Thursday, April 26, 2012

More Essential Fantastic Four reading

Since we got a bit sidetracked by the erratic and complicated publishing history of the Fantastic Four in Germany in my last post, I really didn´t get to write much about another of my favorite storylines from ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR 6, which I like to call The Coming of Gabriel.

I don´t think there is really anything I can spoil about this - the story was first published in 1972 - but if you want to be surprised just skip the rest of this post and get ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUME 6.


Usually I use the black and white pages from the ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR volumes but since I first read the story in the colored version I´m making an exception. It´s true, it was the german translation but I couldn´t find any pages of that.

The story with Gabriel starts in Fantastic Four 120 in the story called THE HORROR THAT WALKS ON AIR, written by Stan Lee, with pencils by John Buscema and inks by comic institution Joe Sinnot. A great part of the look of the Fantastic Four issues of that time was due to Mr. Sinnot´s unmistakable inks as we will see when we come to volume 7 of the FANTASTIC FOUR ESSENTIALS ( as you can see hope does spring eternal ). In that volume John Buscema only draws the first four issues before Rich Buckler becomes the regular artist and with Joe Sinnot´s inks it still looks very consistent - but more on that when we get to volume 7.

You know, just this Tuesday I was bagging my old issues of THOR ( remember when that was a book you could read ? ) and I have to say a great deal of the good look was due to Joe Sinnot.

But this post is not about Thor it´s about the Fantastic Four.

When I first read the story with the mysterious Airwalker - who later claimed to be the angel Gabriel - I was really shocked because Marvel had a really realistic approach in their universe which means when a character died he stayed dead ( yeah, those were the times ) and the outlook was rather scientifically oriented which means that it was all based on facts. Or as based on facts as you could get at that time in a comicbook. It´s true, Superman and Batman had their run - ins with devils and angels but most of it without any scientific grounds.

Not so with Marvel, although they had their gods from Olymp or Asgard there always was the underlying notion that while they were powerful, godlike beings there was a higher authority above them, something that religious people could label as God. But what if an angel appeared in the pages of the Fantastic Four like it does in this story ? There is a being like Mephisto in the Marvel universe so it stands to reason that there should be the opposite part. So Reed Richards and crew take this angel at face fact and try to find out what this mysterious being, that has appeared in every country and walks across the air, wants. Which is to announce the end of the world like his namesake from the bible.

And here´s another reason why I wanted to use the color pages : Gabriel´s dress that just looks so much better in color. As soon as I saw him the bright visual struck a chord in me and the roman soldier / superhero design is really brilliant. It´s still one of my favorite costume of Marvel´s more elaborate ones like Jack of Hearts or Dr. Strange´s duds with the mask thing.

Okay, once again it´s End of the World time and it seems there´s not a bloody thing the fabulous foursome can do about it since Gabriel first defeats the Fantastic Four without breaking a sweat and then tells the people of the world - or rather New York City since that is where their battle takes place - there is one way to win his favor : they have to destroy the Fantastic Four !


You have to hand it to Marvel in the 70s, when they did the end of the world they went all or nothing. This comic is like one of them old 70s disaster movies and a superhero movie all rolled into one and printed on four colored paper. So, the Fantastic Four have to go up against an angel who can swat them away like flies, they have everybody out to get them, the police and the military are fighting against them and on top of all that Reed´s brilliant last - minute - invention that was supposed to defeat Gabriel ( how many of these contraptions does Reed manage to pull out of his sleeve anyway ? ) manages only to enrage him. Naturally Gabriel takes out his frustration on our heroic quartett whose only options seem to be to go down or to go down fighting. In short : everything is lost.

Enter the Silver Surfer.

Back then the Silver Surfer only appeared sporadically which added to his popularity but since he usually went up against adversaries like Mephisto or Dr. Doom you knew as soon as he appeared on the pages that now it was " amped up " as the kids say nowadays.

Deriving his strength from The Power Cosmic the Silver Surfer is one of the Marvel universe´s powerhouses who can go the distance with Thor or the Hulk so when even he seems to fall things look bleak. But as usual not everything is as it seems and while the Surfer gains the upper hand in the end all of this means nothing because the real adversary is only revealed at the last page of issue 121.


Holy s - word ! That´s exactly what I was thinking when I came to that cliffhanger. Nowadays Galactus and the Fantastic Four are on a first name basis and probably anybody from Aunt May to the Mighty Forbush Man has had an adventure with Galactus and lived to tell about it.

But back then Galactus´ appearance in a comic was more like - that´s it, don´t start reading any long books. Heck, don´t start reading anything at all and you better hope you can finish whatever you´re reading right now. Because Galctus always came hungry and what he eats are planets. And best guess : the planet you´re currently living on has just been added to the menu.

Galactus is probably one of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby´s best creations and I´m not going into the whole debate of who came up with what since that is not only a post all unto itself, but I´m not enough of an expert in that departement to even make an educated guess. Suffice it to say that taking Jack Kirby´s soloworks for DC into account like THE NEW GODS and the whole FOURTH WORLD complex I think it´s clear who had the bigger influence in this.

Though he can look a bit silly with that strange hat - at least under certain artists - he´s a great character and with the right creative team he can really bring it. Like in Carlos Pacheco´s final issues of his much underestimated Fantastic Four run.

And then there are other more forgettable storylines like EARTH X in which a Galactus that ate certain planets because there were babycelestials in giant eggs inside them ( which sounds an awful lot like those KinderĂ¼berraschung commercials : in every seventh planet is a little Celestial ) was just one of a plethora of harebrain ideas that showed that whoever wrote this never read many Marvel comics. I´m not sure but I suspect there were a lot of illegal substances and pharmaceutical products involved in making this comic.

Back to Galactus, I remember I once tried to explain the concept behind him to a friend who mostly read french BD and he really had troubles wrapping his head around a being who so totally endangers whole species and against who you are completely helpless. I don´t know if that was just him or if other readers of french BD would have the same problems but there was apparently a limit to what he could imagine. He was absolutely intent on destroying somebody like Galactus and just couldn´t process the fact that someone of that power level was beyond the reach of man.

Which is also always the problem the Fantastic Four have with him. They barely defeated him the first time he came to town and only because the Watcher bent every rule there is about being a Watcher and practically handed them the Ultimate Nullifier on a silver platter. This time around things are not going to be easier especially since Galactus is much more " hands on " in this encounter where he battles the FF on carnival grounds.


Yup, all this brouhaha just because Galactus wants his old herald back. Okay, he vowed to never menace earth again but since Gabriel brought the world to the brink of destruction and he gives them a way out he´s technically keeping his word. Which sounds a bit like nitpicking but it´s also totally in character for Galactus.

He´s always sticked to the rules that suited him while bending or breaking the ones that didn´t. He stands so tall above anything else that he just doesn´t care. Now on one side I can understand the Silver Surfer´s answer to Galactus offer to serve him again, which in short is : " F - word you Galactus ! " I mean the guy exiled him to earth by buidling a barrier around the planet he can´t overcome. And just because he couldn´t harm those who really bested him without breaking his word. Talk about a sore loser.

Now I´m playing a bit of Devil´s Advocate here but wouldn´t working for Galactus solve all of the Surfer´s problems ? Firstly he wouldn´t be exiled on earth anymore and could roam the galaxies freely once again. Okay, he had to search for worlds that could sustain Galactus but it´s not like he hasn´t done this before and that way he could at least be sure that Galactus doesn´t eat inhabited planets. Or too many of them. And who knows ? Somehwere along the way he may find someone who´s willing to take over the job. Which isn´t too far - fetched since it did happen with a few willing candidates later on.

So after a bit of back and forth the Silver Surfer is ready to take Galactus´ offer but Reed is against it out of principle. Dude, a Reed Richards who´s willing to take on Galactus and possibly doom the world just on principle ? I really would have liked to see some of that chuzpe in CIVIL WAR. I mean he even ignores the president´s orders in this story. Okay, it´s Richard Nixon who was president at that time but this is before Watergate when dissing Nixon was okay.

Unsurprisingly the Fantastic Four are no match for the OG ( Overloomig Galactus ) and although it´s fun to see Ben take him down for a peg in the end Reed´s big idea - which he blatantly swiped from the Surfer - is playing a game of chicken with Galactus.

Basically Reed Richards tells Galactus that if he doesn´t leave the people of earth alone he will blow up his ship thus stranding him on our planet, the same fate he has beset on the Silver Surfer.

Now that´s a bright idea : first get one of the most powerful beings in the universe really peed off and then strand him on earth. No wonder they call him Mr. Fantastic. Although Mr. Death Wish might be more accurate in this case. While Galactus and Reed have an intellectual battle with worst case scenarios the regular humans are not so willing to put their fatih in Stretcho´s negotiating abilities and the army starts another futile attack under the commando of General Thunderbolt Ross. That guy really is Marvel´s posterboy for senseless military destruction by all means necessary.

So for a second time the Silver Surfer agrees to Galactus terms which does him no good because Reed still won´t listen. He returns Galactus´ ship but only to get him to leave earth and when the Surfer tries to follow the ship Reed stops him at all costs and almost pays with his life for it. Thankfully the Silver Surfer can use his power cosmic to restore his health and after Agatha Harkness has established a psychic rapport with earth´s population he can let them in on his big plan. Which is about time since everybody is going bonkers out of fear Galactus might return.

Now Reed Richard´s plan is so brilliant that it´s almost worthy of a Doctor Who story : while he was on Galactus´ ship he set an autopilot to fly into the Negative Zone where Galactus can devour planets for eons ( good for us tough nookies for the inhabitants of the Negative Zone but that´s how the FF´s mastermind rolls ). Which is a really great solution although Marvel never delivered on the potential of that ending, namely Galactus going mano a mano versus Blaastar and Annihillus. Now this would be a great miniseries.

So all in all the whole saga is one big rollercoaster ride in which the hits just keep coming and the stakes are raised higher and higher. There is no filler and it´s got an almost cinematographic storytelling. The ending is also great, especially the reaction of the world going from " Reed Richard is crazy ! He´s going to doom the whole world ! We´re all gonna die ! " to " Yay, Richards and the Fantastic For ! Never doubted you for a second. " without blinking and eye which gets mixed reactions from the Fantastic Four ( business as usual ) and the Silver Surfer ( Those earthling are all mad I tell you. Mad ! ).

Like I said, one of the best stories contained in this volume of ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR and to tell the truth, I´m still surprised that the storyline hasn´t been traded yet as I really would like to have it in a beautiful color hardcover. But what do I know, I would also trade the Overmind Saga. Although one of the benefits of the ESSENTIAL version is that I don´t have to suffer pantsless Galactus. I bet I´m not the only one who was weirded out by the flesh colour on Galactus´ arms and legs.

And on this note I´m ending this post Today since we´re already going into overtime. I´d like to say that this is the end of my musings about ESSENTIAL FANTASTIC FOUR VOL 6 but there are still a few great stories I haven´t touched upon like the mystery behind the Black Leopard or Johnny Storm and Crystal in the worst break up in comics ever.

If you want to read a bit more about all the craziness with Gabriel, Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the boys and gals from BRONZE AGE BABIES provide a longer analysis of THE RETURN OF GALACTUS in 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 parts and my next post will probably be the long anticipated next Moebius post since I have finally read all my INCAL albums.

Today´s video is kind of a follow up to the HOBBITT animation movie I already posted and which you should absolutely see. It´s another rarity, the famous animated movie of THE LORD OF THE RINGS - THE RETURN OF THE KING which was made for tv by the same animation studio like THE HOBBITT and which picks up the events after Ralph Bakshi´s LORD OF THE RINGS movie.

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest

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