Fantastic Four 49
“If This Be Doomsday!”
Published: Jan. 1966
Story: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letters: Sam Rosen
Cover: Kirby and Sinnott
Fantastic Four 49 picks up where issue 48 left off, after Galactus makes his entrance, intent on draining earth of its energies. The Watcher urges Galactus to reconsider, and the FF confront him, but to no avail and he begins assembling his earth-energy-sucking machine on top of the Baxter Building.
Meanwhile, the Silver Surfer, reeling from his fight with the Thing, landed on the roof of Alicia Masters’ building. She nurses him back to health and begins to awaken him to the possibility earth might be worth saving.
After regrouping, the Fantastic Four again engage Galactus, save for Johnny, whom the Watcher singles out for a mission. As the rest of the team fight the Punisher, a creature Galactus dispatches to deal with vermin, Johnny travels through space and time to arrive at Galactus’s enormous space station.
Back on earth, as Galactus prepares to drain the earth’s energies, Alicia appeals to the Silver Surfer’s lost humanity and convinces him to confront Galactus to save the earth. The issue ends with the Watcher warning the reader that the Surfer may disrupt his own plans and doom the earth.
What’s going on here?
FF 49 is everything you want a Fantastic Four comic to be. It’s arguably the high point of the Lee/ Kirby partnership, and showcases both at the peak of their powers (aided significantly by Joe Sinnott’s inks, of course). In Galactus, Stan finally has an antagonist worthy of his bombast and grandiosity. After years of trying to convince us Diablo or the Thinker were threats to humanity, In Galactus Stan has a villain that lives up to his over-wrought writing. And in the Surfer, he has an alien hero who can philosophize while speaking in the lofty, faux-Shakespearian tones Stan loves so much.
Kirby rises to the occasion too. The story’s huge sweep and cosmic overtones gives him the freedom to produce amazing character designs for Galactus and the Punisher, an eye-popping panel of Galactus’s space station—it’s so big that planets orbit it—and stunning visual effects of Johnny confronting Galactus and traveling through space.
The whole story just feels big—big in its scope, big in its stakes, and big in its ambition
Who is this guy?
While Galactus technically made his first appearance last issue, this is really his debut. We don’t yet get the full story (more on his origin in a bit) but we get the basics, and the basics are more than enough: He’s a cosmic being of incredible power who is sustained by draining planets of their essence. Interestingly, while he has appeared in countless comics over the years, unlike other characters, he has changed very little. His costume design has remained essentially the same, and while his role in the Marvel universe has been explained and put into context, he acts pretty much as he does in his first appearance: traveling the universe looking for planets to consume.
The traditional account of Galactus’s invention is that Stan, searching for a story idea, said “let’s have them fight god.” Mark Evanier, in his biography Kirby: King of Comics, disputes that narrative and instead offers two alternative ideas. One is that Jack wanted to upend the conventional science fiction idea that if aliens arrived, they would engage with humans and exchange technology. What if they didn’t care about humans? Jack wondered, according to Evanier. What if they just wanted to eat our planet? The other idea reflects Kirby’s growing disillusionment with Marvel and the business of comics. In this interpretation, Galactus is a hostile company buying up smaller firms and draining them dry. (In the letters pages, readers projected a Vietnam metaphor on the story, with Galactus acting as hostile communist forces and the Silver Surfer as the US coming to the rescue of South Vietnam).
Galactus’s origin is relatively uncomplicated. In the original telling, revealed in a back-up story by Stan and Jack in Thor 169, Galactus was originally Galan, a citizen of an advanced planet called Taa. The planet is facing extinction by a plague, so Galan and three others decide to die as explorers and head into Taa’s sun. Galan survives and is eventually transformed into Galactus (as Brian Cronin notes in his Comics Should Be Good blog, this sounds like a mash-up of Superman and the FF’s origins.)
A few decades later, Marvel editor Mark Gruenwald decided to revamp Galactus’s origins. Instead of merely the last survivor of a planet, he became the last survivor of a universe, and he emerged from the Big Bang. Gruenwald basically took the Stan and Jack story, wrote over some of it with some new pages by John Byrne and Ron Wilson, and republished it in 1983 as Super-Villain Classics 1. Here are some relevant pages:
The notable thing about this origin is that establishes Galactus as a cosmic entity, a force of nature and not merely a villain, despite the destruction he causes. That tension became a major storyline during Byrne’s FF run, when Reed Richards begs Galactus to spare earth in FF 243, and Galactus basically says, “nothing personal, it’s just business.”
Reed, with the help of the Avengers, then saves Galactus’s life in FF 244, arguing they had a moral responsibility to prevent the death of a living thing.
Noble as it was, that decision didn’t sit well with the survivors of the worlds Galactus destroyed, and in FF 262 Reed is summoned to be tried for his crime of saving Galactus. Through Reed, Byrne makes the case of Galactus’s importance in the universe:
There’s a lot more to it, but it serves to anchor Galactus as a unique force in the Marvel universe. On a personal note, FF 262 was the third FF comic I ever read. My 12-year-old mind was blown.
About that outfit
In his first appearance, Kirby has Galactus wearing shorts with a big G on his chest:
Fortunately, he soon put on long pants and got rid of the G, but his appearance, with the elaborate headgear has remained pretty much the same ever since. Yet despite its visual appeal, it’s not obvious why he’s dressed that way, given that he is a cosmic force and not a run-of-the-mill bad guy. The Lee / Kirby origin in Thor provides one answer: He was given that outfit by a Watcher, who witnessed his emergence from his incubator and created “a unique body-suit which would help him regulate his awesome energies.”
Later, Byrne in FF 262, suggests only humans see Galactus as humanoid, and that he appears to other alien races in whatever form they take (I never much liked this explanation, since he’s never depicted as anything other than humanoid, and it makes more sense to me that he’s human-like because Galan of Taa was also human-like). It’s a pretty cool page though.
Whaddya mean there’s another Punisher?
That sounds familiar
On his cosmic voyage, the Human Torch passed through “celestial barriers known as un-life” which sounds a lot like ‘anti-life,” a concept that became a big part of the Fourth World mythos Jack created at DC about five years later.
About that vow
On several occasions the Watcher references his vow not to interfere in human affairs while busily interfering in human affairs
Prime real estate
A few issues ago, Dragon Man crashed into Alicia’s apartment while fighting Ben and Johnny. Now, the Silver Surfer just happens to land on her roof.
It’s clobberin’ time
One of the more ineffective attempts to clobber from Ben
Dig that Kirby Krackle
There’s a lot to choose from in this issue, but here are a few stand-out pages and panels, starting with the amazing splash page:
A very cool sequence:
And another amazing page:
Next issue: The conclusion of the Galactus trilogy!
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