4 Elements: My Favorite Comic Book Story

May 30th, 2011 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

As of today, I am no longer a man in my 20’s. I was wondering how to be all sentimental about such a change and decided that I would do a 4 Elements post on my favorite comic story. That’s a hard decision to make, really. What to choose? I love Watchmen and all, but I don’t know if I’d rank it that high. Hell, I love Kingdom Come more than I should, but even that rings hollow. Maybe there’s some Deadpool story buried in there that I should gush over.

In the end, I decided to go with a short story from a 90’s What If issue. Yes, I’m terrible. In fact, most of the issue is terrible. It’s What If #34 from the second volume, otherwise known as What If No One Was Watching the Watcher? Years back when I ranked the top 100 issues of the series, that one only made it to #57. Despite being a humor issue, it featured 19 pages of unfunny jokes and inane concepts. The only reason it ranked so high was because of the opening 7-page story.

The story, written by Scott Gimple and drawn my Tom Morgan, came out in 1992, only a month or so after the finishing of Marvel’s hit Infinity Gauntlet series. Now, I’m a fan of violence and fictional destruction, but strangely, there’s a major lack of it in this story. In fact, the only actual action comes from the first page as this reality’s Thanos gives the business to Galactus, Eater of Worlds.

Yes. My favorite comic book story is What If Thanos Changed Galactus Into a Human Being? Rather than imprison him in energy cubes like in the original story, the omnipotent Thanos punishes Galactus by sending him to Earth in the form as a human. In his naked, human form, Galactus finds himself in a Kansas trailer park. With no memory of his true identity, hungry and entranced by the sound of nearby music, he stumbles into the home of Gertrude Rebmann, a waitress, single mother and Elvis enthusiast. At first, she’s horrified that there’s a naked dude collapsing at her front door, but then we get a good look at Galactus’ human form and she’s even more shocked.

Complete cosmic coincidence, Galactus had been transformed into a form that looks and sounds just like Elvis Aaron Presley. Gertrude is sure it’s him and spends the next few hours feeding him, playing him Elvis records, reading his life story via magazines and showing him some of his movies. Since Galactus has amnesia and he’s a complete match – even down to the singing talent – he agrees that he is indeed Elvis. He doesn’t understand it, but he knows he has a second chance and he intends to do it right this time.

Over the following few weeks, Galactus lives with Gertrude, forming a close bond with her and her son Toby. Going under the assumed name of Kurt Creole, he performs in a local bar and later a farmers benefit concert. It doesn’t take long for people to realize that Elvis is back and right as everything is about to come to a head, Galactus turns around to find a victorious Adam Warlock standing there, wearing the Infinity Gauntlet. Warlock wills Galactus’ memory back to him and tells him he must return to his previous existence, but Galactus refuses him and chooses to remain Elvis Presley.

And that’s my favorite comic story. Why? Why do I enjoy this goofy, little tale so much? Why is it that on my bad days, I’m able to reread this story and feel better about everything? I thought it was time to investigate that. Not just for you, but for me.

First things first, it’s a funny comic. Like I said earlier, the rest of What If #34 is pretty dire. The jokes don’t just fall flat, but they make you question if they’re actually jokes. Not only does this one have a charming, more subtle sense of humor, but it doesn’t let itself get in the way.

Years before I read the issue, I remember reading a site explain the basic concept of Galactus being transformed into Elvis and brought up the joke about Elvis being really hungry. The way it was written, it made me think that the comic would go for the low-hanging fruit. Something about Elvis getting fat all over again and dying or maybe a giant Elvis flying through space, eating planets while making puns based on the titles of his songs. The actual story was a relief. Sure, there are a couple lines about the hunger parallel, but it doesn’t control the story.

It goes back to a principle I always had about humor and fiction. Jokes are great. Be funny if you can be. What you have to do, though, is make sure that you aren’t writing a bunch of jokes with a story linking it all together. You have to write a story first and then add the jokes. Good story and good humor are both subjective, but I find humor to be more so.

With the use of mixing Elvis and Galactus, it really speaks to me about the larger than life aspects of both parties. I’ve always respected Elvis and I enjoy his music, but I’ve never been the biggest fan of him. Like, I don’t own any of his albums or anything. What I am a fan of is his iconic status. He’s simply larger than life. It’s almost crazy to think that he was a living human being. It reminds me of a story a comedian told about meeting Frank Sinatra. Yes, he may have been a real guy, but meeting him was so surreal that it was on the same level as meeting Bugs Bunny.

It says a lot that Elvis, a man who also loved comic books and based his appearance on Captain Marvel Jr. still exists years after his death as a legend. The mark he left on pop culture makes him almost one and the same as the characters that inspired him.

Galactus too is like a legend. Despite being a fictional character written by many, many writers, Galactus feels special. Whenever he shows up, it always feels like a big deal. When he makes a guest appearance, it’s like he’s an A-list celebrity.

There’s something really cool about this intertwining of these two marvels, coming together like a double helix. It fits for me. Besides, when you consider their insane senses of fashion, they deserve each other.

The negative aspects of comic continuity are done away with, allowing the comic to endure. Hell, I enjoy comic continuity a good deal. That said, there are parts of it that chafe me. For one, I’m glad to see that they ignore how the Earth was in drastic turmoil in the actual Infinity Gauntlet storyline. That isn’t needed. The main thing I enjoy is how as an alternate reality story, we won’t have to see the ending mucked with for the sake of telling new stories with the same characters.

I hate rubber banding and screwing with old stories and characters for the sake of writer and editorial whims. It’s the part of ongoing comics that annoys me more than other. An example is the way DC treated its character Dmitri Pushkin, who fought as Rocket Red back in the Justice League during the late 80’s/early 90’s. When the run died down, Dmitri faded into obscurity, but in a positive sense. He had no outstanding storylines that needed closure or anything like that. He was retired and had a loving family. It was nice that this character was simply done with the life and got to ride out into the sunset.

Then in the OMAC Project, they reintroduced him for no reason other than dying for the sake of making Booster Gold feel more guilty. God.

Even with Galactus this is relevant. Mark Waid wrote a story that also made him human and had him see the worth of the beings who inhabit the planets such as those he’d usually eat. Galan, the world eater’s human form, knew that he needed to escape from the Galactus power and found a pocket universe to hide in. Being Marvel, where such a development can’t last forever, Galactus was back within a couple months with no explanation.

In this world, the King of Rock is immune to such editorial manipulation. I mean, I guess some writer could write a follow-up for some reason, but that would be completely unnecessary and make him a colossal dick.

God, there’s so much to love on that page.

The main reason I love this comic is redemption. Redemption has always been one of my favorite aspects in fictional storytelling. Look at all the characters I tend to go for. Eddie Brock, Deadpool, Juggernaut, Booster Gold, Luke Cage, Max Damage, Baron Zemo and so on. People who have messed up on a major scale but are trying to make good. I love redemption. It’s the dreamer in me. It helps me think that there’s goodness in even the worst person. It helps me believe that terrible deeds can be fixed in the long run on some level.

There’s a double dose of redemption in this story. First is the obvious one. Galactus chooses humanity over godhood. Galactus is basically the top bad guy of Marvel and while he may break the duality of good and evil, he represents probably the scariest force out there. While the idea of a destructive, wrathful God is scary on its own right, what’s worse is the idea of a destructive, apathetic God. The concept of nature destroying lives and civilizations just because. At least with a wrathful God, there’s a feeling of significance to it all. Galactus and his default lack of emotion make him out to be representation of all that is hopeless.

If Galactus is the apathetic God, then surely the megalomaniacal Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet represents that of a wrathful God. When the two negative beings clash, two wrongs end up making a right. Who would have thought? What are the odds that something so positive could come out of such a meeting? It’s a miracle. When Adam Warlock appears in the end with the Infinity Gauntlet in hand, he is the benevolent God, bringing us full circle. He sees what’s become of Galactus, witnesses his righteous choice and gives us a smile and a wink as if to back up that everything is as it should be.

We also get the redemption of Elvis Presley himself. If fictional characters like Hal Jordan and Tony Stark can come back from the dead to make up for their mistakes, why shouldn’t Elvis? It’s comic books, goddamn it! If they deserve a second chance, so does Elvis. For a man famous for destroying his own legacy and making it something laughable, there’s beauty in the idea that he can make his supernatural comeback and do it right. Because of the whims of a crazed cosmic supervillain, the King of Rock and Roll gets a second chance and the lives of others are made better for it. The universe is better off. Love is created. New purpose is discovered. Redemption is had. It’s the happiest ending and I fucking love it.

Besides, how can anyone hate this comic? It has Galactus/Elvis marveling at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES.

With the two controllers, I guess it’s the second game. Good thing, too. Galactus may have snuffed out trillions of lives, but he deserves better than to endure that underwater level.

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9 comments to “4 Elements: My Favorite Comic Book Story”

  1. What a cool story! And what a great choice. Never would have seen it, so thanks. Yes, what a wider range What If? & Elseworlds could have explored! Redemption’s a grand theme indeed, & this story gets bonus points for a smiling Adam Warlock. Better to be a guitar-playing demigod here on Earth, than a planet-eating god who has trouble holding on to his heralds. (In my sequel, Elvis & his new family stumble onto the Mask… Now there’s a 3D movie I’d pay to see.)

  2. Nice to know there’s other May 30th people out there!

    Cool choice of story.

  3. I think of that last line all the time (seriously).

    “Ma’am, the hunger gnaws,” stuck with me all of these years. It’s surprising that there’s someone else out there who both read and recalls this story.

  4. Crap. I knew there was something else I meant to say.

    Happy birthday.

  5. Galactus was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me.

  6. The “Look! It’s Randy Travis!” and “Why do you look like a mango?” lines make this read like something out of Space Ghost.

  7. I love this story as well, for much the same reasons.

  8. He got dat mango adam warlock

  9. That What If issues was one of the first comics I ever bought when I was eight or nine years old. Still rules.