Silver Surfer Celebrates 50 Stellar Years!

silversurferIt was 50 years ago that the legendary Stan Lee, architect of Marvel Comics, described to the equally legendary Jack Kirby, visionary pioneer of comic art, his idea about a Demi-god character called Galactus. Stan was bored with their rogue’s gallery of defeatable, under ambitious villains. He wanted a threat of galactic proportions. He devised the massively gigantic Galactus, who fed off the energy of worlds as he traversed the cosmos.
It was only happenstance that Jack Kirby casually tossed in some images of a silver being on a surf board blazing a trail through the stars for Galactus. Jack’s reasoning was that any being as powerful as Galactus would not wander space alone, hoping to find his next meal. Surely, he would have an agent, a herald, if you will, to scout ahead. Stan was so taken with the imagery of this noble enigma that the spot light actually transferred away from the planet devourer to this unexpected new character. They decided to call him Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer, and he blazed into Marvel history in Fantastic Four #48, back in 1966.
Fantastic_Four_Vol_1_48Norrin’s story is one of the best in Marvel’s illustrious history, especially considering how early he came onto the scene. Norrin was motivated to aid Galactus out of love for his soul mate, Shalla-Bal. He willingly volunteered to be the Herald in order to keep her safe, even knowing that this meant he’d be a thrall to a monster, and no longer in control of his fate. It’s a little crazy to think about now, but the fact of the matter is that the Silver Surfer was initially a villain. He was motivated by love, sure, but seeking out populated planets fit for annihilation isn’t really heroic. The character could have remained stagnant in his ambition, as many a Marvel villain have, however, that would not be the case for the Surfer.

Norrin scouted Earth for destruction, but became enamored of it after being trapped on the planet, and getting to know it better. In an ultimate act of defiance, he turned on Galactus, and saved Earth from an otherwise unstoppable force. While on Earth Norrin provided an unparalleled commentary on society. After all, he was an alien from an advanced race. He came to Earth, saw all the splendors of human art, saw the good in people, and was won over, but he also saw the war, the violence, the hate. He spoke out against these things in such a logical way. It was so simple, but so effective. If mankind is capable of such imagination, such love, and greatness, what possible reason could there be to destroy each other so eagerly?

In ways that DC and even other Marvel characters could not hope to match, The Silver Surfer became a fan favorite among an older, more educated audience. He was, ironically, a trail blazer for indie comics such as The Watchmen, which focused not on all of the strengths of heroes, but rather the flaws.

The Silver Surfer was born on a whim, not even his creators knew where he was going, and lets just take a moment to reflect upon the fact that this is a shiny metallic being flying through space on a surf board. For all intents and purposes, this is not a character which should have worked, much less become a cultural icon, but that’s precisely what happened. Now, fifty years later, the Silver Surfer is as still one of the best Marvel books on the shelves.

Currently Dan Slott (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Mighty Avengers) and Michael Allred (Madman, iZombie) are writing the revamped Silver Surfer story line, and Laura Allred (Madman) provides exquisite art. Don’t let Laura Allred’s vintage style fool you into thinking that it’s dated. There are a ton of fun details thrown into this dynamically retro artwork. As blasphemous as this is to say, to my mind, Allred’s Silver Surfer is now the default image I have of Norrin, not Kirby’s. That’s how fantastic the imagery is.

The latest representation of Silver Surfer is only two issues in. The next issue will be a celebratory 50th anniversary book, and worth picking up for any and all fans of the Surfer. In these recent Slott/Allred books we get to see a very endearing side of Norrin Radd, as he takes the adorable Dawn Greenwood though the cosmos. She teaches him about what it means to be human, and he teaches her how to have adventures in space. The book is so sweet, and so heart felt. Further, it manages to provide galactic level drama as is fit for the Silver Surfer, but the adventure and peril seem insignificant against the value of the emotional aspects of the writing. Dawn is a stand out character, with a unique voice and strong personality. It becomes inescapably obvious why Norrin, who could traipse about the galaxy with anyone he wanted to, would be drawn to Dawn.

It’s a joy to see a character so rooted in the history of comics still thriving within the glossy pages. Happy birthday Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer of Zenn La, imbued with the Power Cosmic. Half a century later, and he’s going as strong as ever. Long may he surf.



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