Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When Calls Terrax!

John Byrne was just ten issues into his memorable run as both writer and artist on Fantastic Four when, in May of 1982, he put together his own "Galactus trilogy" that would arguably give the 1966 original a run for its money. Byrne seemed to hit the ground running on the book, putting many ideas in motion while adding fresh takes on original characterizations and events. Some, like the team's encounter with Doctor Doom in "Liddleville," worked quite well; others perhaps fell short of the mark. And then, suddenly, quite the surprise: pulling out a big gun like another attack on Earth by Galactus. It certainly was enough to get your attention--coming at a point when it would either firmly establish Byrne's credentials on Fantastic Four, or become the story that would, good intentions aside, indicate how wrong Byrne's style might be for Marvel's flagship team.

But, to put such worries to rest, I'll simply ask: how often, if ever, have you heard anyone speak disappointingly about these three issues? Perhaps no instance comes to mind, with good reason. And such a well-received story coming this early in Byrne's run makes it seem even more impressive. Byrne had already laid sufficient groundwork in terms of the four characters that, let's face it, not every writer or artist has been able to succeed at handling. In addition, some interesting things have been introduced. The Thing has been regressed to a less evolved version of himself. A second "human torch" has been discovered. Doctor Doom, something of a benchmark for any new FF writer, was fittingly (and successfully) featured in the FF's 20th anniversary issue. The Inhumans were relocated off-Earth. The odd attraction that Alicia Masters has toward Ben as the Thing, which even Stan Lee never fully explored, has been addressed. And, needless to say, Sue is starting to blossom as a person, rather than simply Reed's wife.

And so, now that Byrne has all of his ducks in a row, so to speak, it seems he's ready to kick this series into high gear. And you can't get much higher than space, where we find an embittered herald of Galactus, on his way to Earth and spoiling for a fight:

And can Galactus be far behind?

First, though, Byrne lets us catch up with our favorite foursome, having just entered a new year and enjoying some down time with their own pursuits. Whether it's putting the holidays in storage for another year, while finding that a projectile is probably not the ideal toy to give to your mutant son:

Or trying without success to be alone with your thoughts:

Or spending time with your girlfriend and discovering a bit of nostalgia:

Soon enough, though, trouble comes looking for the Fantastic Four. And it arrives like gangbusters:

Who in their right mind would want the FF as tenants? Wouldn't you tend to get a clue as to how much trouble they'll be when they build a silo into your building for a NASA missile? And now, with the bludgeoning arrival of Terrax, you've suddenly got two less floors to your building.

On another note, we see further evidence of Byrne's preoccupation with adjusting Reed's manner to be more in line with his original characterization, yet attempting to strike a balance with how far he's come with his relationship with his team and family. This early in the game, I was still on the fence about whether or not I cared for it. "Whilst"? Is Reed the leader of the FF, or a stodgy, stuffed shirt?

But regardless, if you think the FF take an attack lying down, you haven't been a reader very long. And the first to get in Terrax's face is the fighting-mad Thing. Or, in a moment, the falling-mad Thing:

But, in a striking two-page display, Byrne galvanizes this team up and has them bringing it back to Terrax. Including one of them who wasn't quite down for the count and who's ready to deliver some payback:

Terrax, though, has another plan in mind--heading to the top of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and, from there, using his incredible power over the earth to sever Manhattan from its foundation and causing it to rise. In order to prevent the island's population from panicking, Reed has Sue render Terrax's field opaque in order to conceal its effects. And, while the island rises, those outside begin to mobilize:

Meanwhile, the rest of the FF move to confront Terrax, who's already in the final stages of his plan. A plan which, by design, now involves the FF: holding the entire island of Manhattan and all who live there hostage in the void of outer space.

Terrax, you see, has grown tired of his servitude to Galactus, and wishes his freedom--and so he's come to Earth in order to compel the Fantastic Four to take on a deadly mission which will not only win that freedom, but hopefully bring about the end of Galactus in the process. Though Reed, Ben, and Johnny don't look too thrilled with their own chances for survival:

Wow! The FF vs. Galactus! Do they have any choice? Are they really going to do what Terrax demands? And if Galactus is so desperately in need of sustenance, will he be looking for the Earth to be his entrée? Maybe this teaser box from the issue's letters page will give us an idea of what's waiting for us when we have a look at the next chapter in this story:

The FF! The Mighty GALACTUS! Terrax the Untamed! Thrills, chills and a city of eight million people in mortal terror! Need we say more?

Don't look at the FF to say more--they're pretty much speechless!

Fantastic Four #242

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


david_b said...

To me the coolest aspect of this story arc was the power of Dr Strange to bring Galactus down..

So much for makin' fun of the caped mystic, y'all.

Anonymous said...

I agree that John Byrne was the best thing to happen to the FF since the '60s but even so he went a bit overboard in trying to recreate the early Lee/Kirby days. That scene with Ben all bundled up in a hat and coat being menaced by a gang of thugs is a direct copy of an early FF scene - and Ben returning to his early '60s look and the wide black collars and the old style Fantasticar and so on.....

Anonymous said...

Byrne's run from '81 to '86 was my meat and potatoes Fantastic Four. I have every issue from 232-292, I guess I missed his entire run by a few issues. He was certainly hitting on all cylinders. This arc was the first to really build on the base he had been laying down.

As a Marvel Zombie aside, it is exactly stories such as this during this run that makes me weep waiting for a decent FF movie.

The Prowler (doesn't think his mom would drive 500 miles to pick him up).