The big bin of slightly-older comics at my local drug store chain continued to toss up additional treasures as the summer went on, often ones older and older than the ones that had preceded it. So the next issue of FANTASTIC FOUR I found therein was this one, the oldest I’d yet encountered. That’s a pretty strong cover, although somebody felt strongly enough about the need for that top burst that they took the four circle-heads off of the logo and shifted FOUR to the right in order to make space for it–and it still looks as though the type is crooked.
These early FANTASTIC FOUR purchases really did feel as though i was peeling back the layers of an onion to learn all of the secrets held within. I had heard something of Galactus in the recaps in future issues and on the letters pages of those issues, but I didn’t quite have the context for him. So this would have been my first true encounter with Kirby and Lee’s most cosmic creation. And it all started with a talking golden gorilla.
From what I could gather, the FF had battled Gorr in the preceding issue and captured him. But now he revealed that he could speak, and that he had come to warn them of the menace of Galactus. But before the FF can get the full lowdown (though they do spend two pages recapping the previous issue) Gorr breaks free, fights his way past all four members of the FF, and takes off in their stolen Fantasti-Car. Seems like a self-defeating course of action for somebody who wants the FF’s help, but what do I know?
The team pursues Gorr in their older Fantasti-Car, the one that resembled a flying bathtub, chasing him back to where his ship had crash-landed. They follow him into the ship, only to be caught by surprise when the thing takes off. Reed realizes that they’ve been lured to the place like suckers–and seconds later, Gorr appears, now wearing futuristic garb, to tell his story to them. He’s actually a New Man, one of the High Evolutionary’s creations from Counter-Earth on the other side of the sun. This rundown of the backstory was new to me, but having read a million Earth-2 stories, I followed the sense of it instantly.
The upshot is that the Asgardian Destroyer, who now contained a portion of Galactus’ own essence and was functioning as his herald, seeking out new planets for its master to consume, had located Counter-Earth. The High Evolutionary was attempting to hold off the Destroyer, but he needed help from the only human beings who had ever driven Galactus away–the FF. Because the Thing isn’t himself at the moment–he had lost his powers and was instead wearing a suit of Thing armor that Reed had designed for him–he could venture forth out into the void and engage the Destroyer ahead of the others.
And so we move into a couple pages where the Thing and the Destroyer have a big ol’ fight. This was very much the pattern in the Marvel books of the day–the fights tended to be pretty interchangable but they were also often the whole of the plot. Here at least, George Perez and Joe Sinnott make everything look good (this is a very nice looking issue all throughout, actually) but exactly why the Thing is fighting the Destroyer is unclear–he’s already sent the signal that will summon Galactus, and nothing Ben does here is going to change that.
Ultimately, the Thing does wind up kayoing the Destroyer–or so it seems for a moment. What’s actually happened is that Galactus has removed that small part of his essence from the Destroyer, needing his services no further at the moment. And we get our first real glimpse of Galactus is a wide spread shot, emphasizing his colossal stature, as he declares that Counter-Earth is doomed! To Be Continued!