Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Silver Surfer 11, originally released April 29th, 2015.
Drew: I both love and hate that Birdman was shot the way it was. I love that it uses the single-shot effect to such awe-inspiring ends, but hate that it feels so gimmicky. I want to be clear there: it’s not that I think it is gimmicky, just that it feels gimmicky. The conversation is so often about how Alejandro G. Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki achieved those effects (or even just that they achieved them at all), that reason why they did it often goes unaddressed. That this kind of formal affectation might have an unnoticed thematic justification speaks to the low regard we have for form — we only notice it when its weird, and then only to comment on how weird it is. That low regard makes formal outliers all the more daring — will they be known for their reasoned narrative choices, or will they be dismissed as a vehicle for the most unusual of those choices? With Silver Surfer 11, Dan Slott and Michael Allred attempt an even more convoluted formal trick, but its rewards are well worth the challenges it poses to the reader.
Those challenges aren’t few, and one of the most important may be procuring a physical copy. The physicality of this issue — the way it forces the reader to turn the issue over and literally retrace their steps — is one of its chief pleasures. Slott has expressed his pleasure with the digital version of this issue, but that praise only comes by way of admitting that this issue was really designed for the printed page. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I wasn’t able to nab a print copy in time for this piece, which leaves me at a significant disadvantage when commenting on its effects. Far from dampening my praise, however, I’m doubly impressed at how moving the issue was even in its compromised state.
The issue takes the form of an inescapable time-loop, presented from different perspectives on each reiteration, which manages to make the repetition feel like progress, even when it isn’t. That’s a key feature of this form, as it puts us securely in the place of the characters, who only ever seem vaguely aware that they are trapped in an infinite loop. Indeed, there is so much to be gleaned from their individual stories that we continue to learn key details about what was going on even after Norrin is able to break the loop.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Breaking the loop comes from a narrative need and a choice by the audience to stop repeating the initial loop of interlocking stories. More importantly, it represents another key moment in Norrin and Dawn’s relationship, as the two realize forgivness is the only way to escape the literal vicious cycle they find themselves trapped in.
That moment is what really sets this issue apart from the time-travel wankery it’s mired in. Let me be clear: I love that wankery, and would have thoroughly enjoyed an issue that used the flippy pages as a simple gimmick, but this scene elevates the story from the realm of science fiction that exists to be neat to that of science fiction that exists to reveal things about the human condition. Norrin and Dawn can’t move past their issues because they haven’t addressed them yet, which should feel familiar to anyone who’s ever had any kind of bad air hanging between themselves and a loved one. Once they actually hear each other, they’re able to break the time loop and complete their mission.
That’s some devastatingly clever writing from Slott, supported by truly revelatory work from Allred. Allred nails the subtle emotions needed to sell the layers of meaning as these scenes repeat, but his biggest contribution to this issue may just be his throwback sensibilities, which are as much a celebration of the medium as any metatext Slott can muster. Allred always brings so much more than a simple re-creation of Jack Kirby’s Silver Surfer, but in an issue all about re-creation, those influences aren’t trivial. Indeed, this issue makes any amount of repetition something nuanced and interesting.
Spencer, I’m going to have to hand this off to you before I devolve into an incoherent puddle of praise, but there’s so much I haven’t mentioned yet! Laura Allred’s color work might be the most criminal omission, but I’m also curious to hear your thoughts on the Never Queen’s narration — was it too over the top or just too over the top enough? Oh, and were you able to get your hands on a physical copy of this thing?
Spencer: I was able to get a physical copy, Drew — I rarely miss a Wednesday at my LCS — and I’m grateful that I did. The Comixology version does an impressive job of making Silver Surfer 11 readable in digital formats, but a lot of the charm of the form is lost in the process. As you mentioned, some of that comes down to the loss of the actual physical movements required to read the physical copy. Continually turning the issue over and looping back over pages you’ve already read helps the reader feel the same sense of endless repetition as the characters — in a way, we’re trapped in the time loop just as Norrin, Dawn, and the others are.
Please excuse the crudeness of this image (as well as the next few), but I had to actually scan my physical copy of the issue in order to show off some of what it can do that the digital can’t. I think this moment here is the biggest loss — the Never Queen begs Norrin (and, in extension, the reader) to turn the page and break the endless loop, and indeed, that’s the decision here — either you can keep following the loop, or you can turn the page to progress the story in a new format. The digital version loses this effect because the “loop” parts of the story, by necessity of format, continue on past the Never Queen’s speech.
Actually, the physical copy does a much better job of showing the loop in general.
The digital copy loses the moments where the various stories cross over each other, forming an infinity symbol (or maybe a version of the Möbius Strip Norrin surfs on the cover). Again, while this may not actually effect the plot, the physical copy does a much better job of actually showing the endless loop Norrin’s caught in, not just talking about it.
There may be one moment, though, where the digital format actually muddies the plot a bit.
At the beginning of the issue the Never Queen mentions how she creates all possibilities, and humans with free will choose which of these moments they’ll actually bring into existence. When Silver Surfer finally succeeds in breaking the endless loop, he chooses a happy ending, overwriting the devious actions Krattaka and Founder Keen took within the loop. In the physical copy though, as seen above, we can actually see Norrin’s decision take precedence, overwhelm the page, and crowd out Kratakka and Keen’s actions. That’s one effect the digital copy just isn’t able to replicate.
I’m not saying any of this to promote physical comics as being better than digital comics (or vice versa), simply to help demonstrate how effective Slott and the Allreds’ work here is. The format is both clever and readable, with form and function working together in perfect harmony, and that’s quite an achievement. Even ignoring the format for a second, though, I’m still impressed by Michael Allred’s art. Throughout 90% of the issue he only has half a page to tell his story with, but the work never feels cramped. In fact, Allred manages to turn the small size to his advantage — when Norrin finally breaks the loop Allred takes the opportunity to go big, and the resulting spread, already fantastic in its own right, looks even bigger and grander in contrast to the constrained art that proceeded it.
And man are Laura Allred’s colors fantastic. The yellow rings pop against the purple background, and I can’t get over the dozens and dozens of gorgeous candy-colors she uses on the stream of ships. Sometimes I feel like the Allreds are just leaking imagination onto the page — they’re naturals at bottling and harnessing childlike wonder.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if the emotional aspects of this issue work quite as well for me as they did for you, Drew. Norrin and Dawn’s moment of realization fell a bit flat because they simply had no time to actually speak to each other. The way Norrin just tells Dawn she needs to forgive him feels like a command and kind of downplays the fact that she’s actually forgiven him all on her own. I know the implication of this scene is that Norrin can break the loop because he takes the time to listen to Dawn, but he doesn’t, not really — he just suddenly knows everything she wanted to say to him without actually having to stop and listen to her. It’s narratively expedient, sure, but dulls the power of the moment. And maybe I’m being too literal, but Norrin’s ability to break the loop doesn’t come from listening to Dawn, not really — it comes from getting her ring back. He had to talk to Dawn to get it, of course, but again, it feels more like a means to an end than the emotional centerpiece of the issue.
Ultimately, though, that’s only a small complaint. The story is still strong even if it’s not exactly perfect, and the format of the issue perfectly services it while also existing as something fascinating and functional in its own right. This is an issue people are going to be talking about for a long time, and not as a gimmick, but as a piece of art that pushes what comic books can do while still telling an effective story. As legacies go, you can’t do much better.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?