Monday, January 21, 2013

BAB Classic: The Return of Galactus, part 2: Fantastic Four # 121

Fantastic Four # 121 (April 1972)
"The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!"
Stan Lee-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott

NOTE:  This post was originally published on January 25, 2010.

Karen: When last we left the FF, they had been thoroughly defeated and demoralized by the mysterious being known as the Air Walker, who announced that his name was Gabriel. He then produced a large ram's horn and blew it, proclaiming that the end of the world was upon them!

Doug: Before we move too far, I wanted to note the incredible Buscema/Sinnott cover to this issue. Even all of Stan's hype can't distract from the power, the kinetic/frenetic energy of Gabriel's clash with Norrin Radd!
Karen: It's an incredible cover, but I wish Marvel hadn't been using that framing or "box" technique on their covers at that time. It really limited the amount of space available for the art. When you add all the captions, it cuts it down to a very small space.

Karen: This issue picks up right where the previous left off. With Gabriel's pronouncement, people begin to think he is truly an angel, and the world loses hope. Gabriel turns the civilian bystanders against the FF, and the first part of this issue features the team on the run from the very people they were trying to protect. This has a particularly "X-Men -mutant prejudice" feel to it.

Doug: I wouldn't want to use the term "decompression", but when you look at Stan's slow reveal last issue and most of this one, it was really done well. I never felt like the story was dragging, the suspense and drama kept building, and everyone was comfortably in character. I agree with you as far as the crowd hysteria goes. Do you ever wonder, in these times of Marvel-crisis, why only the magazine's title characters seem to respond to the situation? For example, if you just looked at the angle that Gabriel was an angel -- there should have been a slew of super-natural types popping up for investigation/agitation...

Karen: Particularly with something so devastating going on, you'd think everyone would mobilize. Of course, years later when John Byrne was handling FF, he did have a ton of other heroes show up to face the Big G!

Karen: A lot of time is spent with the FF trying to find a way to broadcast a message of hope/defiance to the world, without success. We are then re-introduced to the Silver Surfer, who apparently was floating around in orbit, just contemplating his navel. He realizes something is going on down below on Earth and comes to the rescue.

Doug: Yeah, I thought that scene was a little odd. My impression was that the Surfer was almost letting humanity struggle a bit -- that he was aware the entire time of the troubles with the Air Walker. But then, Stan had long before turned the Surfer into a messianic figure, so I suppose this plotting of him swooping down to deliver (even redeem) the Earth wasn't out of line.
Karen: What did you think of Stan's slipping in the comment from the Surfer regarding the supreme power (aka God)? It seemed forced to me.

Doug: That's funny that you mention that -- I noticed it as well and immediately thought of a story some years later that Stan wrote in Epic Illustrated in the early 1980's. It's a short tale dating back to the days when the Surfer was still Galactus' herald. It's called "The Answer" and is a "quest for God" story. I'll take a look at it shortly for a to-be-written BAB Two-In-One!
Karen: The inevitable battle between the Surfer and Gabriel was worth the wait. Gabriel had demonstrated an incredible level of power earlier, by causing a tidal wave to hit New York, and then, almost magically, reversing any damage from it (this did seem a bit much in my opinion). We already knew the Surfer was formidable, so to see these two go at it was a treat.

Doug: Gabriel seemed to literally have powers over life and death. The scene where he lifted a large merchant ship with his powers was impressive indeed!
Karen: The Surfer does defeat Gabriel at last, by shredding his glowing cloak, which seems to be the source of not only his power but his life force. Gabriel plunges to the street and shatters into pieces, revealing that he was actually a complex robot. While everyone takes this in, the true enemy is revealed, in a blazing full page shot: Galactus has returned to Earth!

Doug: One of the truly great villain entrances of the Bronze Age, up there with Dr. Doom on the last page of FF #142 and Magneto in X-Men #111. Did it make you wonder a bit that Gabriel had been able to wield such power as a robot?

Karen: I felt this issue dragged at the beginning, although it moved much better once the Surfer appeared. I'm not all that fond of stories where the title characters are relegated to the background but this was not too bad as such things go. But it definitely feels like what it is: build up to the main event.

Doug: Agreed. This style of writing seemed odd for Stan, and seems more compatible with today's storytelling.

Doug: Before you get away from us, how about checking out several of the original art pages from this story, courtesy of a dealer on eBay (in other words, I saved his .jpg's!):


Andrew Wahl said...

Getting to see the original art is always a cool. Thanks!


Doug said...

Thanks, Andrew! You can look for more original art at the end of our next installment (next Monday).

I've pilfered over 500 files and saved them, 99% the work of Big John Buscema. It's my own little art gallery. Unfortunately with the batch I posted today, the scans were a little fuzzy - not sure what the guy on eBay was dealing with. I wish I'd had better images to show off!!



Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, upon re-reading this post, I noticed you said you'd be reviewing that Silver Surfer story from Epic Magazine in a future post. Did you in fact do so? I don't remember ever seeing it, and since I've actually got some work to do today, I don't have the time to spelunk through your archives...

dbutler16 said...

I agree that the cover, while great, is too compressed. I also agree that the tension is being nicely built, and as far as the public turning on the heroes at the drop of a hat, while it’s more of an X-Men shtick, I think that Marvel in general does this a lot. I recall the Avengers having some mobs at their throats more than once, though the FF seems somewhat more immune to this treatment than the other Marvel supergroups. I love how the entire earth fold up the tent right away, though. Not our proudest moment. Also, I’m sure the Avengers and X-Men were doing something more important than saving the earth at the time, and thus unable to help out.

I like the Surfer’s quote here that the wise and the strong must be merciful. It reminds me of a Nietzschian discussion we had here many months ago. This is one of the reason I like the Surfer – noble and visually awesome.

Gabriel’s power being in his cloak reminds me of the movie version of the Surfer, who’s power was all in his board. I didn’t much care for that.

I don’t know how the FF survived the ship being dropped in them, since I don’t have this issue, but it looks like yet another instance of Stan forgetting the Invisible Girl’s powers.

The art on that last page is pretty awesome. I think I want a tee shirt made of that.

david_b said...

Great comments. I have a love-hate relationship with this story-arc.

First off, as for great appearances, lest we not forget Kang at the end of Avengers 128, another fantastic Villain cliffhanger entrance.

Back to this story, I felt the subplot of getting the word out across the world was a bit trite and padded.

Karen, I TOTALLY agree on the covers. The boxed format really underscored the greatness of the story and in fact, are not among my favorite FF covers at all.

As for the art, it's Big John just coming into focus as the FF's premiere Bronze artist, worthy enough to carry on the Kirby mantle. His art with Joe's inks provided a aura of freshness to the FF, providing every panel lots of frothy energy to boot. I always loved how Big John drew Reed and Ben. John's ability to pace a story will get even better over the next dozen issues, but you really see the action and pacing done quite well here as well, a promise of things to come.

I've lamented on this before, but the biggest fault here (more so in the next ish..) was the over-involvement of Galactus. Instead of an intergalactic being, totally removed from interacting with the inhabitance of worlds he regarded as 'mere ants', he seemed overtly dramatic in announcing his return, effectively reducing him to 'just another FF villain'. Totally beneath his initial stature. It's an engaging story, don't get me wrong ~ It's just didn't seem in line with Big G's true intergalactic character, which was a hallmark of the Lee/Kirby years when Earth was nothing more noteworthy than being a Kree outpost, etc..

All in all, agreed on Gabriel as a weak successor to the Surfer. The idea of him being a ranting, dramatic minion of Galactus, then suddenly discover that he's a robot..? Jeez.

Love the original art, Doug, great addition.

Doug said...

Edo --

Nope, never did! If memory serves (which it usually doesn't these days), I was at the time reading through my recently-acquired hardcover Marvel Visionaries: John Buscema and had seen that 8-pager from the old Epic Illustrated magazine. I am sure that as Karen and I moved on to other projects I just totally forgot that I'd made that comment! Back in 2010, we weren't nearly as organized as we are now (for example, our solo and partner comic book reviews are scheduled into the middle of March right now).

Consider it "in the queue", and be looking for it on a Friday early in March. I will slot it right now in fact. Thanks for calling me on it, as it is a thought-provoking little story that would be worth discussing on this blog.

For those of you in the States, enjoy your day off today in honor of Dr. King.


dbutler16 said...

Good points, david_b, about Galactus being reduced to common villainhood here, and I also agree that Gabriel was a bit too ranting here. Maybe Galactus decided to go for a more angry herald this time around, tohugh, since the more even keeled Surfer didn't quite work out.

I think only government employees get today off, Doug. The rest of us American working stiff are at the ol' grind today.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Galactus has the inherent problem of being such an awesomely powerful villain that it undermines the story's credibility that he can be defeated at all -- let alone the multiple times that the FF has taken him on and sent him packing.

I actually think he is a better antagonist for Thor, the comic he's appeared in the most after FF. At least the Asgardian is himself a god...

Regarding that Buscema cover, yeah it is a shame the way the cover layout cramps the art. That's almost up there with the Surfer's clash with Thor in his own comic.

In fact the whole thing looks really good. I had assumed that FF had declined in quality a lot after Kirby left and just sort of hung on until Byrne came along. Obviously I was off in that assessment.

Well, I was always much more of a Thing fan anyway. I've got way more Marvel Two-In-Ones than FF issues.

Fred W. Hill said...

I didn't start collecting the FF regularly until Roy's first issue a few months after this came out, but I did get the Treasury Edition of the yarn when that came out. Certainly an intriguing tale, and Stan's last epic as a regular writer on any of the Marvel titles. If I recall correctly, the return of the "Creature from the Dark Lagoon" was his last on the title. I agree with David that Galactus seems too much like just another villain here, albeit the most powerful of them all. A large part of that is in the way Buscema depicted him, bringing up the question as to how much plot detail did Lee provide to Buscema. As Buscema, unlike Kirby or Ditko, is not well-known for plotting stories entirely on his own, I would presume Lee was much more involved in the shaping of this story before the art was drawn than he was in any of Kirby's Galactus sagas, and aside from a brief appearance in Silver Surfer #1, this was the first Galactus story not drawn by Kirby. Just as Buscema's Surfer was essentially a different character than Kirby's, the same applies to Buscema's snarling, angry Galactus as well, contrasting sharply with the more contemplative, philosophical, albeit stern Kirby Galactus.
This is akin to Thomas' Kree-Skrull War of just the year before, although not nearly as pivotal in Marvel lore. A near classic with some very good bits but many problematic elements -- it just seems strange to me to contemplate Galactus studying Earth's religious myths to conjure up a mere robot to herald his own 2nd or 3rd return to the planet. All in all, a grand contrivance so that Lee could relive his most famous FF story before taking off to the next aspect of his career.

Dougie said...

I may be repeating myself but I really like the boxy, framed covers. I liked the way they helped identify the Marvel brand, especially from a distance. In a way, they also say: Kirby's gone and it's the 70s, baby!

I think I also said last time: this was the my first Galactus story. As a kid, I had always pictured GalaXus, the Thing from Outer Space:

Bruce said...

Looks like a great story. I've got a big gap in my FF reading history - pretty much everything from the end Lee/Kirby up to the George Perez era in the late '70s. I need to catch up on the stories in the interim!

Anonymous said...

Man, this is why I loved the Bronze Age FF so much! The Stan Lee/Buscema/Sinnott combination works wonders here.

Dbutler, I wholeheartedly agree with you - that last page of Galactus deserves to be on a T-shirt!

As for Gabriel, he was definitely one of Galactus's less memorable heralds. Being a robot wasn't the problem (remember the Vision!) - he just seemed to be another ranting megalomaniac who happened to have the Power Cosmic.

- Mike 'till Ben Grimm sneezes pebbles' from Trinidad & Tobago.

david_b said...

Again, as justly awesome the Lee-Kirby era was, the Bronze Buscema-Sinnott era was my all-time favorite over any other combination.

No one drew Ben Grimm finer or with as much cigar-chompin' personality.

Anonymous said...

Fashion question: was this Galactus's first appearance wearing long sleeves and long pants? I seem to recall that when he first appeared, he had bare arms and legs - I think the legs might have been covered over later on, while still going sleeveless.

And I didn't post a response to the previous issue, but I have to say that when I bought it when it was originally published, I was a little confused why everyone was making such a big deal about this fellow on account of "he walks on air." By that time there were characters that flew, jumped and heaven knows what else....simply walking on air seemed pretty unremarkable in the general scheme of things.

B Smith

Edo Bosnar said...

B Smith, in the original issues, Galactus was actually not depicted wearing long pants - he was in his full bare-legged glory. In fact, if I'm anticipating correctly, that fact gets commented upon both in Karen & Doug's post and in the original comments.
However, in the reprint of this story in the Treasury Edition from the late 1970s (where I first read it), blue leggings are colored in on Galactus.

Karen said...

Regarding Gabriel being a robot -it was later retconned so that the original Gabriel had been a member of the Nova Corp who had become a herald of Galactus. He and the Big G were quite chummy, but one day Gabriel was killed, so Galactus transferred some part of his essence into the robot to keep some semblance of him alive. However, it wasn't truly Gabriel and so Galactus decided to send the robot to Earth to re-enlist the Surfer as his herald. But, yes, this was all after the fact, so pretty much what we had here was just a robot.

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