Monday, April 1, 2013

The Hippie-Proof Disguise

It probably goes without saying that Volume 1 of The Silver Surfer was almost formulaic in terms of its plots and treatment of the title character. The Surfer's life on Earth was filled with needless strife; humans were suspicious and fearful of him, misunderstanding his efforts to protect and save them; the character was often the victim of deception; high-profile guest stars like Thor, the Human Torch, the Inhumans, and Spider-Man were being used to ramp up interest; and Mephisto might as well have been given "Special Guest-Star" status and had his name appearing underneath the Surfer's cover masthead.

And writer Stan Lee seemed determined to maintain the status quo. After all, for a long time, elements of this formula worked very well for the Hulk, though with one very important difference: the Hulk was generally openly hostile when he encountered humans, whom he considered intrusive. By contrast, it took a lot to push the Surfer over the edge, to the point of having him aggressively defend himself; whereas the Hulk came at you with little provocation and a lot more determination to crush you, perhaps even literally.

So by the Surfer's thirteenth issue, his stories were mostly lather, rinse, repeat. In short, the Surfer would be expending great effort to fight for us, only to end up being scorned and rejected by those he strove to save. Lee seemed adamant at making the Surfer an outcast of the world he was imprisoned on--even from day one, where he rescued a trapped astronaut in full view of the Navy, only to be fired on as he departed. If Lee was trying to make the point that as a species, we were distrustful and hostile and our own worst enemies, then perhaps The Silver Surfer would allow him to get that point across to better reception than he found with a more blunt instrument like the Hulk.

It didn't turn out that way, as we know. In his own series, the Surfer became as trapped in Lee's key plot points as he was on Earth. And for anyone not familiar with Lee's writing on The Silver Surfer, "The Dawn Of The Doomsday Man!" is an excellent example of his treatment of the character as well as the single-minded course he intended the Surfer to unerringly adhere to.

Let's deal with the dramatic elements first. The "Doomsday Man" isn't a man at all, but a robot designed to survive the harsh environments and/or occupants of other worlds. It was only after the robot's completion that its creators realized the danger it posed to humanity:

And so, a bunker was built on a remote island to entomb the robot:

I don't know what engineer builds a robot without an "off" switch, much less one that can't be disassembled, but suffice to say he obviously wouldn't be welcome in a Silver Surfer story. The story also has the details of this deadly weapon available in, of all places, newspapers:

Sort of defeats the purpose of a secret bunker for it, but the Surfer isn't complaining. By the way, how about that disguise? Even though the human race is on the alert for any sightings of the Surfer who's considered hostile, apparently a coat, hat and sunglasses are enough to pull the wool over the eyes of even the savvy New Yorker. And that goes double for hippies:

I think the Surfer is just having a little fun at our expense, because we know he can use his power to safeguard his identity more effectively:

Anyway, this story is going to a lot of trouble to put the threat of "doomsday" in our heads, so let's cut to the chase and skip to where the Surfer has located the scientist behind the project in order to have him accompany him to the island bunker, where it's feared the robot is taking steps to make its escape:

And the battle begins. But even though, on its most basic level, it's the Silver Surfer vs. a robot:

...remember, it's a "doomsday" robot. But that's really just the name that the papers have given it. The real meaning of this story's title comes when the Surfer discovers complications to this battle, as the robot lays its hands on another little item stored in this bunker for safe-keeping:

Call me crazy, Doc, but I think crashing through a bunker built to withstand an A-bomb pretty much constitutes "jarred."

As the robot heads for the mainland with the cobalt bomb, the Surfer suspects that the doctor hasn't been entirely truthful with him. And those cosmic senses of his must be cooking on all cylinders, because look at this guy spill:

The good doctor is the typical Lee self-centered human which the Surfer usually comes upon in his dealings with humans--in it for himself, with wealth or power being the goal, his honorable actions a fabrication in order to elicit the Surfer's cooperation. Naturally, the Surfer turns him down flat, and becomes even more contemptuous of humans as a result. But he still must deal with the robot, as well as the deadly cobalt bomb he's now packing. And for a so-called "doomsday" threat, its resolution takes a surprisingly short time and seemingly little effort:

And with the threat at an end, you just know what trademark ending Lee has ready and waiting for the Surfer:

Wait a minute! Was that Jarvis making that last crack?


Kid said...

The Silver Surfer. So why did people call him 'Whitey'? Even the hippy refers to his white skin. Obviously silver is a difficult colour to portray in a comicbook, but that's only something that the reader should be aware of, not the characters in the story. Stan should've called him 'Silvie', but unfortunately that's a girl's name. H'mm, I think I need to get out more.

Comicsfan said...

I guess the term "whitey" stuck because there wasn't (and still isn't) a slang term for a silver color, and maybe "whitey" was the closest they could come. To make matters worse, our hippie even points out the Surfer's "white skin." It's a good thing Galactus let the Surfer keep his voice, otherwise he'd probably be known as "the Surfing Mime."

Unknown said...

Such a shame this series comes so seriously off the rails after those stellar first four issues! Not Stan Lee's finest moment, and a waste of some fine John Buscema pencilling. It may be that the Silver Surfer is just one of those characters better suited to a supporting role.

Comicsfan said...

There's some merit to that statement, I agree. When I recall the Surfer's second series, no issues really come to mind which distinguish themselves from any of the others. That's either due to the direction of the series as a whole, or the impression that the title character comes across as a guest-star in his own book.

Iain said...

This is the Doomsday Man that showed up in Ms Marvel #3 I think nice to see Marvel re-using their villains. ^^