– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
We’re tackling our oldest comic yet on New to Comics, which is appropriate when dealing with Marvel’s ‘First Family’ of superheroes. So without further ado, come and check out the 1966 classic The Coming of Galactus.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby
Founding Members: Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, The Thing
Base of Operations: New York City
First Appearance: The Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961)
Determined to explore the unknown, scientist Reed Richards took his girlfriend Susan Storm, his best friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s kid brother Johnny Storm on a trip in his experimental shuttle to explore the stars! However, on their maiden voyage, the group was struck with cosmic rays and plummeted to Earth forever changed. Reed’s body gained incredible elasticity, Susan could cast force-fields and turn invisible, Johnny could throw fire and set himself aflame, while Ben was transformed into a rock-hided, monstrous ‘Thing’. Though Ben’s new form initially created some animosity amongst the old friends, the four decided to band together as the Fantastic Four; the ‘first family’ of superheroes. While the team would devote themselves to saving lives from the likes of Reed’s rival Doctor Doom and alien threats such as the Skrulls, they also strive to explore the wonders of the universe, paving the way for a better tomorrow through their scientific discoveries. In time, Reed and Susan would marry and have children, making the Fantastic Four the beginning of the most fantastical family around!
WHAT’s THE STORY?
After five years of Fantastic Four adventures, Marvel legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to ramp up the stakes further than they ever had before; creating a villain for the F.F. more powerful than any they had encountered previously. So far, in their first 47 issues, they had already racked up a sizeable gallery of recurring foes, such as the subterranean hermit Mole Man, the shape-shifting alien Skrulls, the Atlantean king Namor, the armoured dictator Doctor Doom, the mind-controlling Puppet Master, the pseudo-copycats the Frightful Four and the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes, the meticulous Mad Thinker, the matter manipulating Molecule Man, Hate-Monger – an actual clone of Hitler, the alchemist Diablo and even the ‘incredible’ Hulk.
In short, they’d had a lot of adventures. So as the series neared issue number 50, Lee and Kirby needed to outdo themselves like never before. And thus, Galactus was born; a being of Godlike power who wasn’t a villain as such, so much as a Godlike being who didn’t hate the people of Earth, but whose goals would ultimately end in their destruction. As Stan Lee said:
“We felt the only way to top ourselves was to come up with an evil-doer who had almost godlike powers. Therefore, the natural choice was sort of a demi-god, but now what would we do with him? We didn’t want to use the tired old cliche about him wanting to conquer the world. That was when inspiration struck. Why not have him not be a really evil person? After all, a demi-god would be beyond mere good and evil.”
As such, Galactus’ whole deal was that he needed to devour the energies of certain planets to survive, and it just so happens that Earth was one of those planets. What he was doing, to him, wasn’t inherently evil, and in the pages of the comic itself, Galactus compares what he does to humans slaughtering animals to make food from.
Galactus was, and often has since been, accompanied by a herald, The Silver Surfer; another being of immense power, who, like Galactus, takes no pride in his destructive task, with Kirby describing the Surfer as a “fallen angel”.
The comic reads like it were intended to be the first and last appearance of Galactus, but the character has endured to the present day, becoming one of the most important staples of Marvel’s cosmic comic-books.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
Fresh off the back of their adventure to seek out the Inhumans in the Himalayas, the Fantastic Four, featuring a recently married Susan Storm and Reed Richards, return to their Baxter Building home in New York City, only to discover what appears to be the end of the world.
As Reed retreats to his laboratory, fire and space debris blanket the sky, as a unique being known as the Silver Surfer approaches. However, with the cryptic Watcher in tow, the Fantastic Four soon realise that the Surfer himself is not a danger to the planet Earth, instead, their fear should be focused on Galactus – the world devourer; a being of Godlike power who cannot be reasoned with or overpowered.
Outclassed in every way, the fate of the Earth may rest in the hands of the Thing‘s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
Despite being 48 issues into the series, this is still very early days for the Fantastic Four and Marvel comics as we know them, in general. As such, there isn’t a whole lot you need to know going in, and as is the case particularly in more classic comic-books, there are some handy editors notes to indicate what issues you should seek out for clarity.
In regard to Galactus and the Silver Surfer, this is their debut issue, so although they, like the Watcher, seem rather strange and cryptic, that is the point of their role in the story. They’re meant to seem very inhuman, as the writers deify them to suit the needs of the story.
Perhaps the most confusing point of the story is the character of the Watcher himself, who seems like a random presence in the story if you’re not up to date on your Marvel history. His role is pretty simple, however, and can be picked up from context. But here’s a quick run-down anyway: named Uatu, the Watcher is from a race of beings (called the Watchers) who each take a sector of space to record its history. They are forbidden to interfere with the goings-on of any society that they observe, due to a past mistake where their interference led to them being blamed for the destruction of a race.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
There’s just something so satisfying about reading an old comic book. I don’t know what it is exactly, what with the fact that often the writing isn’t as complex and the art is a lot simpler, but the stories they contain – the stories that have kept these characters alive for decades, seem to have this odd timeless quality to them.
This story is no different, and while Galactus and the Silver Surfer grow infinitely more interesting in later stories, seeing them here, in all their original glory, makes this comic worth reading.
Something that sticks out here, beyond Jack Kirby’s zany designs, is the characterisation. People seem to have trouble writing good, lasting Fantastic Four stories in the modern-day, and even more trouble adapting them onto the big screen. Yet here, each character seems clearly defined, and more importantly, imperfect. These characters are still growing, and so while today you wouldn’t imagine seeing the Human Torch and the Thing getting into a tussle with a bystander (something highly irresponsible, considering their power levels) that actually happens in this comic. It really does humanise these powerful, timeless characters, and in a way, makes them more likeable.
The main issue, despite me throwing around words like ‘timeless’ is that at times, certain parts of the comic can feel, conversely, rather dated. Not necessarily in the art (which is dated, yes, but unique in that it feels so sixties comic book) but in the way some of the characters *cough*Mr. Fantastic*cough* interact with others *cough*Invisible Woman*cough*. In today’s society, such interactions seem backwards, and the way the Invisible Woman, in particular, is written would probably make a modern-day feminist keel over.
Another strange part of the sixties present in this is how stories aren’t confined to their own issues. The Coming of Galactus or The Galactus Trilogy as it is sometimes known is confined to three issues, and yet the first half of the first issue is wrapping up the previous story wherein the Fantastic Four deal with the Inhumans. And then the last issue abruptly finishes the Galactus story halfway through so audiences can read about the Human Torch going to college for the first time.
In fairness, the collected edition of The Coming of Galactus does feature a fair few more stories than just those three issues, but looking at the core story by itself, it does seem a little bizarre.
Still, if you can get past those things and understand that they are unfortunate products of their time, then this is an otherwise cool little read (there are also some inconsistencies in the colouring but it barely takes away from the experience).