Monday, February 10, 2020

...At Death's Door!

In the last months of 1979, the Fantastic Four found themselves dealing with two major problems, both of them life-threatening--and to add to the list, they were traveling through space to seek out a being whose involvement could potentially make matters worse! We'll let the esteemed Reed Richards break it down for us:

Uh, that's aging ray, Elmer... er, Reed.

Reed speaks of the FF's efforts to save Xandar, a world under siege by the Skrulls, only to be captured and sentenced to death by use of a metabolic booster designed to accelerate their aging process. But with the Sphinx en route to destroy the Earth, they've had to push their personal concerns aside and take what could be seen as the biggest gamble of their career--that Galactus will agree to their plea for assistance. But Galactus' idea of quid pro quo could doom Earth, as well--particularly when Reed appears to hastily withdraw the one condition that has kept Galactus from once again attacking the world which until now has kept his ravenous hunger at bay.

Apparently the phrase "time is of the essence" has no meaning to Galactus other than when it applies to his need for finding a planet which will satisfy his hunger--not when he has a chance to use the Fantastic Four as errand boys. Speaking of which, this should be a cinch for the FF--after all, Norrin Radd was a mortal man before being transformed to the Silver Surfer, so Reed, Sue, and Ben, even in their current condition, should have no trouble dealing with their target, especially since the Torch hasn't been afflicted as they have.

But as they'll later find to be the case with Frankie Raye, the one they seek is no ordinary man--nor is he the type to surrender before those he considers to be inferiors.

By now we know a good deal about the man known as Tyros, who would turn out to be a rebellious herald in Galactus' service and carry out his own agenda, before finally meeting his end as a pawn of Dr. Doom. Here, though, the FF encounter him as a despot, setting himself up as this world's ruler while forcing its populace to live in servile fear; and when they discover that he also possesses mega-strength and energy powers, they know they may have their work cut out for them.

Fortunately, Galactus considers Tyros sufficiently humiliated by the slap on the wrist the FF give him--and from there, writer Marv Wolfman and artist John Byrne do their level best to demonstrate why Terrax the Tamer should now be added to the ranks of those who have served as the herald of Galactus.

One thing perhaps in Terrax's favor is that the list of heralds at this point in time has been limited; and with Gabriel being revealed as a robot, and Firelord for whatever reason not having worked out in the role for the House of Ideas, there are few in that exalted company to compare him to aside from the Surfer. Even so, one could have reservations about how a herald having power over earth and stone would be suited to the task he's been conscripted for. (I suppose one could say the same thing about a fire-lord.) You'd think navigation and speed would be the abilities Galactus would crave in such a being, in addition of course to their commitment to their sole purpose.

Nevertheless, the stage is set--and Galactus himself outlines the grim stakes involved for the world which would seem to be doomed whatever the result of the coming conflict.

While artist Walt Simonson makes a more personal statement as to the FF's involvement in this drama, an extension of their own.

Given what we've seen of Terrax's attitude so far, in addition to how drunk with power he's become with his new status, it's not surprising to see in his arrival on Earth that he and Galactus have a very different idea of how he should approach his role as herald.

As is evident, the effects of the Skrull weapon on the FF members have reached a critical stage. It's unclear how long their return journey to Earth has taken; but since the Skrulls set their "sentence" to be carried out in three days' time, we can only assume that this may well be their last day on Earth--though Wolfman has given Sue curious circumstances as far as being the first to succumb.

(Come on, Reed--unless there's something about you that we don't know, not even Mr. Fantastic can hear a human heartbeat just from carrying the person, even had that person been in perfect health.  And you're certainly not going to hear it when it's faint and almost inaudible.)

As for the Sphinx, even though he's returned to destroy the Earth (there's a lot of that going around, apparently) he indulges in a whim to see his homeland restored to what he considers its former glory--and from the strength he's gained from adding the knowledge absorbed from Xandar's living computers to his own might, he now has the power to accomplish it with ease...

...though I must say that the hovering pyramids were a bit (heh heh) over the top.

But does all of this make the Sphinx a match for Galactus? Terrax doesn't seem to think so; in fact, Terrax appears to be as much in need of humility as he did even after Galactus schooled him on the subject, a task which the Sphinx carries out with dispatch.

But we needn't worry about Terrax bouncing back from the ignominy of being trampled on every time he's threatened someone. Three of those people, who even now race against time to plan for the battle's outcome*, discover that they're still #1 on his hit parade--and with a second FF member succumbing to the Skrull weapon's effect, that leaves the Human Torch to make the Fantastic Four's stand against their foe.

*Why Galactus' controls and equipment on board his ship would easily accommodate human-sized hands is a mystery that may never be solved.

I suppose it's to Terrax's credit that he would later retain his arrogance after having been defeated by nothing but frigidity. On that note, you'd think that someone bred to travel in the void of space would have been able to shrug off a ploy like that, but what do I know.

Meanwhile, the battle outside has reached its end**, with the Sphinx meeting a dismal fate at the hands of Galactus. But with Galactus now an imminent threat to the planet, there is a new arrival to the scene, who will observe the make-or-break gambit of Reed Richards meant to (hopefully) deal with that eventuality.

**The battle between Galactus and the Sphinx has been documented separately in the PPC, where you can also learn more about the Sphinx.

I'm really not sure when Galactus developed the ability to read the minds of those who opposed him--something that would have come in handy on a previous occasion when he needed to gauge the true intent of Reed in a tactic crafted to prevent Earth's destruction.

Nonetheless, a victory here for the Fantastic Four has come moments before its leader, the third member sentenced to death from the Skrull edict, collapses at the scene.

And considering that the Torch is on his own in making the 5,700 mile trip from Egypt to New York City, we shouldn't be too hopeful about Reed lasting long enough to see whether or not his brother-in-law can deliver on his promise. (Hint: he does, thanks to Reed himself, who wasn't as close to death's door as it seemed.)


Big Murr said...

I wonder if this Skrull Aging Ray was developed as part of an arms race defence against the Kree Evolutionary Throwback Ray? (ca Avengers #90)

Jon H said...

In what way was Norrin Radd "from the water"?

Comicsfan said...

Who knows, Murray? It wouldn't have helped any Skrulls affected by the Kree device, since it would only turn a Skrull neanderthal into an old neanderthal--but I imagine the Skrulls could deploy it on a segment of the Kree population as an unmistakable message of "cease and desist."

Jon, you make a fair observation--I suppose we're left to assume that, in the countless worlds Galactus targeted, some of them possibly had recreational coastal surfers that caught his eye. (Er, right before he converted those waters into energy, that is.)

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