Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Silver Surfer 9, originally released February 18th, 2015.
Patrick: As he’s about to take Galactus head on in combat, Silver Surfer recalls the story of David and Goliath. I love David and Goliath, mostly because of how its message has been muddled by the passage and time. We read that story now as a triumph of the little guy against immeasurable odds — which is a fine story to comfort us when we feel like we’re taking on the world. But the real story isn’t quite so comforting: David wasn’t an untrained kid with a slingshot stuffed in the back pocket of his overalls; he was a trained soldier, battle-hardened and armed with his weapon of choice. In slaying Goliath, David isn’t beating the odds, he’s fulfilling his potential. And that’s exactly what this issue of Silver Surfer does too: both in terms of narrative power and the power cosmic, Norin Radd gloriously achieves his potential.
Before we get to that fist-pumpingly awesome bit of silliness at the end of the issue, there’s a lot of history to sort through. Dan Slott and Michael Allred have spent the last eight issues developing a character that has been actively ignoring his own past. Instead of being an interstellar pariah, Radd has become something of a galactic journeyman, taking Dawn Greenwood on adventures purely for the sake of having adventures in the universe. That’s a totally sweet characterization, especially for a dude that remains stoic throughout. But Radd’s history is another story, one that Dawn requests to hear “in full” before she can even begin to forgive him for destroying (or at least having his hand in destroying) countless worlds.
The issue drops into origin story mode, and Allred delivers a beautiful two-page spread chronicling how Surfer went from apathetic socialite on his home planet, to the Herald of Galactus, to superheroic rebel. Allred includes one panel of Surfer and the Fantastic Four battling Galactus, and that’s all it takes to tie Norin Radd to the larger context of the Marvel Universe.
I know, I know, I know — this should go without saying: of course the Silver Surfer is an integral part of the Marvel Universe. Early in the series, we saw Surfer Teaming up with Hulk and Doctor Strange (and even the Guardians of the Galaxy) to fight some earthbound menace, but Norin and Dawn made the specific choice to leave that sort of thing behind. This is a firm reminder that the Surfer exists in this universe, and an assertion that his history matters.
The reason we’re getting this history, and the reminder of Surfer’s place in the Marvel Universe, is simple: he’s about to do something awesome. Or gnarly. Or bodacious. Or any surfer slang you wanna toss out there — it’s all equally good. As far as I’m concerned, the whole issue is leading up to Dawn’s realization: “He’s surfing the moon.” That’s an aggressively silly idea, and there’s no escaping the cheesiness that comes along with Radd using his surfing abilities to save the day. It’s like anachronistically pandering to a young readership that doesn’t exist any more. But the idea of “surfing the moon” transcends its own silliness by being exactly the type of thing that only the Silver Surfer can do, and by extension the only thing the Silver Surfer should be doing.
Plus, Slott and Allred give the readers all the time in the world to wrap their heads around what Radd is doing. Beautifully, they don’t cheat any of these moments, or have the characters overly narrate what’s happening. It would have been so easy to show a kind of impossible perspective and make it clear that Norrin is perched on top of the moon, riding it like a surf board, but instead Allred favors the perspectives of the two characters we know and love. I’ll admit to still being totally confused when Norrin lands on the moon and digs his heels in. Once you know what’s happening, it’s all to clear that he’s surfing the moon, but without context, the action is delightfully ambiguous.
When we knock back over to Dawn’s perspective, all we can see is the moon moving across the sky. That moon, by the way, has appeared throughout the issue, foreshadowing its importance. You can see the moon in Founder Keen’s holographic projection of the planet, and in the sky above Dawn and Norrin, and it pointedly appears behind Norrin’s hand as he vows to protect Newhaven. Cheekily, the moon also appears on the title page, with the word “Slingshot” printed right on top of it.
That’s what this series and this character is all about: taking something as ridiculous and unbelievable as surfing the moon, and convincing the reader that it was inevitable.
The same is true of the Surfer’s sacrifice, which I’m going to leave to my good friend Taylor to discuss. I found this issue to be greatly rewarding, not just for its idiotically huge moon-crashing set piece, but because of what it cost the character to make that happen. Were you moved by Surfer’s sacrifice? Or does the silliness override the emotion?
Taylor: Oh, the silliness doesn’t bother me all that much. After all, it’s been a major part of the series — getting upset about now seems like a moot point. No, I wasn’t bothered by the silliness at all, but I was bothered by a number of things in this issue.
While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the moon. As you said, Patrick, when the Silver Surfer decides to fight Galactus, he decides the best way to defeat the guy who destroys planets is by “surfing” the moon into him. Ignoring the silliness of destroying someone with a moon (pour one out for Chewbacca), I had major qualms with just how this action went down. First, as we can see below, the Silver Surfer gets some help in turning an orbiting body into a projectile.
Yes, that’s faithful Toomie plowing itself into the moon, helping to move the celestial object for its master. While this is a touching instance of Toomie’s faithfulness, it also makes us question exactly who is moving the moon. Is the Surfer pulling it as board is pushing? Or is board just doing all of the work on it’s own? Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that the Silver Surfer is not “surfing” the moon into Galactus. Rather, he’s either pulling it or Board is pushing all on its own, making the Surfer’s heroic deed not as admirable as previously thought.
What also bothered me about the actions of the Silver Surfer in this issue is that they entirely unoriginal. Comic books are practically built upon the idea of heroic sacrifice and virtually every comicbook hero has died at least once in their careers. So what is making the Surfer’s turn particularly admirable in this case? I guess we could cite his desire to rectify the wrongs of killing millions of people (from millions of planets [really?]) but if anything, that makes his sacrifice feel kind of inadequate. It all just feels like uninspired story telling that borrows from stories already told yet not offering up anything new or interesting to draw us in.
Along these same lines, I found Dawn’s actions in the issue to be suspect at best. First, she is appalled to learn the truth about what the Silver Surfer has done. Then, she refuses to ride to safety because she feels a sudden solidarity with a group of aliens she met hours ago. At the end of issue she bemoans the loss of the Silver Surfer and frantically is trying to think of a plan to rescue to him. Again, this is the type of pseudo-independent female lead that pervades pop-culture. While on the surface it looks like Dawn is asserting her morals when she refuses to speak to the Surfer and then accept his help, it’s all just a show in retaliation for him lying to her. Is she really all that upset he killed millions? No! how do we know? Minutes after making her grand stand against the Surfer, she’s asking for spaceships to go save him from space. If she was really angry all of those deaths, wouldn’t she have been glad to see him suffer? Instead we see her plight was about the morals of killing millions of innocent people. Instead, she’s just angry that a man lied to her. It’s a typical way women behave in pop-culture and one that perpetuates a world that revolves solely around dudes.
So sure, the silliness doesn’t bother me in this issue, but maybe that’s just because there are other things that bother me much more. So while Norrin maybe fulfilling his role as hero in this issue, I find the issue as a whole fulfills old stereotypes in a way that lacks any originality or vigor.
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