Friday, September 21, 2012

Full Circle

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Silver Surfer #100

For as long as it took Silver Surfer to reach a landmark 100th issue, you'd think that issue would feature something other than yet another predictable conflict with Mephisto. It's partly why I placed two separate covers of their conflicts together--the latest battle between them from issue #100, alongside Silver Surfer #3, the Surfer's first meeting with this demon. Because the more things change, the more things apparently stay the same.

The Surfer's first series ran only eighteen issues--and in that short span, the Surfer was brought into battle with Mephisto three separate times. Either the well was running dry, or Mephisto was being groomed as the Surfer's arch-enemy. Given writer Stan Lee's penchant for having the Surfer represent all that was good and noble in humanity--or, more to the point, showing us the heights to which humanity could reach, if we could overcome the materialistic and primitive flaws which Mephisto could exploit--that's probably as good a label as any, if you can picture the Surfer having an "arch-enemy." Perhaps "nemesis" would be more accurate, given how often Mephisto coveted the Surfer's soul.

But the "dry well" theory could also hold some merit, since the Surfer was still imprisoned on Earth at the time. Picture trying to find threats on Earth to challenge the former herald of Galactus. I've already written about how the Surfer's power was brought down dramatically in order to make such threats credible. ("It wasn't like he could be menaced by Mephisto every issue," I wrote at the time. Ha ha! How about ever few issues?) But a large draw of the Silver Surfer was his cosmic power--otherwise, he was just a silver guy flying around the Earth on a surfboard. So how does one dilute cosmic power enough to let its wielder be vulnerable, yet make it powerful enough to prevail in battle? The answer seemed to be that you used it mostly against lesser foes (Spider-Man, the Torch, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Inhumans), and just looked the other way when you needed to increase it for the short term in order to battle more powerful threats (Loki, the Stranger, the Overlord). But Lee couldn't credibly walk that tightrope forever.

So here we are in outer space, and having been there for some time--and once again, Mephisto is after the Surfer's soul. Talk about being obsessed with something. The Surfer has long since ceased being a threat to Mephisto as far as being a positive influence on humanity and thus weakening Mephisto's grip on the "breeding place" (as he liked to call it) for his stygian domain of the damned. And even the Surfer points out in this latest conflict that Mephisto now recognizes that his soul is flawed, rather than reeking with nobility and pureness which Mephisto would all too gleefully want to crush. So why is Mephisto making yet another grab for it now? The easy answer would be that this is issue #100, and another Surfer/Mephisto battle provides a sense of symmetry. But writer Ron Marz (who once was the Surfer's regular artist) provides this as an answer:

Well, if the Surfer is no different than anyone else in the sense of having flaws and vulnerabilities that Mephisto preys upon, fine--but that still doesn't explain why Mephisto continues to actively seek out the possession of his soul. In fact, this time he went to great lengths of deception and manipulation in order to possess it. If the Surfer's status in Mephisto's eyes has indeed plummeted, why expend the effort anymore? Why not just wait for the Surfer to damn himself, as he waits thus for any other mortal? What threat is the Surfer to Mephisto's designs on humanity, if he's so far from Earth in outer space? It's a house of cards as far as a plot for a 100th issue.

By the story's end, the stalemate between Mephisto and the Surfer has much the same ring to it as the ending of Silver Surfer #3 (though in this recent conflict, the Surfer believes he has slain Mephisto). In that earlier issue, we had a clear understanding of why the Surfer's continued existence gnawed at Mephisto--yet by the end of this issue, Mephisto seems content to simply gloat at yet another pointless confrontation with him. It took 26 years for the Surfer to come full circle with Mephisto. Now that Mephisto's grievance with the Surfer has been rendered baseless, that circle should have finally been allowed to close.

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