This week I wanted to focus instead on a character that impacted me greatly in my teenage years and into adulthood. Although not technically a Stan Lee creation (and in fact the character’s provenance was the source of some controversy), the story of the Silver Surfer is undeniably associated with Stan and is an important part of the writer’s legacy. In tribute, here’s a look at the comic book that brought me closer to Stan Lee’s worldview as seen through the eyes of the lonely sentinel of the spaceways, and gave me a better appreciation of the man who helped make Marvel Comics what it is today.
The Silver Surfer #1 (1988)
By eighth grade, I was well and truly entrenched in the Marvel universe, but apart from random issues of 70’s Defenders and summarized tales in Marvel Saga, I didn’t know much about the Silver Surfer until the debut of Steve Englehart’s series and the release of Joe Satriani’s Surfing with the Alien. Both of those artifacts were gateway drugs into the immersive world of Marvel’s galactic space opera, and I spent many of my high school years moving backwards and forwards into the Jim Starlin and Ron Lim eras, digging on Warlock, Eternity, and all the trippy Infinity Watching and cosmic handholding.
But in 1988, another Silver Surfer hit the stands under Marvel’s Epic imprint, and it felt important enough that, despite its incongruities and lack of adherence to all-important continuity, I was compelled to add it to my weekly pull. It was the first of the two-part “Parable” story by Stan Lee and French artist Moebius.
Going to just fanboy out for a second: this comic f’ing ruled. The cover is the Justice League making devil horns in their formation! It’s really refreshing to see an event book be this entertaining while simultaneously having consequences for the rest of the universe. Like, imagine if a Crisis book was actually fun. I can’t give Scott Synder and Greg Capullo enough props for that. The gist is simple: Batman has been preoccupied investigating the source of the mysterious metals that inhabit that DCU, like Hawkman’s Nth metal or the stuff that powers the Court of Owl’s Talons. It seems to have consumed him to a dangerous degree as people are constantly warning him to stay away. But Batman going to be Batman. Legend has it that the Bat-tribe, Barbatos (Grant Morrison’s excellent contribution to Bat-lore), will use the metal to bring in a dark evil. Is Batman inadvertently bringing in this evil or, like always, does he have a plan to stop it? Mysteries and conspiracies involving the magical community of DC make this a who’s who of fun lesser-used DC characters.
Capullo’s art was always a highlight in their solo Batbooks, but seeing him really let loose on the cosmic scale is amazing. Drawing a Voltron Justice League mech fighting Mongul on the War Planet? Sign me the hell up.
Oh and that last page (no spoilers here): I’m a billion times more excited by this prospect than the Rebirth/Watchmen stuff. It’s the first time in a while that an event book’s last page made me say, “OH SHIT” out loud. They’ve opened an insane floodgate for this event and I can’t wait to see what is going to pour out of it.
Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer has been arguably Marvel’s most consistently excellent comic over the last four-plus years. Before Secret Wars, through the All-New All-Different relaunch, and into the Marvel NOW! era, the adventures of Norrin Radd and Dawn Greenwood, from the salty coast of New England to unexplored new regions of the galaxy, have reminded us how fun comics can be. Issue #9, one of the last books to carry the NOW! label, appropriately establishes the book’s characters and tone for a new audience, while tantalizing long-time readers with a much-anticipated new chapter in these starfarers’ journey. We were promised “everywhere and anywhere,” and from one corner of the cosmos to another, the quest to uncover the human soul of the Surfer has been even more rewarding than we could have hoped.
Silver Surfer debuted in the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four in 1966, the same year Star Trek premiered on NBC. The connection hasn’t been lost on me, as these recent volumes of Surfer have captured so much of what I love about that original Trek series. It’s campy and colorful, but nonetheless full of mystery and wonder. And this character lends himself so perfectly to that type of story: he’s admittedly a goofy concept, all plated in chrome and riding a surfboard across space, but there might not be another superhero in comics who takes himself, or his purpose, so seriously. In the first NOW! issue, a standalone tale of cosmic intrigue, Surfer and Dawn encounter a planet of people who don’t poo. Freaking silly, but fun! And it’s a bonafide mystery, tucked inside the ongoing quest to kindle the light of humanity within the once lonely last son of Zenn-La.
Last week I referenced Jeff Lemire’s afterword to Royal City wherein the prolific creator discusses being inspired by the current Golden Age of Television. I didn’t think of it at the time, probably because comics already has a definitive “Golden Age,” but it’s hard to discount what’s happening in the world of comics lately. The taking-comics-seriously tipping point may have been Spiegelman’s Maus and the British invasion/Vertigo revolution, but it’s been a slow climb to legitimacy since then. No doubt, part of that has been due to the fact that the “less serious” side of comics, the world of superheroes and escapist sci-fi, has taken the entertainment world by storm. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a welcome development, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to live in an era in which my neighborhood theater is pre-selling tickets to a Guardians of the Galaxy blockbuster and Daredevil is a high-budget television show. But this brave new Hollywood has only served to strengthen the unfortunate impression that comic books are synonymous with super-powers.
But I digress. My point is, we could be looking at another Golden Age of Comics, one that has nothing to do with capes & tights, alternate dimensions, or talking animals.
This week, Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins debut Grass Kings #1 from Boom! Studios. If Lemire’s book said Bloodline to me, then this one screams True Detective. The story is set in a trailer park community on the shores of an unnamed lake, a lake that has borne witness, over the centuries, to generations of violence, sacrifice, and upheaval. This is no ordinary community however: “The Grass Kingdom” claims complete autonomy over the rest of the United States, and woe is any rascally kid who risks sneaking in from a neighboring town to spy on those “squatters” on their “stolen land.”
One of the more interesting characters in the expanded Hellboy universe is Sir Edward Grey, the occult adventurer who solves supernatural mysteries in Victorian England as Witchfinder, and buddies up with present-day Hellboy as a spooky ghost. City of the Dead #1 is the first issue in the fourth Witchfinder series (issue number 16 for the continuity purists) and, as with the prior stories, it focuses on Grey’s encounters with the paranormal and otherworldly in 19th century England. Chris Roberson joins mastermind Mike Mignola on the writing duties, while Ben Stenbeck, a veteran of B.P.R.D. and the first Witchfinder arc, returns to provide the art.
Slott and Allred’s first volume of Silver Surfer was one of the highlights of 2015, and it was easily one of the most anticipated series in the All New All Different relaunch.
It does not disappoint. Picking up right where it left off, this book is delirious good fun, and the kind of vibrant space adventure that pays respect to all eras of science-fiction: from the borderline absurdity of the pulp era, to the campy melodrama of the 1960’s, through the trippy existentialism of the cosmic comic book renaissance.
One of the things that makes this series so special, what makes it stand apart from everything else on the stands, is that it doesn’t look or feel like any other book, and it seems to operate in its own comic book universe. To separate itself contextually, particularly in this All New All Different initiative, is no small feat. So many of Marvel’s comics seem to be setting the table for the properties’ treatment in other media – whether that be a video game, TV series, or Hollywood blockbuster. Or, even worse, some of the new series reflect said treatment through bland characterization and uninspired stories, as if they themselves were nothing more than licensed property spin-offs. It’s a little maddening. I want my comics to be the source material, not the other way around. But Silver Surfer doesn’t give a shit. Like it says on the masthead, Slott and Allred get to explore anywhere and everywhere – so hang on. Continue reading The Best of All New All Different Marvel #9: Silver Surfer→
Two series premieres hit the shelves in week 16 of Marvel’s All New All Different relaunch, including the return of Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s Silver Surfer.
Forty-seven Avengers and Guardians books is great, and the buildup to a Marvel universe-wide Inhumans/X-Men race war sounds fun. Who among us hasn’t said, “I feel like I need one more Deadpool series” or “why can’t all my superheroes be spider-heroes?” But sometimes you just want to fly around in space, ask yourself some big questions about the cosmos, and party with some sweet aliens. The best Marvel book of ’15 gets off to a great start in ’16 with a xenomorphed pop culture extravaganza.
All New All Different Premieres Captain Marvel #1 Silver Surfer #1
Continuing and related titles The Astonishing Ant Man #4 Deadpool #6 Drax #3 Hercules #3 Ms. Marvel #3 New Avengers #5 Extraordinary X-Men #5 Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat #2 Star-Lord #3 Starbrand and Nightmask #2 Uncanny Inhumans #4 Uncanny X-Men #2 Continue reading All New All Different Marvel – Week 16→
I don’t read comics the way I used to. Some weeks, I don’t even make it into the shop until Thursday. But as it is with me and music, I’ve come to rely on this little ragtag batch of Idle Timers to keep me informed and help curate my annual To Read/To Listen/To Watch lists. And pausing halfway through the year to reflect upon which books have already grabbed our attention allows us to acknowledge some good stuff that may or may not have risen to the surface otherwise.
My Top 5 from the first half of the year, in alphabetical order.
I’m not going to pretend I understood what the fuck was going on in this book. But there was something so mesmerizing about this surreal narrative that I even read Jeremy Baum’s debut comic a second time, in reverse, just to see the way the dream falls back into place.
It starts like a Jim Woodring comic: innocuous enough, but with that fragile layer separating fairy tale from bizarre fantasy. And down this rabbit hole is a gorgeous blend of sci-fi, elf ears, and eroticism made all the more enthralling by the painstaking artistic detail, right down to the gorgeous hand-coloring. Continue reading 2015 First-Half Favorites: Top 5 Comics→