Hey Folks! Andy Larson back again with another trip down that comic book golden road to some overlooked series from yesteryear.
And with today’s entry, I gotta admit up front that I’m doing it on the cheap. Cheap trades that is. I mean there’s nothing better than finding a solid trade paperback of an entire run of a particular book on the shelves of some discount or bargain basement store for three dollars or less. That’s practically demanding to get purchased and be added to the collection of comics I may or may not read at some point when I’m bored.
Of course, I do also have somewhat discriminating tastes after some 40 years of having comic book junk shoveled down my throat so price alone won’t often make me pull that trigger. It has to be the right combination of interesting characters, possible writing and/or artist team, and that low buy in cost to make my hair stand on end. Therefore I thought I had hit pay dirt when I found today’s book languishing in a big pile of other discarded overstocks at a local Ollie’s Discount Store earlier this year.
I mean it has the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, Galactus…all great characters. It has Louise Simonson with the writing duties and a dream team of John Buscema on pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz on inks. Plus after some discounts and coupons, the book rang up at the cash register for $1.97. That’s a six issue trade, folks! For little more than the price of a McChicken sandwich!
But as my Grandma used to say, it’s not always about the cost, but also the cut of the beef you should be after. So did this bargain basement find deliver a massive bang for its minuscule buck? Let’s read on and see…
10 Cent Synopsis:
Galactus has gone crazy! WITH HUNGER! In the time since we last saw our favorite purple antler wearing space giant he has gone a full on menace to the cosmos as he no longer plays a part in maintaining the cosmic balance by indiscriminately destroying random worlds so that new ones can take its place. No, like a depressed sad sack with an eating disorder, he’s evolved into full on constant grazing, devouring world after world in a haphazard way leaving them partial barren wastelands.
Furthermore, he’s been showing much more malice in his intentions refusing to feed on just any old world, but specifically on just those that have evolved life forms that fully understand that he’s going to swallow them whole.
Into the madness comes Galactus’ old herald, the Silver Surfer, who reluctantly agrees to herald for him again in order to in part spare Earth from his wrath but hopefully get his former master back to his “normal” self and as a result spare countless other inhabited worlds from his menace.
After it becomes clear that Galactus will not be turned from his current destructive ways, the Surfer joins forces with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and the entire Sh’ir space empire in one final attempt to end the Galactus threat once and for all in the universe.
Galactus has always been a super interesting contradiction for me in regards to the Marvel Universe. If you honestly think about it, the guy is definitely a baddie. I mean, he eats planets. Consciously snuffing out all life that took millions or billions of years to develop in a matter of moments. Yet throughout his history at Marvel, he’s often portrayed as a being either beyond the traditional morality of good vs. evil or in some cases, he’s even viewed somewhat benevolently, like a cosmic garbage man, freeing up the universe of unnecessary waste.
No better example of this can be found in the Marvel canon than in the Fantastic Four issue #262 aka “The Trial of Reed Richards”, which if you want to read today’s particular book I would highly recommend reading first given in someways this is a sequel to that.
In “Trial”, basically the supreme cosmic entity Eternity interferes with Sh’ir court martial of Mr. Fantastic over his decision to save Galactus’ life in an earlier story. Their argument being pretty much what I said above that Galactus is a planet chomping menace, but Eternity contends that Galactus is more of a force of balance necessary for the maintenance of the entire universal ecosystem.
In Galactus the Devourer, that entire previous concept is basically thrown out the window. Sure, it’s done in a way that most of the characters that know best from the Silver Surfer to Mr. Fantastic struggle with the fact that their preconceived notion of what Galactus was has been so shattered by his recent actions. Indeed, the whole book paints a very different picture of Galactus to the point where we wonder if he’s not suffering from some galactic mental or physical illness.
His 180 turn from being a neutral indiscriminate creature that fed on whatever planet was handy to one that must ingest only those planets that have intelligent evolved life forms that have full knowledge of the destruction his is unleashing is very dramatic indeed. It’s like Louise Simonson was very intentionally drawing a line in the sand and saying: “Remember that Galactus guy and how you didn’t think he was too bad? Sorry, he’s changed. He’s a complete wanker now”.
And again the first impression of all that from that change is similar to what Silver Surfer thinks which is that there must be some mistake. Galactus is purposely doing things now which are self destructive and cruel. Not really the behavior of someone that’s supposed to a cosmic level force of nature. It’s like if a tornado started yelling obscenities at you why it was plowing through your house. It would be hard to not take that personally. So it’s no wonder that the real focus of this entire story is the long painful realization of Galactus’ best friend, Silver Surfer, that like a dog with rabies, Galactus’ needs to be put down.
So if nothing else, fans of the long standing Marvel continuity show read this story because it gives us a version of Galactus at his absolute worst, and how that descent into madness which evidently can even happen to cosmic beings impacts those loved ones around them in dramatic and often irreconcilable ways.
As a final thought on this too, a couple weeks back, we had John on our podcast from Pint O’ Comics and during a game of mash ups, he had the task of merging Aqua Man and Galactus together. He came up with a complete tool bag version of Galactus that would suck up the world’s oceans with a giant bendy straw leaving planets to die horribly slow deaths instead of instant destruction. I now wonder if he had read Galactus the Devourer at some point given the similarities to the way the character is portrayed in this book. Probably not, but it was super cool that great minds do think alike!
I will say while reading some of the issues of this trade, it did remind me of another great comic book from my youth that I must have read cover to cover at least 10-15 times. First released in the summer of 1992, this classic issue of “What If” volume 2 is an epic reimagining of the first time that Galactus decided to try to nom on our planet.
However, unlike the real 616 timeline, the premise of that classic story changes from the start with the untimely death of the Fantastic Four via a crashed rocket ship explosion rather than them receiving superpowers. From there things logically snowballs as without the FF, Namor wouldn’t be found in the Bowery slums, and ultimately no Captain America being freed from the ice.
However, not all events were impacted as the Avengers core members such as Iron Man, Thor, Hank Pym, and Janet Van Dyne would still get together to form Earth’s Mightiest. Thus when Galactus and Silver Surfer come to call, it’s the Avengers that stand tall instead of Reed Richards and his gang.
Ultimately, what results is an “all hands on deck” moment for the Avengers with all of their past and present members coming together to convince the Surfer he should rebel against his master and fight for the Earth. Not only that but the other classic cosmic being, The Watcher, becomes increasing involved shirking his “non inference” pledge more and more as the story unfolds to the point of…well…let’s just say you have to read it to believe it.
Bought written and drawn by the great Jim Valentino, in a perfect homage to the classic silver age style of the original Lee/Kirby books, it really is an insanely good self contained 1 issue story which both pays respect to the types of stories that put Marvel on the map in the first place while providing some necessary little tweaks to keep things fresh and interesting.
Honestly, if you have never picked up this story, you owe yourself to do it. I know that sometimes great tales can get lost among the mucky muck of those What If volumes, but this is a diamond among all that rough you should root through a dollar box or two at your local comic shop in search of.
So this book is somewhat of a mixed bag when it comes down to it. I’m not going to sugar coat this at all that the first 2 issues of the series with Silver Surfer on Earth shacking up with long time Ben Grimm babe, Alicia Masters, and his battle with Galactus’ new herald in the shirtless Red Shift, were just plain awful. I was on the struggle bus to finish those issues as I absolutely failed to see the point of them, especially once the real purpose of the narrative came across. Unfortunately for the reader that doesn’t really happen until half way through book 3 and into book 4 with the Surfer’s decision to become Galactus’ herald again.
But I will say that once the core idea of telling a story about how Galactus was indeed no longer “right in the head” and his best buddy, Surfer, had to unify the forces of Earth and the Sh’ir to end his reign of terror was very interesting indeed. In fact, it’s somewhat sad that this book isn’t still the recognized “Death of Galactus”, because portions of the way it was told were extremely gripping including the notion that Galactus had created the Surfer in the first place because he saw in himself the potential to go “bad” and wanted to have someone around to end things if he went over the line. Sort of like an insurance policy of sorts in case Galactus became the complete douche he was in this story.
Of course, there are some not so great parts in those final couple of issues, including the meaningless subplot surrounding Surfer and Alicia Master’s romantic inclinations and everything involving the Avengers role in the events as they were pretty much there for fancy window dressing. Plus, the Surfer is portrayed in that over-dramatic sanctimonious, “holier than thou” attitude at times, which can be quite unbearable to read at moments with all the unnecessary pomp and circumstance.
But all of those bad things is balanced out by some wonderful art by Buscema and Sienkiewicz which is everything you want from a story like this. If I said it once, I’ll say it a thousand times, you give me a truck load of John Buscema books in which was allowed to get overly dramatic in terms of scale and scope, and I’ll show you a man that would never have to read anything else. The guy was built to drawn stories like this, with all that intergalactic fantasy fueled near dreamlike vision. It reminds me so much of his work with Stan Lee on the original Silver Surfer run in the 60s, that it immediately made me pick up the issues that I had and give them a good re-read (might be an upcoming read pile…stay tuned.)
Plus, although you might not think Sienkiewicz inks over that would work given they have somewhat contrasting styles, for me it added an extra element that set this book apart from the traditional Buscema books I was used to. I don’t know if I could take this is regular doses, but as a change of pace, it really did give the book a unique look which I enjoyed thoroughly.
In the end though, I can’t give it higher than an average grade. It’s got some interesting concepts out after you get out of the dregs of those first 2 and a half issues, especially as a study of an emotional breakdown of a long standing friendship like the one between Surfer and Galactus. But there’s just too much other filler stuff that tends to just get in the way of that kernel of truth that we can all connect with in terms of when good folks start to go bad. If this was a 4 parter instead of 6, I think it would have been a much more tight and cohesive story personally.