage every young superhero must go through in the Marvel Universe: confronting Doctor Doom.

The Runaways have met a fellow super-powered teen, Victor Mancha, who might be destined to become evil and might be the son of a major super-villain. In #5 (vol. 2), they have to save Victor’s mother from one of those potential fathers, leading to a fun match between a bunch of relatively inexperienced teenagers and the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy.

And then the book tops itself with a superb twist and, as usual, a great cliffhanger…so not even a Doctor Doom battle is the high point here.

It’s just a consistently fun series that has a blast playing in the Marvel Universe sandbox.

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan

Penciler: Adrian Alphona

Inker: Craig Yeung

Cover: Jo Chen

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Runaways vol. 4: True Believers (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #1 (1984)

marvel_super_heroes_secret_wars_vol_1_1This is one that works much better with kids. When I first read Secret Wars as a middle schooler, I thought it was among the coolest things ever. When I reread the miniseries as an adult, I was far less impressed, but it’s not without its charms.

The concept is simple. An infinitely powerful entity called the Beyonder summons a bunch of superheroes and a bunch of super-villains to a distant galaxy and plops them onto a bizarre patchwork planet. He tells both sides they must slay their enemies, and all they desire will be theirs.

The appeal, then, is also simple. It’s like playing with all your favorite toys at once. You get to watch the Avengers, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Hulk all interact over the course of 12 issues as they face some of their more well-known foes. It’s like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, but with superheroes and far less bloodshed.

Writer Jim Shooter made some good choices with the set-up that’s outlined in #1. He has the Beyonder group Magneto among the heroes, because in Magneto’s mind he is a hero to his fellow mutants. Doctor Doom quickly asserts himself as the chief antagonist, putting himself above the mandated fray to embark on his own personal quest for power. And the world-devouring Galactus, who has often been portrayed as a force of nature above personal conflicts, is present among the villains as a powerful wild card.

Marvel also made a good call during the original execution of this miniseries in 1984. The participating characters ended an issue of their respective regular series by entering a mysterious portal. Then Secret Wars #1 came out. Then in the next issue of those regular series, the characters return to Earth, and some changes have occurred, big and small. For example, Spider-Man has a nifty black costume made of an alien material, and She-Hulk has replaced the Thing in the Fantastic Four. So what exactly happened between issues? Read the rest of Secret Wars to find out! I was too young to read in 1984, but I imagine it sparked a fun How did we get here? type of curiosity.

So, yeah, it’s basically just a fun wild ride for kids, but I absolutely ate it up when I was the right age. Marvel team-ups are often great, and this is a super-sized mega team-up.

Writer: Jim Shooter

Penciler: Mike Zeck

Inker: John Beatty

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Secret Wars (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 8 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Fantastic Four #258 (1983)

fantastic_four_vol_1_258Since I reviewed John Byrne’s portrait of Lex Luthor yesterday, it seems appropriate to bookend it by reviewing Byrne’s portrait of the Fantastic Four’s greatest enemy, Doctor Doom.

The FF don’t appear in Fantastic Four #258. This is Doom’s book, and he carries it so well 30you don’t even notice the absence of the title characters. While the issue sets the stage for the FF’s next threat, it spends ample time showing us a day in the life of Doctor Doom—how he rules over the country Latveria, sincerely believing himself to be a benevolent dictator to his people; how, in his own twisted way, he seems to genuinely care for his young ward Kristoff, even allowing the child to stand by his side as he tends to his monarchial duties; how constantly aware he is of people who plot against him; and how enraged he becomes if anyone or anything dares to question his supremacy.

Without ever explicitly telling us so, Byrne portrays Doom as a man who’s living in a constant state of fear. It never looks like fear, though—it looks like ego, suspicion, rage, and a desire to control or destroy all enemies. Doom has lots of power and resources, but no real human connections to draw strength from. And holding on to power, without support, takes considerable and constant effort. One slip-up, and it could all be gone—and he’d have nothing.

This issue shows us why Doom is the perfect foil to Marvel’s premier family (even if that family is taking the issue off).

Writer/Artist: John Byrne

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; included in Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Invincible Iron Man #150 (1981)

Iron_Man_Vol_1_150Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom…in Camelot.

Yep, it’s classic comic book action that places its protagonist out of his element, doubly so. Not only is the electronically powered superhero stranded in a pre-electronics era, with no way to recharge his armor, but he also has to battle magical forces, which are basically the opposite of his comfort zone.

And Doctor Doom fits very well as an Iron Man foe, representing the dark side of technology. And yet he’s also perfectly comfortable with mysticism in a way Iron Man will never be, giving the bad guy a distinct advantage. (All of which is why Doctor Doom has been a welcome addition to recent Iron Man issues.)

The Invincible Iron Man #150 holds up as lots of fun, though it’s easy to picture how differently it would be written today. Tony Stark of the 1980s was much more Tom Selleck than Robert Downey Jr., and an adventure of this scale could easily fill six issues or more, rather than being set up in #149 and playing out in the double-sized #150.

As it stands, however, it’s a memorable time-travel story with a ridiculously fantastic premise and enjoyable execution. It’s not literature, but it sure is a wild ride.

Writer: David Michelinie

Penciler: John Romita, Jr.

Inker/Co-Plotter: Bob Layton

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology; Iron Man vs. Doctor Doom: Doomquest (HC)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Invincible Iron Man #6 (2016)

Invincible_Iron_Man_6Iron Man and Doctor Doom have breakfast together. How’s that for a compelling hook?

Just an ultra-quickie review this time, as The Invincible Iron Man’s stellar quality continues in the latest issue added to Marvel Unlimited. Not the latest-latest issue…I have this unfortunate allergy to paying $3.99 per issue. I remember the days of paying a buck and a quarter, gosh darn it!

James “War Machine” Rhodes joins the action this issue, and so does artist Mike Deodato, who can always be counted on to deliver aesthetically pleasing pages. The breakfast with Doom showcases writer Brian Michael Bendis’s flair for snappy dialogue, especially with Tony’s new romantic interest, Amara, thrown into the mix.

It’s a fun time all around, almost enough to help me overcome my $3.99 allergy. (Well, no, but maybe subscriptions are a better deal…?)

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artist: Mike Deodato

Publisher: Marvel Comics

How to Read It: recent back issues; Marvel Unlimited; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 13 and up