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.


Dr. Pym said...

Another great discussion!

I have not read this trilogy in a long time, so bear with me if I make any stupid mistakes. All of this is based off my memory...

I agree with Karen in that Norrin's relationship with Galactus made it seem like he still wish that he wasn't going against Galactus's wishes. I thought that was a pretty interesting angle of the story. It reminds me of how loyalty may sometimes cloud someone's judgements, and thankfully they didn't fully cloud Norrin's!

This trilogy is a nice look at Galactus, and helps the reader understand a little bit about the way he is, though the character is much more heavily explored later on in the series!

I liked how they spent a lot of time looking at the personal lives of the Fantastic Four, especially since their personal lives often tell a bigger tale than their superhero exploits!

Alicia seems to grow as a character later on in the series, when she leaves Ben for Johnny, and then we all learn that it was apparently a Skrull? What a confusing storyline that was, sometimes!

Keep up the good work, everyone!

Karen said...

It was fun to go back and read these issues after many years had passed. It was especially interesting to me to see how my memory had altered things. On some level, I think I made the story even bigger in my head than it was on paper!

I do feel that the Surfer was more interesting as sort of a naive 'stranger in a strange land' than the angst-ridden pseudo-savior he later became. However, that characterization was mostly the work of Stan, and thankfully the Surfer never seemed quite so pitiful when others were writing him.

As you mention, I really was struck by how hard the Surfer tried to persuade Galactus not to destroy Earth. His respect and even love of Galactus (almost like a father) came through. That was one aspect of the story that stood out to me as I read it now, which didn't when I read it many years ago. I think that it's a case of one's persepctive changing with age.

Sharon said...

Doc, thanks for the comments. I know what you mean about that misbegotten "twist" of Alicia being a Skrull--ugh! (Is she one now, I wonder? ;) )

About Alicia in general: considering that she played such pivotal roles in both this arc and in FF #65-#67 ("Him"), it always amazes me that she then receded into the background for years, reverting to a more or less "typical" girlfriend.

Prior to FF #44, Alicia appeared in almost every issue of the FF since her debut in #8. But once the Inhumans were introduced, it's obvious Lee and Kirby "replaced" her--as the secondary female in the book--with Crystal. Once Crystal became a supporting character (well before she joined the team), Alicia's appearances decreased...she appeared only sporadically. She played large roles in the Galactus-Surfer and Him arcs, but that was it.

And it was only when Crystal left(FF #105)that Alicia reclaimed her place as the secondary female in the FF comic(confidante to Sue, friend of the team, etc.)

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