I already covered some of FF 48. This combined the wrap-up of the Inhumans arc and the introduction of the Silver Surfer. In the beginning of the issue Maximus discovers that the Inhumans are mutated humans instead of being a different sub-species. The knowledge drive him insane and he uses his atmo gun to create a negative zone around the Inhumans' city, sealing it off from humanity. The FF escape before the dome can harden and return to New York where they discover that the sky is on fire. People panic, blaming the Human Torch. The Thing rescues the Torch and the flames vanish. Later they are replaced with flying boulders.
It turns out that Reed and the Watcher have been collaborating on masking the Earth from the Silver Surfer. Reed has been working non-stop for days and is unshaven.
The boulders do not work. The Surfer senses that something is unnatural about them and flies through them, landing on the roof of the Baxter Building (because he senses the Watcher?) where he signals his master. A moment later the Thing knocks him off of the building and across town. He is too late. Galactus arrives.
In the next issue, the Torch and Thing try attacking Galactus. He absorbs the Torch's flames and extinguishes the Torch. Then he uses the equivalent of a bug bomb on the Thing.
The FF retreats to plan their next step. Reed finally shaves and they try again, without the Torch. This time they attack Galactus's converter, the machine that will drain the Earth of life. Galactus summons the Punisher, a short, powerful being who quickly defeats the FF.
In the meantime, the Watcher sends the Torch to Galactus's homeship.
In the meantime part 2, in an amazing coincidence, the Surfer lands in Alicia's apartment. She convinces him that humanity is worth saving. He vows to use his power to stop Galactus.
In issue #50, the Surfer fails to defeat Galactus but delays him long enough for the Torch to retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier. Appalled at something so powerful in the hands of a human, Galactus agrees to leave the Earth. On his way out, he imprisons the Surfer on Earth.
The issue has a low-key ending with Johny enrolling at Empire State University and meeting his new roommate, Wyatt Wingfoot.
Several things about this story arc:
- It completed the transition from the early FF to the more mature version. The earlier stories often had more energy but just as often suffered from sloppy plotting and pacing (see my post about the first appearance of the Frightful Four).
- This was the first "cosmic" story arc and one of the most successful. The FF had faced enemies with immense power before but never one who was so impersonal. Galactus never directly addressed the FF until Reed had the Ultimate Nulifier.
- The general form of having the climax in the middle of the issue with an epilogue was used in some of Stan's best-remembered stories. A Spider-Man story where he was trapped beneath tons of metal in a flooding building is another example.
- The Surfer was an after-thought. Stan and Jack had a story conference and Jack drew issue #48. When Stan saw an unfamiliar character he called Jack to ask who it was. Jack replied that someone as powerful as Galactus needed a herald. Regardless, the Surfer quickly became Stan's favorite character. During the days when Stan was still active at Marvel he never allowed anyone else to write the Surfer.
- This wasn't the first time a character dropped in on Alicia. Just a few months earlier the Torch and Thing's fight with Dragon Man burst through her roof. The Surfer met her several times later including a quick affair near the end of the second run of his own comic.
- For years the letter columns of the FF and Thor had debates over who was more powerful - Galactus or Odin. I don't think that this was ever resolved.
- Galactus raised the power level of the Marvel Universe by a quantum level. Up until then it was obvious that DC characters were much more powerful than Marvel ones. Superman was splitting planets in half while the Hulk was trying to batter his way out of a cave. With the introduction of the Surfer and Galactus, Marvel had a character who could probably beat Superman (the Surfer) and one who could eat him and the planet he rode in on.
- It was one of the few "big" anniversary issues that worked. By contrast, FF #100 was thrown together as an afterthought and completely forgettable.