Friday, July 7, 2017

Who Can Stop... Gormuu?

OR: "The Bigger, The Better"

Before Reed Richards and his three cohorts boarded a rocket ship and blasted off into comics history, it would be revealed in a 1984 Fantastic Four story that Reed was already getting his feet wet in fighting for the survival of the human race. And the cover to that story no doubt rang familiar for readers of Tales To Astonish and other books that churned out monster-invasion tales in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

Mostly a flashback insert as part of a story by writer/artist John Byrne that has Reed exploring the mystery of his missing memories, the tale offers not only a generous dose of comics nostalgia, but a twist on the motivations behind Reed's development of his rocket ship and his urgency in launching it. On the record, it's also an informal commemoration of the 23rd anniversary of Fantastic Four, making the observation that the title launched the "Marvel Age Of Comics" and thereby effectively brought to an end Marvel's line of horror/mystery-based books which had no shortage of mammoth monsters on the loose.

As Reed recalls, the incident in question took place during the period Reed was working at a rocket group compound near Central City in California--and while driving home one evening, he and Sue are witness to a startling sighting.

Thanks to Byrne, who's proven to be well versed in Marvel lore, the scene pays homage to the opening pages of a prior story featured in Tales To Astonish, where the creature known as Groot makes his first appearance.

Things seldom work out well for the poor soul who makes first contact with the alien who reveals himself; usually they react in horror upon hearing the plans the alien has for the conquest of Earth, and they're left to sound the alarm for all mankind. In Reed's case, his illusion of one big, enlightened universe where the beings of other worlds live in cooperation and amity is shattered when the warrior named Gormuu rebuffs Reed's greetings and chides him for his naiveté.

And as if Reed doesn't feel foolish enough, look how quickly he folds here--practically surrendering on behalf of the entire human race. Jeez, Reed, where's your self-respect?

What follows is a nice tip of the hat by Byrne to the standard scene in any monster mag which shows the fierce but futile attacks against the invader by the armed forces. Not only do the strikes fail to harm Gormuu, but they are also making the alien stronger.

Soon enough, things reach the crisis point, as Gormuu advances on Central City. Reed has been brought in to help find a way to stop the creature, but there seems to be no hope and time is running out. Even worse, there's talk of a nuclear strike--and such news spurs Reed to try a different approach, one that involves Gormuu's vulnerable technology within his abandoned ship.

Now certain he has the answer to how to deal with Gormuu, Reed heads back to his lab to initiate his plan. In typical monster stories, the hero's actions are often met with skepticism or even aggression--and when it comes to Ben Grimm's reaction, Reed receives a healthy dose of both.

Finally, it comes time for the alien to meet his fate at the hands of the resourceful and clever hero--a scene which typically takes very little time to play out, and almost always includes a memorable sound bite or two from the defeated world conqueror who underestimated the puny human race...

...followed by the details of just how the hero outmaneuvered the deadly invader, saving the human race and barely averting disaster.

Byrne supplies some interesting supplemental information as far as Reed's reasons for expediting the launch of his rocket, though in the process he rewrites the original scene more than he adapts it. "Where it really all began," as Reed puts it, is back in FF #1, where we see a reckless disregard for the safety of the ship's crew in order to beat "the commies" into space. In the revised scene, Ben appears ready to follow Reed's wishes to the letter; but pre-launch, he fervently advocates waiting to complete the research on cosmic rays, even angrily threatening to pull out. In addition, once the ship has reached space, Reed's justification for the haste is clear: "We had to do it!! We had to be the first!" If hostile aliens were his priority, why would he be so insistent that Americans should win the space race?

And one last note: Strange that Reed has never mentioned any of the other invaders that Earth repelled back in the day. Why would the Gormuu crisis be the one that opens his eyes on the potential dangers of the universe? On the plus side, having Sue and Reed on hand to discover the alien invader lends a nice touch to a story which establishes a connection of sorts between what came before and the new direction Marvel would take with its comics in 1961.

Fantastic Four #271

Script and Art: John Byrne
Letterers: Janice Chiang and Mike Higgins


Colin Jones said...

The reason why Reed never mentioned any of the other aliens who menaced Earth was because they only existed in comic-books - only Gormuu really existed !

Comicsfan said...

Touché, Colin!

Anonymous said...

I politely disagree! A lot of those monsters did show up later in continuity. Of course, I'm not aware of any explanation as to why so many of those extra-terrestrial goons invaded Earth in the same few years. Maybe word got around on the inter-galactic internet that our planet was a great vacation spot.
If they see pictures of Chris Christie on the beach, they'll be back figuring we give giant monsters the free run of the place.

M.P., Goom Appreciation Society, Acting Press Agent

Comicsfan said...

Goom couldn't have a better Earthling in his corner, M.P. ;)

Warren JB said...

If you don't mind a mention of the Distinguished Competition, Colin makes me wonder why the comics in the Watchmen continuity turned to pirates rather than monsters. I guess it might've made it a little more difficult to write the commentary in that story, but also might've made Ozymandias' goal even more plausible in the minds of the public!

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