Silver Surfer Marvel Masterworks volume 1

By Stan Lee, John Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1187-0 (HB)                    978-0-7851-4282-9 (TPB)

Although pretty much a last-minute addition to Fantastic Four #48-50’s ‘Galactus Trilogy’, Jack Kirby’s scintillating creation the Silver Surfer quickly became a watchword for depth and subtext in the Marvel Universe and one Stan Lee kept as his own personal toy for many years.

Tasked with finding planets for space god Galactus to consume and, despite the best efforts of intergalactic voyeur Uatu the Watcher, one day the Silver Surfer discovers Earth, where the latent nobility of humanity reawakens his own suppressed morality; causing the shining scout to rebel against his master and help the FF save the world.

In retaliation, Galactus imprisons his one-time herald on Earth, making him the ultimate outsider on a planet remarkably ungrateful for his sacrifice.

The Galactus Saga was a creative highlight from a period where the Lee/Kirby partnership was utterly on fire. The tale has all the power and grandeur of a true epic and has never been surpassed for drama, thrills and sheer entertainment. It’s not included here: for that treat you’ll need to see an upcoming Fantastic Four Epic Collection or many other Marvel collections…

In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and even a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5 (happily included here at the back; chronologically adrift but well worth the wait), the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last. There’s also a sassy spoof from Not Brand Echh #13 to puncture any pomposity overdose you might experience…

This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers the first six extra-length adventures from August 1968 to June 1969 and, following a fond Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, begins with ‘The Origin of the Silver Surfer!’

Illustrated by John Buscema & Joe Sinnott, the drama unfolds after a prolonged flashback sequence and repeated examples of crass humanity’s brutal callousness and unthinking hostility, detailing how Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge.

Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their vaunted million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save the world from the Devourer’s hunger.

Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies looking for uninhabited worlds rich in the energies Galactus needs to survive, thus saving planets with life on them from destruction. He didn’t always find them in time…

The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for Buscema’s agonised, emphatic and truly beautiful artwork as well as Lee’s deeply spiritual and philosophical scripts. The tone was accusatory; with the isolated alien’s travails and social observations creating a metaphoric status akin to a Christ-figure for an audience that was maturing and rebelling against America’s creaking and unsavoury status quo.

The second 40-page adventure exposes a secret invasion by extraterrestrial lizard men ‘When Lands the Saucer!’ This forces the Surfer into battle against the sinister Brotherhood of Badoon without human aid or even awareness in ‘Let Earth be the Prize!’

A little side-note for sad nit-picking enthusiasts like me: I suspect that the original intention was to drop the page count to regular 20-page episodes from #2, since in terms of pacing both the second and third issues divide perfectly into two-parters, with cliffhanger endings and splash page/chapter titles that are dropped from #4 onwards.

Silver Surfer #3 is pivotal in the ongoing saga as Lee & Buscema introduced Marvel’s Satan-analogue in ‘The Power and the Prize!’

Mephisto is Lord of Hell and sees the Surfer’s untarnished soul as a threat to his evil influence on Earth. To crush the anguished hero’s spirit, the demon abducts Norrin Radd’s true love Shalla Bal from still-recovering Zenn-La and torments the Sentinel of the Spaceways with her dire distress in his sulphurous nether-realm…

The concluding chapter sees mortal angel of light and devil of depravity conduct a spectacular ‘Duel in the Depths’ wherein neither base temptations nor overwhelming force are enough to stay the noble Surfer’s inevitable triumph.

Just as wicked a foe then attempted to exploit the Earth-bound alien’s heroic impulses in #4’s ‘The Good, The Bad and the Uncanny!’ (inked by new art collaborator Sal Buscema) wherein Asgardian God of Evil Loki offers lies, deceit and even escape from Galactus’ terrestrial cage to induce the Silver Stalwart to attack and destroy the mighty Thor. The net result is a staggering and bombastic clash that just builds and builds as the creative team finally let loose and fully utilise their expanded story-proportions and page count to create smooth flowing, epic action-adventures.

This magical collection continues with a powerful parable about race, prejudice and shared humanity as the Surfer is befriended by ostracised black physicist Al Harper in ‘…And Who Shall Mourn Him?’

As the two outcasts bond, the scientist realises he might have a way to free the Surfer from his Galactine incarceration, but just as they put their plan into operation, remorseless alien entity The Stranger arrives, determined to erase the potential threat mankind offers to the rest of the universe.

To stop him both, Harper and Radd must sacrifice everything they cherish most for a world that doesn’t care if they live or die…

Officially closing this volume ‘World Without End!’ from issue #6 embraces dystopian fantasy as the Surfer reasons that by breaking the time-barrier he might escape the energy shield binding him to Earth. Tragically, although the plan works, the lonely wanderer discovers that the far future harbours little life, and what there is owes fealty and its own precarious continuation to a monstrous mutant who lives simply to conquer and kill.

Appalled, overwhelmed and utterly unable to beat the horrific Overlord, all the Surfer can do to preserve all Creation is to escape back into time and seek to prevent the murderous freak from ever being born…

As foretold, this compulsive comicbook chronicle concludes with a groundbreaking vignette from Fantastic Four Annual #5 – released in November 1967 – wherein the rapidly rising star-in-the-making got his first solo shot.

‘The Peerless Power of the Silver Surfer’ (Lee, Kirby & Frank Giacoia) is a pithy fable of cruel ingratitude that reintroduced the Mad Thinker’s lethal A.I. assassin Quasimodo

The Quasi-Motivational Destruct Organ was a malevolent murder machine trapped in a static computer housing which dreamed of being able to move within the real world. Sadly, although its pleas initially found favour with the gullibly innocent stranger from the stars, the killer computer itself had underestimated the power and conscience of its foolish saviour and the gleaming guardian of life was explosively forced to take back the boon he had impetuously bestowed in a bombastic bravura display of Kirby action and Lee pathos…

One last sally comes with ‘The Origin of the Simple Surfer!’ – by Roy Thomas and the sublime Marie Severin from Not Brand Echh #13,May 1969 – as alien émigré Borin-Kadd ruminates on his strange fate and pines for his daftly-beloved Shallo-Gal when… well you get the idea, right?

Completing the treats are a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, house ads and a stunning original art cover by Buscema & Sinnott

The Silver Surfer was always a pristine and iconic character when handled well – and sparingly – and these early forays into a more mature range of adventures, although perhaps a touch heavy-handed, showed that there was far more to comicbooks than cops and robbers or monsters and misfits.

That exploratory experience and the mystique of hero as Christ allegory made the series a critically beloved but commercially disastrous cause célèbre until eventually financial failure killed the experiment.

After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko sparks had initially fired up the imaginations of readers in the early days, the deeper, subtler overtones and undercurrents offered by stories like these kept a maturing readership enthralled, loyal and abidingly curious as to what else comics could achieve if given half a chance, and this fabulously lavish tome offers the perfect way to discover or recapture the thrill and wonder of those startlingly different days and times.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.