Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cry Of The Oppressed

My Very First Issue of:

 Silver Surfer
Silver Surfer #18

As with X-Men, my timing in becoming interested in Silver Surfer was unfortunate. With the former, I'd become interested in a book that had been cancelled for almost half a year. With Silver Surfer, it turned out that the very issue which drew me to the character was its last.

By this time, the Surfer had run the gamut in terms of his stories as a lead character while imprisoned on Earth. He'd battled invading aliens. The gods of Asgard. Mephisto. Fellow super-heroes. Mephisto. S.H.I.E.L.D. Petty dictators. A super-villain. Mephisto. He'd travelled through time. And with this issue, he was meeting and battling the Inhumans. In some of these conflicts he was the victim of manipulation--others, of misunderstandings. And through them all, the Surfer became more and more disillusioned with humanity. This was not a happy or exciting book to read. This was a depressing read with a character on a continual downward spiral--making no headway, feeling no joy or satisfaction, and seeing no hope. What reader wants to look at themselves in the mirror and see the failings of their race reflected through the title character's eyes with every single issue?

As luck would have it, I would pick up an issue where the Inhumans--the Inhumans, of all people, who knew first-hand the suspicious and hostile nature of humans and who, as virtual aliens on Earth, could empathize with the Surfer as no one else could--would, incredibly, attack him on sight, assuming the worst of him. And when Black Bolt calls the royal family to task for their actions, Medusa's explanation sounds as panicked as any human's:

Maximus, in exile with his cronies for past crimes, has as usual played the royal family like a violin--attacking the Surfer and then counting on him to seek out the Great Refuge and retaliate. And who better to savagely make a disfavorable impression on the Surfer than Maximus' partners in crime? For instance, Timberius, who, to our amazement, we're expected to believe will make a dent in the herald of Galactus by launching tree limbs at him:

After the rest of this outlaw gang of thugs has worked him over pretty brutally, the Surfer decides to make the point that he could have ended this one-sided conflict at any time:

A display which could really sum up the Surfer's battles with many of the high-profile but mismatched opponents launched at him in this series, such as the Human Torch, Spider-Man, et al.--opponents which the Surfer's circumstances at the time would perhaps have put him on near-equal terms with. But the Surfer's original artist, Jack Kirby, who pencilled this one and only (and last) issue of the Surfer's title, seems to have left those circumstances far behind with his impressive display of the Surfer's powers in this issue.

In fact, if this issue had anything to marvel at, it was this wonderful first page with not only an indication of some popular guest stars, but the Surfer obviously once again paired with the artist he's most remembered being associated with:

Though, again, my timing was lousy. Even had the Surfer's book continued, this would be Kirby's one and only issue of the series--as this was September of 1970, and Kirby had one foot out the door and would shortly be leaving Marvel Comics.

Eventually, the Inhumans turn their attention from the Surfer to face an attack by Maximus, who has arrived in force, hoping to pick up the pieces from the Surfer's encounter with the royal family. Unbelievably, in their skittishness and distrust, they still suspect the worst of the Surfer:

You know, for someone thought "mad," Maximus certainly terrifies these people. I think that if I were in the middle of battling the Silver Surfer, the last thing I would do is to turn my back on him and focus on Black Bolt's insane brother--especially if I suspected that the Surfer was in league with him.

Luckily, the Surfer by this point has had it with all of them, and decides to just leave them to their conflict and be done with it. If he had his board, that is. But if you thought a being with cosmic power being captured by hair was humiliating:

Just wait until you see a full page being devoted to the Surfer being stymied by...

A dog.

I hope word never got back to Galactus about this. He would've been the laughing stock of the galaxy.

The issue ends with the Surfer finally having reached the breaking point:

And there was this stunning last page, which I'm sure more than a few wondered if it were meant to mirror Kirby's own frustration with Marvel at that point:

That's a hell of a declaration to yank the rug out from under by pulling the plug on the book. Though I wonder how far the "new" Silver Surfer could have really been taken. If the Surfer really took the gloves off, it would not only have alarmed allies like the Fantastic Four, but would have had the military gunning for him--and the Surfer, unlike the Hulk being so hounded, wouldn't have just sought solitude, but would have caused significant destruction.

Chances are it would only have gone on for as long as it took the Surfer to see that he had become his own worst enemy, having turned into someone no better than the humans who had so wronged him. Still, it would be interesting to someday hear writer Stan Lee's disclosure of this plot and how he meant for it to play out. The Surfer's subsequent appearances in Thor and The Defenders gave little to no indication of this change in his attitude, at least to this extent--so we could only assume that he did some soul-searching in the interim and just decided to settle for severing all ties. This follow-up in Sub-Mariner seemed to put the issue to rest:

Yet in spite of the misfire that resulted with the Surfer's title, the last issue nonetheless whetted my appetite to read more of his adventures--whether in guest appearances in other books, or in back issues of his own title (and certainly in Fantastic Four, which I'd begun exploring, as well). The Silver Age comics I'd begun to read, paired with the Silver Surfer, for once made for very good timing.


Kid said...

On the first few occasions that Jack drew the Surfer, he had him down pat. Then something happened, and Jack's portrayal of ol' Norrin became very stiff and blocky, and his poses not quite so graceful or as fluid. That's why I think, compared to Buscema's 17 issue run, Kirby's issue was a very poor second-best in the art stakes. To me, it's all-too obvious as to why Stan picked John over Jack to illustrate the Surfer's own mag.

Comicsfan said...

I think to be fair, both artists' interpretations of not only the Surfer, but other characters, evolved to something less than ideal as time went on--and that's happened with any number of artists. Their styles evolve, peak, crest, and then begin a slow transformation to a style that is very different from their optimal work. It's a very odd thing to watch occur--not only as it's happening, but retrospectively.

I've already posted at length on the differences of Kirby and Buscema vis-à-vis the Surfer, variations of which are probably mirrored in many other blogs. :) I'll have to sample some of those when time permits--I'm sure it's fascinating reading.