WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Infinity Countdown #4 by Gerry Duggan, Aaron Kuder and Mike Hawthorne, in stores now.
Ever since his first appearance in 1966, the celestial being known as Galactus was a supervillain of cosmic proportions. As the Devourer of Worlds, the purple helmet-wearing giant came to Earth more than once, almost always threatening to consume it in its entirety. For millennia, Galactus was a source of death and destruction in the Marvel Universe, a presence feared throughout the spaceways. Wherever his herald Silver Surfer showed, the people knew that the celestial would soon follow, and that their planet was doomed.
However, roughly three years ago, Galactus went through a massive change that saw him become a force for life. Thanks to the Incubator and the element known as Neutronium, the Devourer of Worlds was transformed into the Lifebringer, bringing dead planets to life instead of destroying vibrant, living ones.
But now, in Infinity Countdown #5, Galactus' heroic transformation has been undone. As the battle for control of the Infinity Stones intensifies, the Lifebringer is cast aside and the Devourer of Worlds rises once more. Worse, an old herald has returned to his side, to help sate Galactus' cosmic appetite: Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer.
The last issue of Infinity Countdown ended with an impossible choice. Silver Surfer was locked in a battle with Ultron, who had turned the entire residents of the planet Saiph into his robotic hybrids. Ultron was about to unleash thousands more of himself out into the cosmos, in the hopes of turning every living being into more Ultron bots. The Surfer saw no victory in sight, which is what led him to his old master, Galactus the Lifebringer.
Long ago, the Surfer was Galactus' herald, but he eventually managed to free himself to chart a path on his own, one that wasn't paved with the death of countless worlds. For decades, he has charted his own path, spreading a message of tolerance and protecting innocents throughout the galaxy.
Now, while the former herald sought out Galactus, he only did so because he saw no other solution to the problem he -- and the galaxy -- faced. Although he recognized the severity of what he was asking the reformed Lifebringer to do, the Surfer had no choice but to ask Galactus to revert to his old ways and destroy Saiph, a desperate move, but necessary in order to stop Ultron from unleashing his power upon the universe. Galactus first refused, his ominous warning hinting that if he were to become the Devourer of Worlds again, it would come at a great cost. Ultimately however, as Ultron's rockets were almost out of Saiph's orbit, the Lifebringer manifested himself -- and there, he did what he has always done, ever since his first appearance in 1966: He destroyed the planet.
The moment is a massive sacrifice for the celestial, who had no wish of becoming this sort of monster again. But he still did it, because even he knows that the safety of the cosmos depended on it. Once the planet is destroyed, the golden armor of the Lifebringer dissipates, Galactus' familiar purple and blue outfit once again revealing itself. The Lifebringer is no more, and the Devourer of Worlds has returned. What's more, we learn that Galactus and the Surfer made a deal off-panel; if he were to embrace his old ways again, then he would need a herald to find him suitable planets...
With Galactus and the Silver Surfer reunited, the Devourer stalks the cosmos once again as his silver companion surfs through the stars in search of food to sate Galactus' massive appetite. The return of this dangerous duo is a massive power shift in Marvel's cosmic scale, even in a story revolving around the Infinity Stones. How this will factor into the remainder go Infinity Countdown, much less the upcoming Infinity Wars event remains to be seen, but it's probably a safe bet to say this isn't the last we've seen of them in this story.