BHOC: FANTASTIC FOUR #173

I’m not 100% certain after all this time where I found this issue of FANTASTIC FOUR. I have a gut feeling that it was in a department store or toy store in the Smithhaven Mall, which my family frequented often. Possibly it was a remnant of one of those 3-Bags of comics that were once ubiquitous in those sorts of outlets. But I know that I bought it alone, and I would never have torn open a 3-Bag to get to a single comic–such juvenile vandalism wasn’t in my nature, I was too timid, too afraid of getting caught, to do something like that. Regardless, it filled in another hole in my burgeoning understanding of Marvel’s cosmic-powered quartet. Looking at this cover now, boy that Galactus figure is misshapen in the torso here.

Sadly, this middle issue of this Galactus storyline wasn’t illustrated by George Perez, who had handled the previous chapter. Rather, it was done by John Buscema, the iron storyteller of Marvel whose style would soon after be enshrined in the ultimate comic book how-to book HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY. I had no complaints as a young reader–and Joe Sinnott was in attendance as always to keep the finish of the issue looking sharp.

In typical Marvel fashion, the story picks up where the last one left off: the Thing, having come out on top in his slugfest with Galactus’ current herald the Destroyer found himself face-to-face with the Big G himself. After the obligatory recap of what had gone before, Ben launches himself at Galactus, but is unable to penetrate the giant’s protective force-field. What’s worse for Ben, his oxygen supply within the exo-skeleton he’s wearing to simulate his powers and form as the Thing is beginning to dwindle, so he has to turn away from Galactus and attempt, unsuccessfully, to burrow his way through the artificial asteroid that they are both standing on to get to fresh air.

Before the Thing can expire, Reed is able to stretch out his arm and snatch him back to within the biosphere (and he clandestinely uses only his left arm for this task, his right one having lost its pliability, unbeknownst to the other members of his team.) The High Evolutionary, creator of Counter-Earth, the planet that Galactus intends to consume, attempts to reason with the World-Devourer, one Kirby character to another, but to no avail. Galactus hungers and he must feed. The High Evolutionary vows to protect Counter-Earth with all the power at his command, but Reed Richards offers up another solution.

In the time remaining to them, the Fantastic Four will attempt to seek out another world for Galactus to consume. Unfortunately for them, it’s got to be a populated world, so either they need a planet whose every inhabitant will welcome annihilation, or else they need to condemn a living planet to death. The High Evolutionary is able to locate three prospective worlds within the area that might fit the bill. One of them appears to be an uninhabited rock, so Reed, Ben and Johnny and Gorr the High Evolutionary’s Golden Gorilla, will teleport to those planets to see if they can fit the bill. Sue is left behind with the High Evolutionary because, well, she’s a girl, despite the rationalizations Reed gives her. Reed and company would rather head out with an ape than a woman.

This is the point where the letters page, Baxter Building Bulletins, falls in the issue, which runs only a single letter about the Thing’s latest transformation, the loss of his powers and the exo-skeleton that he’s presently using. It was a fascinating letter to me, because letter-writer Lee Cushing dropped in several quotes from earlier FF stories concerning the Thing’s strength and power. I didn’t know where these quotes all came from, or understand the context of all of them, but they fascinated me.

Reed and Ben teleport to the first of the prospective planets, which turns out to be a world of mechanical life-forms, the planet Mekka. There, Ben runs into his old sparring partner Torgo, whom he had battled years ago in the Skrulls’ slave-pens. Torgo is now the leader of the Mekkan civilization, and of course he doesn’t plan on sacrificing his world to Galactus. What’s more, when Reed and Ben move to depart, Torgo and his guys attack them, concerned that they might in a moment of weakness offer up Mekka to Galactus in order to save Counter-Earth.

Elsewhere, on the second potential planet, the Human Torch and Gorr find themselves in what appears to be a medieval-styled civilization. They rescue a damsel in distress from a dragon before they are cold-cocked from behind by some knights and carried off to a nearby castle. Back at the High Evolutionary’s hollow asteroid, Sue and the H.E. have watched all of this transpire–and the Evolutionary is convinced that he has no other option but to take the battle to Galactus himself. to Be Continued!

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