Sunday, May 28, 2017

Galactus - The Hand Of God!


The Silver Surfer graphic novel from 1978 is part of the Fireside publishing program which gave us the four Origins of the Marvel Universe books and the The Art of Marvel Comics.


It's to my understanding the final collaboration between Stan "The Man" Lee and Jack "King" Kirby. The Silver Surfer is Jack Kirby's creation, no one disputes that these days, but Stan is a little coy on that particular detail in his introduction to this alternate version of the Surfer's initial trip to Earth.


There is no Fantastic Four to stop Galactus this time, and as far as I can tell, there are no other superheroes of any kind. No Watcher appears to give warning that Surfer is about to descend and bring the Devourer of Worlds to the hapless globe.


Instead we have a story from the Surfer's perspective for the most part which begins with the hand of Galactus opening and releasing the Surfer into the universe.


The dialogue tells us this is Norrin Radd of Zenn-La who left his planet and his love Shalla-Bal to serve Galactus. We see the Surfer as he comes to Earth and for reasons which even the Surfer seems confused about is struck by some aspect of humanity which he deems worthy to keep. So he turns on his master and is stuck down, forced to stay on the planet he has championed.


Later Galactus seems to regret his decision and having consulted his own quality of deviousness fashions a woman intended to seduce the Surfer and return him to the side of his master. Ardina is a golden woman who appears to have the essence of Shalla-Bal in some sense and the Surfer is indeed much attracted to this golden woman and the two have a dalliance. But afterwards when confronted with the choice of returning to Galactus, the Surfer rejects his master again.

The two meet and have conversation with humans but in the end the Surfer leaves and Ardina having failed in her initial mission is drawn back to her master who has set up a base of sorts on the Moon.



Ardina is again tasked with bringing the Surfer back, this time with a different bargain. Galactus has found he needs and wants his herald back and offers the Surfer his freedom from Earth and a return to servitude for Galactus. All this and Earth can live.


The Surfer still seems torn and soon loses Ardina who is reduced by Galactus to her atoms. But in the end the Silver Surfer sees that he has little choice if Earth is to survive and so he accepts the conditions offered by Galactus and flies back into space, returning once again to hand from which he had first emerged in his shining glory.


This is a weird story, more a fable really. It's set apart from the Marvel Universe and since it largely capitulates the events of the first Galactus story in the Fantastic Four, it cannot be blended into chronology. I suspect this story occupies an Earth which has been given a number designation by now, but I haven't yet bothered to look that up. This is a very talky tale with exceedingly little "action". There is a battle between the Surfer and Galactus but it's mostly a miss since we know how that has to turn out. There is no Ultimate Nullifier this time, so Galactus withdraws from Earth the first time for his own reasons.


We do get a fascinating sequence when the Surfer adopts a human guise and walks among men, falling victim to crime almost immediately. Despite this, he continues to champion mankind and sees in the youth  of the population a great hope. There is surprisingly little racial diversity in this story. All the characters who speak save one are white and even the crowd scenes have an upscale suburban look to them. This is weakness for a story which wants to preach about the needs of humanity to overcome its differences. This is a surprising failure on Kirby's part. There is one significant black face in the story and sadly that belongs to a mugger. Perhaps I overstate this weakness but that it occurred to me at all is not good.


The way in which the Silver Surfer emerges from the hand of Galactus and then returns to it seems much more in keeping with Kirby's original conception of the character as being of pure energy and not really having a past. This story seems to want to have it both ways. Really it could be argued that this whole story is all about Galactus who divides aspects of himself out and then contends with them. The Surfer is part of him, the sly gray bird like man is part of him and Ardina likewise seems to be part of Galactus. It's only in the dialogue really that you see variations on this. Kirby was hurt when Stan absconded with the Surfer and contracted with John Buscema to do the series way back when. It was one of the many grudges he nursed as he took his talents to DC. Now a decade later we seem to get the Silver Surfer story that the King intended.


Kirby's original cover was rejected (sort of) and a version of that same illustration was done by veteran cover artist Earl Norem. To my eye the Norem cover is much weaker than the Kirby original, but that's how things went in the late 70's. If you'd like to actually read this epic fable check out this link. It's an amazing glimpse into the last hurrah for one of the great comic book duos.


And that wraps our Galactus coverage this month. I hope you enjoyed it, I know it's been fascinating to read and comment on these comics. Galactus returned a lot in subsequent years, in some so-so stories and in some wonderful ones, but alas he is by definition a character who is diminished the more you see of him.

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5 comments:

  1. I wouldn't say Stan was being coy about Jack's addition of the Surfer to the Galactus trilogy, Rip, his explanation of the 'Marvel method' is in perfect accord with earlier statements wherein he readily volunteered that Jack's introduction of the Surfer was a surprise to him (Stan). Also, I think you're straining on the 'racial diversity' thing. For a start, there's four black faces in one of the above pages (even 'though none of them speak - but neither do the white faces they stand among), and the Surfer is himself an 'alien' so I think diversity is pretty much covered. I don't think it's incumbent on comic writers and artists (or anyone) to follow the PC agenda of representing every race on Earth just to satisfy a militant minority who bang on about 'inclusiveness'. It's clear though, that Jack was doing HIS Surfer, and Stan's back-story of the character is 'superimposed' in expository captions and dialogue which perhaps seem superfluous to the requirements of the story. To me, it always read more like a treatment for a Surfer movie than a comics story, and it wouldn't surprise me if both Stan and Jack weren't entirely satisfied with the published result.

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    1. I've just looked through my book again and noticed that Jack did actually draw a sequence with Shalla Bal, but it seems at odds with what he seems to be trying to do with the Surfer in the rest of the story, who comes across as a 'created being' with no prior history. Perhaps it was merely a sop for Stan who'd requested such a scene, but it doesn't fit entirely comfortably with Jack's vision of the Surfer. Incidentally, the black mugger is accompanied by a white one, so that's surely equality in anyone's language?

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    2. You might be right on the diversity angle, maybe I overstate the problem. As for Stan's coy description of the Surfer's origin, I stick to my guns on that. He is very careful not to say he had nothing to do with it as he has said quite clearly many other times.

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  2. Well, the art is nice, and it helps if you just ignore the words. When I picked up volume one of the Silver Surfer Masterworks some years back I enjoyed those elegantly drawn early issues, but there was a real jolt at the end of the book where they added in Kirby's short story from the annual. In contrast to Buscema's graceful, somewhat leisurely meditation, Kirby's Surfer was super-charged with energy, demanding attention the way one might be distracted from the beauty of a mountain range at sunset by the arrival of a meteor the size of Manhattan.

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    1. The Kirby Surfer is a much different creature than the pining figure that Buscema illustrated. I got the feeling in some scenes he was malnourished, so unlike the classic Marvel heroic model.

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