Retro Review: Silver Surfer Vol. 2 #1 & The Silver Surfer #1-2 By Lee, Byrne, Palmer & Moebius For Marvel Comics

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Silver Surfer Vol. 2 #1 (June 1982), The Silver Surfer Epic Vol. 1 #1-2 (December 1988 – January 1989)

Written by Stan Lee (Epic #1-2)

Plot by John Byrne (Vol. 2 #1)

Scripted by Stan Lee (Vol. 2 #1)

Art by Moebius (Epic #1-2)

Pencilled by John Byrne (Vol. 2 #1)

Inked by Tom Palmer (Vol. 2 #1)

Coloured by Tom Palmer (Vol. 2 #1), Moebius (Epic #1-2), John Wellington (Epic #1-2)

Spoilers (from thirty-two to thirty-nine years ago)

Among the comics I’ve wanted to revisit since starting this ongoing project is the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers run on Silver Surfer.  I remember it being a real joy, filled with fantastic art and interesting cosmic characters.

Before reading it though, I wanted to re-read the Epic Comics miniseries drawn by the legendary Moebius.  This wasn’t my first introduction to the art of Jean Giraud, but I hadn’t read much when this series came out, and I remember being excited to see his approach applied to an American superhero.  Stuff like that didn’t normally happen, so I thought this would be a very cool comic.

When preparing for this column, I decided I should actually start with the one-shot that came out in 1982, which until I took it out of the longbox, I didn’t remember was actually by John Byrne, one of my all-time favourite creators.  I vaguely remember finding this comic kind of boring, but who knows what age and time might have done for the comic.

The Silver Surfer has long been a difficult character to make interesting.  Too many of the things that made him exciting when he debuted in the pages of Fantastic Four ended up working against him over time.  He’s incredibly powerful, and designed to travel long distances in space, but is trapped on Earth.  He is wracked with guilt over his years helping Galactus find worlds to consume, but did it to save his homeworld, and his lost love.  This is all pretty standard Lee/Kirby pathos, but it got stale pretty quick I felt.  The Surfer’s status as a loner made him hard to write about, I would imagine, as he rarely interacted with other characters.  I think that’s why past his original run, it was more than a decade before he got even a one-shot of his own.  Still, he’s visually a striking character, and he attracted big name creators like Byrne and Moebius.  

Let’s take a look at these three comics, and see how they stand up.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Galactus (Vol. 2 #1, Epic #1-2)
  • Mephisto (Vol. 2 #1)
  • Doctor Doom (Victor Von Doom; Vol. 2 #1)
  • Colton Candell (Epic #1-2)

Guest Stars

  • The Thing (Ben Grimm, Fantastic Four; Vol. 2 #1)
  • The Human Torch (Johnny Storm, Fantastic Four; Vol. 2 #1)
  • Invisible Girl (Sue Richards, Fantastic Four; Vol. 2 #1)
  • Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards, Fantastic Four; Vol. 2 #1)

Supporting Characters

  • Shalla Bal (Vol. 2 #1)
  • Alicia Masters (Vol. 2 #1)
  • Anddar Bal (Vol. 2 #1)
  • Elyna Candell (Epic #1-2)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The Surfer sits in some ruins in the Himalayas, talking to himself about how he’s been trapped on Earth.  He narrates his origin, remembering how when Galactus came to his home planet, Zenn-La, he, Norrin Radd, flew out alone in a spaceship to confront him.  When Galactus found him, Radd entered negotiations, offering to serve as his herald for all time in exchange for Zenn-La’s safety.  Galactus gave him some of the power cosmic, and made him into the Silver Surfer.  He returned to say goodbye to Shalla Bal, his beloved, and much later, ended up discovering Earth.  There, he got into a fight with The Thing, but then was shown kindness by Alicia Masters, and decided that the Earth was worth saving.  He defied his master, who trapped him on Earth beneath an impenetrable barrier.  In the present, the Surfer decides that he needs to try to get through the barrier again, but is unsuccessful.  While floating in space, he notices a beam coming from the surface that has an effect on the barrier.  He follows it to the Baxter Building, where he discovers that his friend Mister Fantastic is working on the barrier problem.  Reed tells Norrin that he’s found a way to get him through the barrier, but they have to do it quickly while the planets are aligned (that’s not explained at all).  He says goodbye to Alicia, and accompanies Reed and Ben into space.  Sue fires a ray from the surface, which matches with Reed’s device’s ray to let the Surfer slip through.  He’s ecstatic to be free of Earth, and immediately starts flying towards Zenn-La.  When he gets there, he finds that the planet is a giant wasteland.  While he investigates, he’s attacked by a flying craft.  He fires back without thinking, then realizes that it’s a Zenn-La patrol ship.  He rescues the pilot and follows a second ship to what appears to be a refugee camp.  When he lands there, the crowd of people that gather recognize and then attack him.  He throws them all off after he spies Anddar Bal, Shalla Bal’s father.  Anddar tells him that after he betrayed Galactus, the world eater returned, and gave them 24 hours to get off the planet before he ate all life on it.  Now they’ve returned to try to make a life on their former home.  The Surfer asks about Shalla Bal, and learns that she was enchanted by Mephisto and taken away.  Furious, the Surfer flies off, thinking about the time he thought that Doctor Doom was marrying Shalla Bal, but it wasn’t really her.  Now he realizes that Mephisto was behind that.  Mephisto watches him from Hell, and laughs.  The Surfer returns to Earth, thinking nothing of passing the barrier and trapping himself once again.  He flies to Doom’s castle (Doom’s not around).  He finds the woman he thought was Shalla Bal, and when he does, Mephisto appears and takes her to Hell.  The Surfer uses the power cosmic to follow, and challenges Mephisto.  He summons demons that drag him into a lake.  He removes the enchantment from Shalla Bal so she can see what’s happened.  Mephisto gloats, but then the Surfer flies out of the lake and attacks the devil.  They are both surprised by how well-matched they are as they struggle.  To break the stalemate, Mephisto blasts Shalla Bal.  The Surfer thinks she’s dead, but instead, Mephisto turns her into pure energy and sends her back to Zenn-La.  He tells the Surfer to follow her, knowing he’ll hit the energy barrier.  Instead, the Surfer sends some of the power cosmic with her, and then lies on his board in despair, before returning to the Earth. Mephisto revels in the misery he’s caused the Surfer.  When Shalla Bal returns to Zenn-La, the power cosmic causes her to start renewing the planet with every step she takes.  The Surfer flies around, determined to accept his imprisonment.

I liked this more than I remembered.  It’s the classic Silver Surfer story, touching on all of the key characters in his history to that point.  It has him go on a journey and end up basically where he started, missing his love and planet, trapped on Earth.

Stan Lee’s scripting is a bit tough to swallow in places, but generally not too over the top.  I wouldn’t have identified John Byrne as the artist for many of the pages – Tom Palmer’s inking is pretty overpowering here, but it also looks really good.  Palmer makes the book look more classic, and it works pretty well for me.

I’m not sure why this book was made.  It’s just a random one-off that gives Norrin his greatest wish, only to take it away again.  I don’t think this would have been a test to see what kind of market there was for a Surfer ongoing, as it was like five years before the Englehart series began.  

Anyway, it’s time to check out the Lee/Moebius mini, which was published while the Surfer ongoing series was underway.  Since it was an Epic Comic, I think we can assume it was always meant to be out of continuity.

  • People watch from their balcony as an object streaks through the night sky.  It attracts the attention of astronomers, who identify it as a gigantic spaceship.  The book is narrated by someone (obviously the Silver Surfer) who talks about spending large amounts of time asleep.  As the ship approaches Earth, it sets off panic.  Our narrator is a vagabond who dreams of better days.  He is approached by three police who, upon seeing the large bundle he has wrapped up, accuse of him looting.  Things escalate, but that’s when the spaceship touches down, and everyone pays more attention to it.  Galactus emerges from the vessel and introduces himself to the world, promising them a new era.  A televangelist named Colton Candell, who has found his audience shrinking of late, tells his sister Elyna that he thinks that Galactus could be his path to fame.  The next day, the vagabond (we know who he is, right?) watches on TV along with a crowd as Candell claims to have summoned Galactus.  When one person in the crowd raises doubts, the others attack him.  Galactus addresses the world again, telling people that there is no such thing as sin, which sparks worldwide madness.  People behave violently everywhere.  Candell has a meeting arranged with the President, and arrives on a roof in a helicopter.  Our vagabond is there to confront him, accusing him of lying.  When Candell wants him silenced, Elyna speaks up for him.  She and the vagabond talk while the others head inside.  The vagabond says he decided to forsake humanity, but feels he has to act now.  He reveals himself to be the Silver Surfer, and they talk about the good she feels in him.  He flies off to confront Galactus, accusing his former master of having betrayed his promise to never hurt the Earth.  Galactus explains that his hunger is great, and he’s decided to let the people of Earth destroy themselves, so he doesn’t have to break his pledge.  The people see the Surfer talking to Galactus, so he addresses them, trying to explain that Galactus is not on their side, and that they should reject him and stop behaving so violently.  He is shot at, and knows he can’t be hurt, but has a hard time understanding their actions.  Galactus gets angry and decides to destroy the Surfer himself, causing a lot of collateral damage.  The Surfer swoops in to save a soldier that just fired a large anti-aircraft gun at him, surprising the man.  Elyna goes to see her brother, to tell him that she doesn’t think he should blindly follow Galactus.  Colton declares her devil-tainted and his followers take her away.  He doubles down on his beliefs in Galactus.
  • Galactus continues to try to kill the Surfer, with his energy blasts destroying the city.  The Surfer realizes he needs to get away to stop this destruction, and disappears.  Galactus insists that he will find the Surfer, while his followers continue to riot.  A newscaster talks about what’s happening, and we see from glimpsing into an average family’s living room that people are afraid to speak out against Galactus.  On the roof of Candell’s complex, a helicopter arrives, bringing the mayor to speak to the prophet.  Candell’s security people get upset when the mayor disparages both Galactus and Candell.  While they argue, Elyna steals the helicopter (it seems a stretch that she knows how to fly one).  Candell’s men open fire on her, and one manages to shoot her.  She continues to fly the helicopter towards Galactus, intending to figure out a way to stop him.  The Surfer is actually still fighting Galactus (this seems like a mistake), while continuing their discussion.  Galactus promises to let him live if he leaves, but the Surfer insists that Galactus leave the planet.  Galactus goes on a rampage, smashing buildings, not caring that it’s being televised across the planet.  Elyna arrives on the scene in the helicopter, in a lot of pain from her gunshot wound.  Candell’s chief security guy interrupts his meditation to tell him that Elyna has escaped.  Candell is okay with this, and they go to his command room.  When he learns that she’s been shot, and sees that her copter is going to crash, he yells for Galactus to save her.  The Surfer sees what’s happening and tries to rescue Elyna, but as he swoops in, Galactus blasts him.  Elyna dies, and the Surfer talks to himself about how when he looked at her face, he saw that she was praying for all of mankind.  Colton is furious that his sister has died, and blames Galactus.  He realizes he was wrong to deify the alien being (this is after he’s had the Mayor killed though).  At the same time, people around the world start to realize that they were also wrong about Galactus, after seeing what happened on TV.  The President decides it’s time to call on the military to intervene, and they scramble jets.  The Surfer continues to argue with Galactus about his goals.  Galactus grabs him in his hands and prepares to crush him.  That’s when the various jets open fire on him, and he realizes he’s lost his grip on the Earth.  He decides to let the Surfer go, because now he can’t manipulate people into destroying one another.  He tells the Surfer that he will leave Earth to look for another planet to feed on, and his vessel leaves.  Later, the Surfer is at the United Nations, where the Secretary General apologizes to him in front of the general assembly.  The Surfer is not happy that the people are calling on him to replace Galactus, and to provide them with leadership.  Seeing the folly of their ways, but not knowing how to convince them to not deify him, he starts making outrageous demands of them, so they will turn on him and reject him.  As the crowd starts yelling angrily at the Surfer, the only voice of dissent belongs to Candwell, who realizes that the Surfer is manipulating them for noble reasons.  The Surfer flies out to space feeling isolated again.

I definitely have some thoughts about this series.  I like the general ambiguity of the book that makes it feel like it’s set in the future (which might explain the lack of other superheroes), and the sense that the book has a grand scale to it, but there are a lot of things that didn’t really work for me.

The thing that was hardest to understand was why the sudden appearance of Galactus would cause such religious fervor, especially since his previous visits (at least his initial one) would have been documented.  I don’t understand why having him stand around in New York would be enough to end conflicts in other parts of the world, or why that fervor would be enough to wipe out mankind to the extent that his original promise to the Silver Surfer would be void.  I wish Stan Lee had spent some more time on the basic concept.

The other thing I found interesting here was how the portrayal of Colton Candwell changed from the first issue to the second.  At first, he was shown as a typical televangelist who saw the coming of Galactus as a way to enhance his own personal brand and further enrich himself.  Somehow, between issues, he managed to amass a small army of militarized followers, install his apartments with a command center, and convince himself that he can telepathically communicate with Galactus.  At this point, it seems he’s come to believe his own rhetoric, until he ultimately rejects Galactus and decides to start following the Surfer at the end of the story.  

So, is he a charlatan, a true believer, or both?  This could have been the most interesting aspect of this comic, yet it’s not given enough space to develop.  I think, had this whole series been written from his perspective, it might have been a lot more interesting.  I’d also like to know how his sister learned to pilot a helicopter…

After this series was published, it was given the name The Parable, and so reading it again, I tried to work out just what the parable was, and what it referred to.  I know that the late eighties were the time of televangelists like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, who seemed to be so incredibly phony and unbelievable, yet who raked in millions.  Is this what Lee is sending up?  I haven’t taken the time to look for any interviews that might discuss this, as I’m trying to limit this column to my own thoughts, instead of synthesizing research.

But let’s face it, almost everyone who read this book originally or since picked it up for the artwork.  Moebius will always be a giant of the comics field, and this book looks pretty cool.  The scenes where Galactus and the Surfer mix it up are great, as are some of the splash pages.  I think I would have preferred a story set on an alien world, as that would have played to Moebius’s strengths, but this is still a gorgeous book.

I do wish that Moebius had done more work with Marvel, aside from the random pin-ups he did, but that this is the only miniseries does make it kind of special.  

Having read these two short Silver Surfer stories, I’m ready to dive into the long run.  I’m especially ready for that Marshall Rogers art that kicked things off…

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

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