Friday, February 10, 2017

"Run! Run For Your Lives!"

Given the incredible amount of homage covers we recently saw that have paid tribute to the classic Fantastic Four #1, perhaps the cover's popularity with artists is due in *ahem* large part to the eye-catching mammoth creature that bursts forth from the street at the Mole Man's command. It's a terrifying monster that has made sporadic appearances over the years, with the Mole Man calling on him only on rare occasion; but if we dare, let's take a closer look at this creature who slumbers beneath the Earth and emerges at his master's signal to wreak havoc and destruction on the comparatively flimsy structures of man. And since artist/writer John Byrne has given generous exposure to the behemoth, we'll single his work out and sample two such issues where the monster was allowed to cut loose and amply demonstrate just why the Mole Man values him.

And as always, the effect that the arrival of our raging creature has on the locals is undeniable.

First off, though, since we owe so much to artist Jack Kirby's classic introduction of this lumbering terror, it's only fitting that we lead off with his opening scenes from that 1961 issue, where the Mole Man has directed his servant to wreck atomic plants across the world as a prelude to an invasion of the surface. The threat sets the stage beautifully for the introduction of the nascent Fantastic Four, who are investigating the plants' disappearances.

According to the stream of reports that Reed Richards is examining of the incidents, "no one knows how" the plants are being destroyed--but given the eyewitness accounts, how can the cause of the destruction, whatever its origin, possibly be a mystery?? Your plants have been crushed by a giant monster, folks.

All things considered, however, this creature is handled pretty easily by the new team, and quickly sidelined while the four proceed to make their escape from the Mole Man's domain. But the issue serves as an impressive debut of the monster, nonetheless.

As recognizable as this monster becomes to comics readers, it still takes awhile before it's actually given a name--not that it needs one, since the Mole Man summons it easily enough with a special whistle or relayed sound. In fact, unnamed, the creature has more of a visual impact when it crawls up from the depths. But we finally learn from the Mole Man just what a terrified populace should scream as it makes its approach:

If "Giganto" rings a different bell for you, you're not alone. Because before the Mole Man's creature lumbered up from Subterranea in the Byrne AWC story, Prince Namor was rousing a creature to take on the surface world that was more worthy of the name.

Now that's what you call a gigantic monster! Though the shock and awe those troops are trying to deliver probably applies more to them than it does to Giganto--because, jeez, just look at this thing. A pity the small panels of the book are too confining to do the scenes justice.

By the way, your eyes aren't playing tricks on you--those guys in the lifeboat with their "emergency radio" really don't have the clout to transmit an evacuation order to New York City. (Imagine how a radio like that would sell in those old Johnson Smith Company ads. "Amaze your friends! Evacuate your city!" "Watch as your neighbors flee down your street!") The reason it seems that way is because the panel wasn't included where the authorities receive word from the survivors about Giganto.

It's probably more worrisome that the city authorities just took the word of these guys and evacuated one of the largest cities on the planet without even trying to get confirmation from the military on what was seen. New York's finest seem to field their share of prank calls, and the desk sergeant isn't always so accommodating:

We'd see a little more of Giganto from time to time--though technically we'd have to call him Giganto Jr., since the Thing blew up the original.  (Wouldn't you have liked to have had that clean-up duty.)

It's not clear why Byrne, of all people--who's demonstrated such a wealth of knowledge of events and characters from classic FF stories--would either apparently not recall the original Giganto, or just decide to appropriate the name for the Mole Man's creature. But what's done is done; in fact, in the crazy world of comics, it could even set up a "Giganto vs. Giganto" match whenever a Marvel writer is stumped for a story idea, though we'd probably have to put our money on the original. Because when we pivot to the FF story that features the Mole Man's creature appearing again in 1984, it seems obvious that there's quite a size difference between the two. (Your average screaming human victim, however, is not going to care about the distinction one way or the other.)

Its primary task accomplished, the monster mindlessly heads for the surface while the Thing, the Torch, and the Mole Man take care of their business in the complex of their mutual foe. We don't really know why "Giganto" rages the way he does, or why he follows the verbal commands of the Mole Man; perhaps he's what the Mole Man calls him, a "pet" that follows his master's wishes. It would be interesting to see how in the world the Mole Man managed to have this creature at his beck and call.

In the Avengers story, a misunderstanding has the Mole Man turning Giganto loose in Los Angeles, though it doesn't take long for Iron Man to have the matter in hand--er, hands.

(As matter-of-factly as Byrne approaches a crisis and as calmly as the characters handle things, you never get a sense of the stakes involved. Galactus, the Hulk, Giganto--just another day at the office for a Byrne hero.)

If Iron Man's computer search has turned up nothing on Giganto--presumably tying in with Avengers and SHIELD records--it probably gives you an idea of how sparse and brief the creature's appearances have been to date. (Though you'd think a worldwide attack on atomic plants would have rated a few entries in government files.)

At any rate, we're returned to the scene above where we learn of Giganto's name, as the monster gets back to its feet and begins causing trouble again--so the USAgent takes a crack at him. And while the Agent by himself wouldn't make a dent in this horror, his attack is actually well thought out--up to the point where his "stupid" foe strikes back, that is.

Eventually, things are sorted out with the Mole Man, and Giganto is recalled. For some reason, it often feels that his departure is as dramatic as his entrances.

Did someone mention


Anonymous said...

These monsters look to be holdovers from the old "monster mash" days of early Marvel; y'know, with guys like Goom, Rombuu, Blip, Groot, and Fin Fang Foom.
It's like they were transitioning to superheroes but still had a few of those goons (hey that's a name--GOON!!! From Planet X!!!) in the pipeline and decided to let 'em out.
It's funny, but I don't remember seeing the entire fight with the F.F. and the Mole Man's monster before. Just the cover. It's kinda fun.


Big Murr said...

What? No mention of "Giganto" #1 (spiky green monster) in her greatest role? In the famous (infamous?) three issue arc of Fantastic Four #347-349 (1991) when Hulk, Wolverine, Ghost Rider and Spider-Man became a substitute F.F., much of the action occurred on Monster Island. There (never named "Giganto"), the Green Monster had many scenes. It was revealed to be a "she", she hauled away a Skrull spaceship like a toy, and she became a foster mother! The best panel, though, might be when one of her toes stepped on the Hulk's foot, causing that grey-skinned, arrogant, loudmouth to bellow in pain.

In the Pet Avengers debut mini-series, the stalwart band of heroes encountered "Giganto" #2 (which I would agree is the legitimate Giganto). The "Great Beast" (as the local sea fauna dubbed him) had a significant cameo as he treated the Pet Avengers to the "Pinocchio Experience" of being swallowed down alive.

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