Deck Log Entry # 190 A Forgotten Gem: Fantastic Four # 39-40 (Jun. and Jul., 1965) (Part Two)

“The Battle of the Baxter Building”

 

Editor and writer: Stan Lee   Art: Jack Kirby (pencils), Vince Colletta (inks)

 

 

The first half of this forgotten gem left off with the individual members of the Fantastic Four---now powerless from the effects of the Wizard’s Q-bomb---closing in on the Baxter Building from different directions.  Their goal:  to reclaim their headquarters, presently usurped by their arch-foe, Doctor Doom, who has been doing his damndest to kill them with their own super-weapons.

 

The second part opens with a hiccough.  Daredevil, who was last seen making a solo assault on the F.F.’s home base in order to divert Dr. Doom’s attention, is back with Reed Richards at street-level.  The scripting gaffe affords us with another look at Daredevil’s resourcefulness, as he takes out a flying scanner that Doom has been using to track them---anticipating drones by about half a century.

 

The scene also gives Reed a chance to mention his electronic stimulator---the “one device up there which may turn the tide!”

 

Taking his cue, the Man Without Fear (once again) offers himself up as a decoy to draw Doom’s fire.

 

Taking advantage of the precious minutes provided by Daredevil, the F.F. regroups outside the entrance of the Baxter Building.  The New York Police Department has not been idle.  The streets are barricaded, the sidewalks have been cleared, and police snipers are in position.  A squad of officers armed to the teeth stands ready to assault the skyscraper.

 

Not yet, insists the leader of the F.F., it’s our fight.  Only if we don’t make it----

 

They enter the lobby, with Reed fully aware that the video cameras in the building are broadcasting their every move.  Thirty-four stories up, Doom notices their presence and activates the automatic defences installed in the lobby.  In a progressive pattern, rays of pure force criss-cross the space.  It is only Reed’s memory of the programming sequence which enables them to dodge disaster.

 

Ignored for the moment, Daredevil reaches an open window and slips inside, behind Dr. Doom.  An attempt to snare the armour-clad villain with his billy-club cable fails, but he succeeds in drawing Doom away from the controls that operate the lobby weapons.  The Fantastic Four uses the respite to reach the elevator banks.  They pile into a car and press the button for the thirty-fifth floor.

 

Dr. Doom employs more of Reed’s equipment to keep Daredevil at bay.  When an alarm warns Doom that an elevator car is on the way up, he reaches for a plunger-type device.  DD makes a desperate effort to keep his foe’s hand off that switch and gets smacked in the face by a blast of compressed air.

 

Doom hits the plunger and the elevator car lurches to a halt one floor below.  Putting their shoulders to it, Reed and Ben smash through the elevator doors, and all four of them dash out, two seconds before the car combusts into a fireball.  But there’s no time to stop.  Reed leads them up the stairwell when a section of it explodes in their path!

 

Doom is disturbed that his sworn enemies have managed to make it this far.  He’s done toying with them.  He grips a lever which will set off every explosive in the stairwell.  It’s now or never, realises Daredevil.  In the instant in which Doom’s back is turned, the Man Without Fear leaps upon his back.

Outraged at having his person sullied, Dr. Doom clamps his metal-shod hands around Daredevil’s wrists and squeezes with all strength in his gauntlets’ servo-motors.  The evil monarch tightens his grip, relishing the excruciating pain he is inflicting on the red-garbed hero.  Forgotten in the moment are the Fantastic Four, who clamber up the remains of the stairs.

Doom releases the nearly-unconscious Daredevil and turns to face them.  Ben and Johnny charge, but mere human strength is no match for the power of their foe’s armour.  Doom sweeps them away as if they were nothing.

 

Meanwhile, Reed Richards deserts his friends just long enough to recover his electronic stimulator.  (A thought balloon reminds the readers that he recently used this device to defeat the Skrulls, something that would require an awkward explanation shoehorned into a later panel.)

 

Reed turns the device first on himself, then on Sue, and then on Johnny---and, instantly, their super-powers are restored!

 

It’s a whole new ball game, now.  But you’d never know it by Dr. Doom’s reaction.  He’s just as confident that he can defeat the Fantastic Four at full strength.  As the battle rages anew, it’s seems that Doom might have something there.  He turns more of the F.F.’s devices against them, which gives Our Heroes some worrisome moments.  They escape their predicaments, but are unable to stop their foe from retreating to another section of their headquarters.

 

Reed knows full well what Doom is capable of committing and that forces him to make a fateful decision.

 

Just three of them---the Torch, the Invisible Girl, and himself---aren’t enough to stop Doom.  Richards points the stimulator at Ben.  They need the power of the Thing. 

 

Despite Ben’s protests---he’s finally regained his normal human appearance and he wants to stay that way---Reed activates the stimulator and discharges the remainder of its energy at his old friend.  The incredible, and tragic, transformation occurs.

 

 

Dr. Doom is determined to destroy the Fantastic Four one way or another.   He barricades himself in an engineering space and uses his scientific genius to convert a nuclear generator into an atomic bomb.

 

“By the time they realize what has happened,” he coldly calculates, “I’ll have destroyed this building, this block---and the entire city!

 

But before he can set the timer and duck out the back door, an orange-scaled fist smashes through the wall.  The Thing, bitter over being forced to lose his human form, charges at Doom like an enraged bull.

 

For five pages, Doom hurls everything in his armour’s arsenal at the advancing behemoth.  100,000 megavolts of electricity . . . A vertigo-inducing ray . . . .

 

Ben keeps coming. 

 

An energy-sapping gravity device . . . bombardment of enlarged molecules . . . point-blank concussive blasts . . . .

 

Ben keeps coming.

 

Until, finally, he gets his hands on Doom.

It’s only after Doom’s armour has been stripped and gutted by the Thing’s bare hands does Reed Richards call out “Enough!”  Their arch-foe’s pride has been broken and that’s sufficient to permit him to slink back to Latveria in shame.  (That, and that diplomatic immunity thing.)

 

The Fantastic Four rejoice over their close call with smiles all around.  Except for Ben, whose enmity over being forced to once again wear the misshapen body of the Thing boils over.  In bitterness, he quits the team, continuing the flow of the serial into the next issue.

 

But that’s a story for another time.

 

* * * * *

 

The most noticeable difference between this adventure and the Galactus trilogy is one of pacing.  In the Galactus saga, there is a slow build-up of drama.  Each new development adds to the hopelessness of the situation, closing off doors, one by one, until the reader sees no way out.

 

Dr. Doom’s attack on the powerless Fantastic Four, on the other hand, moves at a frenetic pace, with the heroes in constant motion, escaping each new attack by a hair’s breadth.  The reader is swept along as the events plunge heedlessly forward, like an out-of-control subway train.

 

Even the beginning of the tale isn’t static.  It doesn’t open up with the F.F. going about their usual day-to-day routine, waiting for unforeseen disaster to strike.  No, it starts in media res, continuing from the conclusion of the previous issue, which left us unsure of the team’s fate.  Still, this is the slowest section of the story, as it goes for three pages allowing the readers’ apprehension to build before confirming what they already suspect:  the Fantastic Four have lost their super-powers!

 

It is from there that the story’s wheels really begin to move.  The team’s return to Manhattan and Reed’s confirmation that their powers are gone for good are dashed off in a single page before moving on to their attempts to master the mechanical substitutes for their former abilities.  (Enough attention is placed on this, and the fact that none of them do too well at it, that we comics-savvy readers fully expect them to save the day with their artificial powers at the end; it takes us by surprise when they don’t.)

 

Things pick up steam when, in a page and a half, the villain is added to the mix.  The final element---Matt (Daredevil) Murdock---is introduced just before the plot pushes down on the accelerator when Dr. Doom launches his attack.  From this point on, events progress at a breakneck pace, with the fans kept on the edge of their seats by the F.F.’s constant ducking and dodging to stay alive.

 

There is no time for the reader to catch his breath---until the end of the first issue.  Waiting a whole month for Fantastic Four # 40 to hit the stands must have been torturous.

 

“The Battle of the Baxter Building” continues the headlong rush.  Even natural breaks in the action are truncated.  Reed’s interaction with the police surrounding the Baxter Building, something which ordinarily would get its own scene, is dispensed with in one panel.  From then on, it’s “move---move---move!” as Doom assaults the Fantastic Four with the very devices Reed installed for their protection.  The jump cuts between Daredevil, struggling desperately to keep Doom occupied, and the F.F., ascending floor by floor, adds to the suspense.

 

Stan Lee’s superb ear for dialogue adds to the sense of momentum.  He inserts a rising urgency into the words, but still gives each character his own voice.  You could black out entire panels, except for the word balloons, and still know who was saying what.  The same goes for the thought balloons. 

 

Thought balloons have been replaced in modern comics by captions containing inner monologue, and it’s not necessarily an improvement.  There’s something remote about narrative captions, like reading entries in a journal.  The old-style thought balloons presented a more in-the-moment look at a character’s thoughts, and in the hands of a master wordsmith like Stan, more personal.

 

 

 

Only at the climax do things finally slow down, to present the final tableau of single combat---Doctor Doom versus Ben Grimm.  What should be a chance for the reader to catch his breath actually ratchets the suspense even tighter.  But to get there, the moment that everyone knew was coming has to take place.

 

Throughout the adventure, Ben Grimm has made very little of finally regaining his human form.  In fact, he seems almost as dismayed as Reed and Sue and Johnny are when they realise that their super-powers are gone.  Even when Mr. Fantastic trains the stimulator on him, his protests sound a bit mild.  This is one of the things that suggest to me that Stan Lee wrote this tale at about as frantic a pace as the events of the story elapsed.  (The other indicators were showing Daredevil at Reed’s side again at the beginning of part two; and not mentioning the stimulator in the previous issue, only to cover it up with Reed's hasty excuse, "It needed another few days of recharging!")  It’s a slightly off-key note, especially given the fact that Ben’s bitterness and anger over being transformed into the Thing again fuel his determination to get his hands on Doom, no matter what the villain throws at him.

 

In a staggering sequence that extends for more than five pages, the Thing withstands the most potent weapons in the arsenal of Dr. Doom’s armour, things that would slaughter any dozen ordinary men, and continues to move toward his increasingly awe-struck foe.  Ben’s agony is palpable, but there is raw nobility in his courage, in contrast to Doom’s faux aristocracy.

Ben’s inexorable advance on Doom thrills even casual readers, but in particular, fans of the title.  In previous adventures, something always restrained the Thing from actually coming to blows with Dr. Doom.  Long-time F.F. fans had been waiting for the day when Ben finally let loose on the malevolent monarch.  And they are not disappointed.

 

After enduring the worst that Doom can bring to bear, the Thing gets his rocky hands on his steel-clad enemy, and no defence, no trick, no appeal, stops Ben this time.  He demolishes Doom’s individual weaponry and strips off plates of his armour as easily as pulling the ring tab on a can of soda pop.  Most satisfying of all, Doom’s arrogance is stuffed down his own throat.

 

Ben Grimm’s devastating defeat of Dr. Doom in this story leaves a lasting mark on the F.F.’s greatest enemy.  We will see that Doom's humiliation and resentment toward the Thing continue to burn, even years later.

 

The final battle between Ben and Doom would not have succeeded so dramatically had not Stan Lee so carefully constructed the individual tragedies which formed each man’s life.  Stan struck the perfect notes of pathos in Ben Grimm and Victor von Doom.  That’s why subsequent efforts to “improve” them---“Ben subconsciously doesn’t want to become human again”; “Doom’s face was marred by only a tiny scar”; and other such nonsense---just didn’t work.

 

By 1965, Marvel Comics was entering maturity, and one of the first places you’d notice it was in Fantastic Four # 39-40.

 

Views: 1340

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Commander Benson said:
….this forgotten gem….

This is definitely not forgotten by me. It is one of my absolute favorite FF stories.

Ben’s agony is palpable, but there is raw nobility in his courage, in contrast to Doom’s faux aristocracy.
Most satisfying of all, Doom’s arrogance is stuffed down his own throat.

It’s only after Doom’s armour has been stripped and gutted by the Thing’s bare hands does Reed Richards call out “Enough!” Their arch-foe’s pride has been broken and that’s sufficient to permit him to slink back to Latveria in shame. (That, and that diplomatic immunity thing.)

Diplomatic immunity has its limits. Parking and speeding tickets are one thing, but serious crimes don’t go unnoticed. Diplomats can be recalled and barred from reentering the country. Even a head of state like Doom can be barred from entering the country, as I understand it.

Ben Grimm’s devastating defeat of Dr. Doom in this story leaves a lasting mark on the characterisation of the F.F.’s arch-foe. We will see that Doom's humiliation and resentment toward the Thing continues to burn, even years later.

Doom’s feeling of superiority to Reed Richards was only exceeded by his feeling of superiority to Ben Grimm. His defeat by Ben shattered that feeling. He was truly ashamed to be beaten by someone he considered very inferior to him. It was so good to see Doom brought low.

I always figured that Doom's diplomatic immunity was more "immune" than most due to Latveria's unique status: because of Doom's technology, Latveria is not only the most heavily armed country in Europe, but has access to things like anti-matter bombs & robot armies that make mere nuclear weapons look like children's playthings.  Plus, Doom's force field tech effectively put's Latveria outside the constraints of "mutually assured destruction", so there's reason to believe that his nation would get the benefit of more "diplomatic courtesy" than the average country.

  The paradox of Ben's life after the cosmic rays: as the Thing he was powerful enough to take on someone like Doom and save his friends but he was mostly unhappy, as Ben he was just happy but in a way useless.  It was a paradox that none of the others faced and I don't think anyone ever captured it as well as Stan, but Roy Thomas in FF 169 did well.  That was the first issue of the Fantastic Four I ever read.

I've long believed there was a shift during the Lee/Kirby run from the original portrayal of Ben as someone who hates being the Thing to a portrayal of him as someone who suffers from self-hatred. I think the later Ben would've been in conflict with himself even if he'd stayed normal.

Without doubt the most satisfying conclusions to any of the FF's battles up to this issue, but Lee & Kirby take the extra step of laying the foundations for the very next FF epic with Ben's anger over losing his human-form yet again.  It was absolutely necessary that he be transformed back into the Thing, but that didn't mean he had to like it.  Also of note with the FF going into serial mode, although issues 36 & 37 were standard done in ones, each were cleverly woven in with previous and upcoming stories, with the Frightful Four starting a triptych of stories interrupted by the flight to the Skrull world and the clash with Dr. Doom, while also introducing Medusa, which would lead to the introduction of the other Inhumans.  The fight with the Skrulls, meanwhile, was a resolution to their previous clash with the Super Skrull and the murder of Franklin Storm.  Whether they planned it that way or not, seems Lee & Kirby spent several issues easing into the serial mode before they went full-steam ahead.

The paradox of Ben's life after the cosmic rays: as the Thing he was powerful enough to take on someone like Doom and save his friends but he was mostly unhappy, as Ben he was just happy but in a way useless. 

I think the later Ben would've been in conflict with himself even if he'd stayed normal.

That was one adjustment in Ben Grimm's attitude which made sense and was a logical development.  Originally, he desperately desired to be human, again  Then, after a couple of years of adventures with Reed and Sue and Johnny, he had developed a strong loyalty and sense of fraternity with his teammates. That's when his wishes changed somewhat; instead of simply being human again, Ben wanted the ability to change between his human form and the body (and power) of the Thing, at will.  That way, he could continue to participate in, and contribute to, F.F. missions.

This was best shown in Fantastic Four # 107-13 (Feb., 1971 to Aug., 1971).  This was the arc that began when Reed Richards developed a device which restored Ben to normal and gave him the power to change to the Thing at will.  Over the course of the eight issues, Ben became increasingly hostile---a side-effect of the treatment. Ultimately, Reed was able to restore Ben's right mind, but only at the cost of trapping him once again in the Thing's body without the ability to change back to his human self.

(Incidentally, the end of this story arc is also where I lost all sympathy for Ben's condition.  In issue # 113,   after the problems are said and done, Reed tells Ben that he has adjusted his device and will be able to restore to Ben the ability to change between his human self and the Thing---and, this time, with there will be no side-effects on his personality. Instead of jumping at the chance, Ben smashes the machine to rubble and states that he's content to remain the Thing.

If I had been Reed, my response would have been, "Then don't come crying to me the next time some child on the street points at you and says, 'Mama, don't let the horrible monster get me!'")

Much like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk again after he was cured because Doc Samson was making time with Betty Ross.

And Ben was worried that Alicia wouldn't love him if he wasn't the Thing!

Much like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk again after he was cured because Doc Samson was making time with Betty Ross.


Yup.  The Incredible Hulk # 141 (Jul., 1971), and that's when Banner lost my sympathy, too.  (Though, to be honest, it was pretty hamfisted writing to have Banner react that way, instead of sitting down with Betty and talking like two honest-to-God grown-ups.)

And Ben was worried that Alicia wouldn't love him if he wasn't the Thing!

Besides the fact that that's one of the most ridiculous conclusions ever ("Oh, Ben, my darling, I love you with all my heart---but only if you remain in the form of an orange, rock-hided monster that repulses people everywhere he goes.  Become a normal human again, and we're through!  Your fondest wishes mean nothing to me, but, sure, I love you."), it gives writers the opening for another example of that pseudo-psychological-quirk nonsense that they love so much, by insisting that Ben Grimm subconsciously doesn't want to become human, again.

But even if one stipulated to all of the above, if Ben could change between human and the Thing at will, he'd have the best of both worlds, and tossed that away.

FANTASTIC FOUR #168-170 (Ma'-My'76) focused on many of the same issues and concerns. In brief, Ben rose from poverty to become a man of action/heroic figure as a football star to a WWII marine pilot to saving the world as the Thing.

But not being the Thing left Ben as a middle-aged man who can no longer "save the day" or "fight the good fight"! 

That Hulk story was the sort that seemed like it could have been really good, perhaps if it had dealt more in depth with Banner's psychological problems which later writers did do, but when I read it (in a reprint), it really came off as rather stupid.  I can almost understand Ben's reaction to the "new, improved" gizmo that would supposedly give him the best of both worlds -- so many previous cures had gone bad that deep inside he just didn't want to take the risk of another failure despite whatever reassurances Reed gave.

Philip Portelli said:

Much like Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk again after he was cured because Doc Samson was making time with Betty Ross.

And Ben was worried that Alicia wouldn't love him if he wasn't the Thing!

Plausible, but "diplomatic immunity" in comics and TV is just the equivalent of Trek technobabble, a magical legal rule that allows the bad guys to stay out of jail no matter what they do. As in Legal Weapon 2, where the South African villains gun down American police but can't be touched because Diplomatic Immunity.

Dave Elyea said:

I always figured that Doom's diplomatic immunity was more "immune" than most due to Latveria's unique status: because of Doom's technology, Latveria is not only the most heavily armed country in Europe, but has access to things like anti-matter bombs & robot armies that make mere nuclear weapons look like children's playthings.  Plus, Doom's force field tech effectively put's Latveria outside the constraints of "mutually assured destruction", so there's reason to believe that his nation would get the benefit of more "diplomatic courtesy" than the average country.

Also, Doom was against the Communists,  so it was the US's best interests to keep Latveria strong.

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Welcome!

No flame wars. No trolls. But a lot of really smart people.The Captain Comics Round Table tries to be the friendliest and most accurate comics website on the Internet.

SOME ESSENTIALS:

RULES OF THE ROUND TABLE

MODERATORS

SMILIES FOLDER

TIPS ON USING THE BOARD

FOLLOW US:

OUR COLUMNISTS:

Groups

© 2017   Captain Comics, board content ©2013 Andrew Smith   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service