By Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1177-1(HB) 978-0-7851-4596-1(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 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 behind an energy-barrier, 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…
In 1968, after increasingly frequent guest-shots and a solo adventure in the back of Fantastic Four Annual #5, the Surfer finally got his own (initially double-length) title at long last.
The stories in this series were highly acclaimed – if not really commercially successful – both for John 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.
This stellar collection – available in deluxe hardback, sturdy trade paperback and assorted eBook formats – gathers Silver Surfer #7-18, spanning August 1969 to September 1970 when the classy experiment ended on a never to be properly resolved cliffhanger.
Consider yourself warned…
Just in case you need reminding: Norrin Radd, discontented soul from an alien paradise named Zenn-La, voluntarily became the gleaming herald of a planetary scourge to save his homeworld. Radd had constantly chafed against a civilisation in comfortable, sybaritic stagnation, but when Galactus shattered their million years of progress in a fleeting moment, the dissident without hesitation offered himself as a sacrifice to save his people from the Devourer’s hunger.
Converted into an indestructible, gleaming human meteor, Radd agreed to scour the galaxies seeking 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…
Following a customarily florid Introductory reminiscence from author Stan Lee, the cosmic Passion Play resumes, illustrated by John Buscema & his brother Sal.
Times and tastes were changing and by the August 1969 cover-dated Silver Surfer #7 many of the Comics Code injunctions against horror stories were being eroded away. Thus ‘The Heir of Frankenstein!’ and his misshapen but noble assistant Borgo debuted to terrorise their small Balkan community and tap into the growing monster movie zeitgeist of the era.
The last maniac of a sullied line of scientists wants to outdo his infamous ancestor and achieves his aim by his tricking the Skyrider into becoming the victim of a deadly duplication experiment.
As a result, the Surfer has to battle a cosmic-fuelled facsimile with all his power but none of his noble ideals or merciful intentions…
Despite some truly groundbreaking comics creativity, the title remained a disappointing seller and, with #8 (September 1969) the title was reduced to a standard 20-page story format and boosted to monthly frequency in an attempt to bolster and build a regular readership.
With Dan Adkins lavishly inking John Buscema, Lee’s stories also became more action-adventure and less contemporary parable, with ‘Now Strikes the Ghost’ bringing back Satan-analogue Mephisto to further plague and imperil the shining sentinel. This he does by resurrecting and augmenting the tortured spectre of cruel and callous mariner Captain Joost Van Straaten, promising that phantom eternal peace in return for crushing Norrin Radd.
The Lord of Lies’ sinister scheme ‘…To Steal the Surfer’s Soul!’ concluded in #9 when the hero’s compassion trumps the tormented Flying Dutchman’s greed and Mephisto’s demonic lust for victory, after which events take another convoluted turn for the solitary starman…
In ‘A World He Never Made!’ long-lost true love Shalla Bal hitches a ride with ambitious and lustful Zenn-Lavian Yarro Gort, who had built a starship to ferry her to Earth and prove he is a far worthier paramour than her former beau.
Her silver-metal lover, meanwhile, has again attempted to integrate with humanity, becoming embroiled in a South American war and saving dedicated rebel Donna Maria Perez from the marauding soldiers of sadistic dictator El Capitan. When the freedom fighter thanks him with a kiss, Gort ensures his ship’s scanners pick up the gesture for Shalla’s benefit…
Issue #11 then sees the sleek star-craft shot down by El Capitan’s forces and Gort join the dictator to build world-conquering weaponry. The combined villains are still no match for the Surfer’s fury, but Radd’s joy in reunion with his true love is quickly crushed when Shalla is gravely injured and he must despatch her back beyond Galactus’ barrier to be healed in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’
In Silver Surfer #12, Lee, Buscema & Adkins mix a few genres as ‘Gather Ye Witches!’ exposes a British coven accidentally summoning gamma-ray mutation the Abomination from exile on a far planet (rather than the intended supernatural slave from Hell), leaving the Skyrider no choice but to battle the brute through the ruins of London, after which ‘The Dawn of the Doomsday Man!’ in the following issues sees seemingly repentant scientist Dr. Kronton implore the Surfer to destroy an apparently unstoppable killer robot stored in a US military bunker.
The sinister savant only wants the trusting alien to afford him access to a prototype Cobalt bomb, but their unwise invasion triggers the assassin automaton’s awakening anyway…
With sales still dropping, #14 saw the adoption of team-up tactics goose interest. ‘The Surfer and the Spider!’ details how a typical Marvel misunderstanding provokes a fighting mad and deeply humiliated Spider-Man into repeatedly attacking the gleaming extraterrestrial, accidentally endangering a young boy in the process…
A similar snafu in ‘The Flame and the Fury!’ pits an angry and distrustful Surfer against former ally Johnny Storm – AKA the Human Torch – when Norrin misconstrues a military request for aid as a betrayal.
The shock and shame leave the humbled exile easy prey when a wicked devil hungry for the Surfer’s soul resurfaces in #16’s ‘In the Hands… of Mephisto!’
Inked by Chic Stone, the tale reveals how the tempter abducts the now-healed Shalla Bal from Zenn-La and forces his anguished pious prey to betray his principles and ensure her safety. The saga concludes in ‘The Surfer Must Kill!’ when the vile seducer orders his victim to destroy peacekeeping espionage force S.H.I.E.L.D., while clandestinely hiding the Surfer’s beloved amidst the agents, intending that she die by her oblivious lover’s cosmic-powered hand…
Happily, the scheme is foiled, though more by luck than intent, and the poor lass is (apparently) returned home. The Surfer’s fate is not so fortunate…
With nothing else working to boost sales, Marvel’s miracle worker returned to his creation but it was too late. Silver Surfer #18 (September 1970) features ‘To Smash the Inhumans!’ by Lee, Jack Kirby & Herb Trimpe and depicts the puzzled, embattled alien philosopher overtaken by rage against all humanity after surviving a misguided attack by Black Bolt and the warriors of hidden city Attilan.
The “Savagely Sensational New Silver Surfer” promised at the end of that unfinished tale was never seen. Kirby was on his way to DC to create his magnificent Fourth World Trilogy and the bean-counters at the House of Ideas had already decreed the Skyrider’s publishing demise.
He vanished into the Limbo of fond memory and occasional guest-shots which afflicted so many costumed characters at the beginning of the 1970s, making way for a wave of supernatural heroes and horrors that capitalised on the periodic revival of interest in magic and mystery fare.
It would 1981 before Norrin Radd would helm his own title again…
That’s not quite the end of this spectacular tome, however. Included for your delectation are a host of original art pages and covers, a reprint cover gallery from Fantasy Masterpieces, and a brace of Buscema covers from the 2001 Marvel Essential collection.
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, proved that comicbooks could be so much more 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.
© 1969, 1970, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.