Welcome to the latest (and last?) edition of Super Blog Team Up. My fellow contributors and I will be looking at various death-themed comic book topics, both literal or figurative.
In late 1999, Marvel Comics published the six issue miniseries Galactus the Devourer, written by Louise Simonson, penciled by Jon J. Muth & John Buscema, and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. The miniseries culminated with the stunning demise of Galactus.
Galactus and his herald the Silver Surfer were introduced in 1966 in Fantastic Four #48-50 by the superstar team of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott. Galactus was akin to a sentient force of nature, a god-like being who consumed the molten cores of planets for sustenance. Finding these worlds for Galactus was the sleek Silver Surfer. Whenever he could the Surfer would lead Galactus to lifeless or primitive planets, but from time to time Galactus would end up feeding upon a world occupied by sentient beings, resulting in their deaths.
Eventually the Surfer led Galactus to Earth. The blind sculptress Alicia Masters encountered the Surfer, and sensed nobility within him. Stirring the Surfer’s long-suppressed emotions, Alicia inspired the Surfer to rebel against his master. Eventually, with the help of both the Surfer and the cosmic observer known as the Watcher, the Fantastic Four were able to drive off Galactus. Before departing, though, Galactus imprisoned the Surfer on Earth
After several years the Silver Surfer finally escaped his exile, and was once again free to roam the stars. Eventually he returned to Earth, where he found Alicia mourning the apparent deaths of the Fantastic Four. The Surfer and Alicia fell in love.
As the first issue of Galactus the Devourer opens, the Surfer and Alicia are still together. The Fantastic Four have recently returned. Ben Grimm, the Thing, is perturbed to see Alicia, his longtime girlfriend, in the Surfer’s arms, but is doing his best to respect her decision. And then Galactus comes a-calling.
The devourer of worlds has gone mad. No longer desiring the energies of planets, he is deliberately seeking out worlds occupied by sentient beings, consuming their very life forces. In a short time billions have already died, and Galactus’ now-insatiable hunger leaves many fearing that all life in the universe will soon be extinct.
Galactus is a character who was undoubtedly impressive and awe-inspiring when first introduced in 1966. However, over the next three and a half decades he was brought back repeatedly, and much of his mystique diminished. In her miniseries Simonson restores much of the grandeur and menace to Galactus, once again showing him as an unstoppable, unrelenting force.
Simonson also uses this miniseries to examine the consequences of an earlier storyline from Fantastic Four by John Byrne, where a dying Galactus was saved by Reed Richards. Subsequently the restored devourer consumed the Skrull home world. Richards was placed on trial for genocide by a galactic tribunal headed up by Lilandra, former ruler of the Shi’ar Empire. Reed was eventually found not guilty after Eternity, the personification of the universe himself, demonstrated that Galactus had a vital role to play in the existence of reality itself.
Now in the present, with Galactus out of control, destroying planets by the score, thoughts inevitably turn back to those earlier events, with several people wondering if Reed Richards should have let Galactus die after all. Richards himself, although seemingly not regretting his earlier actions, nevertheless devotes himself fully to finding a way to stopping Galactus, even if it means the devourer’s demise.
Unfortunately the Fantastic Four and the Avengers are unable to even hold back the maddened Galactus. The Silver Surfer is forced to make a truly Faustian bargain: he must once again serve as Galactus’ herald, leading him to other inhabited worlds in order to guarantee Earth’s safety.
Searching for an alternative source of sustenance, the Surfer encounters his one-time love Mantis, who he has not seen in several years. The pair tries to divert Galactus to a planet rich in primitive animal life, but Galactus angrily rejects this option, instead consuming a world the Surfer attempted to hide, one inhabited by gentle telepathic plant beings. Mantis sadly announces that as long as the Surfer serves Galactus she must consider him an enemy, and departs to warn the rest of the universe.
The Surfer himself is forced to admit that he has absolutely no hope of reasoning with the insane Galactus, or even of directing him towards less-developed worlds. Desperate, the Surfer leads his master towards the home world of the Shi’ar, hoping that the most powerful, advanced space civilization in the known universe will find a way to destroy the devourer. He finds the Shi’ar expecting him, having been forewarned by Mantis, and is forced to fight his way to the capital. At last he is able to convince Lilandra, who has once again been restored to the Shi’ar throne, to accept his help.
Alicia, who previously acquired a suit of alien armor, has been trailing the Surfer. Witnessing all of these events, Alicia returns to Earth, informing the FF and Avengers of what has taken place. The two teams rocket off to the Shi’ar Empire, with Reed Richards continuing work on a plan he has formulated to stop Galactus. Lilandra is skeptical that Richards, the man who once saved Galactus, will now help to stop him. Desperation, however, wins out, and Lilandra places her forces at the Earth scientist’s disposal.
Richards directs both the FF and Avengers, not to mention the entirety of the Shi’ar military, to attack the approaching Galactus. Not even this is enough to defeat the immensely powerful Galactus, with the alliance barely managing to hold him at bay.
In fact, Reed knew that there was little hope of defeating Galactus by force. The attack is a distraction that enables the Surfer to penetrate Galactus’ immense World-Ship with a device constructed by Richards. The device reprograms the World-Ship’s systems. Whereas once the World-Ship systems converted the molten cores of planets into energy that Galactus could feed on, now the Surfer is able to turn those systems onto Galactus himself.
The dying Galactus is momentarily restored to sanity and sadly addresses his former herald. Galactus admits that he foresaw that one day he would go mad and lose all control of his hunger. One of the reasons why Galactus created the Silver Surfer was because he recognized that when the time came the Surfer would possess the nobility, the power and the knowledge to find a way to stop the devourer of worlds. Galactus now warns that something else is coming, “a greater horror” that threatens the universe. With that last pronouncement Galactus is transformed into pure energy, forming into a new star.
Later, on the Shi’ar home world, amidst the celebrations, both the Silver Surfer and Reed Richards cannot hide their concerns. If Galactus did indeed have a purpose integral to existence, then what will the universe become without him?
In an interview given at the time the Galactus the Devourer miniseries was released, Louise Simonson revealed that she had definite plans for a follow-up story, one which would explore what exactly was Galactus’ crucial role in the cosmic scheme of things. It would also reveal the menace that had driven Galactus mad. Regrettably she did not have the opportunity to write this follow-up miniseries.
Eventually, two years later in the pages of the regular Fantastic Four series, another writer explored these questions, and Galactus was restored to life to defeat the “greater horror” that he prophesized.
Even though Galactus’ demise was temporary (and, really, no one ever stays dead forever in the Marvel universe) the miniseries by Simonson remains powerful. It is a wonderfully epic cosmic saga that also contains many intimate moments of characterization, especially in the exploration of the relationship between the Surfer and Alicia.
Galactus the Devourer is also effective in its compactness. Simonson’s story is ambitious and sweeping, but it is told in full within the six issue miniseries. No tie-in books or decompression; just a self-contained, complete story. Marvel really could use a lot more “events” like this, rather than the bloated company-wide crossovers that have predominated in the two decades.
The artwork on the miniseries is outstanding. The majority of Jon J. Muth’s work in the comic book biz has been on fantasy and horror titles; this is one of his rare forays into superheroes. His work on the first chapter looks much different from “mainstream” Marvel comics, giving the opening of the storyline a haunting, eerie tone.
The remainder of the miniseries was laid out / penciled by longtime Marvel artist John Buscema, who was a superb storyteller. Buscema commented on more than one occasion that he disliked drawing superheroes, but he undoubtedly was great at it. In the late 1960s he did awe-inspiring pencils on the first ongoing Silver Surfer title, rendering wondrous space opera and horror material. Over the next three decades Buscema would return to character from time to time, always doing great work.
I believe Galactus the Devourer was Buscema’s last time drawing the Silver Surfer before the legendary artist passed away in January 2002. His work here is wonderful and breathtaking. The final issue is stunning, with the Fantastic Four, Avengers, Silver Surfer, Mantis, Lilandra, Gladiator, the Starjammers, and the entire Shi’ar Starfleet in desperate battle against Galactus.
(At first I was surprised that the Shi’ar Imperial Guard didn’t participate in the battle, but it then occurred to me that Buscema probably, and quite understandably, balked at drawing another two dozen costumed aliens in addition to the army of characters he had already been given!)
Of course I also enjoyed Buscema’s depiction of Mantis, one of my all time favorite characters. He drew her on a couple of occasions in the past, and always rendered her as an alluring figure.
The talented Bill Sienkiewicz provides inks / finishes for the entire miniseries. His work is wonderfully atmospheric and expressionistic. I love the collaboration between Buscema and Sienkiewicz. Buscema embodied the traditional house style of Marvel in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, whereas Sienkiewicz was responsible for some of the most experimental, groundbreaking artwork published by Marvel in the 1980s. The blending of these two distinct talents resulted in incredibly striking, effective art.
Nearly two decades after its original publication, Galactus the Devourer remains an effective, enjoyable story with stunning artwork.
I hope everyone will take the time to read the other contributors to The Death of Super Blog Team Up. Here is the full roster. Enjoy!