Retro Review: Galactus the Devourer by Simonson, Buscema, Sienkiewicz, and Muth

Galactus the Devourer #1-6   (September 1999 – March 2000)

Written by Louise Simonson

Penciled by Jon J Muth (#1), John Buscema (#2-6

Inked by Bill Sienkiewicz 

Coloured by Christie Scheele

Spoilers (from twenty-two to twenty-three years ago)

The Silver Surfer’s long-running title ended in 1998, but the last issue announced a twelve-part series coming soon by Louise Simonson and Jon J Muth, that was going to continue the Surfer’s story and wrap up a dangling plotline from JM DeMatteis’s run.  When the book did emerge almost a year later, it was stripped down to six issues, and Muth only drew the first one.

I have no idea what the decision process was at Marvel around this, or if the intent was always to put Galactus’s name on the cover instead of the Surfer’s, but I’ve long admired Simonson’s writing, and figured it would be worth spending another week on the Surfer, and writing one last column.

I don’t have any memory of seeing this book on the stands or ever noticing it since then, so I’m coming into this with few preconceived notions (other than the knowledge that there’s usually a reason why I haven’t heard of a comic before).

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Heroes

  • Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd; #1-6)
  • Alicia Masters (#1-6)
  • The Thing (Ben Grimm, Fantastic Four; #1- 6)
  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards, Fantastic Four; #1-6)
  • Human Torch (Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four; #1-6)
  • Invisible Woman (Sue Richards, Fantastic Four; #1-6)
  • Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff, Avengers; #1-6)
  • Vision (Avengers; #1-3, 5-6)
  • Thor (Avengers; #1-6)
  • Wonder Man (Simon Williams, Avengers; #1-6)
  • Iron Man (Tony Stark, Avengers; #1-6)
  • Captain America (Steve Rogers, Avengers; #1 -6)
  • Justice (Vance Astrovik, Avengers; #1-2)
  • Firestar (Angelica Jones, Avengers; #1-3, 5-6)
  • Spider-Man (Peter Parker; #2-4)
  • Mantis (#4, 6)
  • Raza (Starjammers; #5-6)
  • Ch’od (Starjammers; #5-6)
  • Corsair (Nathan Summers, Starjammers; #5-
  • Sikorsky (Starjammers; #5)
  • Hepzibah (Starjammers; #5-6)
  • Guardian (Imperial Guard; #5-6)

Villains

  • Galactus (#1-6)
  • Mole Man (#1)
  • Red Shift (Galactus’s herald; #1-2)

Guest Stars

  • Hulk (Bruce Banner; #2)
  • J. Jonah Jameson (Daily Bugle; #3)
  • Majestrix Lilandra Neramani (Shi’ar; #5-6)
  • Uatu the Watcher (#6)

Supporting Characters

  • Alfie O’Malley (Daily Bugle; #1-3)
  • Ruthie Daniels (Daily Bugle; #1-3)
  • Geoff Seaton (Seaton Gallery; #1-3)
  • Mark Seaton (Seaton Gallery; #1)
  • Alyssa Moy (#1)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • This series opens somewhere in deep space, where Galactus is consuming a world that manages to launch off some escape vessels.  We see every living thing on the planet consumed.  On Earth, Alicia Masters is overseeing (yes, I know she’s blind) the transport of a number of her sculptures.  The larger ones are being taken out through a giant window using a crane and pulley that is squeaking.  The hook breaks, sending a large crate falling towards some of the movers, but the Surfer swoops in and catches it.  The movers mention that the Thing used to help them with this job, and some kid asks the Surfer for his autograph.  After he enters the apartment, Alicia praises the Surfer and they talk about how a Daily Bugle reporter, Alfie O’Malley, wrote about the doppelganger issue in the last series, and now people in New York accept him.  The Surfer wonders why Alicia didn’t ask for his help in moving her statues, but she didn’t think it was worth his time.  They are both happy in their relationship.  At the Bugle, O’Malley tries to get another reporter, Ruthie, to take him with her to Alicia’s art show, which is expected to be full of celebrities.  (I’ll never understand how Alicia’s work, which is just clay sculptures of superheroes, is considered high art in the 616, and not equal to something like Madame Tussaud’s).  The Fantastic Four are hanging out at their new headquarters when they receive the invitation to Alicia’s show.  Johnny doesn’t want to go, but Ben insists.  The Surfer reflects on his life, for the benefit of new readers, and once again wonders if he deserves happiness.  Alicia works to set up her exhibit, and talks to Geoff and Mark Seaton, the brothers who run the gallery she’s showing in.  The Surfer arrives.  Elsewhere, Mole Man plots.  The Surfer and Alicia are ready for the event, which is well attended by Avengers (Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Thor are immediately recognizable).  The Fantastic Four arrive, with Alyssa Moy hanging on the Thing’s arm.  The Surfer is in a good mood, even pranking some attendees, letting them believe he’s a statue too.  There might be some tension between the Surfer and Ben, and from a distance, the Mole Man uses a solid sound projector to make them think the other has bumped into them.  They quickly realize that someone is trying to make them fight, and decide to play along.  The Thing hits the Surfer, sending him flying through the wall (he phases), and while outside the gallery, he spots the Mole Man on a nearby roof.  He flies back inside, and tells Ben what’s up, throwing him through the window towards Mole Man and a pair of Moloids.  They duck down a ventilation shaft and escape.  Ben wonders why the Surfer didn’t just deal with him, and then they notice that the ground beneath the gallery is collapsing.  The various heroes present, including Wonder Man, Thor, Invisible Woman, Vision, Captain America, Justice, Mister Fantastic, Scarlet Witch, and Firestar leap into action to try to save the guests, the building, and the statues.  Alicia gets caught in the collapse, but the alien armor she acquired back at the end of the last Surfer series appears out of nowhere, protecting her (and giving her a semblance of sight again).  The Surfer feels guilty that he didn’t act quicker, recognizing that he wanted to hit Ben.  Human Torch arrives, and is surprised by Alicia’s appearance.  O’Malley tells the heroes that he’s learned from his office that Mole Man is attacking a sewage treatment plant at the Hudson River.  The Surfer and Ben streak off, with Johnny and Alicia following.  The Surfer and Ben discover the plant moving along the river, dumping raw sewage as it goes.  The Mole Man is on top of it, protected by a forcefield that the Surfer’s power cosmic can’t penetrate.  As more heroes arrive they struggle to figure out what to do.  The Mole Man explains that the underground aquifer his people drink from is polluted, and he needs the treatment plant to purify it or they’ll all die.  The Mole Man makes his escape with the plant, and before anyone can chase him, the Surfer points out a giant meteor about to collide with midtown Manhattan.  The Surfer wants to deflect it so it’ll hit where the treatment plant used to be.  He refuses to let anyone else help him, so while everyone rushes to prepare, the Surfer flies directly into the meteor, robbing it of most of its momentum and sending it falling straight down into the side of the river.  There’s a shockwave that shakes the city but doesn’t cause any damage, although it appears to have cost the Surfer.  He falls into Alicia’s arms, and that’s when Johnny points out that the meteor is actually a ship.  A figure comes out of it, burning.  Ben cradles the alien (which looks a little robotic).  The being speaks telepathically to the Surfer, calling him ‘herald’, to tell him that something is following behind him, and repeats that “he’s coming” before dying.  Everyone feels nervous.  At the same time, far away, Galactus has finished feeding on the world we saw at the start of the issue, and tells his new herald (the internet tells me he’s called Red Shift) that he’s hungry already.
  • The Surfer and the Invisible Woman transport the wreckage of the alien’s craft back to the Fantastic Four’s base, where Reed is investigating the being’s assertion that something dangerous is following it.  He can detect something approaching.  Alicia arrives in Soho, where she learns that only one of her statues was damaged.  She’s upset when she realizes she can’t turn off her armor, and decides to go home.  The Surfer finds her there having a meltdown.  She’s worried that she can’t make art because her armor keeps her from feeling.  The Surfer believes that whatever is coming to Earth is setting off the protective aspects of her armor, keeping her from turning it off.  The Surfer is about to head into space to investigate, and Alicia insists on coming with him.  They are attacked near Saturn when Red Shift appears in front of them, carrying his two swords, one with a red hilt, the other a blue one.  He uses his swords to open dimensional rifts, sending a meteor towards our heroes.  The Surfer recognizes his powers as being the power cosmic, and Red Shift reveals that he works for Galactus now.  He says that Galactus is constantly hungry, yet appears to be getting weaker no matter how much he feeds.  Red Shift is happy supplying him with planets, and they realize that’s why he’s leading him to Earth.  The Surfer tries to speak to Galactus through a vision, but Red Shift closes the portal.  The Surfer fires a blast at Red Shift, but the new herald opens a portal and sends the energy right into Alicia.  Her armor protects her, but it’s damaged and starts to fade away.  Red Shift opens a portal to a black hole, and the Surfer has to put up a force field to counter its pull.  He uses his powers to boost Alicia’s armor, and then sends her on his board to warn the heroes of Earth.  The Surfer attacks Red Shift physically, sending them both towards the black hole.  Alicia is concerned once the board stops moving, thinking that means the Surfer is dead.  She starts flying back on her own power, heading straight to the Fantastic Four.  The Surfer and Red Shift keep fighting.  Red Shift makes a comment about serving two masters, and the Surfer decides he needs to grab one of his swords (they seem to disappear when not being used).  A cosmic blast sends Red Shift towards the black hole while the Surfer flies away from it.  Red Shift’s portal is closing, so the Surfer contracts his body to enter the Microverse (I don’t get it either), and maybe make it through the portal before it closes (but like, wouldn’t that mean he had further to travel?).  On Earth, the Fantastic Four and Avengers prepare for what’s coming, and we see both the Hulk and Spider-Man learn that Galactus is coming from watching TV.  The Surfer finds himself in the Microverse, and on a confusing page, finds his board and then grows back to regular size (it seems out of sequence to me).  He rushes back to Earth but finds that Galactus has arrived ahead of him, and his world-eating machine is getting set up.  
  • The staff of the Daily Bugle watch as Galactus’s ship descends over the city, and various New Yorkers react to it.  Reed and Alicia notice the Surfer returning.  He heads straight to Galactus, wondering why he’s on Earth.  Galactus claims it’s because Red Shift is gone and he hungers.  The Surfer reminds him of his pledge to leave Earth alone, but Galactus reminds him that the Surfer broke his promise, and blasts him away.  Alicia flies up to catch him, and takes him to talk to Reed.  The Avengers gather (although Justice is no longer with them) with the Fantastic Four.  As Reed starts to talk, we see the Bugle reporters spreading out to cover the story; Peter Parker slips off on his own to change into his Spider-Man gear.  Reed tells the gathered heroes that he hopes he can use a photon-drill to mess with Galactus’s armor, and cause him to lose cosmic energy.  While the various heroes work to distract and weaken Galactus, the Vision phases into his shoulder and leaves the drill behind.  There’s a pause, and then energy starts to leak out of Galactus, and everyone who can press their attack.  The Surfer and Scarlet Witch try to handle the energy leaking out, but Galactus sends much of that energy directly into the Surfer, causing a spill over that causes destruction all around the heroes.  The two reporters make it to the Surfer and Alicia first, and find them still alive, if a little stunned.  Alicia notices that Galactus is entering his ship, and that it is starting to expel energy.  The Surfer explains that this means he’s going to use his ship to convert the life energy of Earth.  Reed has some ideas, but needs time.  The Surfer believes he can still reach Galactus.  The heroes split up to try to destroy the five energy siphons Galactus is deploying, and they get to work, but find it difficult.  Cap and Wanda have the first success, and Ben and Spider-Man damage a second siphon after they watch the Surfer phase into the ship.  The Surfer goes straight to Galactus, showing concern for his weakness.  The Surfer wants to know why Galactus is only absorbing life energy now, and not the more nourishing planetary energy he used to eat.  Galactus explains that life energy always added flavour to his sustenance, and that Red Shift promised him a constant supply of that.  Basically, Galactus is an addict, hollowing himself out while chasing a short-lived high.  The heroes, gathered on top of Galactus’s ship, notice that life around them is starting to wither away, and that the remaining siphons are putting out more energy than before.  Galactus shows typical addict behaviour, blaming the Surfer for this whole situation.  The Surfer realizes that the only way to save the Earth is to return to being Galactus’s herald, and offers that deal.  Galactus makes it clear that the Surfer will have to follow his orders, and that he won’t take away his memories or mess with his conscience again.  The Surfer agrees, and the energy siphons stop.  Alicia’s armor fades away, making it clear to her that she’s safe again.  The Surfer comes to say goodbye to her and his friends, asking Ben to look after her.  He heads out to space with Galactus following him, and urging him to hurry.
  • The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and Alicia watch the skies.  Alicia is having a hard time accepting what’s happened.  The Surfer, leading Galactus’s ship away from Earth, is also struggling with his choices.  He goes to speak to Galactus, who sends him to find a suitable planet.  The first one he finds is one where Galactus has already consumed every living thing.  The Surfer realizes that he might not be able to sway Galactus’s current path.  On Earth, Alicia demonstrates the abilities of her armor to the Fantastic Four.  Reed figures she’ll be able to track down the Surfer and journey to him.  Ben doesn’t want her to go though, and makes it clear he won’t let her.  The Surfer finds binary suns with two planets orbiting them.  The first is lush with plant life, and the Surfer is surprised to find his old flame Mantis there.  She calls this planet Verdant.  The Surfer is surprised to see that she’s alive, having been told she was dead (again).  They catch up, and the Surfer suggests that Verdant would be a good planet to feed to Galactus.  Mantis helps him recognize the fact that the plants communicate through scent and are fully sentient; the Surfer realizes he has to protect this world.  Mantis suggests they go to the other planet in the system.  Alicia argues with Ben, and ends up using the armor to blast him out of her way.  She insists on going to find the Surfer, and flies off into space.  Mantis leads the Surfer to the other planet, and they talk of Shalla Bal and how it was Mantis that made the choice way back in the Englehart/Marshall run, to make sure that the Surfer saved her life instead of her own.  This planet is full of non-sentient life, and they decide it’s perfect.  They go together to see Galactus, but Galactus is not happy to learn that this planet lacks sentient beings.  The Surfer tries to convince him to eat it the old way, but Galactus is resistant, eventually agreeing to check it out.  The Surfer and Mantis lead him towards it.  Alicia flies through space, following Galactus’s trail, and makes a warp jump, and then has to wait for her armor to recharge.  Galactus detects the life on Verdant, and moves his vessel towards that world.  The Surfer and Mantis try to stop him, but he insists that he is in charge.  He expels them from his ship, and starts to convert the life energy of Verdant.  The Surfer sees Mantis send her consciousness down to the planet, and flies down to save her.  He finds her trying to save some seedlings, but the Surfer grabs her and flies her away as everything dies.  The Surfer realizes that he has to keep witnessing destruction elsewhere to protect Earth.  Alicia warps into the system just in time to see the death of Verdant.  She sees the Surfer just as he and Mantis kiss.  Mantis says goodbye to the Surfer, and as she is converting herself into energy, Galactus blasts her with his cosmic powers.  The Surfer thinks Mantis is dead, just as Alicia reveals that she is there, and feels betrayed.  Alicia warps away, and the Surfer is overcome with remorse.  He returns to Galactus, who tells him that he’s hungry again.
  • Galactus sends the Surfer out to look for another world rich with sentient life, and he’s spotted by a Kree vessel.  The Kree Captain (he’s unnamed) decides that it might be a good idea to try to manipulate the Surfer, as they seem to have a good understanding of what’s going on with Galactus.  They summon the Surfer, and suggest that by sending Galactus to the Shi’ar Homeworld, Majestrix Lilandra and her Imperial Guard might be able to defeat him.  Alicia returns to the Fantastic Four to find them sitting down to a big dinner with the Avengers.  Ben explains that Reed has a plan, and they’re going to head into space after they eat.  The Surfer weighs the merits of the Kree Captain’s plan, and heads to the Shi’ar homeworld.  Lilandra’s advisors tell her he’s coming, and worry that this has to do with the fact that it was she that put Reed Richards on trial years before.  Lilandra worries that Galactus is going to come to destroy her world, and orders her troops to attack the Surfer.  The Surfer tries to avoid a fight, but has to defend himself while trying to reach Lilandra.  The Shi’ar are convinced they can defeat him.  Back on Earth, Alicia fills everyone in on what she saw.  Reed asserts that he has a plan, but worries that other races will see him as an ally of Galactus’s, and won’t work with him.  The Surfer continues to try to appeal to the Shi’ar, who are so determined to not listen to him that one of them blows up his ship when the Surfer boards to talk to him.  The Kree we saw before approach the world, looking to watch what’s happening. They notice that the Starjammers are coming into Shi’ar space.  Onboard their ship, Corsair suggests that the pirates go help their friend Lilandra.  Gladiator wants to go fight the Surfer, but Lilandra has him wait while she tries to figure out what’s really going on.  The Starjammers blast the Surfer from behind, knocking him out.  Lilandra orders that he be brought to her.  On Earth, the FF and Avengers prepare to leave in their two ships, using trackers designed by Reed to find Galactus.  When Gladiator brings the Surfer to Lilandra, he reveals that he was playing possum to get close to her.  He explains that he needs the Shi’ar to help him stop Galactus.  Just then, the Kree vessel sees Galactus arrive in the system (his ship has never looked like this before).  His transport leaves the ship and he begins to convert the life energy on Homeworld.  The Surfer is worried that the Shi’ar have expended too many of their defenses fighting him (and seeing as they were completely ineffectual, I’m not sure how he would have hoped they could stop Galactus).  The Surfer vows to join the fight on the side of the Shi’ar, and just then the Avengers and FF arrive (that seems really quick, doesn’t it?).  Gladiator is not happy to see Reed, but Lilandra sees that Reed is noble.  She asks him for help.
  • As Galactus begins to absorb life energy from Homeworld, the heroes gather and talk about what they should do.  Alicia and the Surfer share a moment where they speak of Alicia seeing the Surfer over Verdant.  Mantis shows up, and introduces herself to Alicia, who is immediately impressed by her.  We learn that Mantis warned the Shi’ar and many other worlds of Galactus’s madness, and now an armada of fighter ships arrive to help.  Lilandra gives control of the fleet to Reed, who has a plan.  Reed addresses all the ships, from dozens of worlds, and has them attack Galactus’s ship (which is not his main ship).  He surrounds it with a forcefield, which protects it, but also stops it from sending destructive energy towards Homeworld.  Cap and Vision board their quinjet, while the Starjammers return to their ship as well.  Reed tells the others that he has devices that will clog up Galactus’s siphons.  Wanda uses her magic to disrupt Galactus’s field, and Vision spots a weak area.  The alien ships all fire at that same point, destroying the force field, and some of them in the process.  The Surfer, meanwhile, heads into space with a probe that Reed gave him.  Galactus starts to absorb the lives of the aliens around him.  The Kree watch the Surfer leave, and their Captain starts to gloat while his men question his sanity.  Reed sends the strongest of the heroes – Johnny, Thor, Iron Man, Gladiator, and Alicia (?) to plant his devices on the siphons.  Once they do, the devices start to fill the siphons with foam.  Galactus’s vessel is badly damaged and crashes.  Sue rescues the heroes still just standing around as much of the capital city is destroyed.  Galactus starts hunting down the few citizens who haven’t fled to consume them.  Reed and Lilandra bust out more weapons and everyone flies towards Galactus.  They attack him with little effect.  The Surfer is not able to enter Galactus’s Worldship, and when he tries, he’s attacked by robot sentries that phase in and out of reality.  The Surfer manages to plant Reed’s probe on the ship though, and as he fights, it sends nanotech into the ship that’s designed to sever Galactus’s control of it.  The heroes keep up their fight.  Mantis tries to save some non-Shi’ar looking children from the wave of energy that’s eating people, and in order to help her, Alicia tries to distract that energy.  It starts to eat at her armor.  Ben is able to get to her to help, but it looks like she’s injured.  It looks like the heroes are gaining ground on Galactus, but then he rallies.  The Kree soldiers shoot their captain and decide to join the fight, providing a momentary distraction.  Reed starts to despair.  At the same time, the Surfer is able to stop the sentries because the probe has done its job.  With Galactus no longer in control of his Worldship, the Surfer opens a warp in space.  Galactus notices the rip in hyperspace and sees that his ship is no longer his.  The Surfer comes to him and Galactus tries to smash him (but he’s a hologram).  Galactus lashes out at Homeworld, but the Surfer uses Worldship’s technology to send the same energy Galactus used to absorb energy, this time turning it on Galactus himself.  He’s drawn into the warp field, and weakened and dying, speaks to the Surfer.  He admits that he always knew he’d go mad, and that he created the Surfer as a failsafe.  He also says that there is a much worse horror coming.  The Worldship can’t contain all of Galactus’s energy and it explodes, turning Galactus into a new sun.  The Surfer shares this news with the heroes, but doesn’t share in their joy.  Later, everyone gathers, and we see that Alicia is wounded but fine.  Her armor is gone though.  Later again, the heroes have a feast, but neither Reed nor the Surfer attend.  They speak of the threat Galactus mentioned.  Not long after that, the heroes get ready to return to Earth, and the Surfer tells Alicia that he can’t go with them. She doesn’t see why he would feel the need to make penance, but also doesn’t know of the threat Galactus mentioned.  The Surfer heads off on his own, and the series ends with Uatu the Watcher talking to the reader about this inevitable threat.

I enjoyed this miniseries a lot.  Louise Simonson brought to it a better understanding of how to use the Silver Surfer than we saw in his own title for quite some time.  He works best as a vehicle for a larger story, and Simonson did a great job of tapping into his conflicting loyalties.  The Surfer wants to protect Earth, but also wants to protect Galactus, the being he’s had a very long, and often complicated relationship with.  When he needs to step in to save the Earth, he decides to work for Galactus again, thinking he can help him (could this be read as a metaphor for abusive relationships, and all the people who think they can ‘fix’ their partner by standing by them through horrible deeds?).  

I like the way Simonson used the Fantastic Four and the Avengers as supporting characters through this book, and brought some resolution to the long unresolved Surfer/Mantis relationship.  It was cool seeing the Shi’ar used prominently in the end of the story, although there were some issues with how small the universe seems to be, given how quickly people can get places in it.

This book ended with the Surfer calling off his relationship with Alicia and returning to space as a solo entity.  I know that after this, he had some random miniseries, and then eventually the longer two runs with Dan Slott and Michael Allred, before a short stint with the Guardians of the Galaxy.  Really though, after his main series ended, the Surfer reverted to being a bit player in the Marvel Universe, showing up on Earth more often than makes sense, but not getting a lot of character development or growth (aside from Slott’s run).

Galactus didn’t stay dead for long, although I’m not sure what the circumstances of his return were (it looks like he returned in Jim Starlin’s Thanos series, but had cameo appearances before that).  Of course, this is the era of Marvel where continuity didn’t matter a whole lot.

I’m not sure if we ever learned what the threat that the Watcher was talking about turned out to be.  You could easily retcon some more recent line-wide events, but I’m left wondering what Simonson was referring to or had in mind.  It’s worth noting that this series was originally announced as being twelve-issues, although these were longer than standard comics.

It was nice to see John Buscema artwork.  I know he’s always been associated with the Surfer, but to me, he’s the quintessential Avengers artist, so seeing him work with all of these characters was a treat (I’m not sure what happened to Jon J Muth that he left after one issue).  Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks can be pretty overpowering, though, and that was the case here, where Sienkiewicz gave the art a rougher texture than you’d be used to seeing from Buscema.  It worked, but in some places, it was hard to recognize characters, especially Alicia Masters, whose hair was different from how she’s usually shown.

I guess this marks the end of my Silver Surfer reading.  I enjoyed revisiting the character’s 80s and 90s, even if the comics weren’t always actually good.  From here, I’m going to tackle a bunch of miniseries and some one-shots that I’ve been wanting to revisit.  I’ve picked up some random runs in fifty cent bins or other odd places, and have been thinking about looking at some major events at the same time.  That should mean more of these columns in the next few weeks, with a longer run planned for the end of the summer or early fall.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

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