174. Starquest

Fantastic Four 174 cover

Fantastic Four 174, Sept 1976

Damn Galactus! So, he would consume my Counter-Earth, would he? Use it — as he’s used countless other worlds to quell his cosmic hunger for a passing moment! I must challenge him, then. Challenge him to a fight to the death!

Sue is left alone with the High Evolutionary, and seeing that the other members of the Fantastic Four are in peril, she uses the teleporter to go and help one group. However, she inadvertently sends herself to the third, seemingly barren planet where she makes a shocking discovery. Meanwhile, Reed and Ben are on the robot planet of Mekka, being held prisoner. Ben escapes his bonds by slipping out of the robotic Thing suit and during the ensuing fight against Torgo and the other inhabitants of Mecca, Reed throws a master switch which causes all the robots to deactivate. He then turns it back on and Torgo allows the two of them to leave. Meanwhile, Johnny and Gorr are prisoners on a planet with a society almost exactly like medieval Europe. Gorr enters a tournament fight and a dragon breaks out of a cage and is killed. This is revealed to be the true native of the planet and everyone else is a Skrull. The Skrulls leave the planet and Johnny and Gorr wait to get picked back up by the High Evolutionary, but the appointed time comes and goes. Meanwhile, back at Counter-Earth, the High Evolutionary has decided that he must physically defeat Galactus and grows to his size in order to challenge him.

This is a true continuation of the disappointing last issue and it has all the flaws of that issue. Once again there is a laborious amount of back story which completely ruins the momentum at the front half of the issue. One possible explanation for this is that Stan Lee once said that every comic book is somebody’s first comic book and so each issue needs to be completely accessible to a new reader, and for a time this was enforced by editorial. And you can see the obvious weaknesses of this idea when you reach issue 3 of a 4-part story, and also a story that is dependent on continuity from other titles in the past.

Certainly one of the most surreal frames to appear in The Fantastic Four. And bear in mind that this is no dream sequence–this is an actual plot moment.

The little side-quests that the FF engage in are almost totally nonsensical. Even in the 70s it’s ridiculous that a planet of robots would have a master control switch just randomly accessible to anyone walking by in the open. It’s not even a metaphor for anything. And there’s no excuse for whatever craziness allows Ben Grimm to just step out of his suit.

And as for Johnny’s mission… I can’t even. It’s a nice twist that the dragon happens to be the actual native inhabitant of the planet, but there’s nothing that comes of that. And the Skrulls just all call it quits after revealing themselves–which no one forced them to do. It makes no sense.

And all of it, all of it, is made pointless by the comic’s last panel, that of the High Evolutionary about to get into a dust-up with Galactus. If the High Evolutionary was just going to wade into a physical conflict, then why go through all the motions of finding an alternate solution? He didn’t even wait to find out how those panned out. Obviously the resolution of the plot is going to hinge on whatever it was that Sue found on her supposedly barren planet and it’s therefore annoying that we aren’t given even the slightest bit of information to go on with that. It’s not tension building, it’s exasperating, because it means that there’s no plot-worth to this issue at all.

Galactus High Evolutionary


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