Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Man Who Was Galactus!

Give writer Mark Waid credit for coming up with a concept for Fantastic Four that was bound to produce a few double-takes. In other words:

Meet Johnny Storm, the new herald of Galactus.

The reason you're not seeing Johnny in the form of a character such as Nova, a mortal woman whose natural flame power was adapted by Galactus before she was made his herald, has to do with the complicated set of conditions Waid put in motion to get us to this point. In a nutshell:

An alien, Zius, has developed technology that will cloak innocent worlds from the threat of Galactus, making them invisible to his detection. But Zius has learned of Sue Richards, whose natural ability to nullify invisibility would eventually lead Galactus to capture and use her to pierce Zius's shields and render his technology useless--and so Zius has come to Earth to eliminate Sue so that galaxies of worlds will survive. To that end, Zius, with his fleet of starships, threatens the island of Manhattan and subsequently captures Sue (along with the Thing and the Torch)--and, with his finger on the trigger, prepares to take Sue's life in order to preserve the lives of uncounted trillions.

But at that moment, Reed Richards bursts in and essentially removes Sue from Zius's plan by removing her powers; ergo, since she no longer has any powers over invisibility, Sue would be useless to Galactus. Zius then restores Manhattan to pristine condition and departs, though not without hearing a few choice words from Reed on his way out.

Unfortunately for Ben, who naturally is eager to have his powers removed by Reed's device, Reed wasn't telling Zius the whole truth about what he'd done to Sue: switching her power with Johnny's, and vice versa. And with Sue the only one hooked up to Zius's equipment, Zius had no way of knowing that it was Johnny who now possessed her force field and invisibility powers. It's only when the alien ships begin to depart that Reed lets his team in on what's happened.

There are a few things we have to set aside with Waid's plot in order to get us comfortably to this point, but they're significant. For one thing, Zius would have had to cast his "shareware" net of cloaking technology pretty wide in order for Galactus to take notice of what he's doing and feel the necessity to take action. Zius would have already had to transmit or otherwise relay this information on a galactic scale (and beyond); and the target worlds would have to be capable of receiving and interpreting the information, as well as having the technology to implement it. And how would Zius convey the details of his plan to those worlds with primitive civilizations or only the beginnings of life?

In addition, Zius presents himself as making a hard choice regarding Sue's life, maintaining that he's no murderer--yet has he even considered alternatives to killing her? Off the top of my head, how about adjusting his cloaking technology to compensate for her power (something that Reed could have valuable input on)? Or relocating her to another world so that Galactus comes up empty when he arrives on Earth to collect her?

But Waid hasn't set all of this in motion to put the brakes on now--and so, before Reed can reverse his procedure, Galactus arrives, dealing with Zius's ship before moving on to Johnny with a burst of transformative power that the FF are by now familiar with.

As the rest of the FF scramble in the wake of Galactus's departure with his newest herald, Johnny reviews his options in his new role--as only he can.

And so while he waits for the rest of the FF to hopefully rescue him, Johnny decides to cooperate before Galactus takes a less passive stance and forces his hand. Naturally, he does his best to cross off from consideration populated worlds--but his investigations reveal that he has his work cut out for him.

Meanwhile, Reed and the others have enlisted Quasar to transport them into space and to help them track Galactus. And while Galactus has apparently given Johnny some "breaking in" time, he has no intention of giving his herald a loose leash.

Johnny stumbles on a very relevant question: Just why does Galactus need him, or anyone, as a herald? It's a topic we've explored before; but the short answer would be to expedite the search for a suitable world for him to feed on, rather than expend his own time and resources scanning one world after another. But Johnny goes a step further in reasoning that a mortal, less god-like individual has instinctive and sensory gifts that Galactus lacks.

And so Johnny opens the door to become one of the few people who would come to know the origin of Galactus, a story told in a prior post but which Waid now expands on with additional details (and revisions) from a mid-1983 origin issue by Mark Gruenwald, John Byrne, Ron Wilson, and Jack Abel.

Having the attention of Galactus, Johnny would appear to have found the perfect method by which to stall for further time, both to delay Galactus from attacking the worlds which Johnny has uncovered and to give Reed more time to find him; but Johnny has only succeeded by half, since Galactus has had enough of Johnny's "prattling" and is ready to act, declaring Johnny has served his purpose and dismissing him in a blast of power. Fortunately, the FF and Quasar have indeed arrived in the nick of time--and once Johnny is hauled to safety, he forms a plan that might stop Galactus once and for all, thanks in part to a procedure Reed has already performed.

So, incredibly, the FF return to Earth with a being they've separated from the power of Galactus--Galen of Taa, whose indifference to lower life forms remains, but, as Reed softly explains to Ben out of earshot of the once-devourer of worlds, someone who might be sufficiently enlightened to the point that he might never become a threat to life again. Given who they're dealing with, it's a task far easier said than done--and the patience of the members of the FF is stretched to a limit even Reed would be hard-pressed to match.

It was a good call on the part of the FF to enlist the help of Alicia Masters in trying to reach Galen, since it was she who managed to turn the Silver Surfer from a being who callously regarded humanity to one who would battle his master on its behalf. And while she hasn't met similar success with Galen, it seems that she's at least made an impression, just by serving as an example of how worthwhile it is to strive against adversity.

It's only when Reed reaches a dead end in building a dimensional portal to lure Galactus to an energy realm that he addresses the pessimism of Galen head-on, after Galen suggests that he simply give up.

But Galen has slipped off following Reed's explanation--locking himself in with Reed's portal and presumed to be in the act of loosing its energies, which would destroy the Earth. But Galen reveals a perspective that no one had expected him to come to realize.

And with that, Galen turns, and is gone.

Waid's ending to this four-part story--that is, the part that deals with Galen/Galactus--perhaps underscores the fact that his story had two purposes, both dealing in exploration: that of Johnny in a role that was both unexpected and intriguing, and of "Galactus," back in his mortal form though having evolved beyond the man that boarded a spaceship as a final gesture and met both the end of his civilization and that of the previous universe. And while Johnny's part in the story was a clever and fun diversion, it was Galen's appearance that had greater potential to be more interesting by far, had Waid explored it more fully. Obviously, Galen is in a position to at last realize his freedom from a state that he's at times mused about in grim frustration--the fact that he was a thrall to his destiny, his set course to feed on the life-energy of entire planets at the expense of the lives of their inhabitants, a state of existence from which there was no release; yet Waid has him spending his time making cold and indifferent observations about a primitive culture. What of the man who was in direct communication with and surrendered his destiny to the "sentience of the universe"? How is it that Galen can just shrug and avoid collapsing under the weight of the memories of the being he once was? In wanting to keep the situation serious yet the mood reasonably light, Waid appears to sacrifice a great deal of compelling story material in the process.

Whatever happened with Galen and the "Galactus power" appears to have occurred off-panel, since Galactus next appears fully reformed and back to his ravaging in our dimension, a development which side-steps a pertinent question before it's even asked: Will Galen's changed attitude toward living beings be a factor if/when he's reunited with his power? And to what extent? It seems those were loose ends that, like his occasional lapses of conscience, Galactus had no choice but to push aside.

(This post covers events from Fantastic Four #s 519-523.)


Dale Bagwell said...

Well, there's denying Waid can tell a story am I right?
He might not have added a lot of new characters, but he certainly worked wonders with what was already there, and presented new wrinkles and developments that could've and should've last if not for Marvel's never-ending
bullshit policy of the "illusion of change, not change itself."

Still, no denying what good run Waid and Weringo had.
Weringo's smooth and cave the clean lines gave the book both a modern and classic look that existed simultaneously.
Damn shame that he's no longer with us.

Comicsfan said...

Dale, I was very surprised by how much I got into the Waid/Wieringo run on Fantastic Four and the extent to which it engaged me. In the beginning, I didn't really think that Wieringo's style would be suited to the book and its dramatic tone; and it was difficult to take Waid's writing seriously when the images that were being presented were so, well, comical and happy-go-lucky. The two presented a very odd approach to the book. Galactus attacking? Hey, let's make jokes! Doom is about to murder us? Hey, let's make jokes! But I enjoyed all the avenues that Waid explored, and I warmed to Wieringo's style considerably.

karl said...

Hated Wieringos artwork it always looked so Simpsons like, too cartoon and goofy. It ruined some very good action sequences that could have suited the FF.
On a more serious note, you shouldn't allow Dale Bagwell to post comments on here considering his offensive and highly defamatory comments on Facebook.

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