Friday, September 25, 2015

When Began Galactus!

Even though the planet-devouring Galactus first appeared as part of an unforgettable story in the pages of Fantastic Four, and would return to that book in another story two years later, it seems fitting that his origin should be revealed in a setting that spanned worlds and involved those on a power scale well beyond the scope of Earth and its inhabitants. After all, Galactus must be considered something of a scourge by most intelligent life throughout the galaxy, with the survivors of his attacks scattered and migrating through star system after star system. Hasn't it occurred to any space-faring race to do something about this deadly and persistent threat which is decimating life-sustaining worlds without mercy?

It's occurred to the Rigellians, who are well acquainted with another powerful figure of the stars whom they could approach about dealing with this world-devouring menace--and they know him well enough to realize that he will be incensed at the plight of innocents whose worlds have been ravaged by an uncaring aggressor.

(And the fact that their choice is a god doesn't hurt, either.)

At this point in time, Galactus is battling for supremacy against Ego, the Living Planet--and while the struggle has been fierce from both combatants, Galactus eventually weakens his foe to the point of standing poised to triumph. But while both Thor and the Rigellians have had their own difficulties with Ego when it was bent on conquest, Thor intervenes on Ego's behalf and engages Galactus in battle, which results in Galactus being driven off.

The encounter is enough to get Odin's attention, who recalls Thor--and, with the other Asgardians assembled, Odin uses his power to peel back time and view the beginnings of Galactus being loosed upon the universe.

Writer Stan Lee gives a slip of the pen here, causing Thor to misspeak and give the impression that Galactus has destroyed his own world--when in actuality, Galactus was still in his stage of incubation within his ship that had been in orbit above this planet, and first emerged as Galactus just as the planet came under siege by conquerors from another world. At that point, Galactus wastes no time in undertaking his new life's purpose--laying waste to the attacking space fleet, and then using his power to drain the world below of its life force.

Odin then concludes the audience, but Thor makes it obvious why Odin plans to pursue the matter further:

Time passes, and Odin seeks without success to gain more information on the origin of Galactus (specifically, the secret of his "incuba-sphere"), before finally settling on the direct approach and beginning construction of a special ship that will seek out Galactus himself for answers--a quest that may take ages. As for the ship's pilot, the perfect Asgardian practically drops into Odin's lap: Thor himself, who must do penance for falling prey to the forbidden "warrior madness" (i.e., battling his foe in unreasoning revenge while becoming merciless in the process and refusing to accept their surrender) and is chosen to serve that penance with this assignment. Naturally, we don't want to wait around for ages before Thor finds the one he seeks--so it's Thor who's found by Galactus almost immediately upon setting out on his mission, in back-to-back issues that will finally reveal the information on this being that has piqued the interest of Odin.

(Though in this case, Odin might have found himself elbowed aside by curious readers.)

It's probably a good thing that the "warrior madness" has lifted from Thor, otherwise this meeting between Thor and Galactus might have erupted in battle. But, oddly, Galactus makes no haughty move against Thor as was the case in their prior meeting, instead assuming a posture of truce--a "summit," if you will, that prompts Thor to stand down and hear what Galactus wishes to say.

As we can see, Galactus has already begun his story with describing the crash of a ship which resulted in the deaths of all aboard--a crash witnessed by the Watcher, who makes the unexpected discovery of a survivor.

To explain how he came to be aboard that ship, as well as the craft's purpose, Galactus takes Thor back to the time when his home planet flourished--though his tone indicates that time has long since passed.

Taa, like many other worlds, fell victim to a sweeping plague that became known to the inhabitants when a scout reported back with the grim news. Eventually, the plague made its way to Taa, and the situation became grim all too quickly.

(Not exactly a "creeping" plague, is it, given how quickly it makes its way from world to world--though this probably isn't the time to bring it to anyone's attention.)

Despite having a story on his desk that virtually cries out for dialog and characterization, to say nothing of more substance given to the world and people from which Galactus would spring, Lee lets artist Jack Kirby's panels of the story speak mostly for themselves, as was often the case in the Thor book. The result here is rather lackluster treatment given to Galactus and the rest of this story's characters, in spite of the major attention given to both Galactus and his backstory by Kirby, who gave Lee ample opportunity to run with the material the panels provide. For instance, following this citizen's revelation on the dismal prospects for Taa's survival, Kirby seems to leave room for the writer to have those who receive the news react with skepticism and dismissive of the claim, if we're to believe the posture and expressions of the robed listeners who depart--but Lee instead is content to have everyone resigned to the inevitable, and leave it at that.

As the body count mounted and hope for a solution was lost, those who were left of the inhabitants decided to meet their end on their feet--or, in this case, crewing a ship, one that would soar into the heart of a sun in a final act of their race. But once the star's radiation begins to saturate those on board, the ship veers off course and crashes on another planet--and Thor learns of the Watcher's discovery of a lone survivor, who was destined to become something much more.

Once in space, the being places his dead shipmates in a cylinder and ejects them into the void--then sets to work making the modifications to his attire and surroundings which would be needed as he began life anew. Though perhaps it's fair to say that he had no true idea of what that life would entail until his long process of incubation was complete.

Thor raises a pertinent question, indeed. Whatever Galactus' misgivings in this rare moment of reflection and admission, his past deeds speak for themselves--and whatever regret he may feel at this point in time doesn't necessarily speak to the future. Thor, meanwhile, has Galactus in the here and now--does he dare let the moment pass, in light of what he's heard?

Yet, this mission was put in motion by Odin, and it was Odin who desired the information Thor has learned about Galactus in order to have a more complete picture of this being who threatened countless worlds. This is a moment ripe for Odin's intervention and judgment--and with Galactus hardly likely to consider himself bound by the judgment of Odin or any other being that presumes to determine his fate, it's a moment that would make this issue a classic for decades to come. But unfortunately, Lee and Kirby dispense with such a scene in three swift panels--panels, it must be noted, which don't even include Galactus.

Despite all of the build-up that this story has seen in the last several issues, it comes to a swift and unsatisfying end. Once Odin and Thor vanish, you can almost picture Galactus shrugging his mammoth shoulders and dismissing these self-proclaimed gods as a waste of his valuable time. At the very least, we learned the origin of Galactus, which would be elaborated on by other writers and artists in future stories; but as far as Odin is concerned, the matter of Galactus being a threat to all life is closed. As for Thor's outrage at the state and sheer numbers of the refugees from the worlds which Galactus has decimated, Lee has swept that under the rug with Thor's return to Earth and immediate involvement with the threat of a construct called the Thermal Man. Anyone care to take a guess as to how outraged the Rigellians are feeling right about now at Odin's decision?

For what it's worth, there's an informal follow-up to be found in an earlier post, where I don't let Galactus off the hook so easily!


Anonymous said...

Well, first of all, Kirby.
In other hands this could have been a lousy comic, but it's not, because Kirby drew it. The nascent, unformed Galactus leaking energy all over the place is a scary image, and reminds me of John Carpenter's THE THING. Kirby was also a master at drawing images of dead, ruined worlds. Nobody does this stuff better, this powerful imagery, and Kirby probably did it before lunch.
Thor doesn't have a lot to do here, he's basically just the witness, so Stan Lee could get Galactus' origin out of his system. The tale had to be told, at some point. And you have your basic deus ex machina with Odin swooping Thor out at the end to battle the mind-boggling threat of the Thermal Man, your basic sci-fi robot run out of control.
I wonder if 'ol Stan was sure who was more powerful at this point, Odin or Galactus. He and Kirby had created these two immensely powerful characters, and weren't quite ready to put 'em in the same room together, quite yet. Imagine what could happen! Sure, Thor had sent Galactus scurrying one time whilst protecting Ego, (which is like getting between a coyote and a badger) but I had the sense that Galactus just didn't think it was worth it. Not really a test of raw power.
Rather poignant, tragic story, actually, Galactus' origin.

Comicsfan said...

m.p., you raise a good point about Lee and his thoughts on Odin vs. Galactus. To his credit, he decided to go in his usual direction--that of always leaving the reader wanting more--and avoiding the question altogether. Though for a better story overall, perhaps he might have had Odin reflect on his reasons for calling off the hunt, and the retribution.

Jon H said...

The panel with the speech bubble "He returns at last!" - the text doesn't really fit the image. It looks like a guy working on something, not a returning traveller.

C'mon, Stan!

Comicsfan said...

That stood out for me as well, Jonathan. Most of the time Kirby gives Lee all he needs to script a story, yet there are times when Lee chooses to go in another direction--and the result is sometimes confusing. Here, his scripting doesn't really mesh with how Kirby is laying out the fate of Taa. For instance, if this man has been to different worlds where the plague has struck, he doesn't need to whip out his visi-screen to discover that it's striking down other species and that its arrival on Taa is imminent.

Mr. Morbid's House Of Fun said...

Damn. It's amazing still, to see just how innovative and ahead of the curve Kirby was in terms of design of futuristic technology and layout, everything.
He was exactly right where he was supposed to be at exactly the right time, because ten years later, he was considered passe' and out-dated by his peers and the own company he helped build.

Sad really.....

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