Retro Review: Silver Surfer: Homecoming & Silver Surfer / Warlock: Resurrection By Starlin, Reinhold & Austin For Marvel Comics

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Silver Surfer: Homecoming GN and Silver Surfer/Warlock: Resurrection #1-4 (October 1991, March – June 1993)

Written by Jim Starlin

Pencilled by Bill Reinhold (GN), Jim Starlin (SS/W:R #1-4)

Inked by Bill Reinhold (GN), Jim Starlin (SS/W:R #1), Terry Austin (SS/W:R #2-4)

Colour by Linda Lessmann (GN), Ian Laughlin (SS/W:R #1-4)

Spoilers (from twenty-nine to thirty-one years ago)

I’m working my way through the Silver Surfer, and around the time I dropped the title, as it got a little too 90s, and Marvel could no longer hold my interests, I did decide to pick up the Silver Surfer/Warlock: Resurrection miniseries, largely because I was already nostalgic for Jim Starlin’s take on the character, having gotten kind of bored of Ron Marz’s.  

Starlin left the Surfer at the beginning of the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries, and after it, focused on the rest of that trilogy (Infinity War and Infinity Crusade), as well as on his signature character, Adam Warlock in the Warlock and the Infinity Watch series, which I remember liking at first, but not for long.  I guess he wasn’t completely done with the Surfer, because he decided to circle back to him for this four issue miniseries.

Before that, though, there was the Homecoming graphic novel which Starlin wrote (and Bill Reinhold illustrated).  It completely slipped under my radar back in the 90s, or I was too broke to pick up anything more expensive than regular comics, so I never read it, despite it containing a big moment in the Surfer’s life.  Having realized, as I continue reading Marz’s run, it’s significance, I decided it was time to read it, thanks to the magic of the internet.  

I decided to combine these two Starlin projects into one column, since they are so strongly connected.  I honestly don’t remember anything about the Resurrection miniseries, so I’m curious to see if it’s any good at all.  Let’s find out.

Let’s track who turned up in the title:

Heroes

  • The Silver Surfer (Norrin Radd; GN, SS/W:R #1-4)
  • Moondragon (Heather Douglas, Infinity Watch; GN, SS/W:R #1-4)
  • Pip the Troll (Infinity Watch; SS/W:R #1-4)
  • Drax, the Destroyer (Infinity Watch; SS/W:R #1-4)
  • Gamora (Infinity Watch; SS/W:R#1-4)
  • Adam Warlock (Infinity Watch; SS/W:R #1-4)

Villains

  • The Great One (GN)
  • Death (SS/W:R #1-2)
  • Mephisto (SS/W:R #2-4)

Guest Stars

Supporting Characters

  • Shalla Bal (GN, SS/W:R #2-4)

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

  • The Homecoming OGN opens with the Surfer flying through the cosmos when he receives a telepathic message from Shalla Bal, his love, and the leader of his world, Zenn-La.  She only says his name, but he immediately heads home, a journey that takes two days.  As he travels, he’s noticed by a woman in her own spaceship.  When he returns to where Zenn-La should be, he’s surprised to see it missing.  He enters an orbital science station, but the scientists there don’t understand what happened either, except that in the second after Zenn-La disappeared, they saw what looked like a giant floating brain in its place for a moment.  Moondragon, the former Avenger and Defender, and possessor of the Mind Gem and part of the Infinity Watch (called the Infinity Guard here, because I suspect that this was completed before that series launched), appears on the station and explains that she believes the planet was stolen by the brain-being, which is a powerful psychic entity.  Moondragon can track the being, so the two heroes head out.  The Surfer leaves Moondragon on an asteroid and goes to confront the being, which doesn’t reply to him and repels his attacks.  Moondragon meditates and probes the being, and after he realizes he’s making no progress, explains to the Surfer that the being is dreaming and wasn’t even aware of him.  Moondragon explains that the being has converted Zenn-La and everyone on it into thought patterns and absorbed them.  She believes she can send the Surfer into the being using her gem, and is successful in doing that.  There are dozens of worlds that the Surfer finds, and he quickly locates his own.  He finds Shalla Bal and they embrace.  She tells him that The Great One explained to them that he decided to absorb them as a way of protecting them from the conflicts in their region of space; everyone on the planet agreed, almost unanimously, to stay inside of him.  She also explains that this makes them all immortal now, and that everyone is so much happier. The Surfer contacts Moondragon, and learns that he can also stay there forever, since his body is essentially immortal.  She says she’ll move his body into the Great One’s orbit, which will allow him to stay as well.  The Surfer and Shalla Bal spend happy times together, finally free of their obligations to their world and universe.  After a while, the Surfer realizes he can turn himself back to his human form.  After a while, the Zenn-Lavians all realize that the Great One is coming to greet them, but Norrin can’t sense this.  They prepare a feast and celebration, but when the Great One arrives, looking like one of them (although larger at times), he senses Norrin’s presence, and immediately attacks him.  Norrin returns to his Surfer form, and fights back while trying to get the Great One to listen to him.  He leads him away from the planet to protect it, and their fight grows more fierce.  As they fight, they end up damaging some of the nearby planets, and we see the Great One fall back to the planet, badly hurt.  The Surfer goes to him, and he admits that he panicked, and now he is dying because their fight destroyed a satellite (this is not really explained very well).  We keep seeing what is supposed to be the Great One’s heart, which has a blackened region.  The Surfer returns the Great One to the Zenn-Lavians, and they try to figure out how to help him.  Moondragon appears (apparently she stuck around, but that seems convenient given that the Surfer has been there for days or weeks).  She explains that nothing can save the Great One’s life, but that she can try to save Zenn-La and the other planets he’s absorbed.  She needs to tap into the Great One’s powers, and needs the Surfer outside of him to provide her with power.  She also needs an anchor within his mind, and Shalla Bal volunteers, despite the fact that it will put her in danger.  She places the Empress in a protective cocoon, and then returns the Surfer to reality.  He starts to transfer the energy of the nearby red giant star into Moondragon’s Mind Gem, despite the danger to her, and she is able to restore all the planets and beings he converted into thought, including Zenn-La, which is where they immediately find themselves (which doesn’t make sense at all, given that they’d left that space.  Moondragon sends the Surfer back into the Great One’s mind to retrieve Shalla Bal, and he immediately sees that much of the Great One’s interior world is gone.  He reaches into the cocoon (which looks like a mirrored shell) and almost reaches Shalla Bal’s hand as we see the Great One’s heart stop beating.  The Surfer finds himself back on Zenn-La, but Shalla Bal is not with him.  Moondragon apologizes, and the Surfer collapses.  A bunch of Zenn-Lavians arrive and accuse him of ruining everything.  They want to kill him, but as he flies off, Moondragon lectures them on how much he’s sacrificed for them, and yells at them.  The book ends with the Surfer flying through space, crying.
  • There was about a year and a half between the Homecoming GN and the Resurrection miniseries in real time, and it’s not clear how much time has passed in the comics, especially given that Shalla Bal’s passing was barely mentioned in the Surfer’s own book.  
  • The Surfer gazes into a pond thinking about Shalla Bal.  He narrates the story of his life with her before he met Galactus and became the Silver Surfer, and what happened after his exile on Earth ended and they were able to be reunited.  He also spends four pages recapping the Homecoming graphic novel.  It appears the Surfer is on Earth for some reason, and his reverie is interrupted by Pip the Troll, who came to tell him that his boss, Adam Warlock, wants to see him.  The Surfer is not interested and flies off, thinking about how he doesn’t really trust Warlock.  His flight is interrupted when Pip teleports Drax the Destroyer right into his path.  They grab the board and teleport away.  Pip returns and tells the Surfer he can have his board back if he comes to the Infinity Watch’s home on Monster Island.  They teleport there (Pip has the Space Gem), and the Surfer retrieves his board and heads for the castle on the hill to confront Warlock.  When he enters, he sees that Moondragon and Gamora are present, and Warlock is sitting on a throne.  The Surfer confronts him for his rudeness, but Warlock counters that he has something to offer him.  Warlock explains that he has a way to restore Shalla Bal because her death was not a normal one.  Moondragon thinks that using the Mind and Soul Gems, they can reconstitute Shalla Bal’s being, but Warlock wants something in return; he wants the Surfer to be his friend and ally, and to owe him a favor.  The Surfer agrees.  Death watches this in her scrying pool thing, but commands her servants to do nothing about it.  The Infinity Watch and the Surfer arrive on a dead world, where they plan to make this whole thing work.  The idea is that the Surfer is going to direct energy into Adam’s Soul Gem, which he will direct towards Moondragon’s Mind Gem.  The Surfer doesn’t like Adam’s arrogance, but they start the process anyway, and as the energy flows out of Moondragon, it opens a portal of some sort.  Things seems to be working okay, but then Moondragon says she’s “losing it”, whatever “it” might be, and then a bunch of demons come pouring through the portal.
  • The demons keep pouring out of the portal, and the Surfer and the Infinity Watch find themselves in a big fight.  Moondragon explains that she opened a rogue dimensional level by accident, and now they need to stop them.  The Surfer blasts the power cosmic into the portal, burning the creatures coming through, which gives them some space to breathe.  While the others keep fighting, the Surfer, Warlock, and Moondragon resume their previous configuration to keep sending energy into the portal.  Moondragon succeeds, and the creatures disappear.  Now she finds a glowing light (it looks a bit like the Starbrand) and brings it through the portal.  This is Shalla Bal’s life force, and after a bright light, we see that Shalla Bal’s body has reformed.  The Surfer is happy to see her, but it quickly becomes clear that her soul is not in this empty body.  The Surfer is furious with Warlock, and wants to kill him.  Drax restrains him.  Warlock explains that Shalla Bal’s spirit must be in the afterlife, and once the Surfer is calm, he suggests they go seek her out.  Pip doesn’t like where this is going, but Adam talks to him while the Surfer goes through a decision process of his own before agreeing that they should do whatever is necessary.  Pip teleports Adam and the Surfer (leaving the others behind with the shell of Shalla Bal).  They arrive in the palace of Death, where a bunch of skeletal soldiers attack them.  They fight them for a few pages until Death sends her forces away.  Her servant explains that she is unhappy with Warlock for some stuff that happened in the Infinity War involving Thanos, but Warlock apologizes.  The servant explains that Death doesn’t have Shalla Bal’s soul.  We see that it’s in a gem somewhere, and that someone with a red mouth is smiling.  The servant further explains that Death can’t tell them where she is, but after it looks like Adam flirts with her a bit, she agrees to send the intruders away.  She teleports them into Hades, where Mephisto is waiting for them.
  • Warlock attempts to speak with Mephisto, but he blasts him and encases him in rock or ash.  The Surfer realizes that Mephisto holds Shalla Bal’s soul in a gem in his hand, and Pip decides to take off, teleporting away.  The Surfer asks Mephisto why he’s always hated him so much, and Mephisto explains instead that he always desired the Surfer’s pure soul.  The Surfer blasts him, but Mephisto shows that he’s all powerful in his own realm, making him feel like Mephisto has picked him up and eaten him.  The Surfer asks why Mephisto doesn’t go through his usual moves, and offer to free Shalla Bal in exchange for his own soul.  The Surfer makes that offer himself, and is angry to see Mephisto reject it.  He explains that the thing that always made the Surfer so desirable was the fact that Galactus had modified his spirit (something Starlin established in his run on the Surfer’s book), so that his purity was actually an illusion.  Now, he’s not as interested as he once was.  Instead, it’s preferable to Mephisto to keep Shalla Bal and torment her.  Mephisto gloats that he’s won, but that’s when Pip teleports back and hits him in the head with a wrench.  Drax appears and punches Mephisto, and then Gamora attacks him, knocking the gem out of his hands.  The Surfer reaches for it but Mephisto grabs it back.  He starts to gloat, but suddenly experiences a huge headache and a large chunk of masonry falling on him. This was Moondragon’s work, and as she picks up Shalla Bal’s gem, she says they should leave quickly.  Mephisto snaps his fingers, and suddenly all of the Infinity Watch are encased in rock.  Mephisto places Shalla Bal’s soul in flames and we hear her scream.  The surfer prepares to attack, but Mephisto changes the configurations of everyone’s prisons, including the Surfer.  He gloats some more, but a voice stands up to him.  Mephisto realizes that Adam is still alive and approaches him as he breaks through the rock he’s encased in.  He makes it clear that his Soul Gem makes him more powerful than Mephisto, and they prepare to fight, both growing to a larger size.
  • The Surfer and the Watch struggle to watch the fight between the massive Mephisto and Adam Warlock.  Mephisto boasts again of how powerful he is in his own realm, while Adam disputes it.  The structure holding the Watch and Surfer gets disturbed by the loose energy firing everywhere, and they all start to fall into an abyss (they were on a long causeway).  Moondragon believes she can protect everyone with her telekinesis, so Drax and the Surfer let their power rip, freeing them all.  Mephisto has Adam fighting him inside an energy bubble, where he’s got a house of mirrors thing going on.  Adam is already tired of Mephisto’s duplicitousness, and sees it as proof that he can’t face him directly.  He manages to land a good blow on Mephisto, who in his anger, takes on a more traditional demon-form, and becomes even larger than Adam again.  They keep fighting, and Adam’s attack causes Mephisto to drop the gem containing Shalla Bal’s soul.  The Surfer reaches for it but misses.  Inside the energy sphere, Mephisto now looks as he did when John Romita Jr. drew him in Daredevil.  Drax catches the gem, but the ground shakes and he drops it again.  Pip manages to teleport under it and catches it, but as he is about to hand it to the Surfer, a massive pile of rocks falls on them.  Pip teleports to the rest of the Watch, and they decide to leave with the gem.  We see the energy sphere grow.  Later, the Surfer digs himself out of the rubble and finds Mephisto sitting on his throne.  He explains that Adam defeated him, and then he left.  The Surfer wonders why they didn’t try to help him.  Mephisto suggests that Adam was only ever helping Shalla Bal to have a way of controlling the Surfer, and he angers him, but also abides by the terms of his defeat, and lets the Surfer leave.  The Surfer heads right for the planet where they resurrected Shalla Bal, and finds Adam and the Watch sitting around.  He comes in hot, blasting Drax and tossing Gamora as he moves to confront Adam.  They have a brief fight, which is stopped by the appearance of Shalla Bal, who is not happy to see the way the Surfer is acting.  They embrace and talk for a while.  Adam explains to his friends that he doesn’t understand love.  The Surfer wants to leave with Shalla Bal to live together, but she talks about her duty to Zenn-La, stuck as it is near Shi’ar and Skrull space.  They agree that once again, duty must separate them.  Pip takes Shalla Bal home, and the Surfer accuses Adam of impure motives.  Adam reminds him that they made a deal – the Surfer will help him when he needs it, but he doesn’t expect them to be friends.  The Surfer heads off into space, thinking about how he’s happy that Shalla Bal is alive again, even if they can’t be together.

So, to be clear, Jim Starlin wrote a graphic novel to kill off Shalla Bal, only to resurrect her within a couple of years, and during the time she was dead, she was only mentioned once in the Surfer’s monthly series.  So why?  I haven’t been re-reading the rest of the Infinity trilogy (War and Crusade), but I know that this series came out somewhere between those last two installments.  Did something in Infinity Crusade hinge on Adam having to rely on the Surfer?  And to do something that he wouldn’t normally have done?

Reading this on its own, it feels like something is missing.  It was never established anywhere that I can remember (and at this point, I’ve had my memory refreshed for much the Surfer’s appearances from the early 80s through the early 90s) that the Surfer is the type to refuse the requests of heroes, so I don’t know why Adam would need to manipulate him, or find leverage over him.

Leaving that aside, I don’t really know why either of these projects existed.  Perhaps these were story ideas that Starlin had put together during his run on the Surfer that he never had time to get to.  Marvel has always been strange with respect to its OGN line, so that this graphic novel told of a key event in its hero’s life, which was then never discussed again, is not that much of a surprise.  

I also wonder, how many times does Shalla Bal have to be put in danger?  How many times does her immortal soul have to end up in Mephisto’s possession?  I like that Starlin tried to explain why he always wanted the Surfer’s soul, because it was always weird to me that Mephisto was kind of his biggest foe before Steve Englehart’s series launched.  What is the religious status of Zenn-Lavians?  We know they have gods (the Surfer says “Gods of Zenn-La” at times), but do they have an analogue of Hell?  Is this a concept that Norrin Radd would have even understood?

Anyway, I continue to be ambivalent about Adam Warlock.  He’s definitely not a likeable character as Starlin portrays him in this miniseries.  I like his outfit in this era, with the high boots and flowing cloak (it’s not a cape), but he’s a hard character to care about.  The rest of the Infinity Watch suffer from the same problem.  Pip is annoying.  Dumb Drax is hard to take in large quantities.  Moondragon is one of the most interesting characters in this book, but she doesn’t get much space to shine.  Gamora is largely a cipher at this time – we know she can fight, but that’s about it.

Bill Reinhold’s art in the graphic novel is pretty nice, and that book has great colours.  Starlin’s art in the miniseries feels a little rushed in places, but things definitely improved once Terry Austin came on to ink it starting with the second issue.

Ultimately, everything discussed here is kind of forgettable, especially since the story negated itself.  I am considering revisiting the Infinity Watch series, and the rest of the Infinity trilogy, but it won’t likely happen for some time.  In the meantime, I’m going to continue reading the main Silver Surfer book (although I’m starting to get a little bored with the Marz/Lim 90s dynamic).

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