Thursday, July 31, 2008

Karen's report from the San Diego Comic Con

Let me start by saying I hate crowds. I get anxious and a bit aggressive when stuck in a jostling pack of human bodies. It's that old 'fight or flight' instinct which kicks in to high gear when I feel surrounded. So going to the San Diego Comic Con is always a trying experience for me.

However, the rewards typically outweigh the frustration and irritation I feel when swept along by the (literally in many cases) unwashed masses, so I find myself going back, year after year.

This year's con was not graced with the same number of high profile movie previews as was the last two years, but it still had much to offer. A big part of it for me is being able to purchase a lot of back issues from the 60s and 70s, and I had a great time doing just that. The dealers are really feeling squeezed though. I spoke with many of them, and I get the feeling that the con is pricing them out (I was told by one that booth prices are going up $150 next year). There's alot of animosity towards "Hollywood" from the dealers, as they feel they have been shuffled off to the corner of the hall while the big names, like Lucasfilm, Mattel, NBC, Fox, etc, get the best spots in the show. They may be right; I often wonder if the day will come when comics dealers disappear from the con.

I certainly hope not. The convention should be able to keep all of the disparate groups that give it an appeal to so many different people. It's definitely a big enough venue. The view from our hotel balcony shows just half of the center! It must be a couple of football fields long, with the dealers/exhibit area on the first floor, and meeting rooms on the top one. Here's a tip if you ever go to Comic-Con: wear the sturdiest, most comfortable shoes you've got, because you will be doing a lot of walking. And standing. A whole lot of standing.

We got in on preview night and this was the busiest preview night I have ever seen. Typically, it is a lighter crowd, but this crowd was huge; it felt like a Friday or Saturday crowd. The exhibition hall runs the length of the convention center and reminds me of a casino with all the bright lights, displays, and cacophany of sounds. While it was packed, we still were able to get around to a lot of booths.

The term booth is misleading. Some of these areas are really huge. Take the Sideshow Collectibles area for example. They had some really wonderful displays of stuff too expensive for me to buy. A huge banner over their section had pictures of Hellboy and Darth Vader, among others. Similar set-ups were present for both Marvel and DC, as well as Lego, Mattel, all the movie studios, and video game companies. Monitors were everywhere, with ads, previews, demos, and schedules. You are constantly bombarded with information. Preview night is just preparing you for the next four days.

Thursday was the first day of panels. I went to both the DC Nation and Mondo Marvel panels. Although I have always been more of a Marvel fan, every year the DC group makes their panel more fun and more interesting than Marvel. I know Dan Didio is much maligned, and I must admit I feel like DC has dropped the ball the last year or so, but the man comes across in person as genuinely caring about what the fans think. When people expressed dislike of Countdown, he asked them all to tell him what was wrong with it. Then he, and Mike Carlin, explained that they knew some of the problems, and regretted that they hadn't been able to do a better job on some things. You certainly would never hear that on the Marvel panels, which are much more smart-ass about things.

On Friday I attended a couple of interesting panels. One was a spotlight on Jim Starlin, and the other was called "That 70's panel" and had a number of comics creators from the 1970s present. I was excited about the Starlin panel, because I was meeting him later that day to say hi. A couple of months ago I interviewed Jim over the phone for an article on Adam Warlock, which will be published in Back Issue #34. He had been very gracious, insightful, and funny in our interview and I really looked forward to thanking him personally. His panel was moderated by Ron Marz, and covered every aspect of his career. Jim had told me to come see him after his autographing session later that day. I didn't want to take up too much of his time, so we chatted briefly. He was every bit as nice in person as he had been over the phone. Just a great guy.

The 70s panel also included Starlin, as well as Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Mike Barr, Bernie Wrightson, and about halfway through, Len Wein. Mark Evanier moderated. When asked which comics pros who came before them they had respected the most, Jack Kirby's name came up again and again. Asked if there were any problems with any of the "old timers", Starlin mentioned that artist Gil Kane said too many of the younger artists practiced something he called "masturbatory rendering"! But for the most part, the pros who came before them embraced them and mentored them.

Saturday was the huge Heroes TV show panel in the cavernous Hall H. Hall H is the largest room in the convention center. It can seat 6500 people. You'd think there should be no problem getting a seat inside. You'd be wrong. With 100,000 people in attendance, getting into Hall H became a holy quest. The Heroes panel was scheduled for 10:30 am that day. We thought by getting in line at 8 am, we'd be OK. Little did we know how insane some of our fellow convention goers were. When we got over to the con Saturday at 8, at least 2000-3000 people were in line. Some had been there since the previous night! The line snaked back and forth on the side of the hall, then wrapped all the way around the outside, behind the convention center! After a 15 minute walk around the building, we ended up right behind the con loading dock. I was confident we would still get in, but I felt badly for the people who came after us, many of whom were lined up past the convention center, all the way down to the Marriott hotel next door. However, the convention staff did a very good job of managing the line. We did get in, and it was worth it: the whole cast was there, and they brought the next season's first episode! This episode was fantastic; after the second season last year, I wasn't sure if I would be interested in Heroes this year, but they have wiped that thought out of my head. Funniest moment of the panel: when a little kid addressed actor Zachary Quinto, who plays the psychopath Sylar, and enthusiastically yelled, "Sylo! you're the best hero of them all!!"

After that was the Lost panel, which was amusing but (as usual) provided no information on the upcoming season. But Lost was so good last season, I can forgive them for a lack of detail.

My final panel of the con was Saturday night's Legion of Super-Heroes 50th anniversary tribute. We were surprised to see a long line for the panel, but the fans of the Legion are, well, legion. The panel included Paul Levitz, Colleen Doran, Keith Giffen, Mike Grell, Geoff Johns, and Tom and Mary Birnbaum. Although there were no major announcements (Johns saved his Legion on Smallville announcement for Sunday), the Legion love was on full display (although a snarky comment by Giffen about a flustered fan seemed just cruel). Most of the panel was spent on fan questions and adulation. Johns did mention that Duo Damsel would now be Duplicate Damsel, able to make many copies of herself. Hey, it beats just two.

So there you have it. This year's show was a little more low key (at least for me). Admittedly, I was not able to attend a couple of the bigger events, like the Watchmen panel or the surprise Hugh Jackman/Wolverine appearance (thank god for YouTube). But that's one of the truisms of Comic-Con: invariably, events you wish to attend will be held at the same time. But still, the show was fun, exhausting, exciting, and aggravating, all at the same time. Typical Comic Con.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Doug tells: Why We Like John Buscema

I have a confession to make: as a wee lad of 10 (back in 1976), I didn’t appreciate John Buscema. I really didn’t even care for him! Ouch. That hurts to admit.

But really – the first Buscema-drawn issue I recall was Fantastic Four #173, and it followed a very nice run by a young fellow named George Perez. Perez’s art was not only dynamic, but as inked by the ever-influential Joe Sinnott showcased beautiful faces on all of the characters. A fan of Perez’s from his then-recent tenure on my favorite book, The Avengers, Sinnott made him look all the better in the pages of the FF. Credits aside, I was immediately aware that Perez was not the penciller on #173. The differences were subtle, however – perhaps Buscema’s figures were more lithe, his facial expressions more intense. But the art was consistent (due again to Sinnott). Issue #175 ensured in me the accuracy of my belief that this Buscema fellow was no George Perez – inking himself, that “FF” look was gone. The faces became more angular, maybe even drawn. The nice figure-work was there – still lithe, fluid, etc. But the faces preoccupied me. Issue #176 brought Perez back, along with Sinnott – and I became a John Buscema-wary reader…

Boy, was I a dope!

After a hiatus from reading comics whilst in high school, I got back into the hobby circa 1985 while a sophomore in college. Wow – were my eyes opened! Having matured in my comics knowledge as well as tastes, and in possession of a little cash left over from student loans, I began to seek out back issues to further my runs of various titles. My first task was to attempt to amass a complete run of The Avengers, my favorite book. In doing so, I was introduced for the first time to the classic 1960’s Buscema run featuring inks by George Klein, George Bell/Roussos, and Tom Palmer. What rich, wonderful pictures – awe-inspiring in some cases. Fantastic story telling, figure work, and a dynamism not unlike Kirby’s but oh so much more realistic. His treatment of Hercules, Dragon Man, Goliath, the Vision, and Ultron fascinated me. Never had I seen such raw emotion – from anger to angst, in a comic. These pages were reminiscent of art I’d only previously seen from Renaissance masters… high praise indeed.

Incredible Hulk: pencils by Big John, paints by Joe Jusko!

As I moved toward buying up other titles, I came across his first run on the FF. Again, my appreciation for John Buscema grew by leaps and bounds. The Galactus 4-parter that included the Silver Surfer (natch!) and the robot herald Gabriel was a high point – I first owned this arc in the form of Marvel Treasury Edition #21! Thor, some Conan… I found myself now not dismissing Buscema’s art, but embracing it; yea, even seeking it out!

My opinion of him and of his work quickly moved toward a desire to see more and more of it. I sought out reprints, collections, anything that could bring me more examples of not only his superhero career but also of his sword-and-sorcery books. The Man Called Nova, Tarzan – I gobbled up all of this as quickly as I could. Animals, monsters, fantasy city-scapes – was there anything he couldn’t draw?

After working full-time for several years, I began to pursue original pencils done by Buscema and have been fortunate enough to purchase several examples of both his finished art as well as draft work. He was, and should be considered, a leader in his craft. I am now of the opinion that there truly have been few in the history of the comics business who are/were qualified to be called storyteller, artist, and master. Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, and John Buscema. Others may disagree, or add to the list. But for me, Buscema was a creator whose work I could spend just hours looking at, and admiring. And it never stops being that way.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Galactus Trilogy: the Marvels #3 take

In 1994, almost 30 years after the Galactus Trilogy originally saw the light of day in Fantastic Four # 48-50, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross spun a tale of the Marvel Universe. This was quite a different take, however, than almost anything we’d seen before. This story was approached from the perspective of Phil Sheldon, a journalist/photographer who was witness to the dawn of the “Marvels” – from World War II to his then-present (c. 1974). Busiek and Ross revisited many of the key (and even some of the trivial) moments in Marvel history. But the one event that got the special treatment, where Ross pulled out all of his artistic stops, was the first appearance of Galactus and the Silver Surfer.)

Doug: Kurt did a great job seguing from Attuma’s flooding of New York (Avengers #26) to the appearance of the signs of doom that hearkened to the invasion of Galactus. He also just did a fantastic job of putting as many Marvel moments as he could into the story. Even going from major event to major event was a fun ride, as somewhere there’d be a newspaper headline or a picture on the television or a news flash over the radio announcing some calamity that the long-time Marvel fan would instantly recognize. I’ll tell you, to read Marvels is to re-live a wonderful lifetime of four-color fun!

Karen: I can still recall when “Marvels” first came out, how amazing it looked. I had never seen anything like this before. The art appeared so real, I almost felt as if I was looking at photographs!
Sharon: While I think that Alex Ross is supremely talented, I’d rather look at “typical” comic book art, with its idealized characters and perfect physical proportions. I’m not crazy about looking at heroes/heroines wearing slightly baggy costumes; I want the fantasy! But I will say overall Marvels has an extraordinary concept and is a great read.
Doug: I think Karen remarked that when she first read FF #48 she wasn’t immediately registering that the fire in the sky and the meteor swarm were the doing of the Watcher. I echo that – and as I stated, I don’t think it was until I read Marvels that I firmly grasped the whole idea.

Karen: I think because we are getting the view of the guy on the street, the whole event seems far more frightening than it did in the FF issues.
Doug: Alex obviously treasures this story as one of the most significant events in the history of the Marvel Universe. While his artwork is stunning throughout the four volumes, I just feel like he went all out in this portion of issue #3. There are twelve splash pages or near-splashes during the first contact with Galactus and the Silver Surfer. The large artwork serves to heighten the reader’s excitement and magnify the detail of the scenes.

I also got a kick then and now in Ross’ use of “real” people within the story. Of course there’s newsman John Chancellor as himself, but how about Phil’s colleague Don Knotts, the crowd shot under the large panel when the Torch first engages the Surfer (featuring young versions of Gene Colan and Stan Lee), and of course “Gilligan’s Island”’s own Russell Johnson as Mr. Fantastic. Throughout the rest of the story are shots of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and many others!

Karen: I got a huge kick out of all the ‘guest appearances’ in the series! It made me look very closely at all the panels. I think my favorites were multiple sightings of Lois Lane and Clark Kent; Robin Williams as Popeye; Denholm Elliot (‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’); and Timothy Dalton as Tony Stark.
Sharon: I really like the use of famous people, but sometimes it didn’t work for me. I have always found Russell Johnson attractive, he was never my idea of Reed…at least, not the conventionally handsome Kirby/Sinnott Reed. Dalton as Stark was spot on, though.

Also, does anyone know if there is a guide or resource detailing whom Ross used as his models? I’ve seen some references (in Mythology and in the Marvels tpb), but nothing comprehensive and I’ve never been able to discover who was used as his model for the Black Widow (glimpsed in chapters three and four) and whether she was based on a friend of Ross’ or a celebrity. Natasha is shown with her short black hair and her long red hair, and you can absolutely see it’s the same person. This is an area in which comic book art typically falls short, since hair and coloring is what is normally used to distinguish characters—at least, back in the Silver Age (known as the Betty and Veronica syndrome).

Doug: While not a New Yorker, I couldn’t help but liken the panels where Phil Sheldon walks through the auto tunnels to scenes of Manhattan in the hours and days after 9/11 (of course, this is on a re-read of this story). Phil’s sense of impending doom, of the need to be with his family, and of his observations of others and their reactions were very eerie in that sense.

Sharon: As a New Yorker who just read Marvels a couple of years ago, these scenes were hard to get through.

Doug: Although there is no dialogue heard by any of the combatants, Ross conveys exactly what is going on. Certainly someone who has read the source material has an advantage over one coming to it for the first time in Marvels, but the power of the art drives this part of this issue.

My favorite panel is Ross’ depiction of Galactus regaining his “balance” in mid-air after being toppled over the side of the Baxter Building. Although Kirby had shown us 28 years earlier, Ross did it better.

Karen: That was one of the best things about re-reading all the material for these reviews. I enjoyed comparing the two versions. Ross’ realism makes the battles much more dramatic.
Sharon: Since it’s told from the ordinary person’s point of view, the feeling is one of utter helplessness. I don’t know if I could take a steady dose of this sort of storytelling.
Doug: So the prime draw of Marvels is the “everyman” aspect of Phil Sheldon’s life and proximity to these gods that live among the denizens of New York City. A witness to history, Sheldon guides us through momentous events with his perspective, his emotion, and his persona. It is a nice ride, and serves to ably augment what Stan and Jack (and others) had done so many years before!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fantastic Four #50: the Galactus Trilogy, part 3

Fantastic Four 50-Silver Surfer Galactus
Fantastic Four #50 (1966) 

Doug: The Surfer seems more in character as this one gets going. His concern for the human race, this universal altruism, seems somewhat more in line with the messiah-like figure Stan will paint him to be in the coming years. One thing I thought was odd about the splash, however, was Galactus’ question to the Surfer about treading on an ant hill. Are we to assume that ants are known throughout the cosmos, or was this perhaps another bit of source material for our earlier discussion on Galactus being seen as a given species sees itself?

The relationship between the Surfer and Galactus seems more than herald/master, although at this point Galactus has not said that he gave Norrin Radd his cosmic powers – he does say (on page 8) that “I regret what I must do! For, of all who live, I have cherished you the most!” It’s left to us to wonder at what point Stan began to work out the Surfer’s origin. He’s certainly evolving as this story paces forward, and of course his personality will be developed even further in the coming issues.

Sharon: Doug, regarding your query about Galactus' awareness of ants, your latter explanation makes sense to me- -I guess we have to assume that each race “interprets” Galactus in terms they can understand.
Karen: What I found most interesting in the confrontation between Galactus and the Surfer is that the Surfer at this point is not totally rebellious – he still addresses Galactus as ‘master’. The Surfer still shows Galactus great respect, and seems to think there is still is a chance of persuading him: ”Master! Say we may leave this world! My heart grieves at battling one with whom I have shared a universe!” Of course that is down the drain by page 4! But it shows how badly the Surfer did not want to end his relationship with Galactus.
Doug: Stan begins to develop Galactus as a tragic villain during the battle with the Silver Surfer. Upon his destruction of the energy casing, Galactus speaks of his role in the universe, tying it to Man’s dominion over the plants and animals. Galactus sees himself at the top of some cosmic food chain. Even the Watcher chimes in that Galactus is neither good nor evil – he is only Galactus!

Karen: The ambiguity surrounding Galactus’ nature was a novel concept and another idea which elevated Marvel comics beyond any comics ever printed at that time. ‘The House of Ideas’ was no lie back then!
Doug: Stan and Jack did a great job of showing the Torch’s state of total exhaustion and feelings of insignificance after his travels. For him to have returned in any state other than this would have been a short-sell. To have seen what Johnny saw, even given the adventures of the FF to this point (which included time travel) would have been mind-boggling, even maddening.

Karen: Yes, another wonderfully drawn scene. Reading these comics was almost like watching a movie, in that it is a visceral experience. Some of those scenes have stuck in my head for decades.
Doug: I love the Watcher’s passive/aggressive role in this story. Sworn not to interfere, he does everything but NOT interfere. His role is critical in driving away Galactus. It’s interesting, given how his origin will play out in the back-up in Silver Surfer #1 in 1968 that he is this involved – Stan and Gene Colan gave the Watcher a very moving backstory.

I did think it was out-of-character for Galactus to resort to attempting to con the Surfer into serving him by doing damage to New York and endangering human lives. That type of game would seem to be way beneath Galactus’ dignity. Of course, what Jack drew, and his liner notes, may not have been what Stan dialogued – who knows?

What do you suppose was the purpose of the Ultimate Nullifier? Do you think it was an invention of Galactus’? Why, then, if his goal was to drain the lifeforce from planets, do you think he was in possession of a weapon which could lay waste to a galaxy?

Karen: As a kid, the Ultimate Nullifier looked a lot like my Dad’s Zippo lighter!
But to answer your question, Doug, perhaps the Big G kept it around as a way to end his existence? He expresses emotions, and it’s not impossible to think he could feel some despair at his destiny. Just a thought.
Doug: I think we get a sense of the true power of the Watcher when even Galactus turns to him and accuses him of obtaining the Ultimate Nullifier for the FF. “Only you had the power… only you had the will!”

What do you make of the Watcher’s comment that he and Galactus are of “races”? Of course, we know that Uatu is not the only Watcher. But, has there ever been mention of Galen’s kin? I have read his origin story long ago in the pages of Thor, but don’t recall off the top of my head the entire storyline.

Karen: I think Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom covered a lot of the Watcher’s backstory in their Captain Marvel series in the late ‘70s. I think other Watchers showed up – can’t recall, but Uatu might have been on trial? Now I will have to dig those books out! As for Galactus/Galen, I think in the Thor stories you mention, we see his people – pretty much humans like us, but scientifically advanced.
Doug: Galactus’ departure seems spectacular, made for the visual it creates – don’t you think if he came to feed that he might be more inclined to conserve energy??

Karen: Another awesome visual. From Stan’s dialogue here, I would bet he was a big fan of the film “The Day the Earth Stood Still”. This final speech is very similar in theme to the final speech of the main character in that film. It’s got that same Cold War-atomic energy fears behind it. But I like it – enough to quote Galactus: “Be ever mindful of your promise of greatness! For it shall one day lift you beyond the stars…or bury you within the ruins of war!! The choice is yours!!”
Doug: I think it’s interesting that we had to wait around 20 years for the Surfer to again span the skies. Again, I think Stan felt he could be some type of super-moral agent, a messiah figure if earthbound. But Steve Englehart freed him much later, and that provided for more cosmic epics.

The final scene between Alicia Masters, the Surfer, and Ben is good – typical love story angst – and is a nice lead toward the Surfer’s next appearance and battle with the Thing.

Karen: My gripe about this issue is that it feels anti-climactic. We resolve the Galactus story by page 13, and then have a bunch of incidents in the next 7 pages that are all set-up for the next issue. It just feels off to me.
Sharon: Again, I have to comment on how beautifully Jack and Joe depicted Alicia. She is miles away from her previously dowdy portrayals. (Never mind how preposterous it is that she made it to the Baxter Building’s roof during a citywide crisis.)

Overall Evaluation - FF 48 - 50
Doug: This is just a fun story. It’s really neat to see these characters who have become such a huge part of not only the FF universe but the larger Marvel Universe blossom throughout the tale. I can understand Stan’s surprise at Jack’s creation of the Silver Surfer, but he really landed on his feet and served to breathe an interesting life into the character. And Galactus – is he not one of the all-time great “villains” ever in comics? Knowing his future in the pages of the Fantastic Four, it’s difficult to judge any of his appearances as sub-par. He is always an exciting character to read about.

Karen: What can I say? These issues make up a cornerstone in the foundation of the Marvel universe. Inventive, dramatic, thrilling – they really deliver!
Sharon: Just like #48, only about half of this issue is devoted to the actual Galactus conflict- - the rest is “human interest”- -Ben’s reaction to Alicia and the Surfer; a glimpse of the soon-to-be Thing impostor; Metro College’s Coach Thorpe (a subplot that was dropped soon after); Sue and Reed discovering the honeymoon is over; Ben’s depression; Johnny going to college; the debut of Wyatt Wingfoot; a snippet of the Inhumans, etc. So while the Galactus saga is commonly referred to as a “trilogy,” (spanning #48-50), it really could have been told in two issues, since half of #48 and #50 are not Galactus-oriented. Jack was obviously responsible for the pacing. I like this technique (having stories flow naturally into one another)… but wonder why Jack chose to tell the story in this manner. Was it just his creative juices urging him to do so? At any rate, this is Jack –and the FF--at their best...and this run of the FF is a major reason (along with Stan’s dialogue) that Marvel comics seemed so much more “realistic” than DC’s did back then.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fantastic Four # 49: the Galactus Trilogy, part 2

Fantastic Four 49-Galactus Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four #49 (1966) 
Doug: The cover of this issue is the most striking of the trilogy. While issue #48’s ominous Watcher cover, with the cast staring off at the approaching Galactus, was a nice starting point (but thoroughly ignoring the fact that the first half of the book was a finishing-up of the Inhumans saga), #49’s cover is just eye-catching. The large head of Galactus, in my opinion rendered better here than in any panel within the magazine, his ray-firing hands, and the gliding Silver Surfer over a terrified and retreating Fantastic Four… the conveyance of action, intensity, and suspense was perfect. The color scheme was interesting, as well.

Sharon: A great cover. It was “swiped” (deliberately, of course) later on for the “What If? The Avengers had fought Galactus (instead of the FF)” story. This featured the Avengers of the Kooky Quartet plus Jan and Hank era (which would have been just about contemporaneous with FF #48-50).
Doug: The first thing I noticed about the book was Galactus’ changed appearance. Gone were the ugly green and red tones, replaced by the more commonly known purple. The brown remained. In addition, his arms and legs were bare – strange for a guy who lives in space and encounters in his travels all sorts of atmospheric conditions.

Sharon: So the Christmas look is gone, but the brown remains. The colors we commonly refer to as “earth” tones—green and brown—are an odd choice for an interstellar, decidedly non-Earthbound character. The cool purple/blue colors are a much better choice.
Karen: Unfortunately, we still have the giant ‘G’ on his chest. Seriously, that’s so goofy.
Doug: The next thing, and I’ve noted this in prior commentary in regard to (specifically) Don Heck’s rendering of Goliath in the pages of The Avengers, is my lack of satisfaction with large characters who seemingly change size from page to page, if not panel to panel as is the case here. On page 3, panel 1, the Thing is depicted as being approximately as tall as Galactus’ legs are long. However, only two panels later, as Ben lays into a punch to Galactus’ leg, he is not even as tall as the boot. While I prefer to think of Galactus as a true giant, there is a difference in his being 15-feet tall and 40-feet tall! A little consistency, please…

Galactus’ easy handling of the Thing’s and Torch’s attacks is good stuff – building on the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. I especially liked how he gave Johnny a dose of his own medicine, turning his power (somewhat) back on him. The scene immediately after where Ben and Reed clean up was funny – good stuff, showing Reed’s constant analysis, Johnny’s hotheadedness, and the fact that no matter what, Stan treats them as much like “normal” people as he can.

Sharon: I know this scene was dramatically necessary, but…was there only one bathroom available? Ah, togetherness…
Karen: Yeah, that was a bit…uncomfortable. But I find it funny that Ben says they’re trying to devise a plan, and then that plan pretty much turns out to be Reed and Ben will attack Galactus, and if they don’t survive, it’ll be up to Sue and Johnny! Wow, genius, that’s some plan.
Doug: The entire scene with the Surfer and Alicia Masters was hard for me to read – I just couldn’t put away the fantastic origin story from Silver Surfer #1 (“to be told in another two years, in 1968”). It’s obvious that Stan (as he’s said many times in the past) was blindsided by this new character the Jack had thrust upon him. Even though we can get a sense of the Surfer’s nobility, and of his calmly foreign manner, the things he says to Alicia make it obvious that Stan was writing on the fly. It would be awhile before The Man had Norrin Radd’s personality completely developed origin tale ready to tell.

Sharon: I’m one of those people who prefer the original version we see in #48-50 to Stan’s later concoction. Here, in #48 and 49, emotions, beauty, etc., seem foreign to the Surfer. Yet in his origin story (SS #1) and throughout that entire series, Radd/Surfer is shown to be very emotional. How can this difference be reconciled? (I guess it’s been retconned that somehow he lost his memories/emotions when Radd became the Surfer, right? Very clumsy.) When the Surfer was given his own series, Stan completely changed the concept of the Surfer and from what I’ve read, this disgusted Jack no end. (Let’s not get into how betrayed Jack felt when Stan gave the SS art chores to Buscema.) Stan’s commandeering of this character was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to Jack “phoning it in” and ultimately leaving Marvel in 1970.
Karen: First off, the coincidence of the Surfer landing on Alicia’s skylight is hard to swallow. Secondly, I think I also prefer this more understated personality for the Surfer. Although I loved the Surfer as a kid, it’s hard for me to read his original series now, as he is so completely over-wrought. Stan turned him into a Jesus stand-in, and he seemed to be having his own little pity-party every issue. The wise, noble alien, stuck on a world of heartless savages. It gets old quick.
Doug: I am unsure of the physics of Galactus’ process to drain a planet of its energy, as related in the Watcher’s display. First off, do Galactus’ heralds only take him to planets with water? That seemed to be the case, although I suppose the Watcher could have been speaking specifically about Earth. Secondly, did you find it odd that the apparatus used to drain the planet was surface-based and not somehow connected to the sphere in which Galactus travels? Where does the energy go? Also, I could not decide if the main device was a ray shooting outward, or a display of some tremendous vacuum-type of suction machine. The end result, regardless, was terror.

Karen: I really enjoyed the sequences which illustrate how Galactus would destroy a planet. It was also interesting to me that earlier in the issue the Watcher says that all the worlds Galactus had previously destroyed were lifeless. So this would be the first time he had actually killed sentient beings – or any beings? Why were the Skrulls so terrified of him then? But I thought the description of the process involved was reasonable – once again, Marvel pseudo-science has just enough logic to it to make the whole thing sound plausible!

However, Galactus does evince some regret over the loss of life. That’s one thing I always liked about him: he was not a villain in the usual sense. As someone (Byrne?) described him later, he was more like a force of nature.

Doug: For a guy who is sworn never to interfere in the affairs of others, the Watcher sure interferes in the affairs of others.

Ben and Reed’s combined attack on Galactus is good, and serves for one of the better visuals of the issue – Galactus seemingly knocked over the edge of the Baxter Building only to hover many hundreds of feet above the streets. In the panel immediately following, as Galactus summons the Punisher, I always think he is flipping the bird!

The Watcher does keep the suspense going, doesn’t he? His commission to Johnny is a good speech.

One has to wonder, if the Punisher is half alive, half robot, why Galactus didn’t just use him for a herald. He is reminiscent of a later herald, the Destroyer.

Karen: I wondered that myself. He sure was a funky looking thing.
Doug: I have a question as to how long the Surfer had served Galactus, and whether or not time has the same meaning across the cosmos as it does for we earthlings? I say that in regard to the Surfer’s issue of conscience after the pleas of Alicia. Had he not encountered intelligent life in the past? Had he never been grounded, as he was after Ben’s punch? And, why did he stay in Alicia’s apartment, instead of returning to the fray? It’s certainly an able plot device, but perhaps creating more trouble than originally intended.

Sharon: I agree. I too found it hard to swallow that this was the first time he had encountered any intelligent life form. And when he says “at last I know—beauty!”- - ummm…Shalla Bal, anyone?
Karen: Maybe I am not remembering correctly ( or just imaging it), but I thought there was a story at one time that indicated that the Big G had clouded the Surfer’s memory, to prevent him from doing exactly what he did here?

Sharon: Jack drew Alicia looking more modern here- -sleeker hair, interesting clothing--and I like the change. In many of her prior appearances, her hair looked old-fashioned and dowdy and her clothing was boring—she usually wore suits like Lois Lane did back then. . But in #49 Alicia’s given a hairdo similar to the Wasp’s at the time. Her interesting ensemble here suits her, since she’s an artist. And Sinnott’s inks really make her look facially beautiful (even more so than in #47, her previous appearance before this issue); what a change from how Chic Stone—or anyone else--had handled Kirby’s faces! And despite my misgivings about the “I know beauty” dialogue, I especially love those panels of her and the Surfer (when she’s in profile). Stunning job by Kirby and

Alicia’s been around since 1962 and in FF #49- -1966- -she finally gets a last name (okay, not as bad as Wanda and Pietro and let’s not get into poor Hawkeye who didn’t even have a first name for several years!) Previously, since her debut in #8, she was always referred to in captions as just Alicia, the Thing’s beloved, or Alicia, the blind sculptress, or something like that. But when the Surfer crashes through her skylight, the caption takes pains to state it is Alicia Masters’ apartment. And obviously, the surnname is intended to evoke her connection to the Puppet Master.

Karen: I thought the art in this issue was outstanding! Ben seemed very expressive, Galactus was powerful, and Johnny’s trip to Galactus’ ship were all very well done.

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