Silver Surfer 9

Alternating Currents: Silver Surfer 9, Drew and Spencer

Today, Drew and Spencer are discussing Silver Surfer 9, originally released March 8th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Drew: In this day and age, episodic storytelling isn’t particularly well-respected — particularly when the episodes might follow some kind of prescribed formula — but I think there’s a lot more value in formula than we tend to give credit. For one, long-gestating stories or deep character growth might not be the point of every story; sometimes you just want to see what new shenanigans Lucille Ball gets up to this week. But I think the bigger virtue of those episodic formulas is that they reflect the cycles in our everyday lives. Sure, audiences may not arrest a new criminal or annoy their spouse or teach an important life lesson to their kids every week, but the patterns are familiar enough (and cyclical enough) to reflect their lived experiences. I don’t mean to suggest that serialized stories can’t achieve this (honestly, I can’t think of a single example that doesn’t sit somewhere in between the abstract extremes of “episodic” and “serialized”), just that there are virtues to episodic storytelling that are often overlooked. Case in point: the formula of Silver Surfer 9 is undoubtedly familiar to longtime readers of this series, but with the formula as charming as it is, it’s hard to see that as a downside.

I suppose it’s worth noting at this point that this series always does a great deal to transcend its formula, anyway. Dan Slott is one of the most inventive writers working in comics, and Michael Allred is able to match every one of his absurd ideas with equally absurd set and character designs (to say nothing of his inventive layouts and image choices). Half of the fun of this series is exploring the new planet-of-the-month, complete with its strange flora, fauna, and culture.

Inkandessa 4

As ever, the peculiar habits of the locals force Dawn and Norrin to consider some kind of strange moral or existential question. In this case, the question comes down to the humanity of a holographic copy of Dawn — the flesh-and-bone version is uncomfortable with the idea of a copy of herself running around, but the holographic version feels just as entitled to her life as the flesh-and-bone one. Ultimately, that question isn’t the point of the issue — it’s basically introduced and settled within two pages — but it allows this otherwise pithy adventure story to get into some funky headspace before kicking in with the real heart of the story.

Which, of course, is that Norrin loves Dawn (and Dawn loves Norrin). Their relationship has always been the center of this series, and this issue’s choice to put Dawn in danger represents the series’ go-to way for illustrating how much Norrin cares. That Norrin will save Dawn is the Lucy apologizing to Ricky conclusion to the formula — we know it’s coming, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t effective every single time. It illustrates how much he cares, usually with the added fun of using the power cosmic in some heretofore unknown way. This time is notably different in that the “L” word is actually uttered, but we all more or less knew what these two were feeling, even if they hadn’t said it out loud yet.

But maybe that’s just me pooh-poohing the serialized elements of this series. The mysterious Mr. Rappaport returns this issue, hinting at some larger plan (cleverly revealed to the holographic Dawn, who fails to mention it to Dawn or Norrin before they leave her on Inkandessia 4) which is sure to play out as “The Next Phase” storyline kicks into gear. Spencer, are you looking forward to seeing what Mr. Rappaport is up to, or are you happy to stick with more-or-less self-contained adventures like this one? Also, do you think Norrin and Dawn admitting their love for one another is a bigger deal than I’m giving it credit for? It’s not that I don’t think their love is important (I’ve been ‘shipping these two from day one), I guess I just thought it was so obvious, I had kind of started to take it for granted that they both knew.

Spencer: Y’know Drew, I went back and skimmed some older issues, and unless I’m missing something momentous (which I may be), this is the first time Dawn and Norrin have explicitly used the word “love” with each other. Yet, you’re right that it’s not a huge deal, and neither does the creative team treat it as one.

Dawn and Norrin are both very well aware of their feelings for each other, so this isn’t meant to be some grand declaration or reveal, simply a confirmation of what we already knew. Dawn understands that Norrin loves her because he shows it, because he’ll take tremendous risks to protect her, but that’s something that he’s been doing for quite a while now. Norrin and Dawn have been declaring their love for each other for just about Slott and the Allreds’ entire run on this title, they’ve just been doing it through their actions rather than their words. This is a sweet — and likely pivotal — moment for this relationship, but it’s played low-key because, of course, they knew. We all knew. And it’s been fantastic watching it develop.

Anyway Drew, I have to agree with just about everything you’ve said about this issue. It’s another fantastic showcase for Slott and the Allred’s prodigious imaginations, and while they may spend relatively little time on the question of Holo-Dawn’s humanity, it’s still a intriguing and well-handled idea nonetheless. It also segues neatly into another major theme of this issue, one which’s been rather prominent throughout both runs of Silver Surfer: respect for different cultures.

As is the case with many issues of Silver Surfer — especially the one-off adventures — there’s no real villain to this story. The actions the Inkandessians take against Dawn are deceitful and downright murderous from our perspective, of course, but to the Inkandessians they were simply following the sacred laws and customs of their people. They also assumed they had Dawn’s permission.

It’s all a misunderstanding. After some initial revulsion, they seem to assume that Dawn’s desire to use the bathroom is actually a desire to get rid of her “wasteful” flesh body and become hard-light holograms like themselves. Norrin’s jokes and all-around low-key disdain for Earthly bodily functions only seems to reenforce their assumption. Don’t get me wrong — other than some mild rudeness, Norrin did nothing wrong, and the Inkandessians 100% should have gotten Dawn’s explicit consent before performing such a radical procedure on her. But given the not only commonplace, but essential nature of the conversion on their world and the radical reason why they implemented it in the first place (they’d already consumed and destroyed three home-worlds, and this was the only way to preserve the final planet in their solar system), it’s certainly understandable why they would give such little thought to something that’s of grave importance to Dawn and Norrin.

By the end of the issue, Dawn and Norrin ultimately learn to be respectful of the Inkandessians’ culture, that their holographic forms are just as alive as they are, and Norrin apologizes for nearly destroying it. This is something that has happened in many of the Surfer’s past adventures, as he and Dawn have resolved conflicts, not through violence, but by trying to understand where the other party is coming from and how they see the world, and finding ways to accommodate that.

Note, though, that this doesn’t mean that Norrin and Dawn personally agree with the Inkandessians’ beliefs, and they were absolutely within their rights to lash out and rescue Dawn’s body from incineration. Respecting others’ cultures doesn’t mean personally subscribing to them, nor does it mean allowing them to disrespect your own culture or personal safety. It’s obvious that the Inkandessians are also being culturally insensitive here (and they never really get over it, unlike Dawn and Norrin), and that’s something they certainly need to improve upon, but it’s also important to remember that Dawn and Norrin are visitors on their world. Again, that doesn’t mean they need to let themselves be hurt or indoctrinated by the Inkandessians, but the onus of respect does fall a bit more upon the visitor, the one immersing themselves in a foreign land and culture, than the ones being visited.

Those ideas of respect and connection all circle back to one of my favorite themes: empathy.

You can’t respect somebody if you don’t see them as a person. You can’t respect another culture if you see it as some dreaded “other” rather than beliefs held by people just like you. In Dawn’s case that’s extremely literal, as the Holo-Dawn is her carbon copy, and her unease at the idea of Holo-Dawn existing dissipates the instant she realizes that, of course, Holo-Dawn is a real living person just as deserving of life and respect as she is. Again, that’s a lesson always worth keeping in mind, but especially now more than ever before.

To answer your other question, Drew, I don’t know what to think of Mr. Rappaport yet. At this point he’s not really a character, just a mystery, an omen of things to come. There’s some clues as to what he might want in this issue (what does he need to use Inkandessa 4’s conversion “facilities” for?), but I’m far more interested in the threat he could pose to Dawn and Norrin. When he showed up back in issue 7, he warned that those two were at risk of losing their great love, and as this issue came to remind us, that relationship is Silver Surfer‘s greatest asset. Threatening it is a big deal, and has me both anticipating and dreading this storyline more than any conspiracy or intergalactic threat ever could.

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?

3 comments on “Silver Surfer 9

  1. Roger Elbert famously said ‘It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.’ Which sums up a lot of my problems with Scott. I have a great respect for Slott’s plotting. He knows how to plot so well for theme, for ideas. You could probably call him one of the best writers when it comes to structure – the skeleton of the story is so good that a synopsis of the story sounds fantastic. But the actual story itself never lives up to it. Unlike Waid and Lemire, whose work (especially Waid) actively has major problems, my problems with Scott is just that all that fantastic plotting ends up being very mechanical. I decided to give Silver Surfer another try, but it is the same issues.

    The basic concept is fantastic (though for a book that can never escape the shadow of Doctor Who, reminding us of one of the very worst Doctor who episodes ever was a bad idea, even as it avoids all the bad stuff). But it feels so mechanically put together. The easiest example of this is Dawn going to the bathroom. This may be in part because as a rule, people don’t go to the bathroom in stories, but the entire sequence feels like it is telegraphing what is happening. In fact, it is so lacking in a natural feel that the fact that everything is plotted feels so overwhelming obvious.
    It gets even worse when we reach the climax. It really doesn’t feel like we get the full tragedy. One version of Dawn is sentenced to be trapped on a planet for the rest of her life, separated from her love while another version of her goes off with him. And yet, it doesn’t feel like we truly get what that means for Dawn. The plotting is fantastic, but the character centric climax feels robotic.

    Robotic sounds like the perfect phrase for this. Like a robot, Slott so completely knows the rules that things are done with an exacting perfection. The ideas, the plotting, the structure is perfect. Yet in the end, for everything done perfectly, it lacks humanity, lacks a soul. I appreciate the exceptional craft, yet never find the reason I should care

    • Which Doctor Who episode are you thinking of? This issue reminds me a bit of “The Girl Who Waited,” at least in terms of the two Dawns/Amys, but I’m curious if we’re on the same wavelength or not (I certainly wouldn’t call that the worst episode)

      • Girl Who Waited is nowhere near the worst episode. Karen Gillan’s fantstic performance itself makes it worthy of praise.

        But this issue, especially with the focus on relationships, reminded me of the multi Doctor stuff of Journey’s End (specifically, the ending, where they try and address what to do with the fact that there are now two Doctors). Journey’s End was godawfully stupid with no idea how to structure, cause and effect, active agency or any of the other stuff that makes stories work, made worse by utterly awful sense of morality and stunning misogyny.

        Slott easily manages to avoid all of those issues, because Journey’s End is a special sort of failure. Again, my issues with Silver Surfer is that ultimately, it lacks the spark of humanity. Still reminded me of that awfulness

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