Monday, July 3, 2017

Whence Comes... Terminus?

Well before gaining notoriety in episodes of The Walking Dead, the name of Terminus had already been assigned by Marvel to an alien foe of gargantuan proportions--a ravager of worlds that had travelled to Earth in order to scavenge the planet of its "spoils," as he would put it. Yet in his first two blink-and-you-missed-him appearances in 1984-85, his name was apparently all that Marvel was prepared to give this mega-threat--revealing next to nothing of his origin, his history, his power, or how he acquired such a fearsome reputation, while having him dealt with rather handily by those heroes who encountered him. Terminus, for a brief time, was one of the most deadly threats on a planetary scale that mankind had ever faced--while also, incredibly, one of the most easily dispatched.

As to whether Terminus would be explored in more depth, those first appearances seemed to render the matter open and shut--that is, the door for his return left wide open after his debut in Fantastic Four, only to be slammed shut in The Avengers.

Terminus first makes planet-fall while one of the FF's trusted friends, Wyatt Wingfoot, enjoys a last bit of R&R as he prepares to become Chief of his tribe, but is stopped in his tracks by a deadly beam of energy slicing through the landscape--a beam that goes on to cut a wide swath over the entire country. What Wyatt and the FF will soon discover, however, is that the beam's path of destruction was designed to announce the arrival of Earth's conqueror.

From the little that we do learn of him, Terminus, whose interests seem to lie in mining the planet of its resources while also enslaving its population, has been manipulated into seeking out Earth by a captive of the last world he plundered, in the hope that the super-powered beings here would be able to stop him. Once Terminus' first strike sweeps Wyatt and the FF aside like so much chaff, the captive alien pays the price for his subterfuge--and Terminus begins to carve a path of devastation which speaks for itself.

As Wyatt pointedly asks, how can Terminus be stopped? Well, once the She-Hulk manages to dislodge Terminus' deadly lance from his grip, the answer appears to be: easily.

If you find yourself shaking your head in disbelief and astonishment and mumbling, "Wait--this story's over!?", you're probably not alone. To make matters worse, the FF practically give a collective yawn about the whole thing, with the rest of the issue turning its focus to Wyatt as he makes the decision to decline the position of chieftain in favor of embracing a life of adventure with the FF. (Heck, why not, if things are this easy?) The task of reassuring us that we have, indeed, read a story about a planetary threat is left to, of all places, the issue's letters page, and a few parting words in the "Next Issue" box:

"You may have a wait..."? You can't help but wonder if any thought had been put into Terminus beyond a few panels of rampaging in this story.

It would be ten months later before Terminus makes his next appearance, when the Avengers investigate a wrecked ship in the south Atlantic that, as it happened, was transporting Terminus' discarded lance--a fact the Avengers will later discover after getting a first-hand account of the disaster from one of the short-lived survivors.

Come on, Cap--we know you fall a bit short when it comes to avenging lost lives.

The Avengers track the trail of undersea destruction to the Antarctic, where a research station is in shambles after a recent attack--and the attacker's path leads in the direction of the Savage Land, where another research team may meet a similar fate.

As we've seen, Terminus doesn't kid around when making threats. When the Avengers arrive at the site, they unfortunately find only two survivors of Terminus' attack.

It becomes clear, if mysterious, that this time Terminus is seeking technological artifacts of some type. But his plundering will carry a heavy cost for the Savage Land and its environs, when he finally loses patience and begins the widespread destruction that will bring a fiery end to this region and all of the different types of life therein.

In this story, the Avengers have more of a struggle with Terminus than half of the FF managed to avoid, making the battle somewhat more satisfying--and certainly the fate of the Savage Land makes that struggle a more dramatic one, as the lush, fertile jungle gives way to the harsh Antarctic conditions from without. But as we'll see, the key to dealing with Terminus appears to once again be in separating Terminus from his lance--and once that occurs, the threat of this world-ravager, this Great Destroyer, comes to a very quick and almost puzzling end.

But this time, the consequences of Terminus' attack are more hard-hitting. By the time the Avengers are rescued by a U.S. army search party, the devastation to the Savage Land--a mainstay of many Marvel stories where heroes had experienced a number of adventures--has been widespread and total. Yet we're still no closer to understanding Terminus himself, the cause of this disaster. As far as the Avengers are concerned, Terminus is in their rear-view mirror, having simply received his just deserts.

The tone that writer Roger Stern appears to convey here is that the saga of Terminus ("saga" perhaps being too generous a word, given the fast-tracked dealings with Terminus in his appearances) has finally and sufficiently been given closure from the loose ends that were left dangling from the FF story. The Avengers seem satisfied with the knowledge that they've put an end to a destroyer of more than a thousand worlds--sentiments that provide Terminus with more historic context than we as readers were actually privy to.

To underscore the seemingly offhand way that Terminus has been treated thus far, we have only to look at his odd reappearance three years later in the 1988 X-Men Annual, as part of the "Evolutionary War" event where the High Evolutionary seeks to restore the Savage Land to its prior state.

Yet when the X-Men succeed in downing Terminus, and the "driving force" of Terminus turns out to be Garokk, the so-called Petrified Man, the whys and wherefores of Terminus' reanimation are quickly shelved and forgotten for the remainder of the story, with Garokk conveniently having no memory of how he came to be encased in the Terminus armor.

Two years later, Terminus makes a dramatic reappearance in Quasar, where we're brought up to speed on just what happened to Terminus after the FF sent him to the Earth's core--as well as the circumstances behind the Terminus that battled both the Avengers and the X-Men.

Thankfully, Terminus' plan for Reed Richards was never realized. Regaining his lance, Terminus returned to the surface and encountered first Quasar and then the (at the time) cosmically-powered Spider-Man, both of whom were successful at hurling Terminus into space, where Quasar deduces a way to keep Terminus from using his lance to power his return to Earth.

The story is a prelude to a comics crossover event, "The Terminus Factor," which played out in the 1990 annuals of five separate titles and finally gives us the full details of Terminus' master plan. (Though until now, you've likely been thinking that there was no master plan as yet for this character who seemed to be plugged into a story at the writer's whim.) In the Captain America and Iron Man annuals, the heroes find themselves battling small metal creatures known as Termini--and as everyone starts comparing notes, Thor travels to the site where Quasar left Terminus and, through a mind link, discovers that the Termini were originally created by an evil race of beings who had been attacked by the Celestials and managed to eject a culture of microbe-Termini from their world before it was destroyed.

Over a period of ages, those microbes evolved into Terminus, who retained his creators' hatred of the Celestials--and from that point on, the mission of Terminus was to plunder any world that had been spared by the Celestials' judgment. While on Earth, after the Deviant named Jorro has perished while battling the Avengers as Terminus, Terminus himself made use of the Deviant laboratory to repeat his creators' project, with the long-term goal of wreaking revenge against the Celestials.

Unfortunately, Thor is overwhelmed by the technology within Terminus and is cast out into space, but not before Terminus confiscates Thor's mystic hammer and uses its power to both restore his lance and facilitate his return to Earth.

To make matters worse, the Termini on Earth have by now merged into a second Terminus--and as far as each of them is concerned, the Earth isn't big enough for both of them.

(To this day, I don't know why Hercules swears by his beard. Is there something about his beard that's sacred to him in some way?)

Talk about being careful what you wish for--the story of Terminus has become more involved and complicated than could be expected, given the comparatively meager offerings we'd been given of the character prior to this point. It was reasonable to assume that we'd seen the last of Terminus in the Avengers story, and that Marvel had washed its hands of the character--particularly since the features of the alien Hercules discovered in the Terminus armor resemble Terminus, and not Jorro, which this new material purports was Terminus in that instance.

With both Terminus and Termini squaring off against each other, the story's twists and turns become a little more difficult to comprehend, seeing as how both beings have the same goal in common; in fact, their original creators would probably be delighted at the fact that there is another Terminus to help carry out their plan. After all, the more there is of Terminus, the more certain their plot of revenge against the Celestials is to succeed. Termini was more of a fail-safe plan that Terminus set in motion, in the event he met defeat--yet since he remains at large, does it really matter if both of them take on their creators' mission? The answer would seem to be "yes"--especially to Terminus, who is prepared to turn the existence of Termini to his own advantage.

The story now dubs this creature "Ultra-Terminus," which might be a little over the top--I mean, "Terminus" seems as fatal and final a name as a destroyer of this magnitude could have, doesn't it?

At any rate, the Avengers teams (including the Great Lakes Avengers--they really threw everything but the kitchen sink into this one) join together in the Avengers Annual to mount an assault on this now-mammoth foe, though to little avail. But there is one Avenger missing whose actions will turn the tide--Thor, still in space but having devised a way to bring his hammer to him by the use of ancient runes. And since his hammer is now a part of Ultra-Terminus, the creature's threat to Earth is aborted when he's brought along for the ride--as are a number of Avengers, who are witness to one last tactic on Quasar's part that finally brings about the end of Terminus.

With the implosion of Terminus, Thor's hammer returns to him, and he returns with the Avengers to Earth.

You can't keep a good Despoiler of Planets down, of course, so there are a number of other stories featuring Terminus that later came down the pipe for you to explore at your leisure. A nice place to start might be the 2003 JLA/Avengers series, where Terminus makes a pretty decent if brief appearance in a story that gives you plenty more bang for your buck (or, rather, $5.95 at the time). The battle seems as good a place as any to leave this character who, in light of his planetary "body count," more than fulfilled the role his revenge-crazed creators had planned for him.


Anonymous said...

When I first read it, I was aghast that Stern wiped out the Savage Land. There were an unlimited amount of stories that could come out of that place. But somehow, this being comics, I have a feeling the Savage Land would show up later, little the worse for wear. Did it?
The scene where Hercules turns his back on the dying Terminus in contempt is a great one, almost worth the carnage.
On another note, Terminus made a big mistake annoying Batman. There's some things you just don't do, even if you destroy planets for a living.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., the X-Men annual handily takes care of the restoration of the Savage Land, faster than you can say "High Evolutionary."

demoncat_4 said...

for a creature who gave both the ff and avengers a lot of trouble. and was powerful to destroy the savage land when it came to fighting the jl terimus made the big mistake don't tick off batman for he has a plan for everything and with time can beat any one . plus love how the avengers thought you know what teriminus your beated we are done with you with hercules just showing him contempt saying i am done wasting my time with you so called mr big threat.

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