Sunday, March 27, 2016

Easter Sunday - The Saga Of The Silver Surfer!

The grand finale of the Galactus Trilogy coincides with the fabulous fiftieth issue of the Fantastic Four. It is an issue filled with spectacle, drama, and terror, but also with the shining embers of stories yet to be told. It is in many ways like life itself, not conveniently an ending nor a beginning, but merely another part of a great and vast saga.

"The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer"  by Lee, Kirby, Sinnott and Rosen begins with the Surfer himself confronting his master, the great and powerful Galactus who prepares to drain the energy of the entire planet Earth so that he might continue to live.

The confrontation comes swiftly as the Silver Surfer presses his attack on his former Master, using the power bestowed upon him to imprison Galactus himself inside a cocoon of hardened energy. Ben Grimm and Reed Richards are fascinated by this power and the Thing unwisely touches the paradoxical cocoon just before it begins to splinter and shatter, the energy erupting outward in all directions. Galactus emerges unscathed and the Surfer's further attacks bounce harmlessly against his defensive "Absorba shields".

Then Galactus counter-attacks, but the Surfer is able to dodge the bolts with relative ease. The two battle while the Watcher and the Fab 4 watch. The Watcher though at the same time is guiding the Human Torch home as he must return from beyond the limits of time and space, past deadly bands of "Un-Life". Johnny Storm returns from his mission to the home of Galactus with a weapon capable of defeating the awesome figure from outer space. But his trip has been too much and he collapses, the memories fading even as tries to fathom what he has seen. The Watcher puts the new weapon in Reed's hands and instructs him how to use it.

Meanwhile the Silver Surfer and Galactus continue to battle, as Galactus turns his efforts against the city itself in an attempt to draw off the Surfer's attack. Suddenly though Mr. Fantastic appears and confronts Galactus with the "Ultimate Nullifier" and immediately Galactus concedes knowing that the Watcher has helped the humans of Earth turn back his threat.

Bearing no grudge, but giving into the new reality he promises to not drain Earth of its energy and having given his word the Watcher announces that the threat is over because the word of Galactus is truth itself. But Galactus does take hold of the Nullifier and also removes from his former herald, the Silver Surfer, the ability to soar through space.

Then in a magnifcent show of ultimate power Galactus teleports away taking with him all his instrumentality and leaving only the Silver Surfer behind as evidence that he had ever been on Earth at all.

The Silver Surfer seeks to bond with the Thing but the sudden appearance of Alicia Masters and her interest in the Surfer causes Ben Grimm to grow jealous and he leaves quietly misunderstanding the connection between his girl and the Surfer. The Silver Surfer then leaves the Baxter Building, flying into the sky to explore the world he has risked all to save.

The world at large debates the threat of Galactus, many dismissing it as a hoax. Also reading of the victory of the Fantastic Four is a mysterious bald man who threatens to destroy the team in the future. The scene shifts to Metro College where Coach Sam Thorne has trouble with his ace player Whitey Mullins. At the Baxter Building Reed Richards has already begun his next project much to the chagrin of his wife Sue who feels ignored. On the streets of NYC the Thing roams despondent, still sulking about the imagined loss of Alicia.

Again at Metro College Johnny Storm drives onto campus for his first days of college and meets Wyatt Wingfoot. The two are seen by the Dean and given advice about how to approach their studies, but Johnny's mind wanders to his great journey into the space and time and he misses the words of wisdom. He and his new friend Wyatt head off their new room and a new life as the story closes.

And so ends arguably the finest story in the whole wide history of the Marvel Universe. It seems somehow so small nowadays, a mere three issues (and not all of two of those) but this story was the apex of the storytelling done by the dynamic team of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the high point of a run of comics stories which have never been equaled in the long history of the medium. With the coming of Galactus the Fab 4 confronted the end times and in classic superhero fashion overcame by dint of their unflagging courage and sheer will.

(Galactus returned in the 1967 FF Annual, if only in this mega-group pose.)
Of course it required  the cosmic intervention of the godlike Watcher to guide them to the "Deus Ex Machina" solution but it was the exceedingly "Human" Torch who made the epic journey beyond the stars and the imagination, to find it and bring the celestial gift home to be used by the wisest man on the planet. It was the gentle and kind heart of Alicia Masters, a woman who sees beyond the skin to the inner recesses of the heart of others who kindled in the Surfer a kinship with humanity and made of him the Savior for the entire planet. He came to Earth a god, but became a man and through that transformation changed how his Creator interacted with the planet and its people. By his sacrifice, he exacted from his Creator a new covenant with mankind for peace in our times.

This epic story has been reprinted many many times. I've been featuring the Marvel's Greatest Comics covers which were the source of the first time I ran across this epic in comic book form. Here are a couple more great covers of collections which featured the story.

The first time though that I ran across this truly fantastic tale was not in comic book form. It was an episode of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series starring the Fantastic Four. Take a gander at Alex Toth's design of Galactus for that episode. 

The story has been adapted in later cartoons and even was the source for the second Fantastic Four movie. But as much as Marvel would love for it to be so, there will never be a story which packs the punch and pure majesty of this classic epic, the greatest story ever told in the comic book which dubbed itself (and for a time correctly) "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine".

And that wraps up this special holiday look at a great comic book story, one at least as appropriate for the time as any yarn about an egg-hiding rabbit.

Something different tomorrow.

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