Saturday, May 20, 2017

Galactus - Heraldry!


When the Silver Surfer is stranded on Earth after serving his master Galactus a second time, we get to see what he does in his very own series. This series though was not a Lee-Kirby production. Despite the evident fact that the Silver Surfer was completely the creation of Jack "King" Kirby, Stan Lee developed a proprietary interest in the character which would last for many years. For whatever reasons (Kirby's workload, Kirby's less sanguine attitude towards Marvel and Lee) the series was drawn by John Buscema. This was just one of the many slights Kirby felt toward the end of his famous tenure at Marvel.


"Big" John Buscema would become Kirby's replacement as Marvel's high-profile go-to artist when the King left a few years later. And his Silver Surfer is a wonderful variation on a theme, and to my eye a superior one to that of Kirby. Whereas Kirby gave the Surfer a shiny magnificence, Buscema chose to make him more nimble and this more agile sleeker Surfer actually fits the name better to my mind. Galactus only figures in one issue of the eighteen issue run. In the giant-size debut issue we get a look at the origin of the Surfer and learn his real name for the first time.


We meet the Surfer as flies across the Earth encountering humanity in all its myriad forms, sadly most of those violent and self-destructive. He escapes to the Himilayas where he discovers a lost city and there he muses about his own past. The planet Zenn-La was a technological paradise but citizen Norrin-Rad was disappointed that this people seemed to have lost the drive and ambition which brought about the wonders they reveled in every day. He is a brooding man who is less than fully appreciative of the love of the beautiful Shalla-Bal. The arrival of a mysterious ship throws the placid society into chaos and when it is revealed that Galactus has come to Zenn-La even their greatest weapon is no match for his power.


Desperate to save his people, Norrin-Rad gets a ship and confronts Galactus and makes a bargain that he will serve as his herald if the World Eater will spare Zenn-La. Galactus agrees and transforms Norrin-Rad into the Silver Surfer imbuing him with the power cosmic and gifting him his mighty board. The Surfer says farewell to Shalla-Bal and begins his long service to Galactus, a service which led him eventually to the Earth and his current fate.


Also in this dynamite debut issue is a story by Stan Lee and Gene Colan which tells again the origin of the mighty Watcher. This late Silver Age refreshing of the story of the Watchers and how they learned the error of carelessly empowering other species and how they chose their destiny of merely recording the events of the cosmos is a humdinger. The tie between the Watcher and Galactus is to some degree reinforced yet again.


The Silver Surfer's first series is ultimately a critical success but eventually falls victim to poor sales and is cancelled. Oddly Jack Kirby was asked to step in at the last minute to attempt a reboot in the last issue but that doesn't seem to have moved the needle. Soon Kirby is gone to DC and Stan determines that only he will write Silver Surfer stories from that point on. Sometimes the Surfer shows up in other comics as part of a team, but Stan's prohibition does mean that the Silver Surfer will have to wait a long time to get another shot at his own run.


But before all of that Stan and Jack tells us the origin of Galactus himself. That begins next time.

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4 comments:

  1. Y'know, someone as powerful as Galactus wouldn't really need a herald, would he? He'd presumably existed for millennia without one and had done all right on his own. Galactus was 'God' in a sense, and with the Surfer being his herald, I wonder if that's what gave Stan the idea for the quasi-religious aspect in the Surfer mags? Funnily enough, although Buscema's Surfer was far more fluid and flexible than Kirby's, his Surfer on the 1st issue's cover is rather stiff.

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    1. I agree about the first issue. The Surfer is much more robust and closer in kind to what Kirby first presented. But as the series progressed he became more and more Buscema's sleek and lithe rendition.

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  2. I get the impression that when Stan first started writing the Silver Surfer in FF, he felt like he was in the presence of something big, but never seemed to figure out what it was. I think Kirby was at a point in his creativity that he'd grown beyond Stan's ability to improvise, and so the Surfer book, while visually stunning, at least at the beginning, was less about the Surfer's search for meaning and more about Stan's search for direction.

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    1. I had not really thought about it that way, but it does make sense. Stan kept the Surfer off limits just waiting for inspiration and opportunity to hit. It was strange at the time to know this character was not being used much and yet seemed to have such potential.

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