Ten Years Of Anti-Climax
This week’s FOOM Friday continues my examination of FOOM #13, which was all about Conan the Barbarian.
So why am I writing about The Coming Of Galactus?
It’s all down to a quote in FOOM #13 from Roy Thomas, discussing how he felt Robert E. Howard’s Conan had already peaked before Howard’s untimely death in 1936. In effect, Roy suggested that after a certain point, there’s little sense in telling more tales about a hero:
ROY: The problem is the same thing that happened to the FANTASTIC FOUR in 1965 or 1966, with the coming of Galactus. Once you’ve fought a God, which is basically what Galactus was, how do you go back to the other stuff? And everything since then to me, or almost everything on that book — even good things that came afterwards like the Inhumans — has been ten years of a rather competent anti-climax. There are some strips that just naturally climax at a certain point and anything you do afterward can still be good and saleable and go on forever —
FOOM: But you’ve said what you have to say.
The nature of comic book publishing ensures that the stories will go on, even if it is all anti-climax … but Roy has a point. Have the Fantastic Four broken any genuinely new ground since the Galactus story, or has it all been reboots, re-imaginings, and “fresh takes” on a glorious but fast-fading past?
Did the Fantatic Four jump the cosmic shark in 1966? What do YOU think? Share your thoughts in the comments, below.
Posted on April 4, 2014, in FOOM Friday! and tagged Conan, Fantastic Four, FOOM, Galactus, Roy Thomas. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.
Hmmm, this is a hard one to answer; there have been some great moments for the FF since the first Galactus story (the Namor/Magneto team-up, the Trial of Galactus, Frankie Raye, Shulkie joining, Sue turning into Malice, etc.). On the other hand, most of those things could probably fall under “reboots, re-imaginings and fresh takes”. I guess the question is: If FF had stopped back in 1966, would you miss any of the subsequent stories? I’d definitely miss some of them…others, not so much. But I’d say the stories from the intervening years have added more than they’ve taken away.
Asking if we’d miss the following stories is as good a test as any, and of course we’d all miss something. It’s not like the book fell off a cliff after the Galactus story (although it might have seemed that way to Roy from his late-70s perspective).
Another way to look at it — at what part did the book stop building its foundation? When was the premise played-out? At that point, all that’s left is reboots and reinvention. When I think of the Fantastic Four, I think of a marginally-dysfunctional family that gets into adventures on the edges of time and space. That premise kind of comes to a head in the Galactus story … and I’m not sure much has been added to the foundation of the FF since then. Not much that’s very new, in any case.
I say thee nay!
I’d say Roy Thomas is wrong. But that’s just me…
There’s a Buddhist saying that’s roughly translated as, “First enlightenment, then the laundry”, which might be appropriate here. Sure, the FF may have reached a peak with the Galactus story, but part of hitting a peak is the eventual job of getting back to normal life. And Kirby and Lee did that pretty well. I mean, right after FF #50, issue #51 relates what might be one of the best FF stories ever told: “This Man, This Monster”. Then, not stopping there, Lee and Kirby get down to some serious world building, traveling to Wakanda to meet the Black Panther, then introducing us to Prester John, Blastarr, the Kree, Him, Annihilus, Psycho-Man, the Microverse, the Negative Zone, Ronan the Accuser, the Supreme Intelligence, and on and on. If anything, you might say that the Galactus story (and the Inhumans story before it (and maybe even the Frightful Four story before that)) really opened up the floodgates. Instead of a lack of creativity, there was a flood of it.
If anything, the anticlimax came after Kirby, and later Lee, left the title, because then is when we get rehashing of old stories. Here we get Galactus coming back multiple times, or Doctor Doom plotting yet more revenge, or yet another attack by the Frightful Four. And for this, I’m really looking at that 70s period where writers like Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas didn’t really explore new territory but played with the toys that were already there for them. Maybe Thomas was talking about his own experiences as a writer and editor of the FF, but this was something that hit other titles like Dr. Strange where they tried to mine that original material for all it was worth without really going into new directions.
If you compare it to, say, the Silver Age Flash stories, the Flash had a definite group of rogues they could draw upon with new twists and puzzles they could use against the Flash which the FF didn’t really have. For example, Captain Cold had a schtick and a set of applications for that schtick which made him interesting each time he showed up because he usually didn’t use the same gag each time. However, when the Mole Man showed up, it was rarely with a new twist; he might have a new monster or two, but he didn’t really spark with originality with each appearance. Similarly, when Galactus showed up, he was basically trying one more time to get that luscious cream-filled goodness which was Hostess Tw…, I mean, Earth. But by trying to make Galactus into the FF equivalent of Captain Cold, they kind of take some of his majesty and awesomeness away.
So, yeah, I don’t know. Going back to the original thing about Conan, who knows where Howard might have taken Conan if he hadn’t committed suicide? Maybe we would have seen some serious world-building or maybe it would have been more of the same. I’d like to think, maybe it’d be more of the former.
Thank you for the in-depth and thoughtful reply, Sphinx!
I think you are onto something here … my own knowledge of the FF is limited and I was fuzzy on the book’s chronology, but you’ve made a convincing argument that there was plenty of creative output on the book after Galactus. I expect what Roy was commenting on was that Galactus made for a kind of high-stakes, dramatic peak, after which everything must necessarily feel diminished. It is worth noting the juxtaposition of the personal “This Man, This Monster” right after the very cosmic Galactus story — they couldn’t go any bigger after Galactus, the only direction left was an interior one.
Plotting the history of the FF in terms of “big moments,” then, I think it is indisputable that the FF peaked with Galactus, but maybe big moments isn’t the point. And you may be right that Thomas is criticizing his own tenure on the book.
Love this comment, you are welcome here any time, Sphinx ol’ pal, and if you’d like to guest blog about the FF or any other subject I’ve given short shrift here at LBG, drop me a line!
Paul, thanks for the kind words. I saw this in my email feed and was a bit surprised to see your comments about my comments, mainly because my comments always seem a bit ignored on other sites. Maybe it’s that crazy rush to get their own opinions out that keep readers from a friendly back and forth? I don’t know. Plus, you know, as a dad, there’s a lot of eye-rolling at home whenever I offer an opinion, so there’s that learned behavior that my opinion doesn’t count for much. 😉
I am ALL about the comments here, Sphinx — I have to be, it’s the primary form of compensation for Longbox Graveyard! But even if the blog was throwing off bushels of cash I’d still prize comments above all else. I am deeply flattered to have been favored by an engaged readership that cares to comment on my posts. Comments are always welcome, and encouraged, and I make a genuine effort to respond to them all — not because I want the last word, but because I want to encourage further comment!
So comment away, Sphinx — no eye-rolling here!
In reply to Sphinx Magoo, I bet I know why you (unconsciously or not) associated Captain Cold with the Mole Man!
They went to the same Lens Crafters! Har Har Har!
(I apologize for that)
I always liked Captain Cold, too. A good ol’ fashioned smash n’ grab crook.
The Flash went from him to fighting the Anti-monitor! Geez, give a guy a chance to ramp up, a little.
But it is a major conundrum. Like with Dr. Strange. You’d think after facing the likes of Dormammu, Eternity, and the Living Tribunal, he would wipe the floor with Dracula or Baron Mordo.
Then you got the Celestials. They just keep upping the ante. Batman shoots Darkseid, now he’s gonna worry about the Riddler?
Hey! Let’s leave Mole Man out of this, he’s a personal friend of mine …
Wow! I hadn’t even thought of that about Captain Cold and the Mole Man!
I agree with Sphinx Magoo.
Story wise, the Galactus Trilogy, as innovative and unexpected in both concept and scope as it was, still fits beautifully in the whole development of the core concept of the Fantastic Four family. I mean, surely they weren’t call « Fantastic » without a reason?
At least, during Kirby’s run.
The creative flood had already started previously, it would peak several times with a great surge of power that electrified the book for the better (Galactus) and we didn’t have to wait long before the next peak: the aftermath of the FF encounter with a cosmic god gave us another masterpiece already with «This Man, this Monster».
This time, a mere single issue firmly rooted on the strip promises: down to earth exploration of a family and characters fused in far reach concepts and adventures!
Kirby’s burst of creativity continued to bounce almost frantically from one concept to another for the next couple of years before he went sore at Lee and Marvel. Anticlimax started around 1966, when he decided to withhold from Marvel any new valuable creation. From then on, although Kirby still crafted some interesting issues, the story lines clearly started to stall creatively and dried up until it collapsed for good when Jack left the strip and Marvel altogether.
Without Jack Kirby and despite John Buscema’s illustration skill, Lee’s tenure on the FF never showed anything more than pedestrians, boring rehashes of old FF’s stories and concepts proving that Kirby was the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four.
Interesting that Kirby didn’t go back onto FF when he returned to Marvel in the 1970s. I wonder if that was his decision, or Marvel’s?
When Kirby returned to Marvel, the deal was he would work as editor, writer and penciller on his own books.
Given his personal history with credits at Marvel he would never again accept to work with a “writer”. It was understandable but few things quite ever as sad as Jack not returning to the FF.
… Few things ever made quite as sad as Jack not returning to the FF.
Roy Thomas proposed the book to Kirby for which he intended to be the writer. Jack rightfully refused and I still want to cry.
The stories that Kirby did for Cap and (especially) Black Panther felt a poor fit for those books in that era, but similar stories would have been right at home in the FF. A shame.
You know, I never thought of that. While the Madbomb storyline was a good match for Cap, the Night People and Agron storylines would have been good stories for the FF. Then again, if not for them, Cap would never have met James Coburn-lookalike Texas Jack Muldoon! 🙂
I think Kirby was most interested in cosmic stories, science fiction, secret societies … and those things most naturally fit with the anything-goes nature of the Fantastic Four. Jimmy Olsen, not so much (not that it stopped the King!)
Makes sense. Kirby wanted to be his own boss during that 1970s return.
Rather than wanting to be his own boss, Jack probably tried to avoid falling in the same trap again where a writer could steal credit from him.
Well first, Roy’s comment about good things coming from the Inhumans AFTER Galactus would seem to be a little out of order. As I recall, the Inhumans saga begins in FF #44-48, then pauses for the Galactus trilogy #48-50, and continues as a subplot only through the following year, #51-63… but I wouldn’t say that Stan or Jack had said everything they wanted to say with Galactus. He’s a tough act to follow, but they did it admirably with the Changling one-shot, the Black Panther, the Klaw trilogy, and then the Kree introduction. But it’s pretty clear that Jack started holding back after FF #67, letting stan suggest rewrites of earlier plots, and THAT’s when the luster started to fall off rose… so to speak. Oh, there are some glimmers of Jack’s twinkle… in #73-74, 90-93 and #94, but he was just phoning it in after that.
Pingback: The Core of the Four | Longbox Graveyard
Pingback: “F” Is For … | Longbox Graveyard