The Essential SILVER SURFER: An Icon of Loneliness & Longing…

Silver Surfer #3 (2014): Allred Cover

As part of the vast All-new Marvel NOW explosion, a new resurrection of the Silver Surfer is unveiled later this month.

Created by Jack Kirby in early 1966 and having had various runs and mutations over the decades, the Silver Surfer remains one of the most interesting, enigmatic and enduring icons of the Marvel universe, once referred to by Stan Lee as “one book that I would have liked to have always done myself”.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily list him as my absolute favorite character, he has always been one of the most intriguing.

I loved the far-awayness of those stories, the fact that Norrin Rad/Silver Surfer was such an isolated, solo character out there in the depths of the cosmos: a lone rider, with his tragic origin story, his unrequited longings, his unfulfilled quest and his constant pain and disappointment.

It’s this sense of loneliness and isolation, along with the characteristic inner monologue that was an idiosyncrasy of the Silver Surfer comics, that most springs to mind when I think of him; as that cosmic savior who “bears his cross and endures his lonely obligation” (as Bradford W. Wright put it in his 2003 book Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America).

That’s a potent image for a teenager who’s feeling alienation. The Surfer’s world and his story is also one underpinned by tragedy: the loss of his planet and society (Zenn La) and the loss of his loved one (Shala Bal). He can never get them back.

He is pining for a reality that once was: but that will never exist again for him to return to. Moreover, he is essentially a slave. He is made to serve Galactus as part of a terrible bargain: but he knows Galactus is a monster and that he has thus been the servant (or ‘herald’) of said cosmic monster.

That’s one sad life.

Indications are that the new title (Writer Dan Slott and artist Mike Allred; Issue #1 cover featured above) will see some reinvention, with entirely new elements being brought into the mix along with at least one new major character; ‘Dawn Greenwood’, a female character and essentially a traveling companion for the Surfer, with whom he forms a bond (in some respects a modified version of the idea Steve Englehart originally had for the Silver Surfer series that ran from 1987, Englehart having wanted to make the Avengers character Mantis a companion for the Surfer; that idea was never permitted at the time).

This already indicates a different tone from the more classic ‘lone rider’ Silver Surfer motif highlighted above, but in essence it’s hard to see how you could go wrong with the Surfer; though the lack of success of the 2003 relaunch, which lasted only 14 issues, may have been more a reflection of shifting trends and lack of public interest than quality of themes or writing.

A Marvel universe without a monthly Silver Surfer title seems just wrong somehow.

 Silver Surfer #15 

From his first appearance in Fantastic Four #48 (March 1966), the Surfer has been a source of fascination, though the character has perhaps never quite crossed into the popularity contest of Marvel’s top-tier poster-boys.

Nevertheless the most famous Herald of Galactus has played his part in some of the Marvel Universe’s biggest events and storylines, such as the Infinity Gauntlet and its related crossovers, to cite just one example, and the pages of Silver Surfer comics served as the introduction-point for numerous longstanding characters, such as Mephisto for example – in Silver Surfer#3 (1968): ‘The Power and the Prize’.

Most of the best-regarded Silver Surfer stories occurred in the second-run as a solo title from 1987 onwards, with Steve Englehart as initial writer, though eventually replaced by Jim Starlin from issue #34 onwards.

Stan Lee might’ve been unhappy about relinquishing the Surfer into the hands of others; of that time, he is quoted as saying “it was kind of nice for me to have been the only writer of the Silver Surfer, so I felt a little bit disappointed when somebody else did it”.

But this run of the Silver Surfer – stretching into the early/mid-nineties – was my era and it remains for many the most fruitful. And dammit, Silver Surfer #75 and the death of Nova remains one of my most nostalgic issues of any title.

 Silver Surfer #75 

Whether past glories can be recaptured or lived-up-to remains to be seen; my nostalgia is for the Ron Marz and Jim Starlin eras and for stories like The Herald Ordeal and the Kree/Skrull War, but like any classic title re-launch it should be about a balance between revitalizing and paying dues to the existing mythology and backstory as well as moving forward and doing new things.

The new title should, you’d hope, revive and involve some of those classic, old characters and associations; Adam Warlock, Nova, Drax, Eros, and especially The Watchers, among others.

I always had a real soft-spot for Ganymede, personally, though I appear to be a minority. Seriously, why does no one remember Ganymede?

 Silver Surfer Vol.3 #81

Silver Surfer #146

Silver Surfer #55 

Among the highlights of Norrin Rad’s epic saga is the graphic novel Judgement Day (Stan Lee/John Buscema), memorable for its superb art and based on a conflict between two cosmic heavyweights, Galactus and Mephisto.

I haven’t read the 2007 four-issue miniseries Silver Surfer: Requiem by J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5); though it’s something I’m very keen to read some day and is at the high end of a very long reading list.

Graphic novels notwithstanding, however, there is enough classic storytelling and mythology within the many pages of the Silver Surfer title’s various volumes to keep would-be newcomers fed for years.

I hope the new series can take its place in that library of classics.

Silver Surfer, by the way, is one Marvel property I don’t think we’re going to see get the big-screen treatment any time soon. He was the only good thing about the Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer movie; but, at any rate, legal issues will prevent cinematic adaptation for some time.

20th Century Fox were allegedly hiring Babylon 5 maestro and Silver Surfer – Requiem writer J. Michael Straczynski to write the screenplay for a Silver Surfer big-screen spin-off, but that project appears to have petered out some time ago.

However, I would wholeheartedly recommended the 1990s Silver Surfer animated series to anyone who’s never seen it.

Man, that was a good show: and really faithful to the source material. That series really managed to capture the heart, the essence, of the comic book: that sense of the Surfer’s alienation and longing, as well as bringing in appearances from Thanos, Pip the Troll, Nebula, the Watchers, Nova, and just about everyone you could want from the source material.

The X-Men animated show from the 90s is still upheld as classic, even a milestone (and rightly so): but the Silver Surfer animated show needs more love and recognition.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this new era.

S. Awan

Independent journalist. Pariah. Believer in human rights, human dignity and liberty. Musician. Substandard Jedi. All-round failure. And future ghost.

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