Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fantastic Four # 48: The Galactus Trilogy

Fantastic Four 48-Galactus Silver Surfer Watcher
Fantastic Four #48 (1966)
Doug: I don’t recall exactly when I read this entire story. I know that as a kid I acquired a fairly decent copy of FF #49 and absolutely loved it. But, as Marvel’s Greatest Comics had moved past this chronology in their reprint scheme, it was not accessible to me in that magazine. I am somewhat puzzled as well that this story never made it into any of the Treasury editions (although the near-equally magnificent Galactus story that took place over FF #’s 120-123 did, and I owned that one), nor the “Origins of Marvel Comics” series of trade paperbacks that were published in the mid-late 1970’s – although the there are no origins to be told in this arc. So, perhaps it wasn’t until the early 1990’s when I actually purchased FF #48 and #50 at the Chicago Comicon that I read the entire trilogy in one sitting. And am I ever glad that I did! )

It’s interesting to me that a story that has become so historically significant actually begins as the ending of the previous arc! And non-stop action at that – these days it’s nice to have resources like the Essentials and the DVD-ROMs, which enable the reader to instantly backtrack and get up to speed on prior events.

Karen: The beginning of this issue, with the end of the Inhumans story, just shows how differently things were done back then. More than anything, it just seems like there is a ton of stuff crammed into each issue. Most of the time, that works for me, although I felt differently with issue 50. The one thing I felt worthy of comment in this finish to the Inhumans story is when Medusa talks about how the Inhumans are still really human, and “One day we shall rejoin the human race – and it is Blackbolt who shall show us the way!” This sounds a lot like some of the rhetoric we heard in the X-Men. This theme of the outsider is one that Stan really liked using.

Sharon: I came across this issue decades ago; I found it among a bunch of old magazines (like Life and Look) a neighbor had discarded. This issue didn’t have a cover, so it was not until recently that I knew what the cover was like—and that the cover featured not the FF and the Inhumans, but the FF and the Watcher…signaling the switch in the story.

I know we’re talking about the Galactus trilogy here, but the Inhumans were such a huge part of this issue for me (and hopefully we’ll discuss the Inhumans saga at another time). I really liked the bleeding of one story into another. In a way this whole arc began back with the return of the Frightful Four back in #38, but #48 represents the first time (I know of) that the first part of an issue was devoted to one crisis…while the rest of the issue focused on another, separate crisis. The Maximus threat, the impenetrable dome, the separation of Johnny and Crystal—this took up many pages of the issue (and was not just filler, obviously)…and then we’re plunged into an entirely different story. Masterful.

I’m not aware of too many Marvel books that did this prior to FF #48, though it kind of reminds me of Avengers #16, which featured one story at the start and then segued into another story (the new team).

Rather than dwell on the end of the Inhumans story, I’ll get right into the new material. I thought Jack did a great job with the slow reveal of the Silver Surfer and Galactus. Making no bones about their names, we nevertheless see the Surfer gradually, at first in a couple of images really too small to be detailed. It’s obvious that he is able to engage in interstellar travel unshielded from the elements. The panel with the Skrulls, showing their disdain and even fear of the Surfer, is an early hook.

Karen: Yes, this was a masterful job of building suspense and apprehension. As always, Kirby is able to put across a feeling of mystery and power. Seeing some of the previous issues, the art just seems a bit off. Joe Sinnott showed up a few issues prior to this one. Sinnott’s inks were like the final piece needed to bring everything together. This is the classic Fantastic Four, in all its majesty.

Doug: The suspense builds as Ben sees two suns in the sky, followed by the sky itself becoming flame. Of course, the reader believes it to be the doing of the Surfer, even though he is off-panel. What a thrill this must have been for the first-time reader – to encounter these great new characters with this layered reveal!

Karen: You know, it’s been a few years since I read this story, and it took me a few minutes to recall that the fire was the Watcher’s doing, not the Surfer’s! So I guess Stan knew what he was doing with that.

Doug: The scene where Johnny is blamed for the pandemonium brought on by the fire in the sky is pretty standard Stan Lee “the public hates their heroes” angst, and Ben’s leap into the fray is good. Interesting, isn’t it, that with all of that was required of this issue – the Inhumans wrap-up, the introduction of two new characters, the Watcher, and the general FF family squabbles, that Jack took the time to spend two pages on Johnny’s and Ben’s “battle”.

I love the FF’s jet cycle. When Toy Biz made the “First Appearance” Thing action figure, the smaller version of that vehicle was a great pack-in.

The first close-up of the Surfer’s face is somewhat ominous – very alien, not necessarily sinister, but I guess determined in his task…

Concerning the scene where Reed is in the lab (what exactly was he going to determine from a scenario with fire in the sky – fire that did not actually burn and did not give off heat?): How in the world did he grow so scruffy in the space of the hour or two since they’d left the street scene?? Seems that Jack wanted the timing one way and Stan dropped the ball on it!

Sharon: Reed’s five o’clock shadow was silly. One of the perils of compressed storytelling? And, just as you state, Doug, probably due to miscommunication between Stan and Jack.

Karen: Yeah, you definitely get the impression that there was some miscommunication between them. I do love some of the details Kirby puts in – like the Thing on the phone to Alicia. As much as I hate smoking, there’s just something quaint about seeing the Thing with an old-school phone, smoking a cigarette! And why not a cigar?

Sharon: Yeah, Jack considered Ben his doppelganger…and Jack smoked cigars…

Doug: And Sue – how superficial is she, bellyaching about being taken to dinner? They just come off the Inhumans adventure where the Great Refuge is encased in a “negative zone” and there’s no telling if or when the Inhumans can be freed, they’ve encountered a sky with two suns and a sky enflamed. And she’s concerned about dinner? In her defense, at some point all of the adventure has to break somewhere for normalcy. Whatever that is when it’s the FF.

Karen: Unfortunately, Sue often came off as a bit self-absorbed and superficial. Really, this characterization of her is not all that different than how Stan wrote the Wasp over in Avengers. I think it is part and parcel of the times, and how men viewed women. She’s incapable of grasping the big picture, she’s only concerned about her needs, or when she’s portrayed more charitably, the needs of her immediate family. It’s odd how at the beginning of that scene, Sue is going on about her needs –wanting attention, going out to dinner – but when she confronts Reed, she suddenly is concerned that he needs to eat and rest. I don’t know if that was a slip up or intentional on Stan’s part.

Sharon: Sue was not depicted as deep thinker back then (neither was Johnny). To be honest, this is the Sue I grew up with, so her present incarnation of her as being so capable and confident and wise is jarring to me.

I guess her behavior here (and the aforementioned Johnny-Ben interlude) was basically Stan’s way of injecting some down to earth “realism” into the story.

Doug: The Watcher’s appearance was a surprise (yes, I saw the big galoot on the cover, but I am speaking more to flipping the page and wham! -- there he was). I’m impressed at times that the art is organized in relation to the advertising pages. I suppose, although I’ve never really paid any attention, that the layout of a book is standard in regards to the one- and two-page ads. Knowing this, it certainly gives the artist an opportunity for drama from page to page.

When the Surfer appears, negotiating the Watcher’s meteor storm, we get an idea of his prowess (this scene is played out even more dynamically by Alex Ross in Marvels), as well as his speed. The panel where he flies upside down is a “wow” moment.

How do you feel about Kirby’s use of photography in his splashes?

Karen: After seeing those collages in the Fantastic Four and Thor, I’ve come to the conclusion that Kirby just didn’t have enough ways to express his creativity! Those collages really vary –some are effective, some aren’t. I would say this one is not so great. It’s just such a mish-mash –I know this was the beginning of psychedelia, but this looks sort of junky.

Sharon: I’m not a fan of this method. I always felt shortchanged. One of the few times I felt it worked was in FF #62, a two page spread, when Reed is in the Negative Zone and Johnny, Crystal, Sue and Ben are watching him on a large screen monitor.

Doug: Galactus’ first appearance is impressive, although I must say the solid purple wins out over this garish display of forest green and red/brown and brown. Wow. Who gets “credit” for this fashion train wreck (as colorists were not credited in this era)? Note, too, that the Big G has pants on in his first public showing.

Karen: As much as I love and revere the early Marvel creations, about the only positive I can say here is, “Nice helmet!” Really, that suit is just so terrible. It got better when they went with the purple and blue, but it just isn’t all that magnificent. Not what you would expect for the world-devourer!

Doug: In the panel immediately before the Galactus appearance, the Watcher makes a comment that “He is whatever he wishes to be – he is Galactus!” I recall reading, most likely in the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, that Galactus visually takes the form of whatever race/species/etc. sees him. Also, his height and weight are variable. I don’t know if the Watcher’s comment is the source for this material, but it has seemed to be true since this first appearance in 1966 nonetheless.

Sharon: I think the notion of each species seeing Galactus in its own form was put forth by Bryne (not sure if he originated it or just expanded on it), during Byrne’s run on the FF.


Anonymous said...

You three could host a trivia quiz for comics buffs.

(P.S. Your site's FANTASTIC!)

Sharon said...

Thank you for the kind words, Anon. We're glad you're enjoying our blog- -it's people like you who make this all worthwhile!

Karen said...

Thanks Oh Anonymous Reader! It's good to know that our efforts are appreciated. We've got some different features coming up soon!

Dr. Pym said...

Different features? Awesome! And I totally agree with the anonymous reader!

-doctorhankpym (Who's not so anonymous himself!)

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