The events of ‘Fantastic Four: Issue 536 & 537’ are detailed in the ‘Civil War Essential Event Book’ on pages CW50 to CW 53. It does a good job of giving an overview of events and provides us with datafiles for Doctor Doom, his Doombots and a power set for Mjolnir, should a hero prove worthy to wield it.
It is a fun, short story, returning Doctor Doom to the Marvel universe after being trapped in hell and deals with the repercussions of Thor’s apparent death. I particularly like the art provided by Mike McKone and the colours provided by Paul Mounts.
There is actually very little that ties it to ‘Civil War’ other than Reed Richards is just returning from his meeting with the Illuminati, shown in ‘New Avengers: Illuminati.’ For this reason you could safely skip running the events of ‘The Hammer Falls’ without missing anything important. Nonetheless it is good old-fashioned brawl between Dr Doom and the Fantastic Four.
One final note before I begin looking at the story itself, I find it amusing that part 1 creates a big mystery about what it is that fell from space, only revealing it is Mjolnir on the final page. Which would have been more of a surprise if it didn’t also appear on the cover.
Six Months Ago…
The prologue details how the north warning system, which provides early warning of any object entering the North American Airspace, detected the approach of Mjolnir six months prior to the main events in this story.
Astronomers at Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson confirmed it wasn’t a comet or meteor and both the North American Air Defense Command and the European Space Agency were unable to link it to any catalogued piece of orbital debris.
This illustration of what happens when something enters the Earth’s orbit can be useful when planning an adventure or events around something coming from or going into space. If something as small as Mjolnir can be detected and tracked so can most spaceships.
If something was approaching Earth, unless it had the technology to avoid detection, it is likely that these agencies would find it. This means that PC heroes might receive a call to investigate.
Given that the military build a facility around Mjolnir it can be speculated how much information they gave to the European Space Agency. Did they tell them that the space debris turned out to be Thor’s hammer or did they hope they’d assume whatever it was had burnt up during re-entry?
It is curious, given his scientific interests, that Reed Richards doesn’t have any similar kind of early warning system. Considering that the Fantastic Four have several space-faring enemies including Galactus, his heralds and the Skrull empire, you would think that he’d be watching the skies.
Could it be that he trusts the space agencies to contact him if it needs his attention or because most of the serious threats wouldn’t be detected it isn’t worth scanning? Perhaps this isn’t so surprising since the Fantastic Four spend more time exploring other dimensions than space.
This does mean that this is a viable way to catch the Fantastic Four off-guard at the start of an adventure. They will be as surprised as anyone when something falls from space, along with all the other heroes who apparently don’t monitor space.
Another Story, For Another Time
We must assume that the story is a bit more interesting that ‘the plane crashed and everyone died’. Still, things don’t look good as the final panel of the plane shows it spinning out of control, flames licking at its nose.
I’m not aware that this story was picked up later, so could be the basis for an adventure. The simplest way to address this is to have a passing PC hero save the tumbling plane. If they investigate the cause they might discover Mjolnir 6 months before the Fantastic Four and have to deal with the military who soon turn up to contain the mystical relic.
It could be that the plane didn’t crash at all. Mjolnir had recently been ripping holes in different realities as it headed back to Earth. It could be that the plane got caught in the hammer’s wake and ended up being sent to an alternative reality. The passengers would then have to find a way home, perhaps with the PCs help.
It is also possible that Mjolnir bestowed some Nordic magic on the passengers, allowing them to survive the crash. This would be a nice mirroring of the origin of the Fantastic Four, with the passengers finding that they’ve now been blessed with strange new powers that resemble the Norse Gods.
PCs could encounter them either as heroes or as villains, depending on what type of people they are. Might they have been picked up by the military and press-ganged into being super powered soldiers?
This incident also highlights an added danger of flying in the Marvel Universe. There are many with the power to fly who could accidentally collide with a plane, or the ability to unleash energy blasts that could knock a wing off.
This means that any fight outside or in the air can have a ‘Falling Plane’ distinction added to it if people get careless
Emergency Distress Frequency
The Fantastic Four are alerted to the crisis with Doom by an call on the Emergency Distress Frequency. Reed is surprised that it is being used as he only gave it to SHIELD. Since only they are supposed to have the frequency it is an oddly specific channel.
While the group have worked with SHIELD before, especially Nick Fury, they never seemed particularly close. This piece of information allows the possibility of several adventures exploring their relationship, with the Fantastic Four taking part in SHIELD operations.
It also means that any SHIELD centred adventures could allow the Fantastic Four as something that can be unlocked, allowing the group to use the frequency to summon the team.
Research Facility in Broxton, OK
The facility took the form of a dome over the crater where Mjolnir landed. It had radar systems and GPS. it was these systems that the first wave of attacks targeted, leaving the facility blind.
Upon finding the facility under attack from Doombots General Ray first tried to contact SHIELD. Since they couldn’t get there in time they gave him the emergency frequency for the Fantastic Four.
This reveals that SHIELD aren’t able to reach Oklahoma faster than the Fantastic Four can get there from New York, nor could other military forces. This is useful information to know in an adventure set in that region.
The importance of the facility is revealed in the presence of numerous heavily armed troops and armoured vehicles. Preventing people from reaching Thor’s hammer was obviously very important.
Adventures can explore what happened during the six months between the hammer falling and the events in this comic. What did the military do with the hammer during their research?
Since the Fantastic Four were surprised by its presence it might be that they kept it a secret from the superhero community. Perhaps they worried what their response would be to the hammer and the presumed death of Thor.
For the sake on an interesting adventure it could be that they called in some experts. Dr Strange would seem a likely consultant, at least to verify if the hammer was the genuine article.
The military have a history of trying to develop their own super soldiers so it is possible that they tried to find a worthy person to wield the hammer. A list of the best of the best could have been sent to the facility to see if they could lift it, only to be unable to move it. Would they have then been assigned to the facility?
Would they have secretly brought in Captain America? Certain stories have shown that he is one of the few people who could wield the hammer. An adventure could be based around Captain America deciding if he’ll wield both his shield and hammer or whether that would dishonour Thor’s memory.
There could have been unseen attacks on the facility. Mystical beings, especially those from the Nine Worlds, might be attracted to the presence of the hammer. This could lead to an adventure centred around soldiers fighting back trolls, giant serpents and ice giants.
At the end of ‘Unthinkable’ Dr Doom was trapped in hell. In issue 537 we find that he used the passage of Mjolnir to escape. Had it not happened along he fully expected to die at the hands of the hordes of demons.
What would Thor do if he learnt this later? He would have to deal with the knowledge that his hammer saved a villain like Doom. Would he take responsibility for anything that Doom had done since escaping hell or would he believe that no one deserved to die at the hands of demons?
What would have happened if the hammer hadn’t come along? Would Doom have fallen to the demons or would he have conquered them? It is entirely possible that if the hammer hadn’t freed him Doom might have conquered some small realm of hell.
A demonic Doom would be a twist on the character, pursing the character arc he began in ‘Unthinkable’ where he began embracing magic instead of science. Would Doom start making deals with people in exchange for their souls? The events of ‘One More Day’ might have ended very differently.
Once he has returned to Earth it takes him ten days to recover and reach Latveria. An adventure could be centred on this unaccounted for period where Doom is weak and vulnerable.
This would be a good opportunity for low powered PC heroes to face Doom and still have a chance to defeat him. An adventure could have Doom as a playable characters, maybe calling in favours from other villains to get to his home land. Can Doom get home without the heroes capturing him or revealing his weakness to the villains?
In Latveria it has been two years since Doom went missing. Considering that the Marvel Universe uses a sliding timescale, condensing all published events into a much shorter period it is surprising to find that Doom has been gone for such a long time.
The Latveria Prime Minister believes that after such a long time Doom is not going to come back. He is about to consider what to do with his ‘toys’ when Doom returns and kills him.
What if the Prime Minister hadn’t waited? What if the next Prime Minister isn’t as patient when Doom vanishes again? This could lead to PCs encountering Doom technology, especially his Doombots, on the open market.
This could be a good twist for a street-level group of heroes. They might think they’re dealing with a small time gang boss only to find he has purchased a Doombot as a body guard or enforcer.
Speaking of Doombots, despite being able to battle and taunt the Fantastic Four like the real thing it is established they don’t sound like their creator because Reed is able to recognise Doom by his voice.
There are many occasions when it has been revealed that Doom was actually a Doombot. There have even been times when Doombots have come to believe they are their creator.
This suggests that certain Doombots can impersonate him but the majority of them sound artificial. This can be used in an adventure to make clear to the player characters when they’re dealing with Doom or one of his robots.
There is also a sizeable amount of time between his return to Latveria and his eventually attack on the research facility. Since the Fantastic Four didn’t know he had returned this must be a well kept secret.
Does Latveria not warrant some form of surveillance? You would imagine that it would be a high priority for SHIELD, enough to place at least one spy in its borders. Of course it could be that the nations security measures are particularly good at eliminating spies.
If Doom is able to maintain a low profile there are adventures to be told about this period. What did he do to prepare himself for his potential godhood? PC heroes might find that Latveria has a sudden interest in the arcane, leading them to eventually discover that Doom has returned.
All of this backstory is revealed only to the reader. Instead Doom says the story of how he escaped is far too long to relate and doesn’t matter. This is a good way to deal with situations when player characters want to know how villains escaped their certain death in their last encounter. Realistically there is no reason for the villain to justify their return.
During this story Doom is able to bring an army of Doombots into America undetected, along with a missile. Whatever the political ramifications of this SHIELD must be wondering how he managed it.
At the end of the story Doom remotely summons a small shuttle craft to escape in. It is possible the Doombots were brought in on this craft but it would appear to be a little too small for this.
An adventure could be built around finding how Dr Doom imported these dangerous weapons and shutting these channels down. This could expose a secret world of smugglers who work exclusively with super villains.
When Dr Doom attempts to lift the hammer a blinding column of light blasts into the sky. Reed believes that Doom was infused with Asgardian energy and by touching the hammer he woke it up, allowing a signal to be sent.
Firstly Reed is only guessing. It could be that no one had touched the hammer and that any attempt to would have sent the signal. It could also be a response to someone evil trying to wield it.
If he is correct then heroes running through this adventure who succeed in preventing Doom from touching the hammer will have unwittingly delayed, if not prevented, the return of Thor. Of course they won’t find that out until after the Civil War.
The signal was certainly noticed, suspected of causing a blackout that affected all of Oklahoma. The event was covered by the news and scientists were puzzled. This could lead to an adventure based around the aftermath.
Would the Fantastic Four inform the hero community of what happened? Did the mystical community take notice of the bright light and realise what it meant? What are the consequences of the thunder storms?