The Great American
                Novel Act 1:
                the danger Act 2: rising action Act 3: the ball Act 4: crisis Act 5: triumph the Franklinverse part 2, act 1:
                the new danger

1964: Act 2: monarchy -v- democracy

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Annual 2: Doom as a mirror to Reed... and Ben

For me. Paulo Rivera is the greatest FF artist ever, for stand alone images. (Obviously for sequential story telling there is only one Kirby.) This image of his sums up annual 2 better than I could: Ben and Reed at college. Doom symbolizes Reed's desire to personally defeat the unbeatable foe. This image would still be perfect even if Doctor Doom didn't exist: it's power is its symbolism.


We start annual 2 with a flashback to before Act 1: Doom was Reed's nemesis right from the start.

Fantastic Four annual
Doom's early decline foreshadows Reed's later decline: he is unable to take criticism, believing that his way is the only way. Reed believes that Ben's desire to fight and Sue's desire to be gentle are both signs of limited minds, rather than different minds. Like Reed, Doom starts to learn his lesson by the end of act five.

Other similarities include:
Doom's scar and his psychology
Doom's scar is one of those really interesting Jack Kirby things. During his later life Kirby maintained that Doom's scar was minor, and the whole point was that his vanity cannot stand imperfection: he would rather destroy something than have a single flaw. There is a famous picture by Kirby of Doom without his mask, and he is very handsome except for the scar (which itself looks cool, like a scar that says "this guy is tough"). A lot of people say that contradicts Stan Lee's view that Doom's face was horribly disfigured. But I don't think it does: I think that illustration was symbolic.

Jack Kirby drew Doom's face as monstrous in FF 10 (he doesn't actually show the face, but it is strongly implied, and he does show the hair which looks like it's burnt off. Then in Doom's origin in FF annual 2, Kirby shows Doom putting on the mask when it is still hot: the monks say "but master, it has not cooled yet" and when he puts it on we see smoke coming off it.

Later when Byrne showed Doom's origin he made this explicit: Byrne shows that Doom only had one scar, but putting on the red hot mask destroyed his face. Byrne shows Doom saying "pain is for lesser men" then when the red hot masks goes on he screams and runs outside to bury his face in the cooling snow. This is good in that it makes the situation clear, but I think Kirby's original was better: yes, the mask was hot, yes the mask would have disfigured his face, but Doom was right, he would not care about pain. The whole point of the story (to Kirby) is that to Doom destroying his face was nothing. It was trivial. Because to Doom that one scar meant his face was already destroyed.

I love Kirby's stories, I love the way he thinks. I think Doom's origin can be read in a very realistic and powerful way. As a child, Doom saw his family and people killed and humiliated by their rulers. He was unable to save them. He is like Batman: he vowed from that point to always be strong. Doom has good reason (well maybe not good, but totally understandable) to trust nobody and to not allow any weakness at all. He knows that when the whole world is against you, the tiniest flaw can cause disaster. Just as the tiny flaw in his original machine in college caused it to explode, ruining everything. The scar is just a symbol of his mind. Everything has to be perfect and perfectly under control, or it's like losing his family all over again.

If we want to go super-realistic (and I do) then it must be that of course Doom does make mistakes, but as long as the world doesn't see them that's OK. That's how dictators must work. So when Reed pointed out the flaw in Doom's calculation the problem was that whatever happened, here is a man who has seen Doom's weakness. If Reed had not been there then the machine would still have blown up, but Doom would have carried on: all scientists have failures, but the hero is the one who gets up and tries again. As long as nobody sees the weakness they cannot exploit it. But Reed saw the weakness: he made Doom feel vulnerable and weak. Again, being weak brings back his childhood and losing his family again.

I hope I'm not going far when I say that to Doom, Reed seeing his weakness was like rape. Some people (horrible, unfeeling, chauvinists) could argue that rape is not so bad as long as the victim is not physically harmed: it was not her fault, why can't she just get over it? But the whole point of rape is the horror of feeling weak, utterly helpless against an enemy, of that enemy seeing your most private self that you try to hide. To Doom that is what Reed did when he looked over Doom's calculations and saw a mistake. Doom felt like he was raped, like Reed now had power over him, and Doom spent the rest of his life trying to destroy and humiliate Reed. This is not because Doom sees himself as a victim, but Doom sees himself as voice and power of justice.

Note that Doom's is greatest humiliations come from Ben, not Reed. It was Ben who crushed Doom's hands, and Ben defeated Doom in a straight fight when Doom had the surfer's power. But since Ben has obviously enormous power Doom can dismiss this as a temporary thing, a mere battle in the war that Doom will win. There is no shame when a vastly powerful opponent beats you, as long as you then come back and beat him. The shame comes when an ordinary guy sees your actual weakness. Reed saw Doom's actual weakness, and that is why Reed is great enemy. In my opinion.

Other points to note (first story)

The Doom homunculus theory

Doom's origin suggests a possible explanation for his powers. Although Stan Lee's text mentions him having a mother, Jack Kirby's art shows no sign of this. Doom's may instead have demonic origins.

The problem
The Skrull Milk theory is my working hypothesis for how these comics can make sense. In short, advanced aliens probably do exist out there somewhere in the universe. If just one of them visited Earth then everything in the Fantastic Four (and Marvel comics in general) follows naturally. All super powers could (in theory) be traced to Reed Richards, and all high technology could (in theory) be traced to a single Skrull spacecraft, plus a couple of similar craft that followed as a result, years later. So far so good. But Doom poses a problem. He does not seem to fit he Skrull theory, and this is why:

  1. Technology
    His technology is too advanced. In FF 5 he has a working time machine. In FF 6 he has a mechanical grabber with insane abilities (plus some highly advanced forms of transport, nets, etc).
  2. Ovoids
    In FF 10 we see that he is found by the Ovoids within minutes of being lost in space. What are the odds of that? And then of course he gains access to all kinds of other technology.
  3. Magic
    He gains some advantage from ancient magical texts, In particular, he creates a time machine and also attempts to contact the nether world. This goes way beyond simply repurposing a faster than light drive. Granted, Reed also tried dimension jumping years later (with the sub space portal) but he could only design it with the help of the Watcher. Why is Doom so advanced? And if Doom uses magic then why does he not cast spells?

Simplifying the problem
Applying Occam's razor, we can boil this down to just one problem: the sub-space portal. Reed's technology is all building up to a dimensional portal. Doom's is the same. A time machine, and a machine for contacting the nether world, are both forms of dimensional portals. With such a portal Doom would obviously attract the attention of any more advanced aliens. And the portal would give him access to other advanced technology. So the question is. why was Doom's portal technology so advanced, so early?

Occam's razor provides us with an answer: we should not multiply our portals unnecessarily. Reed was working on his portal since the 1930s, so Doom could have got access to a very crude version. So the new question is, how could Doom use a very crude portal to get more advanced technology? If the proto-portal was little more than a faster than light dimensional warper, not ready to transport a person, what could it do? We have already seen the answer: it can draw the attention of other advanced beings. This is something Reed would not dare to do, as he wanted to hide from the other Skrulls. But a more reckless person might broadcast a message, saying "come and help me!". Let's follow this train of thought.

About magic
Advanced magic relies on calling on beings from other dimensions: "by the hoary hosts of hoggoth!", "by the Vishanti!", etc. Any dimensional warper might draw their attention. You might even crate some pattern in the warp, and send a message, hoping somebody responds (as with SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence). Doom's old books would talk about this? Even if ancient magicians were all frauds, they would understand the principle. There must be higher dimensions, and if only we could get their attention! So Doom's ancient books of magic would be useful, even in the real world: they are books by ancient thinkers. But this "asking for help" method has three problems:

  1. The higher beings might not want to help us.
  2. If they do, they might be for their own reasons (aliens wanting to destroy us, or demons having fun with us)
  3. It might be harder than we think to get a message through.

Magicians solved the first two problems, in theory at least:

  1. Offer to serve them (a  deal with the devil)
  2. Have such high standards that the more responsible ones will trust you (the self discipline route)

SETI solved the third problem, at least in theory: make the message as simple as possible. So SETI does not look for little green men in spaceships, it looks for anything non-random. And people who want to send a message do not try to build their own faster than light space ships (we don't have the technology for that) but they send information: simple messages (like the Arecibo message) to indicate we have intelligence, or some have suggested: sending DNA data into outer space. A dimensional warper (removed from a faster than light craft) could obviously do more than our simple radio broadcasters, but the same principle apply: sending or receiving simple information is much easier than sending a person. This is something that Doom (or somebody like him) might achieve.

OK, so we have a way that Doom could in theory get help from other dimensions. But how did he use that to get so much technology so quickly? The ancient thinkers had an answer for this as well: the homunculus theory:

Nicolas Hartsoeker [inventor of the microscope] postulated the existence of animalcules in the semen of humans and other animals. This was the beginning of spermists' theory, who held the belief that the sperm was in fact a "little man" that was placed inside a woman for growth into a child. This seemed to them to neatly explain many of the mysteries of conception. It was later pointed out that if the sperm was a homunculus, identical in all but size to an adult, then the homunculus may have sperm of its own. This led to a reductio ad absurdum with a chain of homunculi "all the way down". This was not necessarily considered by spermists a fatal objection however, as it neatly explained how it was that "in Adam" all had sinned: the whole of humanity was already contained in his loins. The spermists' theory also failed to explain why children tend to resemble their mothers as well as their fathers, though some spermists believed that the growing homunculus assimilated maternal characteristics from the womb environment in which they grew. (-Wikipedia)

Homunculi and changelings
The term homunculus refers to any tiny human, whether physical or spiritual, A tiny spiritual person can control a human just as easily as a tiny physical one. For example, the human mind is often thought of as a homunculus: a tiny person sitting inside the human brain, controlling it. Any spiritual force that is too small to see can also be thought of as a homunculus. Since both the spiritual and the very tiny are difficult or impossible to see there is little practical difference between them.

Usually the term homunculus brings to mind the name of Paracelsus who proposed a spiritual homunculus. However, Paracelsus' proposal was limited in scope to an alchemical operation. The term of homunculus possesses a broader definition; it may be either a spiritual or physical entity. The physical homunculus is deliberately created by occult or magical means combining both human and spiritual efforts. The physical homunculus usually has a human form created through sexual intercourse between a human and a spiritual entity. [...] The changeling is the nice term for homunculus, the amalgam of a human child and a spirit child. Such amalgamation would be the product of sexual intercourse between a human and a spirit. [...] At one time it was thought incubi children were produced though a demonic version of the Virgin Birth" (source)

So when an external demonic or angelic force mixed with a human (e.g. as a changeling or a demigod) this seed is also a form of homunculus.

Homunculi and DNA
If a homunculus is a tiny person inside sperm, then he must contain his own sperm, and so on. Eventually we get to the smallest possible homunculus, something that cannot be divided further. To the ancient Greeks, the smallest indivisible thing was called the atom. So the smallest, most fundamental homunculus would be the collection of atoms that makes a human, or DNA.

Normally, DNA and Homunculus are seen as contradictions: one is a plan, the other is a fully formed being. See this blog for example. However, I think that is "a tiny man" is simply the best way to visualise DNA in the absence of a more detailed understanding. This is why the movie Jurassic park had animated DNA in the form of a human. It's just the natural way to think of DNA. So it is just natural for DNA and homunculi to be describing the same thing.

Jurassic Park DNA

Besides, a non-supernatural reading of ancient texts indicates that the word "spirit" simply means information. For example in the Bible John the Baptist had "the spirit of Elijah" because he spoke and acted like Elijah. Even today we still say "that's the spriit" meaning "that's the right idea". So a spiritual homunculus refers to the information necessary to create a certain kind of person.

So what was Werner Von Doom thinking?
So anybody with knowledge of medieval thought, and access to a dimensional device, no matter how crude, would wonder, "what if I could make a demonic or divine homunculus?" or in modern words, "what if I could  send, or receive, DNA? I could then ask for instructions for how to make it grow. We would then have a hybrid alien on Earth, a human with special abilities, and attracting the sympathy and support of other aliens. they could then use that to gain more and more access to help from aliens: technology, better dimensional portals, anything! This of course comes with great danger: the alien might want this as an opportunity to play with us, or introduce disease, or cause other problems So anybody who tried this extremely dangerous route would be obsessed with gaining the technical upper hand and power for themselves.

So much for the theory. Now let's test it: did Doom use this method? Is there any evidence in the comics?

Doom as a homunculus
All the comic book evidence supports the above theory:

Suggested timeline
Based on the above evidence, here is a tentative timeline for the origin of Doom and his extraordinary technology:

This theory is of course tentative and subject to change. But it solves the Doom problems, and agree with the text. Without this theory the comic simply do not make sense.

Annual 2, the second story

Fantastic Four annual

Doom's "final victory"

At the end of this issue Doom thinks he is victorious at the end, but the cover rotrays something far greater. This genuinely is the "final victory", because from here Doom knows he will triumph eventually. It changes Doom's whole outlook on life.

Here Doom speculates that he is the same person as Kang. Byrne later referred to Doom as Kang's ancestor, but given the thirtieth century technology this may not be "ancestor" in the way we mean, and this would explain how this was a final victory. In FF200 Doom loses his mind, and it appears from annual 15 that Doom is not tied to a particular body (see the notes to those issues). If so then he has escaped death. Doom did not yet know this in annual 2, but he already had Ovid mind swapping skills, so he would have speculated. When he met Kang he expected to die (he only had a couple of minutes' oxygen left) so meeting Kang would have been especially exciting: Kang was proof that Doom would survive into the far future. This is the final victory: the knowledge that whatever happened, he would survive and conquer.

Doom's supreme confidence starts here
Note how at the start of the story Doom is defeatist - he admits his inferiority to Reed. But from this point he knows he cannot be defeated in the long run: he has added confidence and never again admits that anybody is above him. He returns from Kang, with an advanced space craft, conquers Latveria, and never looks back. Doom's supreme confidence begins here. Doom's towering over others begins here.

(For an overview of Doom's development in the rest of his twenty appearances see his own page.)

Dr Doom

The story begins with a continuation of the "Reed destroys Ben's confidence" theme developed throughout act 2. Reed begins by criticizing Ben where Ben feels most secure - his piloting skill.

The zeitgeist:
Ben destroys the car that is going to the New York World's Fair, and then sells it as pop art. Don't worry, I won't mention every zeitgeist reference in every issue, but this one represents bigger themes. The center piece of the fair was the World Globe, where Thundra completed Ben's humiliation in FF133. The same issue begins in Times Square on New Year's Eve 1973, where the team's depression reflects the nation's disillusionment, contrasted with its optimism in 1965. (Issue 133 then moves on to New York's Shea stadium: the whole issue takes place among thousands of New Yorkers, where fans pay ten bucks a seat to see superheros fight - a comment on the zeitgeist of the professionalization of the game at the time.) Note that this is our world, in real time, not the parallel comics-only world it would become in the 1990s.

Doom and Diablo, Reed and the Wizard
While on the topic, from a literary point of view, Diablo is Doom without any respect for others. Doom, for all his arrogance, does care a little for his people, and that is the source of his strength. Diablo cares for nobody - as an elitist he is even more arrogant than Doom, and that is the source of his weakness. So Diablo is a mirror for Doom in exactly the same way that the Wizard is a mirror for Reed: the Wizard has even worse social skills than Reed and so he is weaker.


This issue contains the most commonly quoted example of Reed's sexism: Reed says Sue is "not a fool... merely a female." Sean Kleefeld commented: "Mr. Fantastic is a sexist jerk. Or, at least, he was. Back in the 1960s when the Fantastic Four debuted, the Invisible Girl was not only written as the perpetual third wheel to the "real" heroes" ( - Kleefeld on comics)

Sue was strong, Reed fainted more
I have written about the fallacy of the weak Invisible Girl elsewhere. If you judge by results, Sue has always been the strongest and most effective member of the team, the one who defeats Dr Doom and other major threats. Reed is statistically more likely to faint or to go to pieces without her, while Ben and Johnny are far more repressed.

Sue can be sexist and Reed can be weak
Yes, Reed is sexist. He has to be: as the Great American Novel, a real time reflection of the zeitgeist, Reed has to reflect common attitudes of the time. But Sue was just as sexist as Reed: In annual 2 Reed is sexist, but in annual 1 Sue was sexist first. She said that "all men" are beasts. As for Sue with her head in her hands, Reed did the same: annual 1 follows directly from FF14 where Reed spoke of his own despair and weakness in the face of Sue.

In both cases the judgment, though sexist, was justified. In annual 1, Johnny and Ben acted badly, and in previous issues so did Reed. They acted like beasts. Sue merely generalized, saying that all men are like that. And in annual 2, Reed is technically correct. Sue saw her fiancÚ (as the thought) acting despicably, therefore she only had one possible course of action and she took it. Reed spoke the truth. And later Sue called him out on it. So Reed's sexism, and Sue's submission, though real, are greatly exaggerated by modern readers. This reflects or modern need to make ourselves look good by exaggerating the sins of the past.

Sexism: why character development matters
Kleefeld comments that sexism is a problem, because the sliding timescale pretends that these events took place recently. It's understandable that they took place in the 1960s, but harder to defend if they took place after 2001.

"[In the past] it was pretty common for all male characters to act this way. In most cases of fiction, though, those characters are eternally relegated to their time period. [...] But many comic book characters have been in constant publication since then and, despite their earlier origins, are often seen as products of modern society. So how do we, as readers, address this kind of thing? [...][ S]ince the characters continue to this day, they can be seen as contemporary expressions." ( - Kleefeld on comics)

Kleefeld sees this as an opportunity to educate readers on why this is wrong. But he does not address the central problem that the sliding time scale presents these as recent events. How can we say this behavior is wrong, then pretend 1960s attitudes fit in ten years ago?

This is another example of how the sliding timescale destroys stories. To rescue the story, to show why sexism is wrong, we need to accept the truth: these are 1960s stories, set in the 1960s, and reflect 1960s values and attitudes. We can then see how Reed grew and developed, and how in the 1970s he had to pay for his mistakes. But we can also free ourselves from the need to be holier than thou. We can see that other 1960s values, like idealism and heroism, can teach us good values that we have lost. Learning is a two way street. We can learn from history if we let it teach us. We will not learn from history if the sliding timescale insists on re-writing it.

Other points to note in annual 2

Doom: towering over the 28 year story

The cover to annual 2 shows Doom as a giant: a theme repeated many times over the years. Doom is the principle opponent in the 28 year story and bestrides the story like a colossus. His cover size size reflects his strength: at times like the 1970s when he lost his way, and other times when his confidence falters (though he never admits it), he is shown at normal size.

Doom: big
Doom: small

This image reminds us of this famous illustration from Thomas Hobbes' book Leviathan, about how the king towers over his people and represents them. Doom sees himself as an old world monarch (and in annual 2 this becomes official): he sees himself as above others.

The image reminds us of a major theme of the Great American Novel: old world monarchy versus American democracy. America is the first major nation to challenge monarchy. The 28 year story of the Fantastic Four is about democracy versus monarchy: Reed sees himself as leader, like Doom, but will he learn humility?

Next: act 2, the end of Camelot

The Great American Novel