Today, Greg and Suzanne are discussing Silver Surfer 3, originally released June 18th, 2014.
Greg: I’m just gonna be blunt and cheesy up-top: the human imagination is a goddamn beautiful thing. It’s a place where everything and nothing exists and doesn’t exist. A breeding ground for active creation and idle daydreaming. It’s arguably the most fun thing about being a human, and by combining heady intellectual concepts of quantum physics with a simple yet emotionally grounded narrative drive (combined with a healthy amount of “call the unusual thing out” humor), Silver Surfer 3 is one of the purest encapsulations of imagination I have seen in recent memory.
This issue is full of digressions and subplots galore, so rather than feel my brain turn to mush trying to make sense of an inherently complicated narrative (one that doesn’t need to be fully understood to enjoy this issue), I’ll focus on summarizing the simplest, most MacGuffin-driven goal. Our Silver Surfer and Earth girl Dawn Greenwood must save the universe by reacquiring the Never Queen’s heart and destroying the evil Impericon. Of course, like any good life experience, what really counts about this issue is not the destination but the journey, and boy does this have an entertaining one.
If I were in charge of scenery dressing for a musical, the production would grind to a screeching halt, because I have to give all the props to the respective pencils and colors of Mike and Laura Allred. Their compositions burst at the seam with trippy, insane, multi-colored explosions of wonder, yet also achieve that wonderful goal of making big, complex ideas seem simple and manageable. For example, Dawn must take a trip into her own subconscious when tasked by the Never Queen to imagine a new future, symbolized by an item from the past. This is, as the weird sentence I just wrote makes clear, not an immediately identifiable bit of narrative business. Yet the Allreds makes sure our feet remain on the ground by a simple usage of color — in her visions, Dawn always appears in red, and her sister in yellow. Despite all the brouhaha going around her, this visual choice makes sure the emotional core of the story is not lost.
Another powerful tool that keeps this issue from going off the deep end is writer Dan Slott’s incomparably delightful usage of humor, both to highlight just how unusual everything in this world is, and to subvert our expectations by zigging when a story like this “should” be zagging. When characters in fictional worlds point out how odd the elements of their narrative world are, it runs the risk of becoming self-indulgent or distractingly meta; rather than watching a story about characters’ points of view and feelings, we experience a story about authors’ points of view and feelings about the very story they’re telling (there are, of course, great stories that have this goal outright and meet it; see Deadpool, The Cabin In The Woods, Community, et al.). In this issue, however, these moments actually strengthen the verisimilitude of the narrative world, rather than poke holes in it. In one of my favorite jokes, seeing Mr. Mygdalla exclaim that he wishes people would stop assuming he knows everything just because his head is literally a brain, the logic of the world is solidified; in other words, there are rules to heads being literally a brain. And yet, there are several jokes throughout the issue that do qualify as “meta” that I think, perhaps frustratingly contradictorily, work like gangbusters. When Surfer’s big attack move is a deliriously silly Three Stooges misdirection gag, well, you can’t help but read that as a direct comment on what usually happens in these kinds of climactic moments rather than an earned and organic Silver Surfer character moment (although the tactic does work). Perhaps this issue’s humor is like a really well constructed roller-coaster — solidly crafted and engineered to not go off the rails, yet capable of making you feel like you will at every turn.
I’m reminded a bit of Inception in the usage of totems. Both works involve holding onto an item of emotional importance (Cobb’s message-board-igniting spinning top, Dawn’s cymbal crashing monkey toy) in order to remain oriented in a world that’s all too keen on crushing your brain’s capacity to comprehend. Yet while Christopher Nolan’s aesthetic world is dark, brooding, melancholy, and even a bit morose (I say this all as a fucking enormous fan of that film), Slott and the Allred’s world is light, bouncing, positive, and even a bit saccharine. In Nolan’s work, Cobb insists while negotiating the terms of the inception that “positive emotion trumps negative emotion every time.” In Silver Surfer 3, we absolutely see that’s the case.
What say you, Suzanne? Did this trippy trip work for you as well as it worked for me? And what would your childhood totem toy be? Mine would be a stuffed cow named Cleatus, and I would have trouble giving him up, heart of the Never Queen or not.
Suzanne: What can compete with a stuffed cow named Cleatus? My favorite childhood keepsakes include a plastic sword and shield with full battle armor. I was a bit of a tomboy in grade school and loved playing Knights of the Round Table. Objects like those can hold potent memories that exist beyond any nostalgia factor.
For Dawn Greenwood, her childhood totem is a toy monkey that symbolizes not only her desire for familiarity and routine but her sister’s disapproval of those habits. Does that sound a bit harsh? Each flashback panel involves Eve chiding Dawn about her choices. Maybe the Never Queen’s parting message to Dawn of how “you choose your future” implies confronting her role within the nuclear family and becoming less enmeshed with her sister. My training in family therapy could be creeping in too much here though. I have a feeling Dawn’s reunion with Eve will be a memorable part of future issues.
Michael Allred also features the toy monkey as a main element in the cover; this highlights its importance in the issue and the greater plot. Dawn’s everyday struggles ground the series amidst a wacky cosmic storyline. In contrast to Dawn’s toy monkey, Mr. Battle-Lon cherishes his son Battlejack of Jackstar 9’s sacred armor as a physical representation of his son’s honor. He mourns the death of his son by wearing his armor, another compelling moment framed alongside jokes about Mr. Mygdalla’s brain. Honestly, Dan Slott must love coming up with these ridiculous names and details.
Greg mentions Slott’s use of humor as a cornerstone of the series. My favorite moment comes when Dawn and Silver Surfer first travel into space together. Silver Surfer notices Dawn’s extended silence only to find that she’s holding her breath. She reacts as any normal human would and says: “How are you talking in space? How am I breathing in space?” Allred’s penchant for silly, cartoony facial expressions complements the tone of Slott’s dialogue here. I also love Dawn’s reaction to Norrin Radd transforming into the Silver Surfer and the words she uses to describe him. She reminds readers of how incredible Silver Surfer’s appearance and cosmic powers can be. Plus, she even calls him “shiny” and his surfboard a mirror.
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This is by far the happiest I’ve ever seen ol’ shiny Norrin Radd; and I think this is a brave new direction for the character that works pretty darn well. Slott’s script is both light and fun, yet still contains emotional resonance. And the Allreds’ art–GORGEOUS.Words can’t even describe (and wouldn’t you want art that defies true descriptive terms?). I think the lush pop art is the real selling point of the series so far, with all due respect to Mr. Slott and his totally ginchy tale.
Plus, SS is a sci-fi series that specializes in exploration, infinite possibilities, and just sheer fun–and that’s just the bee’s knees. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to DC’s seeming insistence on bleak, dark, “realistic” timelines and protagonists. More positive overtones, please.
And on that note, Doctor Who is also a sci-fi series that is fun, silly, and ultimately a joy to watch. After watching the fifth and most of the sixth seasons, it’s apparent that Slott wears his influences on his sleeve–in a totally awesome way. Props to Spencer for turning me onto that super cool British sensation!
I love how Slott totally takes influence from some of the better parts of the Who mythos without ever letting it feel derivitive; this book is so good! I’m glad Who works for you, mr. blue moon — really glad I could turn you onto it!
Both “Battlejack” and “Jackstar” made me laugh out loud – it’s that kind of confident nonsense that makes this series such a delight. I’m mostly familiar with Slott’s work from Spider-Man (Amazing, Superior and Amazing again), which is necessarily more grounded. I don’t know if Allred has a little bit of a liberating influence on Slott’s writing, but it’s remarkable how much the tone here varies from Spider-Man.
Have you ever read Slott’s She-Hulk? The tone is similarly quirky with more punching and less space adventure.
I read the first issue (and Greg and I wrote about it), but the premise did not win me over. I know, I know, I know – I’m a monster. Maybe I need to dig back into it, but as it stands, I do not currently count myself among the She-Hulk fans.