Friday, January 25, 2013

BAB Classic: The Return of Galactus, part 4: Fantastic Four #123

Fantastic Four #123 (June 1972)
"This World Enslaved!"
Stan Lee-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott

NOTE:  This post was originally published on February 8, 2010.

Karen: You only have to look at the cover of this one to know it's going to be a blast - how could it not be, with President Richard Nixon featured?!

Doug: This would be a somewhat better depiction for Tricky Dick than Steve Englehart would give him some years later!

Karen: Reed Richards threatens to destroy Galactus' ship unless the world-devourer promises to leave the planet unharmed and never return. Galactus basically offers Reed his version of mutually-assured destruction: if his ship goes, he'll destroy Earth anyway. The Surfer gives in and tells Galactus he'll serve him in order to save the planet; but Reed emphatically tells him ,"No! You must not! Will we never learn the lesson of history? Not even survival is worth the cost of abject surrender! There can only be peace through good will - not the sacrifice of another!" I was struck by what a contrast this is compared to the Reed of the recent Civil War series, who seemed to feel that principles were less important than the final results. Personally, I prefer the guy in this issue!

Karen: Galactus gives Richards time to consider, but unfortunately General Thunderbolt Ross and his men decide to attack Galactus, who responds more like King Kong or Godzilla than an omnipotent cosmic being! The Big G tosses railroad cars at the tanks and crushes them.

Doug: I thought the art in this section of the book was really inconsistent, and I'd wager that Big John didn't do the pencils on Galactus on page 4 of the story. Really weird-looking... Buscema never misses on proportions and/or camera angles, but there were several panels here that were just bad.
Doug: Agreed on Galactus' reaction. As I commented in last issue's review, Stan gave us a much more physical Galactus than we'd ever seen. I can only wonder what Jack Kirby thought of this story, if he read it. It's certainly been well-documented that the King didn't care for the way Stan steered the Surfer; we can only wonder what he felt about Galactus here.

Karen: In the meantime President Nixon (who would it be if they retconned this story? Clinton?) tries to reach Reed, to tell him what to do, but Reed still takes matters into his own hands (thankfully!).

Doug: I couldn't decide what to make of Stan's take on the president. On one hand, I thought he had his personality down pat; on the other hand, the lens of history sort of clouds my view -- it's really hard to think of a pre-Watergate Nixon!
Karen: That's an understatement! The Surfer vows to follow Galactus "wherever in this universe you may go." Reed lands the ship in the city. Just as an aside, where the heck was that huge intersection he landed in? They have some weird streets on Marvel Earth.
Doug: Unquestionably silly. And not just the landing, but the fact that Reed could pilot the ship at all. I had to crack up at your comment last issue that Reed found the stick shift -- well, looking at this issue's splash, you were right!!
Karen: As Galactus takes off in his ship, the Surfer starts to follow but Reed tells him to wait. We get a pretty exciting sequence with the Surfer riding off on his board and Richards straining to his limits to hold on to him. A soldier shoots Richards to make him stop, which enrages the Thing. The Surfer takes Reed to a quiet forest area and uses the power cosmic to heal him. Both the rampaging Thing and healing sequences were very well done. It's fun seeing the Thing fight soldiers!

Doug: Leave it to old "Thunderbolt" Ross to spice up an apocalyptic story -- as if things weren't bad enough. I wonder how this was received back in 1972, what with Vietnam going on and all. Do you suppose Stan's portrayal of the military as hot-headed and arrogant was a jab at our armed forces, representative of societal views of the day, or am I perhaps making a mountain out of a mole hill? Agenda from the Bullpen, or no agenda?
Karen: Hard to say. Maybe he was just supposed to be a 'blood and guts' general, ala Patton? Certainly if the story had been written by a younger writer, like Gerry Conway, I would have assigned some meaning to it.
Karen: The now healthy Reed and the Surfer return to the city and with the help of Agatha Harkness, Reed sends a message heard throughout the globe. He explains that they need not fear Galactus returning, because he set the controls of Galactus' starship for the Negative Zone, which is not in this universe -and hence, the Surfer did not break his word! OK, seems a bit specious to me, but it did appear to work!
Doug: Now there's an untold tale -- Galactus vs. Annihilus and Blastaar, and all of the Neg. Zone goons! I'd like to have seen that one! Stan did a nice job in the last couple of panels showing how the public was so two-faced once the threat seemed to be gone. And the FF, like the true heroes that they are, just stood there and took it.
Karen: I enjoyed revisiting this little saga. Although I would not put it on the same level as the first Galactus story, this one had many entertaining elements of its own, not the least of which was Gabriel! I was glad that they found a way to bring him back later on. It's also quite amusing today to see Richard Nixon in a comic - but there's that Marvel realism for you!

Doug: Yep, a really fun Bronze Age story, and one of the last tales Stan wrote before Roy the Boy took over the writing chores with issue #126. What a run Stan had... when you look at the first 125 issues of the FF, and couple it with the first 100 issues of Spidey, has there ever been a finer run in comics than those two series? I say thee, nay!


Edo Bosnar said...

Hmmm, how interesting that there were no comments first time around.
Anyway, first things first: to Karen's observation about the early 1970s Reed in comparison to more recent depications, "Personally, I prefer the guy in this issue!" - I just have to say, don't we all, Karen, don't we all...
Otherwise, I have a fondness for this story just because it's the first Galactus story I'd ever read (in that FF Treasury Edition), and I just love(d) the art. However, I also have to note that the snarling and rather churlish Galactus presented here really does not square well with to earlier and later characterizations (esp. by Wolfman and Byrne). I prefer the more aloof and indifferently arrogant Galactus to this guy. (Although I didn't mind it when Layton had him take off his helmet and share a drink with Hercules in that mini-series.)

Bruce said...

I need to read this story. There's a pretty big gap in my FF reading experience - pretty much from the end of the Lee/Kirby run all the way to the George Perez era in the late '70s.

Doug said...

Edo --

Our comic reviews seem to always generate less feedback/conversation than do the "participatory" posts. Karen and I have always scratched our heads a bit about that -- there would seem to be a much broader net to cast out of a comic review than a finite topic-of-the-day. Which is not to say that we want less commenting on the discussion-based posts!

I'm glad everyone seems to have enjoyed this arc, and I think it's a real testament to the strength of the Treasury line that many of us found this tale first in the Marvel Treasury Edition rather than during its first life on the newsstands. That's also a testament to the fact that just a year in age could make a huge difference in one's landing point into the Marvel and DC universes.

Everyone have a great weekend -- we're now under a week until "The Return"! Karen and I have around 40 posts slotted through February and into March. We're excited for the turn of the month next week.

Be well --


Matt Celis said...

Since it's the hotheaded and arrogant civilian leadership that gives the military its marching orders, any jabs due to Vietnam would have been ill-conceived. And Stan never seemed like the type for that.

david_b said...

I don't have too much to add on this entry. Still an engaging tale, albeit a more vulnerable Galactus. You see, if Galactus was to be initially regarded as "a cosmic force of nature", I guess I don't understand how he could be stranded, much less a 'force of nature' even if his ship is destroyed..? Lee definitely formed limitations to Big G here, that seemed sloppy and not-well-thought-out. I argue the fact drawn before that this approach would make Big G less monolithic, more human thus adding drama to the story-telling (as I mentioned the other day, casting him as a 'direct physical opponent' verses the aft-mentioned 'force of nature'); it simply squeezed Galacty into the Godzilla or Kong role as Karen mentioned in order to tell a slamfest story which is disappointing.

At least this cover's an improvement, despite the Nixon cover nod, which I found totally unnecessary. I've read many a book on the Pre-Watergate Nixon White House years (William Safire being a favorite author..), and they're quite interesting. Nixon actually made quite a few sweeping changes during his tenure that folks tend to ignore. 'Nuff on that.

All in all a great, epic story arc, definitely worthy of it's later larger-formatted Treasury Edition reprinting.

Inkstained Wretch said...

Hmmm... wasn't banishing Galactus to the Negative Zone just used in the finale to Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes? Yes, I believe it was...

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree that Stan sacrificed logic and characterization for drama in these issues. How could Reed, even with his inherent genius, figure out the workings of Galactus's ship so fast? If Galactus is so cosmically powerful, why would the loss of his ship strand him on Earth? I think Stan conveniently ignored these issues to tell a compelling story and heighten the tension between the main protagonists.

Doug, I think the topic-of-the-day generates so much response because people are always willing to give their opinion on a topic, much like a radio station which invites callers to give their opinion on something. It's like talking about religion and politics - nearly everyone's got strong feelings about that! Comics reviews, on the other hand, tend to be much less sedate affairs; you just have to say whether you liked the comic or not and give your reasons why.

- Mike 'give me the Power Cosmic!' from Trinidad & Tobago

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