Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

13 February 2009

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1

Collects: Silver Surfer (v. 1) #1-18, back up from Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967-70)

Released: 1998 (Marvel)

Format: 528 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785120087

What is this?: After Galactus imprisons him on Earth, the Silver Surfer tries to escape to get home to his love.

The culprits: Writer Stan Lee and pencilers John Buscema and Jack Kirby

I’ve never found the Silver Surfer all that interesting.

Noble? Yes. Powerful? One of the heavyweight heroes of the Marvel Universe (and Heroclix). But he has the personality of a head of cauliflower. He started his existence as a plot device, and he hasn’t advanced much since then.

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1, does not do much to change my opinion of the Sentinel of the Skyways.

Essential Silver Surfer, v. 1 coverThe Surfer was a personal favorite of co-creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, with Stan jealously guarding the Surfer. When he finally relented and decided to have a Surfer ongoing series, he pulled rank and wrote the series himself, assigning John Buscema penciling duties. Kirby was, understandably, a little miffed. This is very nearly the last interesting thing to happen with Silver Surfer, v. 1.

Lee used Silver Surfer as his platform for social idealism, and like most soapboxes, it is inherently uninteresting. Stupidity and silly misunderstandings abound, and the Surfer is repeatedly used as a pawn. The plots are simple and formulaic. There is a lot of bizarre pairings in this volume — the Silver Surfer vs. Mephisto (essentially the Devil), vs. the Flying Dutchman, vs. the most recent Baron Frankenstein, vs. an incompetent witches’ coven. But instead of being examples of those moments readers smile and think, “Only in comics!” these are dull confrontations of cardboard villains (except Mephisto) with elaborate costuming.

It is entirely possible, I think, to sum up a Silver Surfer plot by using the following, mixed and matched as necessary:

    *SPUMMM!* The Silver Surfer hits an invisible space wall
  1. I must escape Earth!
  2. I must see my true love, Shalla Bal!
  3. When will you humans give up your violence?
  4. I must help the humans! (Usually immediately after the preceding line.)
  5. I won’t give up my soul, Mephisto!
  6. *smack!* (This is the sound of the Silver Surfer colliding with Galactus’s invisible barrier, which keeps him from leaving Earth.)
You may think I’m joking about that last one, but the Surfer, time and again, in ignorance and in frustration, literally beats his head against that barrier. If you had a dollar for every time it happens in this book, you could probably pick up the Essential Silver Surfer for free. I had to pay a bit more for it, but not much more.

On the positive side, the book does feature the creation of Mephisto, who is at least an interesting enemy for the Surfer — the Devil vs. alien was probably an original pairing at the time. I’d be lying if the Surfer doesn’t grow as a character; his naiveté is completely worn away by the end of the book, although that doesn’t mean he can’t be fooled for plot purposes. I also admire Buscema’s beautiful art, smooth and sleek while suggesting the immense power at the same time. He can also capture the absurdity of the Surfer’s attempts to blend in with human society.

Kirby arrives the issue before cancellation to ugly everybody up. I’ve never been a fan of Kirby’s art, and compared to Buscema’s work, his Surfer (and everyone else) looks squat and homely. The true shame is that Kirby, one of the few people who could match Lee for imagination, would have been a perfect fit as writer — if there is one thing you could never call Kirby, it’s boring. (Or formulaic, although that’s a second thing you couldn’t call him.) Kirby left for DC soon after his work on Silver Surfer #18, where he created the Fourth World.

Essential Silver Surfer ranges from the boring to the absurd, and even the absurd doesn’t provoke laughter — or any reaction at all, really. The first five issues, which are all double sized, are nearly impossible to choke down. It gets easier after that, but Essential Silver Surfer never gets better than bland.

Rating: Silver Surfer head (1 of 5)

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