Today, Spencer and Patrick are discussing Silver Surfer 12, originally released June 10th, 2015.
Spencer: “Consent” is a word I didn’t hear much as a teenager, unless it involved waivers or some other sort of legal document. While I was (thankfully) taught from a young age never to make somebody do something that would make them uncomfortable, the concept never had a name, and that’s a shame, because there are very few ventures where waiting to get consent before proceeding is ever a bad idea — especially when it comes to sex and relationships. Dan Slott and Michael & Laura Allred’s Silver Surfer 12 emphasizes the importance of consent by featuring an entire planet that, despite having the best of intentions, needs to learn a serious lesson on the subject.
This sentient planet calls itself Euphoria, although its inhabitants — the refugees of Newhaven, who were shepherded to this new home by Silver Surfer in issue 11 — refer to it as New Newhaven. It’s an absolute paradise in almost every way, a world with perfect weather, activities for every inhabitant to enjoy, and almost total serenity. Of course, as almost every form of media any of us have ever consumed throughout our entire lives have trained us to realize, anything that seems too good to be true clearly is, and Euphoria is no exception.
It doesn’t take long for strange occurrences start popping up: Krattaka puts her warrior skills to good use defending the village from vicious wild animals, yet nobody else ever runs across these creatures, and long-dead figures from Dawn, Norrin, and Founder Keen’s past start popping up to comfort and reassure them. Norrin eventually realizes that the planet itself has been trying to give all its citizens everything they’ve ever wanted, even if it has to unknowingly pump them full of medication to do so. Understandably, some of the refugees aren’t very happy with this revelation.
I love the words and expressions Slott chooses here: Kratakka feels like a puppet, the other citizen finds the whole situation “creepy.” None of Euphoria’s citizens are upset about the gifts she’s given them — the real problem is that she’s done everything without their knowledge or consent. Perhaps Kratakka and Euphoria would’ve been able to work out some kind of mutually beneficial challenge to help Kratakka exercise her warrior side had Euphoria just approached her about it, but instead, her solution to keep sending wild animals feels simple and condescending.
Of course, consent is most vital when it comes to sex and relationships, and that’s why the story of Norrin and Dawn finally admitting their feelings for each other is front and center throughout the issue. The time these two have spent on Euphoria has been great for their relationship — with no worries and no battles to fight, they can focus simply on how much they enjoy being around each other. They’ve had time to figure out their feelings about each other, and with Euphoria’s help, have even had their relationship validated by Norrin’s lost love, Shalla Bal, and Dawn’s dearly departed mother.
This is closure Norrin and Dawn both clearly needed to move forward, but that can’t hide the fact that Euphoria’s behavior here is more than a little bit creepy and inappropriate. What could have, in a more well-planned situation, been some effective therapy is soured because Euphoria imitated their loved ones (and is implied to have peeked into their memories) without their permission.
Thankfully, despite Euphoria’s coercion, Norrin and Dawn are able to keep a clear head and finally admit their feelings on their own terms.
Dawn realizes that this relationship wouldn’t be healthy or safe if she entered it just because other people wanted her to, that it would be a mistake to hook up with Norrin for any reason other than her own desire to be with him. It’s a smart, timely reminder that relationships only work when both members enter it of their free will, and not under any kind of pressure or coercion.
Many of the men (and women) who commit sexual assault or rape are, without a doubt, absolute monsters, and any act of this sort is vile and irreprehensible no matter how you cut it. But Euphoria acts as an important reminder that people need to be taught about consent before they reach that point.
Euphoria was not only trying to protect her own emotions, but also trying to heal the vastly depressed population that landed on her surface. Those are noble goals, but as we’ve mentioned, she tried to meet them in inappropriate means. Should Euphoria have known better? Probably, but it’s important to keep in mind that she’d likely never encountered sentient life before. Euphoria needed to be taught respect for other peoples’ boundaries, and just like Euphoria, kids don’t just pop out of the womb with a fully formed understanding of consent. They need to be taught, and that responsibility falls on each and every one of us.
Aside from its smart handling of the issue of consent, I’m also fond of how Slott and the Allreds tackle Norrin and Dawn’s relationship. I admit that, until that final page, I had no idea whether they’d actually end up together or not. The creative team’s been showing Norrin and Dawn growing more and more intimate as the series went along, but it could have just as easily led to a close platonic friendship as it could a romantic relationship. It’s been a subtle and believable build-up to this point, and I couldn’t be more excited to see these two finally get together, especially after that absolutely adorable scene of them star-gazing on the hill. Patrick, are you as taken with the romantic aspect of this issue as I am? What are you thoughts on this “perfect” world, Euphoria’s actions, and the issue’s take on consent? And how about all that gorgeous Allred art — killer, right? I couldn’t help to notice that their work feels a bit more sensual and sexually charged this issue (though not explicitly so) — any thoughts on that, Patrick?
Patrick: It’s certainly more intimate — largely due to the fact that Norrin is silvered down the whole issue. It’s a lot easier to see the humanity of the character when he looks, y’know, human.
Spencer, I get the real-world message about consent that you see in this issue, but I’ll confess to having not seen that at all. When Dawn says at the end that she “shouldn’t kiss [Norrin] because a whole planet wants [her] to,” I see that as an exploration of ‘shipping. ‘Shipping — for the one or two people who read a comic book site unfamiliar with the term — is the practice of rooting for a sexual relationship between fictional (or occasionally non-fictional) characters. It’s a huge phenomenon in the world of fandom, and I’m not convinced it’s at all governed by logic. Fans ‘ship characters with very little regard for story, or the characters’ sexuality, or anything really. ‘Shipping is an arbitrary projection of emotions on to fictional characters — and I think that “arbitrary” nature is what comes under fire in Silver Surfer 12.
The issue starts within Norrin’s flashback nightmare.
Why would we start our story here? I suppose this dream provides a little bit of an emotional overview of Norrin’s past, but that’s also something the exhaustive recap page accomplishes. I think we need to see the this version of the character in action to be reminded that before he was a our interstellar hero, he was the agent of a cosmic destructive force. Those are the character’s roots — as a villain, albeit a reluctant one. I couldn’t tell you what it was that made people respond to Silver Surfer back when he was introduced — maybe the sleek, sexy design, maybe the surfboard was just the right mix of exotic and relateable, maybe the total mystery surrounding his relationship with Galactus — whatever it was, readers and creators wanted to see more of this guy.
“Cosmic adventurer” is a fine role to cast him in — that allows for all of this Star Trek meets Dr. Who funtimes. But while that may be what Dan Slott wants for the character, there’s an element of artificiality to the narrative circumstances that allow those conditions. A writer is, in many ways, the sentient world in which the characters inhabit. With all the talk of reboots and relaunches and ends of worlds and beginnings of worlds, Slott and the Allreds let us see Dawn, Norrin and the Newhavenians sample a soft reboot before rejecting it for being too perfectly catered to what they thought they wanted.
I love that Euphoria takes the form of characters from Founder Keen, Norrin and Dawn’s pasts because the issue starts to make the comparison between fictional characters and real life people. The order of events is as I have it in the previous sentence — first Founder Keen’s lost love (or mother or sister or friend, it’s not clear) tries to put him at ease with this new life. As an audience, we don’t have any context for who she is, but we can read some context clues and know that she was important to Keen. That’s the concept at it’s most abstract. Then we move on to Norrin Radd and Shalla Bal. Shalla’s got a publishing history that goes back to 1968, so longtime fans might be familiar with her. But even if you’re not, Slott and the Allreds are cashing in on the invisible cultural currency of an existing, but largely unknown, character. Drudging up old characters and concepts always gives a new comic (or movie or TV show or whatever) a little bit of street cred. At the very least, it’s a move we understand and come to expect — the mythology is being expanded by looking back into the vast catalogue of source material.
The final voice from the past is the most immediately heartrending: Dawn has a conversation with her mother.
And at this point — at the relationship between mother and daughter — the reader is given permission to feel this emotional reboot, rather than read about it. That Eurphoria reveal in the final panel of that page is the most invasive. That’s sort of the last straw for us as readers, right? I know that’s where I go from “this isn’t so bad” to “oh, they’re all being manipulated, fuck this.”
I don’t know exactly how that ties in to the inevitable re-rebooting of Silver Surfer — the NEXT ISSUE page teases “The Last Days of Silver Surfer” — but I do think it expresses Slott and the Allred’s commitment to emotional honesty. They’re not going to ‘ship Dawn and Norrin just because the fans do.
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?