Meditations on a World-Eater

The Uncreator. The Universal Endbringer. The Anti-God. Gah. Lak. Tus.

Whether it’s in the form of a giant man, a plague of cyborg insects or just a giant hungry storm cloud, Galactus is one of the most prolific and terrifying characters in superhero comics. Rather than being simply a diseased freak of nature out for revenge against our favorite superhero or a deranged scientist looking to force his will upon the world after gaining powers in a terrible lab accident, Galactus has no earthly motivations for what he does. Similarly, he has no extraterrestrial motivations for what he does, either. He doesn’t want to enslave humanity or conquer the planet, or use the planet as a theater for battle against other outside forces. He isn’t an alien either.

What makes Galactus so scary, and this is what was so ingenious on the part of his creators Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, is that he is a god. He existed in a universe that predates the current Marvel universe, a universe that we could never possibly comprehend. He was alive before the current universe and has existed as a predatory force of ultimate extinction since even before our star was formed. This primal, outside force could conceivably be the starting point for all of humanity’s fundamental fears and nightmares.

Kirby himself even attested to Galactus’ primal ferocity when he recounted his creation of the character, saying, “and there I was in front of this tremendous figure, who I knew very well, because I always felt him, and I certainly couldn’t treat him the same way that I would any ordinary mortal.” If there is an underlying existential panic inherent in every individual aspect of the universe, it is the knowledge that something from outside of it is now within it, feeding upon it. That something is called Galactus. Eat your heart out, H.P. Lovecraft.

Unfortunately, for being a character of such epic proportions, so large that he defies human comprehension, he seems to be too big for filmmakers to translate to the big screen. In the 2007 film Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the character appeared as a very big cloud with sort of tornado tendrils that reached down to earth to feed upon the planet. This was explained as an effort to keep the character discreet, with the director saying that with the character being veiled in a cloud, a future Silver Surfer movie spin-off could do its own version of the character.

Making the character a cloud also smacked of the filmmakers thinking the character was too big and silly to work on screen. As Mark Millar wrote in the dialogue of his post-modern superhero series, Kick-Ass, audiences would be hard-pressed to buy a giant dude in a purple skirt walking around on screen. He has a point, I suppose, although when the movie came out I was pretty pissed about them making Galactus a non-character.

To be fair, clouds can be scary. A few years ago I was shopping in the mall here in Pensacola and a tornado landed outside (not something that happens here a lot, we mostly get hurricanes), causing some windows to explode and wind to start rushing in, and a torrent of screaming shoppers to rush in my direction. It sounds goofy, but it was not a fun experience. From the ground, I suppose a tornado would be pretty similar to experiencing contact with Galactus. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t do the character justice. It’s too terrestrial of a concept. We need to go bigger.

So how do we bring the character to life in a way that is larger than life but not too silly for the big screen? Warren Ellis did a pretty good job of it with his Ultimate Galactus trilogy, which was published shortly before the aforementioned motion picture came out. In fact, in the novelization of “Rise of the Silver Surfer,” the author even used Ellis’ more alien-sounding name for the character, Gah Lak Tus.

With the Ultimate Galactus trilogy, Ellis told the story of a race of intergalactic locusts that swarm the cosmos, uncreating any planetary system that it came across. The character of the Silver Surfer was introduced as a sort of mercurial puppet, sent to Earth as a point man for Gah Lak Tus that would infiltrate the race of whichever planet was being targeted, in this case Homo sapiens, assume their form, and act as a kind of prophet that would pacify the populace with its teachings, making them ready and willing for their eventual extinction at the hands of the Anti-God.

The series also introduced the android Vision, who was sent to Earth in advance of Gah Lak Tus as a warning from an alien race that had already fallen prey to the hungry swarm. Vision’s messages, which were received by telepaths and communication networks across the globe, sparked spontaneous mass suicides resulting from the despair that came from the visions of destruction that Gah Lak Tus had brought to other planets throughout the cosmos. In the end, the heroes of Earth defeated Gah Lak Tus by channeling an explosion from the Big Bang of a baby parallel universe into a beam of energy that took out a few members of the swarm, in a bluff that would trick Gah Lak Tus into thinking Earth possessed weapons powerful enough to destroy it.

Ellis’ approach seemed to be inspired by Lovecraft in its use of religious cults, paranoia and madness in the handling of such a monumental character. I would think that these elements would probably aid a great deal in the effort to bring Galactus to life in the more believable context of a live action film, but it is still lacking a certain grandiosity. Having a bunch of space locusts, ostensibly born of this universe, traversing the universe and devouring things makes for a good science fiction bad guy, but doesn’t necessarily make for a good god. I’m still much more disturbed by the image of a single giant entity from a universe older than our own coming down from the sky and eating us whole. But as we said before, a big dude in a purple metal skirt walking around Midtown Manhattan and arguing with the Watcher is going to be laughed off screen.

Perhaps the solution could be to show the giant metal man appearing from the sky, but only as part of visions and nightmares that foretell Galactus’ coming. It was explained before in the main Fantastic Four series that Galactus’ appearance varies depending on the sentient race that is perceiving him as he comes to their planet and wreaks havoc. This could play into the idea that his true nature is so vast, and so alien to creatures of this universe, that our minds have to compensate for it by cloaking it in something familiar and terrestrial. After all, Galactus is a god and gods have a habit of appearing to different people and different cultures in different ways. Then, when the true Galactus finally makes his descent to Earth, either from space or through a dimensional portal or wormhole, the filmmakers could design a being more demonic and terrifying, the sight of which is enough to shatter the fragile psyche of a normal man, leaving it up to the superheroes to face the creature. The Silver Surfer could still work as the leader of a Galactus cult or, since Kirby referred to him as a fallen angel, as a member of Galactus’ choir of silver seraphim who revolts against his master. If you really wanted to be on the nose about things, you could even say Galactus and his surfers are the inspiration for Earth’s Abrahamic religions. But that might’ve already been done before somewhere else.

It is undoubtedly ironic that such a terrifying and menacing concept as Galactus could be interpreted as being too silly to appear on screen. While the look of the character, especially in his earliest incarnations, might not be best for portraying him in a film, the essence of the character is timeless and primal. It captivates readers by bringing elements of religion, mythology and Lovecraftian horror into the realm of Marvel’s science-fiction superheroes. It was ahead of its time in 1966, and is still a very singular concept in superhero comics today. Maybe the character is simply one of those things from the comic book medium that just can’t work on the big screen. However, as a fan of the God of Oblivion, I still hold out hope for the day when I can see Galactus descend upon Earth and devour its myriad life forms in glorious IMAX 3-D. Here’s hoping.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my friend Wes and I have to finish our 800-foot-tall Galactus scaregod before Cthulhu wakes up.

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Mike Greear is a journalism graduate from the University of West Florida currently living in New York City. During his time as an undergraduate, he reported on everything from Presidential campaign stops to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, eventually working his way up to being the editor-in-chief of the University of West Florida’s student newspaper, The Voyager. Since graduating, he worked briefly as a reporter for Foster’s Daily Democrat in New Hampshire, reporting on crime and municipal stories in the city of Rochester as well as interviewing Republican primary candidates, before returning to Florida and freelancing for the Pensacola News Journal. He now resides in Long Island City, writing weekly columns for and hoping to break into the comics scene.

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1 Comment

  1. Sam Keeper says:

    My first introduction to Galactus was actually in a very old issue of the comic Damage Control. The epic, page long introductory description concluded with a phrase that ran something like “…A being beyond credibility: GALACTUS!” Then there was a picture of his standing in space, casually munching on a planet.

    Incredibly, this article has gone a long way to counteracting the sheer silliness of that introduction.

    There might be some way to still depict him as the towering, gigantic being of destruction, even with the purple plating, if you actually went even further overboard with the size and made him clearly inhuman despite his human form. It would be a hell of an artistic task, but not impossible. I’m thinking of something like the design for Lilith in End of Evangelion, who is so large that shots with her actually show the curvature of the earth, or… hm, are there any other good examples of this? None are actually coming to mind, which is almost a shame. Giants have always been such a big deal in folklore, it’s strange that modern fiction hasn’t played around with the concept of the truly gargantuan a little more.

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