Monday, November 26, 2012

The Measure Of A World


The Silver Surfer learns that he can't have his cake and eat it too, in Part 4 of

  

This issue is all about the consequences of the Surfer's bargain with Galactus--that the Surfer, once again acting as Galactus' herald, confine the worlds he targets for consuming by Galactus to only those which possess sentient life. Yet the Surfer is also desperately trying to restore Galactus' health by breaking this "addiction" and returning him to a more "balanced" feeding consisting of a world's oceans, crust, and core--a shift that will also make him more receptive to the kinds of worlds the Surfer wishes to steer him toward.

To that end, the Surfer takes interest in a lush world teeming with life, yet no intelligence factor. A world with a most unexpected caretaker:



Mantis, whom the Surfer had thought dead--a woman who had once meant a great deal to him. The Surfer informs her of his current status with Galactus, and his plan to wean Galactus of his exclusive need for planets with sentient life--and he thinks Verdant (the name that Mantis has called the planet) will be a good starting point. There's only one complication, which Mantis makes clear to him:



Mantis then suggests an alternate planet orbiting a sister star--a planet still rich in life, but with no intelligence present. The Surfer is elated, and rushes back to Galactus to give him the news; yet he also lies to his master, albeit a lie of omission, and tells Galactus that the planet is the "best" choice for him and that there is no other nearby option. It proves to be a fatal mistake, where Verdant is concerned--for Galactus senses the fullness of Verdant's life on his approach, and chooses instead to target that world instead of the alternate choice the Surfer had directed him to. And when the Surfer protests, Galactus reminds him of the conditions of his service:



Mantis then flees back to Verdant in a futile effort to protect it, with the Surfer quickly coming to her protection. And as the death cries of the planet's life forms reach him, he agonizes over the course he's laid out for himself:



Meanwhile, with the most rotten of timing, Alicia has followed the Surfer and arrives at Verdant to view two horrors--the effects of Galactus' destruction, and the embrace and kiss of the Surfer and Mantis. Unknown to any of them, it's to be Mantis' last act. As she turns to energy to depart, she's caught in the cosmic energy that Galactus has put into motion and is vaporized. Immediately afterward, the Surfer becomes aware of Alicia, and shouts at her to depart before she, too, is endangered, which she does. And at the issue's end, it becomes clear to the Surfer that he's in a no-win situation:




As I read this issue, I found the Surfer's frustration and despair coming across very believably.  Of course gamblers, too, "buy now and pay later," and never look down the road as they're shoving more of their savings onto the table--and the Surfer's course of action in his ploy to save the Earth was nothing short of a gamble, hoping not to face the repercussions of his decision until if and when they materialized.  But they arrived sooner than later, with the Surfer almost immediately paying a severe price.

What I found uncomfortable about this issue--indeed, the tone of the entire series thus far--is its attempt to categorize the worth of the life of a species based on its level of sentience and intelligence.  The world that Mantis and the Surfer had chosen for Galactus was full of all sorts of living beings--yet because their senses failed to register what qualifies for them as intelligence, it's perfectly okay with them for these living beings to be offered up for the slaughter.  Translation:  "Who's going to miss them?" An offensive conclusion to which I can only respond: Who is the Surfer or Mantis to decide the worth of a life? Who granted them the power to define what level of sentience or intelligence is sufficient for a life's continued existence?

It's a flaw in the Surfer's thinking (and that of Galactus) that goes back as far as their first arrival on Earth--when Galactus likened the human race to ants, and the Surfer argued that they deserved to live because "These are not ants, Master!  They think... they feel... they have created the primitive civilization which we see all about us!"  Apparently birds creating nests--or the existence of ant hills, for that matter--can't measure up to the scrutinous, judgmental gaze of either the Surfer or Mantis.

Once the Surfer is resigned to defeat, the issue ends with an implacable Galactus directing him to seek out the next world. And you can bet the Shi'ar will have something to say about that, when we take our next look at this series.


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