Monday, April 28, 2014

My Girlfriend, The Herald

With its dramatic cover paying homage to the image of the giant hand of Galactus from the 1978 The Silver Surfer graphic novel, Fantastic Four #244 gives us the sense that the ending to John Byrne's own "Galactus trilogy" will be a memorable one. Part One of the story showed Terrax, the disgruntled herald of Galactus who had tired of his servitude, coming to Earth to conscript the FF into fighting his master, while he held the entire island of Manhattan hostage in Earth orbit. In Part Two, Galactus brutally dealt with his herald, and then turned his attention to Earth, where he prepared to consume the planet's life energy as Earth's heroes joined forces and fought a desperate battle against him.

Now, the battle is over--and Galactus, already in a severely weakened state from having gone so long without feeding, lies helpless and dying. Compared to the events of the past two issues, however, the conclusion to this story might seem sedate by comparison. But it's nevertheless an interesting aspect of the story to explore: What to do with Galactus?

Yet, Byrne doesn't immediately pick things up where Part Two left off; instead, he chooses to open the story by jumping ahead to nearly a week later, when everyone is presumably picking up the pieces from the story's resolution. And, in the apartment of Julie D'Angelo--roommate to Johnny Storm's girlfriend, Frankie Raye--we're given the impression that, despite the condition in which we last saw Galactus, things might have ended disastrously for those who opposed him:

It's here that Byrne begins to pivot back to this story's wrap-up, while bringing our focus to Frankie--a character who played little to no part in the battles of the past two issues, but who now appears to be headed toward a crucial role, if we're to believe Reed:

And Frankie's "fate," as Reed puts it, begins and ends with that of Galactus in Part Three, appropriately titled:

At the end of Part Two, of course, Reed made a startling declaration, one which the other combatants in this struggle are understandably divided on:

And yet, not as divided as they could be. Certainly not as divided as we saw in the situation with the Molecule Man that Iron Man refers to. In fact, everyone seems to quickly (in just a panel!) put the debate aside with almost shocking unanimity--even Iron Man, who merely considers himself "outvoted" on the matter. In hindsight, we could attribute it to Byrne planning to devote an entire upcoming issue to the decision to spare the life of Galactus--as well as, that being the case, not wanting to cloud the events of the rest of the story with a discussion which would be better served by taking place amongst actual victims of Galactus.

So the issue becomes not whether to save Galactus, but how. And since that essentially boils down to stabilizing his "vital signs," Reed hits up (of all people) Iron Man for some equipment from Tony Stark and sets to work as quickly as possible. And finally, the time comes to make the attempt:

Yet the "operation" isn't without its complications, since this machine is the equivalent of giving small amounts of food (in the form of revitalized energy) to a starving man. And putting the power of a god at the other end of the straw probably could have used a bit more forethought:

Reed then conducts a somewhat bandaged Galactus back to FF headquarters, where he compiles a "shortlist" of acceptable planets which will suit the titan's needs. Unfortunately, Reed can offer no guarantees (frankly, I'm amazed he can scan for habitable planets at all, though of course Earth technology has always been far less advanced than "Reed technology"), which means that Galactus and the FF are back to square one:

And that brings us finally to Frankie, who, out of the blue, makes a startling proposal:

It's the one part of Byrne's story which doesn't seem to mesh, either with this particular tale or with Frankie herself as we've come to know her. Johnny, of course, is beside himself at her decision--yet Frankie seems to have no regard for his feelings whatsoever, all but "Galactus-blocking" him. We know that Byrne is following up on Frankie's odd (and baseless) wistful musings on Galactus from the prior issue; but otherwise, we get no satisfactory justification for this about-face on her part. To make matters worse, she also now exhibits an alarming lack of conscience:

Galactus, however, sees what could be a very good fit, given his needs as well as the necessity that he be indiscriminate in terms of the planets he chooses:

And so, with Johnny screaming his objections in the background, the process of creating a new herald of Galactus begins.

Johnny, unsurprisingly, isn't ready to let this go--isn't ready to let Frankie go. But it's much too late for him to salvage the situation, and it's clear that Frankie's interests lie elsewhere--where Johnny cannot follow.

We've come full circle as far as Johnny's state of mind at the beginning of the story; and, in a way, we've reached such a point with Galactus, as well, since he leaves this second trilogy in a less impassive state of mind than he did after that first encounter on Earth.

However, just as in that original tale, Byrne spends the rest of this issue with various scenes which pave the way for future plots. In all honesty, I was hoping that Byrne would make another choice, rather than stay true to the structure of "The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!" The mixture of the end of an epic life-or-death situation with, immediately afterward, a business-as-usual continuation of the lives of the FF seems to feel as awkward here as it did in FF #50. In both issues, the impact of the climax of the incredible story we'd just read is sapped by the new events we're now presented with and must focus on. How about, instead, an ending like the one we received in another epic FF story, which also didn't happen to end well for Johnny:

I closed the last page of that issue thinking, "Wow--well done." "Nice ending." But in Byrne's story, we even had a brand-new herald of Galactus added into Marvel canon--and still the issue was able to leave its readers with nothing that resonated for the next thirty days until the next copy of Fantastic Four would hit the racks.  Many if not all of this book's faithful readers probably would have been glad to wait until then for any new plots coming down the pipe--particularly if it meant that the story they'd been diligently following and enjoying for the past two months had, this time, been given the finish line it deserved.

Fantastic Four #244

Script, Pencils and Inks: John Byrne
Letterer: Jim Novak


david_b said...

Great stories, great reviews.

However, this painfully reminds me that while Byrne had some great ideas worthy of another Galactus story (I loved that Doc Strange brought him down as well..)..,

I still love Buscema/Sinnott the best on FF. Their best work equaled, perhaps even surpassed King Kirby for me.

Anonymous said...

Galactus says here "Too many times have I chosen a herald who came to me with noble purpose" - so how many heralds has he had? The Silver Surfer was his first herald (which Frankie mentions here so I suppose it's correct) and this story came out 16 years after Galactus first came to Earth which in "Marvel time" is about three years as Franklin Richards is still a toddler. So in that short time Galactus has had loads of heralds apparently and what happened to all these others who came to him "with noble purpose"? Perhaps they all insisted on saving a planet and abandoning Galactus just like the Silver Surfer.

Anonymous said...

CF, awesome job on the trilogy. I loved the stories then and I loved the job you did. I agree with you on the iffy/wiffy back and forth Marvel ethics on who lives and who dies.

I always had problems with the "no kill" policy. But then again, Cap's statement about due process is a very strong argument (other post).

Frankie's motivation; man, that is one cold-blooded ....

But very understandable. She wants to be "out there". She doesn't care how it happens.

The Prowler (would honestly not mind heralding but with the internet and SIRI, do you really need to run around the cosmos).

Doug said...

Comicsfan --

Thanks for all you do. I don't always leave a comment, but I do always stand (well, OK -- sit) in awe of how you crank out these reviews. Always a quality read, my friend!


Comicsfan said...

David, you have a point about the comparison. I think that may be mainly due to Byrne's writing style on the FF, which had its pros and cons. Ben is the only character I feel he truly nails. Sometimes I think Johnny is fifteen years old--and Byrne tends to handle Reed and Sue with much more formality than other FF writers during the Buscema/Sinnott runs, though he gets props for being one of the few writers who spends some quality time on Sue (and, actually, the FF as a whole). Perhaps it might have been interesting to see Roy Thomas script Byrne's stories.

Colin, excellent points (you make them often!) about Galactus. Terrax may have been his fourth herald, if I'm not mistaken, with Gabriel and then Firelord inbetween. (Or make that four and a half, since Gabriel was replaced with a robot when the original was slain.) Yet neither Gabriel nor Firelord gave any indication of wishing to spare inhabited worlds (Gabriel's robot certainly didn't)--and Firelord left simply because of wanderlust, having signed on with Galactus in something of a temporary arrangement.

Prowler, thanks very much. The Marvel no-kill policy (well, in the days when it existed!) was always better received when it wasn't said out loud like that, but the thing I liked most about it was that it made one valid point: that the powers of these heroes didn't "deputize" them. I.e., they didn't have the right to interpret the law as far as the disposition of whoever they'd captured/defeated, and they certainly didn't have the authority to respond with deadly force. As a reader, it was always more interesting to me to see how they'd get around the option or "last resort" of killing to end a threat--there's usually far more drama in making a decision than there is in the actual act.

Doug, what can I say? High praise, indeed! Thanks so much for the kind words.