Saturday, June 29, 2013

All This, And Galactus, Too

Looking over the differences between the original cover of Fantastic Four #50 and the cover for Marvel's Greatest Comics #37 (which reprinted that issue), it occurred to me just how strange a read that issue's story was. On paper, it must have seemed pretty clear-cut: the resolution of the introduction of Galactus, featuring a battle between the alien and his herald, the Silver Surfer, while the Fantastic Four's Human Torch carries out a behind-the-scenes mission under the direction of the Watcher. You'd think there would be enough happening to easily fill out the entire issue; yet the story was wrapped up in just over half the space, leaving the other half to essentially spin its wheels with plot and character development.

So perhaps it was felt misleading for Jack Kirby's original cover to have suggested an image of an epic conclusion to the story of Galactus, when that story instead ends with an over-before-you-know-it quality. But Gil Kane's rendering of the issue for the reprint gives us an idea of the kind of cover we were expecting for the story:

With all the action crammed into Kane's depiction of the story, it's a little easier to understand why the original cover may have been toned down a bit. After all, the newer version gives us an impression of a different final product than we got, with a wider scope of action than we saw. For one thing, the FF were mostly on the sidelines while the battle between Galactus and the Surfer took place, with the exception being the Torch who was sent on a glorified errand. For whatever reason, Galactus--the main threat in this three-part story--is downplayed on both covers. On Kirby's he's absent altogether--while the Surfer, who at most has had a minor role throughout, is given practically the entire allotment of cover space.

Yet both covers have one thing in common--their perplexing captions. Given that this is the character's first appearance, the Silver Surfer has had no saga, startling or otherwise--nor will he have had one by story's end. In hindsight, he's unquestionably starting a saga--and with a cover appearance that eclipses the Fantastic Four in their own magazine, as well as scoring the issue's title, he's clearly being primed for greater exposure. But he'll need to get some mileage under his board before we can look back on his saga. Maybe he's making more of a startling appearance right now. Also, it probably goes without saying that the caption mentioning him on Kane's cover is shamelessly pulling in fans of the Surfer's subsequent appearances with a "hey, here's more of him" teaser--yet the Surfer is only "back" in a nostalgic sense.

As for the "Doomsday--Plus One!" caption, the reference is somewhat lost on me. The reprinted story is about four years before the Joe Gill/John Byrne Charleton Comics series of the same name--but if I had to take a guess, I suppose the phrase refers to the day after doomsday. If so, the newer cover mimics Kirby's in the sense that the original also makes such a reference, by having a graphic of Johnny Storm's first day at college be an indication that the danger from Galactus will pass, and life will go on.

And boy, does it ever; in fact, you'd think the departure of Galactus by "dimensional displacement" also swept everyone back to their normal lives as if he'd never appeared. After the Surfer departs, off to start his startling saga, writer Stan Lee takes advantage of all the leftover pages to lay some groundwork for future developments. Though it's debatable how much of a substitute Coach Thorne is for Galactus:

But there's still plenty of the FF to shuffle around. Like Sue and Reed, who seem to have a more difficult time being married in the Baxter Building than they did being single in the Baxter Building:

And the Thing, who thinks his girlfriend, Alicia, has dumped him for the Silver Surfer, and sees that his options with other women are limited:

And the Torch, who tries to forget about Crystal (who's trapped behind a barrier around the Great Refuge) by enrolling in college classes:

But even the issue's last panel acknowledges that the story turns out somewhat at loose ends, while doing what it can to make sure readers know things will be back on track in future issues:

Though come to think of it, we probably could have called this issue "The Startling Saga of Wyatt Wingfoot!", put his image in place of the Surfer's on Kirby's cover, and pretty much ended up with no discrepancy in the tone of the story, eh?


Longbox Graveyard said...

I read this story just the other day, and was surprised by the strange pacing. The whole tale has a dream-like quality to it ... the first several pages of issue #48 are used to resolve the previous Inhumans story, and the first our heroes see of Galactus is glimpsing "two suns" out the window of their plane. It's almost a casual apocalypse, and it comes on the FF so suddenly -- there's a scene where Sue complains that Reed won't take her out to dinner, then barges into the lab to find Reed talking with the Watcher about how Galactus is coming and, well, the Earth may be doomed.

And then, as you note, the tale ends well shy of the end of issue #50, and we have that strange coda of Johnny sitting in college daydreaming about flying to the ends of the universe. It's is all very Silver Age, but in a good way, and gives the events a strange kind of slice-of-life aspect. In the cosmic life of the Fantastic Four, even events as important as the end of the world don't conform to the clean and arbitrary page count required by a monthly publication schedule!

Anonymous said...

It was a weird comic, wasn't it...but I don't remember that they ever did anything with Coach Thorne and that whole subplot. I mean, yeah, it introduces Wingfoot, but what happened to Thorne? Were they gonna use him later, and if so for what? Was he gonna end up saving the world from the Mad Thinker or something...I just don't get it.
Maybe Kirby was just coming up with stuff so fast, or Lee told to stick in the Thorne thing, thinking he would use him later. I suspect he either forgot about him or just said "the heck with it."
But yeah, the speed at which they were coming up with stuff then, on that title, it could almost make you dizzy. I wonder if Coach Thorne is still out there, somewhere...
Oops. I've done it again. He is gonna show up again now, isn't he, probably as supervillian. Sorry..

Comicsfan said...

LG, that's an excellent way of looking at it!

Anonymous, if I remember it correctly, Thorne's subplot involved pursuing Wingfoot to be his new star player. I don't know if that ever went anywhere--but the last I saw of Thorne, he and Reed had been invited to a supposed college reunion dinner only to find themselves caught up in a plot by Dr. Doom.