Wednesday, August 18, 2010

FF 175: Roy Thomas Wednesday

Fantastic Four #175 ( 1976)
"When Giants Walk the Sky!"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema

Karen: Welcome to part three of our Roy Thomas fest! You'll note that Joltin' Joe Sinnott is not listed as inker this go round -it appears that Big John himself did the inking chores on this ish. I think I've mentioned before that I don't think Buscema was the best inker for his art. His ink lines tend to be thin, scratchy even, and lack the weight that a Sinnott or George Klein provide.

Doug: If I had to point to one single issue that made me not like Big John when I was a kid, it would be this particular book. Looking at it now, I'm reminded that it was the faces of the FF that really put me off. After a steady diet of Joe Sinnott over Buckler, Perez, and Buscema, seeing Buscema absent Sinnott was a drastic change. I don't think the figure work or backgrounds suffered so much as did the faces. Which is really ironic, because if you've seen John's sketches (see the sidebar and then below), he really is a master at expression. But I totally agree that there is a plain-ness to this book -- it just doesn't pop like when Joltin' Joe is on board!

Karen: T
his issue has the big face-off between Galactus and the High Evolutionary. HE has mutated himself to be as gigantic as Galactus, and warns him that he will protect Counter-Earth, the planet he made with "these hands, and this mind." Galactus says that he gave HE and the FF a chance to save this world, but HE gives us a recap of last issue, which shows that the FF have failed in their attempts.

Doug: Hey, if everything's better with monkeys, then it's almost that
good with giants! I loved this scene!!

Karen: Galactus welcom
es a fight with the Evolutionary, as most planets are too easy for him to take. "Our battle shall but make my eventual repast all the more pleasant to me," the Big G says, while blasting away at the Evolutionary. The fight between the two is pretty spectacular, as both are standing on air hundreds of feet above the New-New York below. As always, Buscema does a great job in portraying an epic battle. I enjoyed how Galactus actually ducked the Evolutionary's ray blast -you'd think he'd just put up a force shield -but instead he took a much more simple approach. That was different and interesting.

Doug: I thought some of the dialogue in this scene brought back the old poser: Is Galactus evil? I've always tended to side more on the "tragi
c" side of the argument -- that he is cursed to lead the existence that he leads, and in order to maintain any sanity at all must by necessity approach his lot with an arbitrariness, and distance himself from any emotional attachment to any lifeforms. Yet to see him almost relish the fight with the High Evolutionary, to embrace the chance to hone his physical fighting prowess was disconcerting. It gave Galactus a darker edge. He maintained his godlike nobility, particularly later in the story, but early here he leaned much more toward "bad guy".

Karen: Both of them are pretty terrible in this story line. I mean, Galac
tus is always self-absorbed, focused on his survival, but the Evolutionary comes across as extremely callous when he leaves Sue to die on that planet. I suppose it's all done to illustrate how far above human concerns they both are -and it does. But you're right, to some degree they do seem not just amoral but actually a bit evil.

Karen: Try as he might, the Evolutionary can't defeat the world devourer, who hits HE with a ray that transports him to the Negative Zone! With HE out of his way, the coast seems clear for Galactus to commence absorbing Counter-Earth's energy -but then, the stars of our book show up!

Doug: One might think that with the technology at Galactus' hands, he could have figured out a way to convert negative energy to positive, and just moved his operations to the Neg. Zone. I don't think Reed would have minded if Annihilus and Blastaar inherited the Big G as their problem...

Karen: Of course, the FF have never really been successful at taking on Galactus, not physically anyway. The same is true here: at one point Ben topples Galactus and is jubilant -for about two seconds. Then he realizes that Galactus can defy gravity, and knocking him over means nothing. Annoyed, Galactus zaps Ben, saying, "You must be punished for your defiance, even as the Silver Surfer was punished!" Ben thinks the ray has had no effect on him, although he notes that his suit feels like it might have shrunk a little. Hmmm....

Doug: Any scene with Galactus defying gra
vity, whether levitating, walking on air, or seemingly suspended in a position that would seem so common to us (as Alex Ross drew in Marvels #3, when Ben and Reed had toppled Galactus off the Baxter Building and Big G gathered himself to stand in mid-air) is a great visual. And as to Ben's punishment -- well, more on that in a minute.
Karen: Just when it appears that the FF's efforts have been fruitless, Sue shows up, and tells Galactus that the third planet is willing to sacrifice itself to him. He reaches out mentally and is able to verify that the inhabitants of that world are indeed willing to give their lives to him. Big G rushes off to his dinner date, while the Evolutionary arrives on the scene, free of the Negative Zone. Back on the Evolutionary's satellite home, he and the FF watch as Galactus begins to devour the planet. The Evolutionary notes, "People of Earth, you have doubtless wondered how Galactus truly feeds! Well in another moment -" "We're going to find out!" Reed interjects (so rude).
Karen: I have to say I was disappointed by this 'revelation'. Essentially we just see Galactus surrounded by crackling energy. I don't know exactly what I would have liked to have seen, but it should have been more exciting than this.

Doug: I felt, and feel the same way as you. I don't have a better idea (no, I never assumed a cosmic knife and fork), but this was a bit of a letdown. Shoot, the cosmic vacuums we saw last month in those Thor stories were more interesting than this!

Karen: But something is wrong -Galactus is in pain! More than that, he is
dying. "Maybe he ate somethin' that didn't agree with 'im," Ben says, and it turns out he's right. The Evolutionary acts to save Galactus' life -by doing what he does best, evolving him. Galactus' head expands, his body shrivels; soon he is just a gigantic brain, and then, simply a sphere of pure energy! As Reed notes, at least he will no longer have to consume worlds to survive. Of course, we all know this was a short-lived change. How could Marvel survive without their big purple planet eater?

Doug: You know, confession time: This was probably the third or fourth time I'd read this story and it's the first time I've ever really grasped what happened with Galactus. My mind always had him devolving, because as his body changed proportion, I always thought he looked like a baby, and then I assumed that the brain was more basic than the body, and then energy, or a soul, was more basic than a brain. So in my understanding, I saw it heading the other way. Yeah, Roy was clear with his intent... I just misinterpreted it (totally), I guess!

Karen: Back in the Evolu
tionary's HQ, Sue is behaving strangely -but that's because she's not Sue at all! The real Sue shows up, and we discover that the one who spoke to Galactus was none other than the Impossible Man! This shape-changing weirdo first appeared in FF #11, and caused no end of troubles for the team. It turns out that his people evolved to have a group mind -"So why did we need millions of us when they're all the same person -me?" - and they were more than willing to sacrifice all those individual bodies. However -and this is where I think Roy took his joke a little too far - all those empty heads were like eating hot air -it gave Galactus "terminal indigestion"! Aw, come on....
Doug: When I originally bought this, it was the first time I'd seen the Impossible Man; even though it was noted that FF #11 had been reprinted twice I'd not seen it. I had a bad impression of the character then, and I do now as well. He is in the category of Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk, both of whom I disdain greatly. But that would be one heck of a gas pain, wouldn't it??
Karen: As the FF and the Impossible Man speed back to Earth, Ben complains of feeling ill. He removes his "Thing" helmet, and we see that he is transforming back into his orange, rocky self! This is what Galactus meant by punishing him. We end our tale with Ben pleading with Reed to change him back...and Reed having nothing to say.

Doug: Back to Galactus' punishment of Ben, which Big G likened to that meted out to the Silver Surfer. Even though each man was affected differently, the punishment was in effect the same: As Norrin Radd wanted nothing more than to soar through space and return to his love, and Ben Grimm wanted nothing more than to be a normal man and return to his love, the punishment ended up being the same.

Karen: While this was an enjoyable issue, it suffers from the same problem every story dealing with Galactus does: the FF have too little to do. They are mostly spectators in this cosmic contest. I did enjoy the battle between HE and Galactus, and as usual Roy provides some nice character moments, but all in all it wrapped up a bit too easily for my tastes.

Doug: You nailed it -- that's the problem with Galactus, and why perhaps he'd be better suited to tangling with the Avengers, or just Thor perhaps. Stories could get truly cosmic in that context. But, part of the allure of Big G turning up in FF is the helplessness and hopelessness of their humanity against this larger-than-life god. It's finding that twist that gives the ending credibility that is tough. Was this ending any better or worse than the deus ex machina that was the Ultimate Nullifier?


J.A. Morris said...

I agree about Buscema inking himself. I didn't know much about his work when I first began paying attention to comics credits. The first few times I noticed his name as penciler,he was inked by Chic Stone or he inked it himself. I remember saying "John Buscema sucks" for a couple months. Shortly thereafter,I learned that was wrong when I read a few issues of him inked by Sinnott,Klein,Palmer and Mooney. One of the greatest.
And thanks for covering this period of the FF. Ever since the 80s,the Bronze Age FF has been treated like an ugly step-child. Conventional Wisdom says "Lee-Kirby(and some early Buscema)issues are classics,but it sucked until Byrne began his 5-year run on the title". Yeah,there are some clunker stories in the Thomas/Conway/Wolfman runs,but no more than during the "classic" eras.

Fred W. Hill said...

Regarding Doug's comment about Galactus being a better foe for the Avengers than the FF, aside from Thor I don't believe any of the Avengers ever encountered Galactus (at least not in the Silver or Bronze ages). Of course, it might have been fun to see the 1970-71 era Avengers, with Clint Barton as Goliath duking it out with the Big G. Yeah, Clint would have lasted all of two seconds against him but fun nevertheless. Then Thor would have to step in to save the day.
Anyhow, unless someone has a really unique story to tell involving Galactus (one that doesn't involve trying to prevent him from gobbling up a planet, that is), he's one of those characters who should be utilized very sparingly.
This was actually the first Galactus vs. FF yarn I'd read that wasn't a reprint (I'd missed Stan's last Galactus/Silver Surfer/FF epic by just a few issues when I started collecting).
All things considered, I thought Roy did a great job, especially as I liked the bits of humor he mixed in with all the usual drama. Not a standout classic, but an enjoyable read.

Karen said...

Howdy J.A., Fred -
I thought Roy's run on the FF was a very enjoyable one. Everyone will have their share of duds now and then, but Roy had a real understanding of the FF and was able to use them well. I agree Fred, that too many people dismiss the FF books between Lee/Kirby and Byrne. Let's face it, following that original run would be difficult for anyone. But I thought Roy's efforts were very good.


J.A. Morris said...

Fred's comment about the Avengers made me wonder if the FF writers & editors issued an edict that Big G couldn't appear in other series without their permission(much like Byrne did with Doom for a time;any "appearance" of Doom outside the FF was just a Doombot). Then again,if that's the case,why did Galactus appear in Rom and Dazzler? Just a thought,thanks again to Doug & Karen!

Steve Pick said...

Hmm - funny comment about Buscema inking himself. When I think back on my all-time favorite Buscema work, Avengers 49 and 50 come quickest to mind, both spectacularly effective comics where he did all the inking. (In retrospect, I suspect the use of larger panels on most pages in those issues might have had something to do with the extra time required to ink them.)

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