Talking Movies [F4 Friday]: Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer

In November of 1961, readers of Marvel Comics readers witnessed four intrepid explorers be forever changed by mysterious cosmic rays. On that day, they became known as the Fantastic Four, Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, and went on to be the first of many colourful superheroes for Marvel Comics as well as feature in numerous cartoons, videogames, and live-action movies. This year, I’ve been dedicating every Friday in November to commemorating the debut of Marvel’s most famous dysfunctional family.

Released: 15 June 2007
Director: Tim Story
20th Century Fox
Budget: $120 to 130 million
Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Chris Evans, Michael Chiklis, Julian McMahon, and Doug Jones/Laurence Fishburne

The Plot:
Now regarded as popular celebrities, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic (Gruffudd) and Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl (Alba) find their attempts to get married constantly interrupted by a media circus. Just as they are about to tie the knot, an extraterrestrial dubbed the “Silver Surfer” (Jones/Fishburne) arrives, causing havoc with the team’s powers and catching Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom’s (McMahon) attention as it prepares the world for consumption by a cosmic being known only as “Galactus”.

The Background:
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s family of dysfunctional superheroes have had quite the chaotic journey to the big screen; their 1994 movie was never released and the eventual big-budget adaptation was met with mixed reviews after being in Development Hell for around ten years. Still, Fantastic 4s (Story, 2005) modest box office success of $333.5 million saw not only the release of an Extended Edition but also the return of director Tim Story and the entire cast for a sequel. Screenwriters Mark Frost and Don Payne came onboard to pen the screenplay and the duo drew significant inspiration from both the original “Galactus Trilogy” (Lee, et al, 1966) and an altered version of that same story seen in Ultimate Marvel (Ellis, et al, 2004 to 2006). The duo aimed to focus more on the enigmatic Silver Surfer than the Devourer of Worlds and there was a lot of speculation and anticipation surrounding the design of Galactus. Much of the film’s promotion was also focused around fan-favourite elements from the original Marvel Comics, such as the Fantasti-Car and the wedding between Reed and Sue, and practical elements such as Ben Grimm/The Thing’s suit were redesigned to allow actor Michael Chiklis to slip it off between takes. The titular Silver Surfer’s digital effects were the work of Weta Digital, who not only completely replaced stuntman Doug Jones with a sleek CGI model but also contributed to the design of Galactus. Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer made about $32 million less than its predecessor, coming in with a box office of $301.9 million; though the film’s average review score is higher than the first film, it was also met with mostly mixed reviews, although the general consensus was that it was at least more entertaining than the first film. Plans for a sequel and a spin-off for the Silver Surfer were eventually quashed due to the overall lacklustre response to Story’s films and 20th Century Fox made the disastrous decision to reboot the franchise some eight years later.

The Review:
Fantastic 4 wasn’t really a bad film, really, just quite underwhelming considering some of the outlandish cosmic adventures Marvel’s First Family often get up to. Do I expect them to battle the likes of Galactus and Kang the Conqueror in their first movie? No, of course not, but maybe exploring the Negative Zone and encountering someone like Annihilus could have been possible with a script re-write (Reed discovers the Negative Zone and that’s where they get their powers from, rather than them going to space) while building towards a showdown with Dr. Doom for the sequel (since he was so underutilised and bland in the first film) and maybe, maybe Galactus for the third and final movie. I can’t, however, say that I’m too surprised that Fantastic 4 got a sequel; back then, mediocre movies were getting sequels all the time and it just seemed natural to do, though I definitely am not a fan of the overly long and wordy “Rise of…” title (Fantastic Four: Doomsday would’ve been better in my opinion, but what the hell do I know, right?)

Reed and Sue’s wedding is disrupted by the arrival of the Silver Surfer, who causes global havoc.

Since the end of the last film, the Fantastic Four have become wildly beloved, popular, and successful superheroes; while Johnny Storm/The Human Torch (Evans) continues to revel in their celebrity status and indulge himself with merchandising and sponsorship deals, Sue is troubled by the constant media storm that surrounds their lives. It’s bad enough that the interference of the press has caused Reed and Sue to continuously postpone their wedding, but Sue worries about what sort of impact the attention they bring and the circus of their day-to-day lives will have on any children she and Reed may have in the future. Sue’s characterisation seems to have taken a bit of a step back in this regard; she actually seems to think it’s acceptable to prioritise her wedding day over the fate of the world, arguably costing Reed valuable time in finding a way to track the entity causing worldwide havoc, and while Alba seems more comfortable in the role of the team’s matriarch, something seems a bit…off about her this time around (I think it’s her dazzling contact lenses). The world is thrown into chaos when the mysterious entity known as the Silver Surfer arrives; wielding the same cosmic powers that gifted the Fantastic Four and Doom with their abilities (a neat little wrinkle that I actually really enjoyed), the Silver Surfer is able to dramatically affect weather patterns across the globe, drying up lakes, bring snowstorms to deserts, and disrupting electrical devices the world over.

General Hager isn’t impressed with Reed, or the four, whom he views as freaks.

Reed is troubled by the disruptions; despite promising Sue that he is going to focus on the wedding, he can’t help but investigate the disturbances and is intrigued to find a link between the cosmic radiation and their powers. Johnny is able to turn Reed’s fascination with the ongoing global disturbances to his advantage and blackmail Reed into having a bachelor party, and though Reed adamantly turns down General Hager’s (Andre Braugher) request that he and the four lend their expertise in solving the global crisis, he ultimately goes back on his word and develops a way of tracking the anomalies out of his desire to help and sheer scientific curiosity. Obviously, Sue is angered by this as she’s obsessed with having that one perfect day even if the entire world is being thrown into chaos around them; Reed is trying to please everyone, as always, but ultimately chooses to stand up to Hager’s abrasive nature and demand a little respect for him and his team if the military actually want them to help. When he sees how upset Sue gets by the whole media circus, however, Reed proposes that they leave it all behind after the wedding, but ultimately they’re both able to come to terms with their crazy lives by the conclusion of the film. The Thing, easily the heart of the team, is in a far better place this time around; having taken to wearing an array of clothes and noticeably much more comfortable with himself and being out in public, he’s developed a brotherly relationship with Johnny and has absolute faith in Reed, even when he predicts the end of the world and suggests the team go their separate ways.

Doom is still somewhat underutilised but comes across a bit better in this film.

Although Reed discovers that the Silver Surfer has been preparing worlds for their eventual destruction all across the universe, the entity’s arrival has a more direct impact on the team when it passes over Latveria and awakens Victor Von Doom. A scarred and ruined mess of a man, Doom begins the film in a much more fitting place than he left it (holed up in a grand castle, glaring at an array of monitors, filled with egotistical mania, and fully embracing his role as a scheming and bitter supervillain). After encountering the Silver Surfer, though, Doom’s appearance is sadly restored by the Surfer’s cosmic powers, ruining any menace he may have had in his armoured guise, and he goes right back to being a sleazy, suit-wearing scumbag. Doom even weasels his way into studying the Silver Surfer further by sharing his data with Hager, who orders him to work alongside the Fantastic Four, much to their chagrin. Of course, Doom’s intentions are far from virtuous; realising that the Silver Surfer draws his powers from his “board”, Doom seeks to separate the silver-hued entity from it, depowering the once-might Sentinel of the Spaceways, so that he can claim it for himself. This allows Doom to briefly come close to matching the formidable threat he poses in the comics, and even don a far more impressive and visually interesting set of armour and spit his famous “Richards!” line, but once again it’s too little too late and Doom gets far too little time in the spotlight.

Contact with the Silver Surfer causes Johnny to swap powers with his teammates.

Instead, much of the film is focused on exploring the impact that the Silver Surfer has on the Human Torch; although he seems perfectly happy living a shallow life of materialism and still likes to crack jokes at both Reed and the Thing’s expense as often as possible, Johnny doesn’t hesitate to take off after the Silver Surfer when he disrupts Reed and Sue’s wedding and finds himself changed as a result of physical contact with the entity. Consequently, Johnny switches powers whenever he touches his teammates, which allows the Thing a brief return to his human form (something that never comes up again, despite Ben’s promise) also causes chaos when the Fantastic Four try to intercept the Silver Surfer in London. Feeling isolated because of the danger he now poses to the team, Johnny is distraught to learn that Reed and Sue are willing to break up the band so that they can lead “normal” lives and is forced to learn to set aside his ego and put the team before himself. This all culminates in him absorbing the powers of the entire team in order to match Doom’s stolen cosmic powers in the finale, basically transforming him into a version of Kl’rt/Super-Skrull and kind of negating his character arc since it takes one individual with all of the team’s powers to defeat Doom rather than the combined efforts of the team proper.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Strangely, considering that Rise of the Silver Surfer essentially deals with the impending destruction of the entire world, the film’s tone is as light and whimsical as the last film, for the most part, but the comedy definitely lands a lot better this time around. Johnny’s wisecrack about the Thing’s blind girlfriend, Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington), potentially dying in a rockslide is hilarious, as is Sue using her powers to force Reed to listen to her, her “I’m on fire!” exchange with Reed, and Johnny’s all-too-brief transformation into a Thing-like creature. Having lived and operated together for some time now, the team has settled into their dysfunctional family dynamic quite nicely; out in the field, they tend to quarrel and discuss their personal dramas, which angers Hager, who sees them as freaks who can’t take threats seriously as they’re too busy bickering with each other. This leads to an impressive moment for Reed as he finally stands up for himself, and his team; in fact, Reed has adjusted to his role as the team’s leader extremely well compared to his characterisation in the first film. He’s still an easily distracted and awkward nerd, but he’s much more confidant in directing the team and keeping them focused in the field, at least until Johnny’s new powers cause disruption amongst the team.

The Silver Surfer prepares the world for this master’s arrival, who he dare not defy.

Sue ends up playing a pivotal role in humanising and characterising the mysterious Silver Surfer; a stoic and wholly alien lifeform, the entity is like living liquid metal, reflecting everything around him in his silvery skin and slicing through the air and even the vastness of space with a fluid-like ease. Impossibly fast and incredibly powerful, the Silver Surfer can not only cause chaotic events to happen all over the world and create ominous craters in the planet’s very crust, he’s also easily able to shrug off Doom’s electrical bolt, out-pace and exhaust Johnny in the upper atmosphere, and pass through Sue’s invisible barrier. Fascinated and intrigued by the Silver Surfer’s beauty, Sue questions the entity as to his motivations, which causes enough of a distraction to separate the Silver Surfer from his board and allow him to be captured by Doom and Hager. While the Silver Surfer has never exhibited such an obvious weakness in the comics, as far as I am aware, it’s necessary to render him vulnerable and exposit key information about the Silver Surfer’s master, the malevolent Galactus. Helpless and powerless without his board, the Silver Surfer reveals to Sue that he was once known as Norrin Radd and is bound to lead the entity to worlds for it to devour in order to spare his own, but takes no pleasure in this fact and finds himself besotted by Sue as she reminds him of his lost love. The Silver Surfer also reveals that his board draws Galactus closer, but initially refuses to use its power to repel his master since he dare not defy the World Devourer.

Some big set pieces and special effects keep things interesting, with the Silver Surfer being the highlight.

Surprisingly, the Fantastic Four’s costumes haven’t really been changed all that much from the last film; they seem a little darker, and maybe a little more refined here and there, but mostly appear to be identical, which is very unusual as superhero sequels usually always introduce new costumes for the characters. Thankfully, Doom definitely looks much better this time around; I could have done without seeing him return to normal in the middle there, but he definitely makes up for it in the finale with his more regal and detailed armour. The four have firmly established themselves in the Baxter Building and no longer have any money troubles; instead, they have all the resources they could ask for thanks to Reed’s patents and Johnny’s endorsement deals to franchise the team out to anyone and everyone. Reed’s focus is still on the science, and using his genius and the team’s abilities to help others, but he’s not above creating new toys for the team to use, such as the futuristic and criminally underused Fantasti-Car. While the Thing looks just as good as ever thanks to the impressive practical suit, some of the CGI and special effects have taken a bit of a hit, most notably Reed’s stretching powers (though this could just be because they’re showcased more often here). Still, the film has some impressive action set pieces on offer, such as the team’s efforts to repair the damaged London Eye, and the effects used to bring the Silver Surfer to life are absolutely top-notch. The Silver Surfer appears unsettlingly alien and unnaturally fluid; the chase between him and Johnny is quite exhilarating and the way he just kind of hovers and slips into frame is incredibly unnerving, and I think it was a wise move to spend more of the film focusing on the Silver Surfer as an antagonistic and mysterious force rather than the Devourer of Worlds.

Galactus may have just been a disappointing cosmic cloud but at least they tried to bring him to life.

Speaking of which, you can’t talk about this film without mentioning Galactus; one of Marvel’s most iconic and destructive cosmic entities, Galactus gained notoriety for being represented as a gigantic, abstract space cloud. I can understand the backlash about this as Galactus represents one of the most morally grey entities in the Marvel universe (he has to “eat” worlds in order to satisfy his great hunger, and does so not out of malice or evil but simply because he has to in order to survive and his existence is part of the cosmic balance of death and rebirth) and reducing him to a swirling, indistinct mass of cosmic energy is quite an insult to die-hard comic book fans. I can also understand the apprehension; these Fantastic Four movies are clearly drawing inspiration from Fox’s original X-Men trilogy (Various, 2000 to 2006) and going for a more grounded take on the comic’s more fantastical elements and the filmmakers definitely seem to have thought that a gigantic humanoid clad in purple armour stomping around New York City was probably a step too far. I, however, disagree and think these films (and any future Fantastic Four films) should totally embrace the more bonkers aspects of the source material, but I do have to applaud the filmmakers for even using Galactus in the first place. They didn’t have to do that and it’s pretty ballsy to jump into the character for the team’s second movie as how the hell do you top a world-devouring entity? Also, they seem to have pulled inspiration from “Gah Lak Tus”, the Ultimate version of the character that was a swarm of robotic drones rather than one massive being; the shadow and fiery silhouette of Galactus and his ship can also be briefly seen, hinting that the cloud is masking the being’s true form, and the proposed Silver Surfer spin-off was also supposed to reveal the character in full. Additionally, seeing  Galactus’ smoky tendrils devour that world at the start, watching it ominously advance through the galaxy and learning about its destructive history, and the shot of it preparing to swallow the Earth whole are all really effective at building a sense of awe and dread around the entity. I can definitely see that the filmmakers had some good intentions with the character but the execution does fall a bit flat; I think maybe it would have sufficed to see a gigantic hand reaching out from the cloud, or see hints of Galactus’ helmet poking through the storm and maybe his eyes glistening, but, again, I admire that they even tried to use the character, if nothing else.

After repelling Galactus, Reed and Sue finally marry and the Silver Surfer is freed from his master.

Despite the threat of Armageddon looming ever closer, Doom manipulates events to get his hands on the Silver Surfer’s board; conveniently cobbling together a wrist-mounted device that somehow allows him to assume control of the board, and thus the Surfer’s Power Cosmic, Doom kills Hager in spectacular fashion and refuses to give up his newfound power even in the face of worldwide destruction. In the process, Doom kills Sue when she takes a shot to protect the Silver Surfer, which finally convinces him to rebel against Galactus. After Johnny absorbs the abilities of his teammates in order to separate Doom from the board in an all-too-brief fist fight, thus restoring the Silver Surfer to full strength, the Silver Surfer uses the Power Cosmic to resurrect Sue and heads up into the atmosphere to confront Galactus as the titanic cloud prepares to drain all life and energy from the planet. There, in the centre of the swirling, chaotic mess of cosmic energy, he renounces his service and uses all of the board’s power to dissipate Galactus in a very obvious Christ metaphor, presumably transporting it away or destroying it outright, and is assumed dead from the exertion. In the aftermath, Johnny is returned to normal (though I think it would have been a nice touch to allow Ben to change to and from the Thing at will as a result of contact with the Silver Surfer), Reed and Sue finally marry in a small ceremony away from prying eyes, and the team resolves to stick together, even with the chaos of the superhero fame, while the Silver Surfer is revealed to have survived in the depths of space.

The Summary:
Well, this was certainly a step up from the last film; the cast, dialogue, and world definitely all seems to feel a lot more comfortable and work a lot better, and overall Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer feels like a much more enjoyable movie since it doesn’t have to be bogged down with an origin story or explaining and exploring the team’s powers. The characters all seem very familiar with each other and gel as a dysfunctional family, operating as a cohesive team in the field while still bickering and having interpersonal dramas regarding their superhero celebrity status. The banter between Ben and Johnny remains the clear highlight of the four, though I much preferred Reed this time around (leadership definitely suits him), with Sue remaining the weak link for me just because of the way Jessica Alba is presented and the fact that she’s so woefully miscast as the Invisible Girl. Doom looked and acted a bit more like his boastful comic book counterpart, but was again way too underutilised for a villain of his stature, but thankfully the film does a brilliant job of bringing the Silver Surfer to life. Mysterious, powerful, and inhuman, the Silver Surfer is also vulnerable and tragic and a true visual marvel. Yes, it’s massively disappointing that one of Marvel’s most enigmatic and iconic entities is reduced to a mere cloud, but I do admire the filmmakers for daring to even utilise Galactus and it’s clear that they had plans to do him justice in a later film, but again I feel like if you’re going to go big like that just go all-in and leave it all on the table.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer? Did you feel it was an improvement over the last film or were you just as disappointed with this effort? What did you think to the sub-plot of Johnny being able to absorb the team’s powers? Did you like the depiction and characterisation of the Silver Surfer or do you feel he was a little underpowered compared to the source material? What was your reaction when Galactus appeared as a giant cloud and would you like to see the character done justice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe some day? How have you been celebrating the debut of Marvel’s First Family this month? Sign up to share your thoughts on Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer in the comments below, or drop your thoughts on my social media, and check back in next Friday for one last Fantastic Four review.

Back Issues [Sci-Fi Sunday]: The Silver Surfer #1

January sees the celebration of two notable dates in science-fiction history, with January 2 christened “National Science Fiction Day” to coincide with the birth date of the world renowned sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov, and HAL 9000, the sophisticated artificial intelligence of Arthur C. Clarke’s seminal 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), being created on 12 January. Accordingly, I’ve been spending every Sunday of January celebrating sci-fi in all its forms.

Story Title: “The Origin of the Silver Surfer!”
Published: August 1968
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema

The Background:
In 1961, comic readers everywhere were introduced to Marvel’s “First Family” of superheroes, the Fantastic Four. Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic, Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl, Johnny Storm/The Human Torch, and Ben Grimm/The Thing were characterised as a dysfunctional, but loving, family of superpowered scientists and adventurers and their creation was not only the first collaboration between the legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby but also the beginning of the unique “Marvel Method” of writer and artist collaboration. In 1966, the team faced their greatest challenge yet when they faced the God-like Galactus, who came to Earth looking to devourer it and satiate his unending hunger for worlds. When Kirby turned in his artwork for the story, he included a brand-new character that had not been part of his previous discussions with Lee; Kirby crafted a herald for the all-mighty being and, tired of drawing spaceships, had this silvery being ride a surfboard instead. Though initially hesitant, Lee ran with the idea and, following the conclusion of the Galactus arc, the Silver Surfer received his own self-titled series in 1968 that, while short-lived, was one of Lee’s favourites to work on. Since then, the Silver Surfer has appeared consistently within Marvel Comics; he’s been a part of the Defenders, joined and fought against his old master numerous times, and featured not only in the Fantastic Four’s animated and live-action adaptations but also received his own self-titled cartoon that ran for thirteen episodes in 1998.

The Review:
When he was introduced in the pages of The Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer was a mysterious and enigmatic cosmic entity about whom we learn very little; he was painted as Galactus’ obedient herald and servant, wielded vast and ill-defined cosmic powers, and was compelled to defy his master’s intentions to consume the Earth after a desperate plea from Alicia Masters. Having grown to care for the fate of the human race, if primarily out of pity, the price for the Silver Surfer’s defiance was to be forever (well, obviously not forever as nothing in comics is ever “forever”) banished to Earth by his master and, accordingly, The Silver Surfer #1 finds the cosmic entity still bound to the world he chose to save.

The conflict he encounters on Earth leads the troubled Silver Surfer to recall his own home world.

In the opening pages, the Silver Surfer immediately acts to save the life of Colonel Jameson, whose space capsule crash-lands in the ocean depths. Of course, for the Sentinel of the Spaceways, things such as water, air, and metal are of little concern and the Silver Surfer is easily able to dive beneath the ocean and rescue the Colonel. Despite returning the astronaut to a military vehicle, the Silver Surfer finds himself hounded by fighter jets and, similarly, as he streaks across the skies of the planet he now calls home, the Surfer is attacked by missiles and encounters only discord and war. Lamenting the foolishness of men that would seek to harm the lush and fertile world that has captured his heart and imagination, the Silver Surfer is compelled to recall his own home world, a planet far across the galaxy called Zenn-La which, unlike the Earth, had long ago eradicated war, crime, and disease after ten thousand centuries of conflict. Back then, the Silver Surfer was known as Norrin Radd and was simply a man who, though he lived in a virtual nirvana, was left despondent that his people and world no longer had any drive or ambition to achieve anything new. Having inherited the peace and advanced technology of their forefathers, Zenn-La’s inhabitants are largely happy to indulge in the luxuries and benefits of these; they have lost the spirit of adventure and seem content to simply allow technology to fulfil tasks they would have once sweated over.

Memories of his distant and recent past haunt the Silver Surfer and cause him much strife.

Restless and eager to understand why only he seems to find their utopia so stagnating, Norrin reviews the history of his world through advanced virtual reality and discovers that an age of enlightenment put an end to all conflict and that his people ventured far out into the universe before eventually settling on staying put on their home world. Back in the present, the Silver Surfer comments that the Earth is at a similar crossroads between destroying themselves through war and being united in a common cause; even while being randomly attacked by savage yetis, the Silver Surfer laments the innate sense of distrust and fear that touches the hearts of men and turns even beasts such as those (and Doctor Bruce Banner/The Hulk, whom the Silver Surfer once hoped would be an ally as they have both been unfairly ostracised by humanity) into hate-filled barbarians. Similarly the Silver Surfer recalls how Doctor Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom easily duped him and briefly stole the mysterious “Power Cosmic” from him, an event that caused the Silver Surfer to never again trust another human lest their selfish and manipulative nature get the better of him.

Rejecting his society’s complacency, and despair, Norrin heads out to confront their invader.

Stumbling upon the ruins of an ancient civilisation now forever lost to the ravages of time and the elements, the troubled Silver Surfer is again haunted by his lost world, and his beloved Shalla Bal. Despite Shalla’s plea that he turn his focus back to the wonders offered by Zenn-La, Norrin finds himself alone in a world where indulgence is the norm, knowledge is simply gifted rather than earned, and the citizens want for nothing. However, Norrin’s lamentations and concerns for the stagnation of his people are interrupted when a gigantic spacecraft breaches the planet’s “nuclear defences” and the people are warned to prepare for an invasion; while Shalla weeps at the prospect of war, especially as Zenn-La has no space fleet or weapons to speak of, Norrin practically relishes the idea of such an event forcing his complacent people into action. With the people giving in to panic, Zenn-La’s computer system decrees only one course of action: the deployment of the “Weapon Supreme”, a solution that literally rips the neighbouring planetoids from their orbits and hurls them at the orbiting craft with such force that it devastates the entire infrastructure of Zenn-La. This devastating solution is ultimately futile, however, as the invading probe simply slipped into the fourth dimension to avoid being damaged and, having decimated their world and with no hope left, the entire planet gives in to despair. All, save for Norrin Rad who, fuelled by the spirits of his ancestors, urges the remnants of Zenn-La’s scientific community to craft him a ship so that he can commune with the craft as he refuses to lose hope.

To spare his world, Norrin volunteers to become Galactus’ herald and is reborn as the Silver Surfer!

Drawn within the mighty spherical craft, Norrin is overwhelmed by his insignificance next to the craft’s size and technology and is then driven to his knees by a blast from the ship’s owner and operator, all-mighty Galactus! Though he has no desire to, and takes no pleasure in, destroying Norrin’s people, the World Devourer is adamant that his quest cannot be assuaged as he is compelled to feed his unending hunger lest he be consumed by it. Harbouring no malice or ill-will, Galactus compares his mission to that of a man casually stepping on an ant hill and states that it simply is, but Norrin pleads with him to spare Zenn-La and instead feed upon a world devoid of sentient life. When Galactus laments that he has not the time to seek out such a world since even he is but one being, Norrin offers to become the World Devourer’s herald, to seek out lifeless worlds in order to appease Galactus’ hunger, and gladly sacrifices his personal well-being in order to be transformed by the all-mighty’s vast cosmic powers. Reborn as the Silver Surfer, Norrin is rendered immune to the ravages of space and gifted his trademark board with which he can swiftly travel the stars to seek out ne worlds for Galactus to consume. Thrilled to have a lifetime of adventure and exploration amongst the stars finally within his grasp, Norrin bids an emotional farewell to his beloved and departs Zenn-La fully committed to serve his new master, alone and haunted by Shalla’s face in every star and sun he comes across. The Silver Surfer finds his pain eased as he successfully spares worlds teeming with sentiment life from Galactus’ ravages but had no choice but to lead his master to Earth as the gnawing hunger grew unbearable for the God-like being. And it is there that his story ends, with Galactus stoically removing his herald’s ability to travel amongst the stars and the man once known as Norrin Rad left exiled to another world he hoped to spare from destruction.

The Summary:
“The Origin of the Silver Surfer!” is indicative of many of Marvel’s tales from back in the day; featuring a number of references, flashbacks, and cameos, the story is as much a recap of the Silver Surfer’s prior appearances as it is an exploration of his beginnings. Crucially, though, it’s not just the Silver Surfer’s unconquerable cosmic powers that separate him from other Marvel superheroes; the character is perhaps the most loquacious of Stan Lee’s comics characters (matched only by the verbose Dr. Doom) and probably the second most conflicted character he’s created next to Peter Parker/Spider-Man. But, whereas Dr. Doom boasts only of himself and his needs and Peter laments such day-to-day problems as money and relationships, the Silver Surfer’s concerns are with being denied access to the vast cosmic skies and observing the sheer animosity that threatens to consume his adopted world.

Norrin is one of the most loquacious and complex characters in Marvel’s line-up.

The Silver Surfer’s previous life as Norrin Rad was hardly a carefree existence either; while the inhabitants of Zenn-La were perfectly content to life stagnated lives where they wanted for nothing and had sacrificed ambition and advancement for peace and tranquillity, Norrin finds himself concerned for the long-term welfare and overall development of their society since they no longer need to apply themselves to do or achieve anything. Everything around them was left to them by previous generations; knowledge is simply downloaded directly into their brains and all of the thinking and decisions are made by advanced computer systems and a puppet government. Where once Zenn-La had fought tooth and nail for survival and reached out beyond the universe, now they were content to simply indulge their whims and life lives free from the burden of struggle or failure. Amongst the entire planet, only Norrin feels as though the world has lost its way and should strive for more and thus it is only he who has the temerity to face their would-be conqueror head on.

Galactus, though destructive, does not delight in his need to feast on worlds.

As is generally always the case, Galactus is presented as a force of nature; something unconquerable and inexorable and a force beyond any in the known universe, and certainly beyond the peaceful people of Zenn-La. Ironically, it isn’t Galactus that leaves Zenn-La in ruins but the people themselves as they decimate their world by tearing small planets out of their very orbit, making them, for all their enlightenment, no better than the World Devourer himself. Indeed, while Galactus doesn’t act out of any malice or emotion, the same can’t be said for Zenn-La’s people, who first react in violent fear and panic and then give in to despair entirely; Galactus takes no pleasure in his destructive existence but must consume worlds to survive and even he is willing to listen to reason. Galactus makes Norrin his herald not because he is won over by his desperate plea but simply because it makes logical sense for him to have a herald out there finding new worlds for him to consume and to spare lives from his nature because, while Galactus does consume inhabited worlds, it’s only because he is forced to by his great hunger.

Delving into the Silver Surfer’s past adds much more emotional depth to his decision to aid Earth.

In the end, this was a poignant and fascinated story; the Silver Surfer makes for one of the most emotionally complex and layered characters in all of Marveldom, especially in his earliest appearances where he is both captivated by the Earth and saddened by our propensity towards destruction and violence. Seeing Norrin Rad as a man dissatisfied with utopia and craving the thrill of scientific and societal advancement was an interesting twist and witnessing him sacrificing his very being and all he knows in order to spare his people only adds further context to the Silver Surfer’s somewhat abrupt decision to aid humanity in his debut arc. The comic is beautifully rendered by John Buscema, who perfectly evoked the grandeur of Jack Kirby’s artwork to deliver wondrous and imaginative technology and surroundings, to say nothing of his awesome rendition of the towering Galactus, who fittingly appears both fearsome and God-like in his regality. While I haven’t actually read a great deal of the Silver Surfer and can understand people having trouble connecting with him due to his near-limitless powers, I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the Sentinel of the Spaceways, especially his early appearances where he was exiled to Earth, and found this to be a captivating glimpse into his unique backstory.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever read Silver Surfer #1? If so, what did you think to the title character’s origin story? What did you think to Zenn-La and Norrin Rad’s troubles with his society? What did you think to Norrin Rad’s sacrifice to save his people? What are your thoughts on Galactus, his motivations and his characterisation? Are you a fan of the Silver Surfer? If so, what is it about him you like and, if not, why is that? Who would you like to see portray the Silver Surfer in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Whatever you think about the Silver Surfer, leave a comment below and thanks for joining me for Sci-Fi Sunday.