Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Search for the Silver Surfer!


OR: "The Incredible Shrinking Sky-Rider!"

In mid-1968, Galactus would make his return to Earth, intent on re-enlisting the services of his former herald, the Silver Surfer, whom he confined to our world as penance for his betrayal--but also apparently done as a measure for the eventuality that the Surfer might be needed, for Galactus's return comes at a time when his hunger for the life-force of a planetary body rages within him due to his failure to locate a suitable world on his own. In a word: Galactus is starving.

For his part, the Surfer is reluctant to return to a life where he is responsible for choosing a world that must pay the ultimate price for sustaining Galactus--and so the Fantastic Four have decided to side with him, even as he searches for and finally locates a place of concealment where even the eyes of Galactus cannot detect him.

The fact that the Surfer can so casually alter his size (and to such an incredible degree) shouldn't really have come as a surprise to me considering the nature of his power (albeit at a reduced state, at this point in time); but this ability still came across as if it were pulled out of a hat. Given time, the Surfer might have even used the Micro-World (aka Sub-Atomica) to traverse the barrier of Galactus, as he attempted in the company of the Defenders (though as then, the attempt might have proven futile).

In the meantime, under duress, the FF have agreed to locate the Surfer for Galactus after fending off the merest sample of the reprisal that he can deliver to Earth and its population should he be defied. And so, after returning to their Baxter Building headquarters, Reed deduces from the last place the Surfer was seen the sky-rider's probable destination, a trail the FF intend to follow.

And yet the clock is ticking, with the mother of all timetables in effect--and every second the FF spend on their hunt within Sub-Atomica weighs against the self-restraint of a being who will not countenance delay, or, worse, failure.

The Surfer, however, is elated at having found himself in another universe where he can soar unfettered--making the FF's job of convincing him to return doubly difficult, assuming they can even catch up to him.

Heh--a "micro-scanner," for a micro-world. There's no one like you, Reed.

Naturally, the folks at Third Eye were quick to craft a black light poster of this scene:

Since this is a comic book we're reading, and artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee know their audience, the "search" for the Surfer translates to the FF making a number of blunders which will ensure hostilities between themselves and the object of their quest, rather than approaching and dealing with him more amicably. The Torch and the Thing take most of the blame in that respect--but Reed's actions aren't exactly the model of restraint, either.

Well, Reed, perhaps the "better idea" that eluded you might have been to approach the Surfer in the posture of having a discussion, rather than in a manner that couldn't help but convince him that you wanted to subdue him.

And in the "haven't you learned your lesson yet?" department, look at these three licking their wounds and gearing up for another crack at the Surfer:

The Surfer, to his credit, has immediately put this encounter behind him and set out to locate signs of life in this universe (and fortunately not as the herald of Galactus). But there's already a life form who's interested in him--Psycho-Man, who's previously crossed paths with two of the FF as well as the Inhumans, but now launches an indestructible android to capture the Surfer. But since it's the FF who are spoiling for a fight, guess who Psycho-Man's bruiser intercepts first?

It's arguably the FF's most desperate hour--facing down a brutal foe that seems impervious to their attacks, even as the clock runs down on their mission to retrieve the Surfer. And speaking of time, there is another on our watch list--unquestionably the most important player in this drama, whose patience has unfortunately come to an end.

While back in Sub-Atomica, even Reed appears to realize the critical state of their situation, as he elects to sacrifice himself so that his partners can carry out their mission, assuming that's still even possible given that the Surfer could be an incalculable distance away by now. Luckily for them, the one they seek has reconsidered his position (though, granted, his reason for returning to the scene doesn't exactly meet the definition of "nobility").

As for the FF, they decide to remain in Sub-Atomica and confront Psycho-Man, which leaves the fate of the Earth solely in the purview of the Surfer. But consider this your last look at his power to alter his size, as it appears future artists weren't eager to revisit Jack Kirby's idea.


If you're curious about this issue's cover, you can find some thoughts related to it in a previous post.


Big Murr said...

Galactus only needs a planet with the potential for life. Caught between breaking his word and starving, I can't help but wonder why he doesn't go snack on Mars, Titan, or Europa. Might be a pretty thin gruel of a meal, but they'd hold off the munchies for a little while?

Of course, that would be a rather different story!

(years later in real time and millions of years in the future in Earth 616 history, All-Father Thor kicked Galactus off Earth. We see a peeved Galactus whining to himself as he prepares to devour "the planet once known as Mars")

Anonymous said...

"Where even the eyes of Galactus cannot detect him"

It does seem a bit weird Galactus would give his heralds a power enabling them to hide from him.

But wait - "Though I no longer possess the limitless powers of the cosmos"
So the Surfer has powers that aren't cosmic? Like being able to create a er... cosmic shield that makes him totally inviolate? Now I'm really confused.
Any clarification you can offer would be appreciated, Comicsfan.


Comicsfan said...

I haven't kept up on any revisions to Galactus' profile, Murray, but from what I remember, you're pretty much on the money in your explanation of what he ingests. In fact, Ben Grimm (or, rather, one Ben Grimm) from the 100th issue of Marvel Two-In-One boils it down to this following the decimation of Earth by the original coming of Galactus:

"See, Galactus doesn't feed on livin' things. He eats the life-force of the planet--th' special energy that allows a big mud-ball ta evolve an' support life. So, even though the planet wuz dead, most of the people wuz still alive."

Sean, I was just thinking earlier today along the lines of what you're talking about. All I can offer is a half-baked assumption that Stan Lee was caught between a rock and a hard place in regard to the Surfer's power going into his new series. Part of the character's allure was of course his cosmic power and the scale of it--yet Lee apparently felt the need to water down that power so that the Surfer was "no longer invincible," as the Surfer put it, and thus be more believable as a character who could face challenges in his own series from those he would earlier have trounced. His solution, apparently, was that technically the Surfer still possessed cosmic power, but no longer "undiluted... unrestrained" (or words to that effect). Galactus, as we know, also possesses cosmic power, and we've certainly seen there was a difference between himself and his newly christened herald in terms of their level of power. Ergo, a solution that allows Lee to have his cake and eat it, too: the Surfer in this story still has all the grandeur of wielding cosmic power, yet "less than before." Having seen the Surfer at his prime, it wasn't really a change to my liking.

Colin Jones said...

Reed uses the word "micronauts" ten years before the Micronauts toys and Marvel comic!

Anonymous said...

I so much more prefer the original Kirby depiction of the Silver Surfer than how Stan Lee changed and developed the character in his solo title. Kirby's Surfer was discovering humanity for the first time. It was completely unique. Lee just did a retread of every superhero that ever was by creating the Norrin Radd/Zenn-La retcon.


Anonymous said...

A wonderful review of a "cosmic" classic, C.F.!
The F.F. tear-assing through the, ah "microverse", hot on the heels of the Silver Surfer. The pace doesn't let up.
I would say it doesn't get much better, but in the subsequent issue it does, when our intrepid "micronauts" face off with Psycho-Man.
As for the Surfer, I've pretty much given up figuring out what his power levels are. My theory is, the guy's not really created for combat, so it's not his natural posture. Who knows what he can do when he cuts loose.


Comicsfan said...

Chris, you raise a good point about what kind of character the Silver Surfer might have become to comics shorn of his Zenn-La roots. In that sense, his confinement to Earth would have seen him still longing for the stars, but as a (for want of a better description) child of the universe, rather than pining (and I mean pining!) for his lost love. Of course, we were given backstories of most if not all of those that Galactus conscripted or otherwise accepted into his service, so it would have been interesting one day to learn of his own.

M.P., it might have been a little late to put the cork back on the bottle of the Surfer's capabilities, given what we'd seen of them in his battle with the Thing as well as his rash attack which unleashed the Sonic Shark, to say nothing of Dr. Doom's use of his power--incidences which had the stories' characters in agreement that, given provocation, the Surfer was unstoppable. (At lease by human standards, though even Mephisto occasionally broke a sweat.)

Haydn said...

I saw this in reprint form (Marvel's Greatest Comics) in the mid-70s. A riveting story, and the last to feature the "real" Surfer before he acquired a home planet, a long-suffering girlfriend, and all the other trappings of Silver Age Marvel.

Comicsfan said...

The Kirby/Sinnott Surfer was a favorite of mine, as well, Haydn. (Though I'll always be curious as to whether Kirby ever envisioned an origin of his own for the character.)