Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer

Let me take the opportunity to introduce you to a little piece of history that I made sure to purchase back in the day, and which--if you're a comic book reader--I think you would have fun kicking back and reading.

In 1978, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborated on Marvel Comics' first (to the best of my knowledge) graphic novel, The Silver Surfer. The book was also inked by Joe Sinnott, who had assisted with the last fifty or so books of Kirby's run on Fantastic Four. It contains the writer/artist team's last definitive work on the Surfer, and you will (forgive the pun) marvel at the result.

The Silver Surfer has a number of surprises. First off, the cover is by artist Earl Norem, which comes as something of a shock. Jack Kirby is renowned for not only his artwork but also for his eye-catching, dramatic comics covers, even for books where he didn't do the inside art--but it's almost unheard of for a book that he pencilled to be unaccompanied by his cover art. Yet though he did submit one for this project (see below), it was rejected in favor of Norem's, for whatever reason.

Secondly, the story, which "reimagines" the classic Fantastic Four story of the coming of Galactus, features no Earth super-beings whatsoever. It's an interesting twist to the tale. The Surfer and Galactus again battle--but there is no Fantastic Four to intervene and work behind the scenes to produce the development which drives Galactus away. Humanity, as a result, is totally powerless to prevent Galactus from carrying out his plans, and it all falls to the Surfer.

As a result, Lee is free to do what he does best with the Surfer--use him to expose humanity's countless prejudices and flaws, as well as its virtues. It's a writing style which probably doomed the initial Lee/John Buscema Silver Surfer series to cancellation. No comic book reader wants to be hammered, issue after issue after issue, by a morose main character on how unreasoning and hostile and savage and uncaring we are as a species. But in this one-shot, Lee has no such worries. Lee's Surfer has often been labelled as Christ-like, and you'll probably see that to full effect here in his observations and musings.

But there is a fair amount of action, as well, most vividly in the Surfer's initial battle with Galactus. The hapless inhabitants of Earth are reduced to terrified spectators of a conflict beyond their comprehension. Kirby's rendition of this battle in Fantastic Four was impressive enough, but here he takes off the gloves. The artwork is simply beautiful, and Lee adapts well to the pace. Here, as in the comic book version, the battle has a similar end for the Surfer--except that his yoke to Galactus is not so easily severed, and the story still has a ways to go.

The Silver Surfer costs a pretty penny in today's market, so you may not want to actually acquire it--but if you have the opportunity to read it, it's certainly worth your time. At the time it was issued, I don't think it was regarded as more than an interesting Lee/Kirby retake on the Surfer/Galactus trilogy. But looking at it now, it really stands out as a beautiful rendition of story and art, as well as a high note for the Surfer's original creators.

Jack Kirby's rejected cover

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