Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What Might Have Been


In the 1995 film Crimson Tide, Petty Officer Rivetti tells his C.O., Hunter (Denzel Washington), about an argument he was having with a shipmate over which artist drew the definitive Silver Surfer--an argument that grew into a full-fledged fight. Rivetti's shipmate was a huge fan of Moebius (a pseudonym for French comics artist Jean Giraud), and was convinced that he drew the better Surfer, appearing here in the two-issue Silver Surfer: Parable:



After reprimanding Rivetti for endangering his commission over something so trifling, Hunter then assures him that "the [Jack] Kirby Silver Surfer is the only true Silver Surfer."

Hunter, with his obvious bias toward "the Kirby Silver Surfer," might well be remembering the storm that was brewing in 1968, when the Silver Surfer--a guest character in Fantastic Four until that time--got his own book. Prior to his new series, the Surfer had only been drawn by Marvel artist Jack Kirby, the character's creator--and it was widely assumed by readers that Kirby would be the logical choice to be tapped to draw the new title. Imagine the collective surprise of readers when the first issue arrived showing the Surfer drawn, instead, by artist John Buscema (who, in addition to other work for Marvel, had been regularly pencilling The Avengers). I say "surprise" because, in the late sixties, readers didn't have access to any extensive network of comics information which would have given this kind of news in advance. All we knew at the time was what was divulged in one or two trade magazines published at the time--or in the "Marvel Bullpen Bulletins" page of each comic, which really offered only tidbits of information. Check out this wealth of info we were given on the Surfer's new book, just a month ahead of its launch:



Clearly Marvel had a few things to learn about marketing a product to ensure high demand. They should have been promoting this book in full-page ads, weeks prior to its launch. And how odd that the news about Buscema being the artist for the title didn't appear until the next month's Bulletin page announcing the book, which was already on sale--making the absence of Kirby's work doubly felt.

Here's a look at the different styles of the two artists:
Artist: Jack Kirby Artist: John Buscema


With Kirby, you can already get a feel of his interpretation by how his Surfer is in more of an "action" posture. This Surfer gives you a sense of power, and resolve. The Surfer as drawn by Buscema seems more vulnerable, more contemplative.

Aside from Kirby's later work on the character (the Silver Surfer graphic novel), we'll never know what kind of stamp the artist could have left on this initial Silver Surfer book (he only ended up pencilling the last issue of the series). That's not to disparage John Buscema's work on the title, which is quite excellent. But the two artists are strikingly different in pacing a story--and while Buscema draws a good Surfer, and his artwork is at times exquisite, Kirby had by this time proven his handling of the Surfer had no equal in terms of action, scope, and exciting layouts, three things which a book of this type very much needed. Without them, we were left with dwelling on the Surfer's endless brooding musings, which writer Stan Lee gave in abundance.

Nevertheless, the first Silver Surfer series is still a fine representation of Buscema's early work at Marvel. But when it came to a perfect match of artist and series, the Surfer's first book might have soared much higher.

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