Text by Zimmerman Skyrat, 101Bananas.com
Silver Surfer panels written by Stan Lee; art by John Buscema.
Among the many superheroes of early comic book fame, one stands out as a unique example of its creator's moral vision. Yes, I said moral vision, not something normally thought of as associated with comic books. DC Comics had Superman, Batman, and others; Marvel Comics had Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, and others, and the war between fans of DC and fans of Marvel raged on. In 1966 Jack Kirby at Marvel Comics came up with a new character, the Silver Surfer, that first made his appearance in a Fantastic Four episode. Eventually Marvel Comics gave the Surfer his own comic book series in 1968, with the stories at that time being done by the legendary Stan Lee, with artwork by John Buscema.
THIS IS WHAT I'VE DREAMED OF... THIS IS WHAT I'VE EVER LONGED FOR! A LIFETIME OF ENDLESS
ADVENTURE BECKONING BEFORE ME! THERE MUST BE NO REGRETS... NO THOUGHTS OF TURNING
BACK! WORLDS WITHOUT LIMIT NOW AWAIT MY COMING! AND I SHALL BE TRUE TO MY
TRUST...FOR AS LONG AS I LIVE!
The Silver Surfer seemed to be straight out of the sometimes crazy weird consciousness of the '60s. He was completely covered by a silvery shiny metallic skin, and, shades of the Beach Boys and the surfing crowd popular at the time, he had some kind of magic surfboard on which he surfed around the galaxies, visiting planets and stars and fighting evil.
THERE MUST BE A WAY! THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY! THE TREE OF EVIL...EVER CARRIES THE SEED...OF ITS
OWN DESTRUCTION! NOT FOR NOTHING WAS I GRANTED...MY POWER COSMIC! NOW I MUST USE
IT...AS IT HAS NEVER BEEN USED BEFORE! FROM THE ENDLESS REACHES OF INFINITE SPACE...FROM
ALL THAT WAS...AND IS...AND SHALL BE EVER...LET MY POWER BE GATHERED...
AND HARNESSED...AND HURLED!
A greatly condensed synopsis, leaving out many details, of how the Silver Surfer ended up flying around on a surfboard on planet Earth: Norrin Radd originally lived on the planet Zenn-La with his beloved Shalla-Bal. The almighty Galactus, devourer of worlds, came cruising through the universe and happened upon Zenn-La. He would have gobbled them all up had Radd not made a deal with him to spare Zenn-La if he became Galactus' "herald," exploring the universe to find other planets for him to devour. Radd was then transformed by Galactus into the Silver Surfer and given the Power Cosmic, along with that handy-dandy surfboard. Later he found planet Earth, but learning that it was inhabited by sentient beings he experienced somewhat of a "conversion" after talking to a blind woman who sensed the Surfer's inherent essential goodness. The Surfer rebelled against Galactus and sided with Earth, and with help from the Fantastic Four fought Galactus to a stand-off. In revenge Galactus put a force-field shield around Earth that the Surfer's board could not penetrate, thus basically banishing him forever to Earth, unable to return to Zenn-La.
IN ALL THE WORLD, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR ME! EXILED HERE UPON THE PLANET EARTH,
I AM A STRANGER AMONGST STRANGERS... AN ALIEN AMONGST THE RACE OF MAN!
If you've never heard of the Silver Surfer or are not familiar with any comics in general, all this no doubt sounds quite strange to you. But compared to other superheroes, the Surfer's too-strange mode of transport, the back-story of how he came to be the Silver Surfer, and his self-sacrificing war against evil on planet Earth and the rest of the universe struck a chord with a certain segment of comics buyers. He developed the proverbial cult following, and though his original comic book series only lasted 18 issues, his influence on the comics world lasts to this day. (Several other series eventually followed the original 1968 one.)
NOW HERE I STAND ALONE AND FORSAKEN UPON THIS HOSTILE WORLD! I, WHO HAVE CRESTED
THE WAVES OF INFINITY... EXILED FOREVER UPON THIS LONELY SPHERE... BUT TIME IS LONG AND
FATE IS FICKLE...MY DESTINY STILL LIES BEFORE ME... AND WHERE IT BECKONS—THERE SHALL
SOAR THE SILVER SURFER!
It's fairly obvious that the Silver Surfer, in the original Stan Lee series, was written to be a Christ-like figure whose sacrifices to defend Earth from evil and to save mankind from its own wicked nature were never rewarded. He was never able to return permanently to his beloved Shalla-Bal on his home planet of Zenn-La and live peacefully and happy, which is all he wanted in life. Fate had other plans for him, and when banished to Earth he recognized his destiny and accepted it, using his "Power Cosmic" for good only, and refusing to use it for selfish or nefarious ends.
BUT NEITHER MISSILES NOR MEANINGLESS MOUTHINGS OF PETTY PEDAGOGUES CAN HALT THE
PROGRESS OF THE SILVER SURFER, NOR STIFLE THE LONGING IN HIS TORTURED SOUL....
IN ALL THE GALAXIES...IN ALL THE ENDLESS REACHES OF SPACE...I HAVE FOUND NO PLANET MORE
BLESSED THAN THIS...NO WORLD MORE LAVISHLY ENDOWED WITH NATURAL BEAUTY...WITH
GENTLE CLIMATE...WITH EVERY INGREDIENT TO CREATE A VIRTUAL LIVING PARADISE!
POSSESSED OF RAINFALL IN GREAT ABUNDANCE...SOIL FERTLE ENOUGH TO FEED A GALAXY!
AND A SUN...EVER WARM...EVER CONSTANT...EVER SYMBOLIZING NEW LIFE, NEW HOPE! IT IS AS
THOUGH THE HUMAN RACE HAS BEEN DIVINELY FAVORED OVER ALL WHO LIVE! AND YET...IN
THEIR UNCONTROLLABLE INSANITY...IN THEIR UNFORGIVABLE BLINDNESS...THEY SEEK TO
DESTROY THIS SHINING JEWEL...THIS SOFTLY SPINNING GEM...THIS TINY BLESSED SPHERE...
WHICH MEN CALL EARTH! WHILE TRAPPED UPON THIS WORLD OF MADNESS...STAND I!
HOW MUCH LONGER AM I DESTINED TO ENDURE A FATE I CANNOT EVEN COMPREHEND!
In the 1983 movie Breathless (an American remake of Jean-Luc Goddard's 1960 French original), Richard Gere plays a small-time criminal who, among other things, is a fan of the Silver Surfer. Gere stops at a small store and picks up the Silver Surfer issue on the stands. The page he reads from is the one shown immediately above. Gere is reading to himself, out loud, from the last two panels in the lower right about mankind's "uncontrollable insanity" and "unforgivable blindness" in destroying this "tiny blessed sphere which men call Earth! While trapped upon this world of madness stand I!" He obviously identifies with the Silver Surfer. A little kid comes by on a skateboard and tells Gere, "The Silver Surfer sucks!" The kid thinks the Silver Surfer is a poor excuse for a superhero because, though he posesses the Power Cosmic, he won't use it to his own advantage, but only for the good. Gere dismisses him by telling him to go play in the street.
IS THIS THE FINAL FATE OF ALL WHO LIVE? IS THIS THE END OF
STRIVING...AND OF HOPE? IS IT BUT IN DESOLATION THAT MAN
CAN FIND THE PEACE HE SEEKS?
The philosophical musings of the Silver Surfer seem so simple as to be child-like, but then, all eternal truths are simple. His sage pronouncements and tragic personal circumstances made him very unlike any other superhero up to that time. The profound anguish he often expressed at his fate was so wonderfully over the top, in a typical comic book way of italicizing and bold-facing way too many words for extra emphasis (with lots of exclamation points!!!), that it went beyond camp and kitsch and you just had to smile and empathize with this poor tragic figure, all alone in the universe with such a heavy burden to bear.
AND NOW TO FACE WHAT WELL MAY BE MY GREATEST
CHALLENGE...I SHALL WALK AMONG MEN...IN AN EFFORT
TO FATHOM THEIR MADNESS!
As a result of his time and experiences on Earth, the Silver Surfer became quite disillusioned with humanity, and pessimistic about mankind's future. After repeated attempts to help people were interpreted as hostile intent from some weird monster with silver skin, the Surfer gradually withdrew into himself. His pessimism, and you might even say depression, was very unusual for a superhero, and no doubt contributed to the original series only lasting 18 issues. The Silver Surfer was just too different in consciousness from what was expected of a typical all-American superhero. Though there have been several other series and many appearances in other comics with other superheroes, true fans agree that after the original 18-issue series ended, the Surfer was just never the same, gradually becoming much more of a "typical" superhero.
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If you want to get the whole original story of the Silver Surfer, search at Amazon for "silver surfer." There are several books available that collect the original 18 comic books, some in color and some inexpensive ones in black and white. There are also quite a few other books or collections of other Silver Surfer episodes. The actual original comic books themselves are widely available though quite expensive at comic book specialty stores and on eBay.
Here are three more views of the Silver Surfer in typical surfing-the-galaxies pose:
In 2006 the U.S. Postal Service issued a full pane of stamps of DC Comics superheroes, and in 2007 a pane of Marvel Comics superheroes followed. Each character honored had two stamps: a picture of the character, and a picture of a comic book cover featuring them. Below are the Silver Surfer's 2007 U.S. postage stamps: