I was particularly excited about the news of a new Silver Surfer monthly title when it was first announced a year or so ago, being a long-time enthusiast of Norrin Radd, the Power Cosmic and the whole, rich Silver Surfer mythology.
The Surfer was one of the primary heroes of my formative comic-book reading years back in the early nineties and a Marvel Universe without a regular Silver Surfer book in it had seemed like an emptier place.
I’d even taken to re-watching the old Silver Surfer animated series from the late nineties (it’s still really good, by the way) and managing to convert a non-comic-reading friend onto it in the process. My nostalgia is primarily for the Ron Marz and Jim Starlin eras and for stories like ‘The Herald Ordeal’ and the Kree/Skrull War (Silver Surfer #75 and the death of Nova remains one of my most nostalgic issues of any title); and I was doubtful that that sort of level of cosmic mythology could be recaptured or repeated. I’m still somewhat doubtful about that, as it happens; but the current Silver Surfer incarnation is its own entity, with its own style and dynamics, and it has actually been very enjoyable in its own right and for a variety of reasons.
The Silver Surfer is essentially a more difficult character to sell in the contemporary Marvel set-up than he was in the past; with his god-like powers and otherworldly aloofness he can easily come off feeling quaint by today’s expectations, which was no doubt part of the reason why he was in the wilderness for a number of years. There are still traces of that difficulty in the first few issues of the 2014 resurrection, but the presence of key new character, the young Ms Dawn Greenwood, counteracts that problem significantly, providing a fresher, more down-to-earth ingredient to what might otherwise be an aloof-feeling, cosmic affair lacking in relatability. Greenwood is essentially a traveling companion for the Surfer, with whom he forms a bond; in some respects a modified version of the idea Steve Englehart originally had for the Silver Surfer series that ran from 1987, Englehart having wanted to make the Avengers character Mantis a companion for the Surfer – an idea that was never permitted at the time.
The humour and sarcasm scattered across the dialogue, primarily through Ms Greenwood, is generally not something we’d usually associate with Silver Surfer comics, but serves to bring the Surfer’s tale more into keeping with current comic-book trends and characteristics, such as typifies the Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy titles for example. The Surfer is never going to have the wise-cracking, laconic cool of Peter Quill or Rocket Raccoon, nor the sarcastic, though relatable qualities of a Carol Danvers, so his writers have to find other, indirect ways of reintroducing him in a way that fits contemporary interests. While the current series can be said to have been hit-or-miss so far in that regard, I’d say that a difficult job is broadly being done well.
The cover to #1, with the earth-dwelling Ms Greenwood reaching out and grasping the hand of the space-faring Surfer, felt iconic as soon as I saw it; it just has that old-school effect of registering itself strongly in the consciousness with both a timeless quality and a sort of immediacy.
#2‘s cover, with the Surfer facing a page-filling Never Queen has the aura of the iconic to it too, seeming and feeling like something that could sit proudly in line the classic Silver Surfer covers of old. Those Mike and Laura Allred covers immediately drew me in and got me reading. The story told in these first few issues isn’t quite as memorable as those covers suggested, but were nevertheless entertaining and felt like something fairly fresh and new was announcing itself. The first three issues of the new series saw the Surfer encountering the previously unheard-of Impericon; an extraordinary “impossible palace” spanning the size of whole worlds and acting as a major attraction for visitors from all over the galaxy (in a sort of ‘Encounter at Farpoint’ way).
Called upon to defend the attraction from the ‘Never Queen’, the Surfer soon discovers in classic Silver Surfer fashion that this immensely powerful and metaphysical Never Queen isn’t the big bad monster after all but the wronged party in need of saving. The Never Queen herself is an evocative and visually engaging presence with a distinct aesthetic in the way many of the classic cosmic figures in the Marvel Universe always were (Eternity, the Watcher, Galactus, etc). The visually arresting way she is rendered in #2 and #3 is one of the most compelling elements of this early storytelling.
More importantly the relationship established in these opening issues between the Surfer and “earth-girl” Dawn Greenwood has immediate likeability factor, beginning a new take on an old legend. Dawn, who is a touch reminiscent of old-school Jubilee from the X-Men world, is an instantly adorable character able to add something fresh to the Silver Surfer mythology, giving things a more ‘street’ feel than most Silver Surfer fans are likely to be used to. Yet there’s also the more familiar, classic elements of the mythology present in the mix, particularly with the familiar and highly visual presence of Eternity. Dawn Greenwood’s look alone is immediately both sweet and striking. It’s always a good thing for our first glimpse of a character to be one that asserts itself on the senses, and the sight of Greenwood in her polka-dot dress and sneakers, with her cropped blue hair makes a substantial impression. That she also proves to be a highly readable character makes it a winning marriage of image and substance.
I have to admit I went into #1 not sure I was going to like this idea of the the Surfer and the ‘earth-girl’; it seemed too gimmicky, like an obvious marketing ploy to sell the Surfer to a new audience – which it may well have been, but once I was reading I genuinely liked Dawn Greenwood from the get-go.
On the other hand, the Silver Surfer’s own look is a little flat in these issues, coming off as more cartoonish than imposing. To be fair, the look and feel of the comic overall seems decidedly cartoon-like in style, from Laura and Mike Allred’s illustrations to Clayton Cowles’ lettering, and that style seems to work in its own right, particularly when it’s centered on the Dawn Greenwood character. In my opinion it doesn’t translate so well for the Surfer himself, who loses some of his visual potency as it was in the old days; but it understandably puts Allred in a difficult bind, as you can’t really illustrate the Surfer in one style and the rest of the comic in another. The art style I guess is something you have to simply get used to; it certainly isn’t without its charms, aiding readability much of the time.
In general, these opening issues of the series are highly enjoyable reads, managing to be both very new in style and tone and yet also at least partly in keeping with the mythology of old at the same time. #2 and #3 were the highlights for me, particularly seeing Dawn and the Surfer come together for what we can assume is the beginning of a very important relationship.
By the way, those retro cartoon-like intros/recaps at the start of each issue are really, really cool; with their bubble-lettering and Golden-Age style tone. There’s something very likeable about what must’ve been a very conscious choice in starting each issue that way, having the feel of a sort of old-style Saturday morning serial. This retro-ish feel is at its strongest in Silver Surfer #5, both in terms of the story and especially in terms of the look; Doctor Strange and the Hulk in particular are rendered in a deliberately nostalgic, old-school visage that seems to just fit right in to the prevailing aesthetic and tone of this series. It feels at times like you’re reading something from thirty or forty years ago (and that’s part of its charm), until you come across Dawn Greenwood again and then it feels new again.
Sometimes this retro-tone is overdone and you feel like you’re reading homage rather than something contemporary, but in truth it is charming more often than it is jarring. What Dan Slott and the Allreds have created here is something that is often a bit hit-or-miss in quality, but that is nevertheless addictive.
I’ll refrain from going through the issues one-by-one, as this post is really just an overview; but a few words on #4. The encounter with the Guardians of the Galaxy (complete with Carol Danvers) in #4 is somewhat less exciting than you’d think; the guest-characters are drawn and written rather flatly, resulting in Dawn Greenwood, rather extraordinarily, being the best written character in the story. It does allow for some great banter, however; “you’re like the Customs and Immigration of space,” Dawn tells the Guardians, while the Silver Surfer gets to say “I know the Wizard of Oz, I’ve seen it a thousand times,” as he explains his excessive familiarity with earth pop-culture from his time trapped on the planet.
The images of Dawn and the Surfer loitering around Earth’s outer atmosphere are really striking again, having that same classic, romantic quality as some of the aforementioned images in #1 and #2. It’s really this kind of evocative, cosmic imagery that most resonates about the Silver Surfer, really illustrating that sense of isolation and cosmic loneliness that is so central to the Surfer’s psychology. In this instance, he has company; but it still has that same old-school quality.
There is something odd and a little off-key about the Surfer then being a dinner guest at the Greenwood family home. It’s hard to explain why, but there’s a something a bit jarring about having to read those scenes. A part of it is maybe how easily Dawn’s family accept him (as if he’s a normal, run-of-the-mill visitor), but it’s more a problem of having this otherworldly cosmic figure sat in this quaint family living room; it’s about as jarring as I imagine it would be to have The Watcher going on The Letterman Show or Galactus sat on a school-bus. It does lead to a few bits of fun dialogue though; such as the Surfer’s answer to whether outer space was like “Star Trek or Star Wars?” “Wars,” the Surfer says, but then specifies “Original Trilogy; but when they started using too many muppets.” Nice; though something about the Surfer doing gag lines always feels a little odd, like hearing when you hear an elderly family member tell an off-colour joke. Probably just takes getting used to.
That said, it works a lot better in #5 from the very outset. “To me, Dawn Greenwood!” is funny precisely because it isn’t meant to be funny in the Surfer’s mind. “Wait a minute, did you just say ‘to me, Dawn Greenwood’?” asks an indignant Dawn. “You did! You totally ‘to me’d’ me!” Without doubt, Dawn brings something fresh and likeable to the Surfer dynamic, aiding readability substantially. Those with long memories might make comparisons to the old Surfer/Nova dynamic, though Ms Greenwood, in her small-town earth-girl nature is an altogether different prospect. It is presently her earthy, non-superhero nature that is part of the charm, however, so I would hope the writers don’t end up doing some big reveal down the line where she turns out to be a superhero after all or some kind of cosmic being.
What’s also curious about this series so far is its very self-contained nature; there’s very little crossover with other titles, despite cameos such as the Guardians or Doctor Strange and the Hulk. There’s certainly potential for more cross-pollination, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel or the Starlord or Rocket Raccoon titles, but thus far it’s been pretty scaled-down and limited in scope. I sense this is a conscious creative decision to allow the series to finds it feet and its identity and to remain focused on the core dynamic; which is probably a wise approach to things, though I wonder if the series will get more ambitious and expansive as it moves forward.
In an older post previewing this current Silver Surfer title, I wrote, ‘like any classic title re-launch it should be about a balance between revitalizing and paying dues to the existing mythology and backstory as well as moving forward and doing new things’. I’m not sure how much the current series has ‘paid dues’ to the older mythology yet (it remains to be seen whether we see more of the old cosmic players brought into the mix), but it has certainly served to revitalise and to do new things, and for that it should be commended.
Unfortunately, I have a bad feeling this run is going to be cut short and its potential wasted, particularly if this year’s major Marvel ‘event’ resets everything in the universe. I made this same point in regard to the Captain Marvel series; that it’s very frustrating, having invested one’s time and interest in a title to then have it compromised or even wiped away by overblown marketing gimmicks and cynical, profit-seeking big ‘events’. It undermines the work of writers and creative teams, it undermines the continuity and integrity of individual series’, and it also insults readers who’ve committed their time to a series.
I could be wrong, however; this Silver Surfer series may survive and get to continue through whatever happens at Marvel this year. I hope it does, because there’s great potential here with what we’ve seen so far. And dammit, I like Dawn Greenwood.