Friday, December 21, 2012

Walk Like An Angel

So. Now that December 21, 2012 has come and passed without incident--and the final item on the list of End Of Days™ dates to beware of has been crossed off, with no other dreaded dates on the calendar remaining for us to cower in despair at--perhaps we can finally stop trembling in our basements and leave scenes like this one in comic books, where they belong:

And we couldn't pick a better time to revisit the story of this particular herald of doomsday, appearing over forty years ago when Fantastic Four #121 told the story of the "Air-Walker"--a mysterious figure who appeared in the skies of the world and crisscrossed the globe, surveying the inhabitants without a word. After a dire warning from Agatha Harkness of the danger he represented, the FF were compelled to investigate, and lured him to their headquarters in New York.

By that time, the Pentagon was also moving to investigate, but then began marshalling its forces when the Air-Walker attacked one of their planes without warning. And when the FF attempted to intervene, they fared no better. Once all opposition had been nullified, it was then that the Air-Walker chose to speak for the first time, making his intentions crystal clear:

When the stranger then announced his name as "Gabriel," and actually blew a horn to signal mankind's end, the frightened masses immediately drew a biblical connection to the "archangel" Gabriel who supposedly signals the "end times" by sounding his horn. Yet this Gabriel remains cryptic as to his origin, and instead focuses on giving ample demonstration that he's not to be trifled with. It's arrogance that the FF isn't yet prepared to accept:

And Gabriel isn't finished yet. Sensing that the fearful crowds want to appease him, he takes advantage of their panic and sics them on the FF, effectively diverting the team's attention from himself. It's only when the foursome head to a television station in a desperate attempt to broadcast a message of hope that Reed learns how Gabriel's announcement and actions have affected the population of the entire world:

So they head back to the Baxter Building to grab their Fantasti-Car in order to take the battle to Gabriel. Though incredibly, Sue--who has faced more world-threatening menaces with the FF than I can count--seems ready to wave the white flag along with the rest of the human race:

Good grief, Sue--how many hopeless situations have you faced in your time with this group? Alone against Klaw or one of the Thinker's deadly androids? Facing off against a cosmic-powered Dr. Doom? Left on your own to deal with the threat of the Over-Mind? And you're ready to throw in the towel just when the FF is getting its second wind? How about a morale boost, for a change, instead of sucking it out of your team like a sponge?

At any rate, the group's efforts meet with little success, because Gabriel seems to have power to spare. Then again, the FF aren't exactly distinguishing themselves as the world's greatest fighting team. Not with battle strategies like this one:

"I might as well land--before it hits us!"?? So--it won't hit you, now that you've landed and become a stationary target? And by the way, wouldn't this be a good time for one of those force fields, Sue? Or maybe turning the Fantasti-Car and its occupants invisible?

Fortunately, the Fantastic Four have friends in high places--very high, as it turns out, as the Silver Surfer enters the fray and proves for all to see that humanity has let its fear blind it to Gabriel's true intentions:

And Gabriel's weakness, it seems, has been hiding--or, rather, flourishing--in plain sight:

The final page of the issue reveals Gabriel's true master, a threat the Earth has faced before and who's also been known to use a herald to warn a world of its end. It was the careful planning of Reed Richards that saved the human race that day, while also allowing us to retain some measure of dignity.  Perhaps we can reclaim some of that ourselves, now that the more fearful among us can replace the dread of an imminent doom with hopefully the optimism of a brighter future.



Rusty said...

Nice post - I'm not super familiar with Fantastic Four history, but I do know about Galactus and the Silver Surfer, so while reading the first part of this article I was thinking that it sounded like a blatant rip-off (if its possible for a comic to rip-off one of its former stories) of the Silver Surfer. Turns out that it kinda was.

This issues looks like it was about 5-6 years after Galactus first terrorized Earth in former issues of FF - do you think the creators felt like they were losing readership or something and had to do another doomsday issue? It just seems like it wouldn't fly so well with readers, since they had been hearing about Surfer and Galactus for years. Maybe it was a dud of a storyline, and that could explain why I'd never heard of this Gabriel before.

Comicsfan said...

I don't think there was any danger initially of readers making a comparison between this story and what happened with the threat of Galactus, as the story focused strongly on what everyone thought Gabriel represented--i.e., a threat foretold in one of Earth's own religious denominations. It was only when the two-part Gabriel story concluded that Galactus appeared, and with an added twist--not to attack Earth, but to compel the Surfer to rejoin him as his herald. (Though that's in conflict with Gabriel's stated goal of destroying the Surfer.) I suppose Gabriel's warnings and threats to humanity were technically correct in the sense that Galactus would be prepared to consume the Earth at the Surfer's refusal, and thus they served to pressure the Surfer once Gabriel's origin was revealed.

Gabriel, though a robot here, got a more proper sendoff when he later appeared in the pages of Thor, where his origin as a herald of Galactus was more fully described.

Unknown said...

Loved this story when it appeared in Captain Britain weekly. But what did Marvel have against ants? I do hesitate to step on ants nest and other such things. And who could forget The Thing attacking Galactus with a Ferris Wheel.

Comicsfan said...

Yeah, I think the ferris wheel story would be a handy deterrent for planets to use against Galactus when he's on approach: "Veer off, or video of your ferris wheel necktie gets transmitted on GalaxyTube--you'll be the laughing stock of the universe! Haw haw!"

(Not that the guy cares about a bunch of ants making fun of him.)