Thursday, August 8, 2013

Domination Factor [COMICS]

I'm not sure where to start with Domination Factor, a limited series published by Marvel in 1999.  I'm not even sure if it's one 8-issue limited series or two 4-issue limited series (Domination Factor: Avengers & Domination Factor: Fantastic Four) that share the same plot and tie in together.  I do plan to talk about the story, but first, I must rant.

Rant Start

This series has the nuttiest numbering system of any series I've ever seen (and that includes the trendy # 0 concept, the weird issue # 1/2 idea, and the database-busting issue # 1,000,000 trick DC pulled years ago).  The first issue published, titled Domination Factor: Fantastic Four, is numbered 1.1; the next issue published was Domination Factor: Avengers was numbered 1.2.  Odd, but we can imagine logically that the next issue will be 1.3; we could even imagine the next issue is 2.1 (with the "2" referencing the second month).  But no!  Instead, the next issue is Domination Factor: Fantastic Four # 2.3, followed by Domination Factor: Avengers # 2.4.  This odd pattern continues until the final issue of the series, Domination Factor: Avengers # 4.8.  I suppose the idea was that the first number represents the month and the second number indicates the issue number, but by using a decimal to separate the two numbers, the reader has no idea what the relationship between them is.  A reader might logically think that issue 2.4 (for example) is set in between issues 2 and issues 3, and that he also needs to find issues # 2.5 through # 2.9, which of course don't exist.  The problem is aggravated by alternating between titles every issue.  If one was only a fan of the Fantastic Four and not the Avengers, that reader would have to figure out that he or she wants to buy Domination Factor: Fantastic Four issues # 1.1, 2.3, 3.5, and 4.7.  How counter-intuitive is that?  What was the thought process behind this?   It doesn't tie into the story, it's not explained anywhere in a text page, and its effect could only have been to confuse the reader.  I pray to Kossuth that any future numbering schemes along these lines are burned in eternal flame.

Rant Over.

Issue # 1.1  I should first say this series has a rather goofy plot.  But that doesn't necessarily make it bad, and my notes for the issue say "Kinda fun, really.  I miss good superhero comics."  The issue begins with Reed Richards and Tony Stark aboard Air Force 1.  There's some funny banter how how they could improve the coffee-maker, but then bandits wearing jet-packs attack the plane!  The Fantastic Four and Iron man save the plane from crashing, but a golden apple given to the President as a gift from Norway seems to have been the target of the attack, and it's lost in the waves.  It turns out that the apple is sought by a dying, elderly woman named Nora Queen, owner of a large corporation called Praxis.  The apple would somehow extend her life, but with it lost, her assistant, Lester, vows to find another way.  Meanwhile, in a cool two-page sideways-spread, a giant wooden . . . erm, giant . . . appears in Manhattan and attacks the F.F.  They're unable to destroy it, and suddenly time freezes and Doctor Strange appears.  He says that the F.F. must astrally travel to the past to prevent a terrible future (which he doesn't elaborate upon) by recovering pieces of the golden apple.  The astral spirit of the Thing is sent back to inhabit his body during the F.F.'s first meeting with Agatha Harkness.

Issue # 1.2  Annoying numbering aside, it is cool that the covers of issues # 1.1 and 1.2 fit together to create one large image.  After the Air Force 1 fight, Iron Man calls in the other Avengers for a consult.  They realize that everyone else in New York seems to be frozen in time, and witness a second wooden giant appear.  The inevitable fight ensues, but it seems to have the ability to heal itself.  Doctor Strange appears, says the two giants are "Harbingers of the Everlasting Winter", and follows the same script in sending the astral spirits of the Avengers back in time.  Tony Stark, for example, inhabits the body of his younger self during one his lowest periods as an alcoholic, while Wanda inhabits her body back when she was allied with Magneto and held the U.N. hostage.  It's actually a really fun way to take advantage of continuity and Marvel's long history.

Issue # 2.3  Each member of the F.F. is back in a different part of their shared history.  Ben is at Agatha Harkness' house, trying to steal her piece of the golden apple without changing anything or letting his comrades know what he's doing (there's some funny internal dialogue here); the Frightful Four attack, complicating matters.  The Torch is at the Inhuman's refuge during their fight against Zorr; he gets caught in the act trying to break into Black Bolt's vault for the piece of the apple.  Reed is at the headquarters of the Enclave during a mission to rescue Alicia, but then-Ben won't let him sneak off to look for the apple piece.  Finally, Sue is being held prisoner by Namor, but then-Reed attacks to rescue her.  Doctor Strange's astral form appears to each and says they must kill all those who oppose them, as they are infested by demonic forces!  I don't have a personal recollection of any of these revisited stories, but I bet for a hardcore FF fan they bring back a lot of memories.

Issue # 2.4  Back to the Avengers.  Tony Stark almost has his mind wiped by Nick Fury for being a security risk in his drunken state, but manages to escape at the last minute.  Wanda, at the U.N., stumbles on the piece she's been looking for.  Thor's astral spirit travels back to a point when he was in Asgard assisting in a battle against mountain giants; Loki interferes with his search for the apple piece.  Back in WW II, Captain America's search is stymied by the Golden Age Torch.  Meanwhile, at Praxis HQ in the present day, the mysterious Lester views all of the heroes' efforts through a crystal ball.  Methinks something suspicious is afoot!

Issue # 3.5  Each member of the F.F. is successful in obtaining a piece of the apple, but when their astral forms return to the "present" they find it's been changed!  A new, strange world that is dominated by the Praxis Corporation and that contains no super-heroes..  The best part of this issue is "modern" Sue's spirit in 1960s-era Sue's body, putting the kibosh on the condescension and sexism displayed by the other members of the group.  Quite fun, and well-deserved.

Issue # 3.6  The members of the Avengers are also successful and also return to a world dominated by Praxis.  They're also stuck in their astral forms without bodies to inhabit.  But there's an additional complication: Thor is eliminated from the time-stream, and the others begin to forget he ever existed!  It turns out that the mystical apple is Asgardian in nature, that Nora Queen is actually Knorda, Queen of the Mountain Giants (exiled to Earth as a mortal by Odin for her crimes), and that Lester is actually Loki.  Even the "Doctor Strange" that visited the heroes and sent them on their quests was the trickster in disguise.  So yes, this is all Loki's fault!

Issue # 4.7  I'm not 100% clear on Loki's motivation for this whole, complicated scheme.  I think we're to believe that he worked so hard to freeze time to save Knorda's life because he was in love with her; Loki doesn't seem like the loving type, and the point is not developed very well.  He also remade the world into one dominated by Praxis because it wouldn't include the Avengers, as Loki is still irked by the fact that his actions were what brought the group into existence originally (way back in Avengers # 1, of course).  Any how, with all the heroes stuck in their astral forms without bodies, they decide to possess the closest facsimilies they can find: their non-superhero alter egos.  In this new world, Reed is an employee of Praxis working under the supervision of one Victor Von Doom, Johnny Storm is a race car driver, Ben runs a pizza joint with Alicia (and has a kid), Sue is married to Tony Stark, Wanda is a fortune teller, Steve Rogers is an old man in a nursing home (often visited by a middle-aged Bucky), etc.

Issue # 4.8  The big conclusion.  The heroes are losing their memories, but think that their fading recollection of Thor is the key.  The plot of this issue isn't 100% coherent (my notes say "really weird plot moves"), but somehow the heroes steal Thor's helmet from Knorda/Nora's office, head towards a time-vehicle built by this alternate world's Reed and Victor, and then, with Knorda/Nora's help, go back to Asgard's past to trap Loki and save Thor.  With the Earth returned to normal, Knorda/Nora becomes mortal again, and dies.  So yeah, it's not exactly Shakespeare.

Overall, the series couldn't help but be a bit goofy by making a magic Asgardian apple the macguffin.  Combine that with time travel, and you have a recipe for some silly ideas.  But I will say that the redeeming feature was seeing the characters as we conceive them today (or at least in 1999) interact with their teammates/supporting cast as they were portrayed in the 1960s & 1970s--it's very clear how much has changed, and how many of the characters have evolved over time.  I wouldn't suggest rushing out to find back issues of this though--and even if you tried, would you be able to decrypt the numbering cypher?


Neil Vig said...

I remember getting some of these issues when they came out. But I don't recall it being 8 issues long. Goes to show how memorable it was for me.

Steve said...

Did you ever pick up any of the "What if..." series of comics?

Jeremy Patrick said...

I remember occasionally getting a "What If . . .", but generally wasn't a big fan of them because I was only interested in stories that "mattered," not "imaginary stories." Of course, as Alan Moore said, they're ALL imaginary stories . . .