Thursday, 8 January 2015

THE SILVER SURFER - CREATED BEING OR TRANSFORMED 'HUMAN'...?


Images copyright MARVEL COMICS.  The Surfer in his first U.S. issue

When MARVEL powerhouse JACK 'KING' KIRBY
originated a guy on a surfboard who came to be known as The
SILVER SURFER, it's obvious that he intended him to be a created
being with no history, brought forth from nothing by GALACTUS to
serve him as herald.  That's why the Surfer, in his first appearance in
The FANTASTIC FOUR mag, seemingly had no conscience about
leading his master to inhabited planets to syphon-off their energy
(and thus destroy them);  he was merely fulfilling the purpose
for which he'd specifically been created.

STAN 'The MAN' LEE decided that it would be far more
noble if NORRIN RADD had endured a great sacrifice of some
sort, in fitting with the quasi-religious martyr-type that he wanted
to develop, resulting in the backdrop of ZENN-LA and SHALLA-
BAL against which ol' Surfy played out his personal drama in his own
monthly mag.  Of course, this meant that the readers had to assume
that Galactus had sneakily suppressed his herald's memory and
conscience, and indeed, subsequent writers later wove this
explanation into the character's history.

It's arguable, of course, which approach is the better one;
I can see merit in each of them, although, understandably, Jack
was miffed about the Surfer's hijacking by Stan and thereby being
deprived of the chance to show what he could do in a regular series.
Gotta be honest 'though.  I think Stan made the right choice in picking
JOHN BUSCEMA to illustrate the Surfer's own mag;  by that time,
Jack's rendition of the Sentinel of the Spaceways (and figure-
work in general) had lost much of its former grace and fluidity,
and had become a bit blocky-looking and abstract.

John B, on the other hand, imbued the character with nobility 
and grace, and readers were treated to a tour-de-force of visual ex-
cellence that Jack no longer seemed capable of.  Having just said that
however, the cover of the Surfer's first issue has always been a bit of a
mystery to me.  It surely stands as one of the rare examples where Big
John B failed to rise to the challenge.  A boring, straight-on view of ol'
Norrin in one of the most stiff and non-dramatic positions I've ever
seen of the character.  Why Stan allowed such an underwhelming
cover to adorn a first issue is beyond me.  The Surfer even
seems to have a gap in his teeth - look at his mouth.

However, John Buscema made up for such a lacklustre cover
in the inside pages, and his 17 issue run on the 18 ish series (Jack
drew the last one) are now rightfully regarded by fans as classics
and are highly collectable, just as they deserve to be.

(Oh, but John - that first cover...)

So, fellow Criv-ites - agree, disagree, don't give a fig?  Or
do you fancy a punch-up in the playground over it?  Let your
voice be heard - get typing those comments now!

The Surfer in his first  U.K. issue

13 comments:

Colin Jones said...

Yes, you can see why Marvel UK chose that Kirby image for The Super-Heroes No.1 as it looks spectacular. I agree that Buscema was excellent on the Surfer artwork though - The Super-Heroes No.9 was the only Surfer story I actually read back in the day (the Surfer vs. Frankenstein) and I read all the other Surfer stories in a collected 'Marvel Essentials' volume, in fact it was the first Marvel Essentials I ever bought. To be honest I got a bit tired of the Surfer's nobility and his constant whingeing about how terrible Mankind was - this was the same character who defied Galactus because Mankind was too good to be wiped out, make up your mind Surfy !!

Mr Mondo said...

Agreed - Stan made the right choice. But perhaps JB was trying to reproduce Kirby's style for the debut cover - look at the face front pose, the out-stretched hand and even the bottom lip.

I had the UK Silver Surfer issue 1 (with free poster), which must have been released January time, as I was due to go to a pantomime with the school, but was ill and had to stay home. So spent the day consoling myself with the Surfer comic

Mr Mondo said...

Whoops, meant ish 1 of The Super-Heroes

Gey Blabby said...

You're absolutely right that Big John was a better choice as artist, and also that the first cover was a bit of a letdown - mind you, issue #2's cover wasn't much better, with an awkward and ungainly looking Surfer on it.

I'd go further and say that his drawing of the Surfer throughout the first two issues (as he was finding his way with the character) was a bit disappointing; there's a heaviness to the Surfer's figure - often overly muscular and sometimes poorly proportioned - that wasn't ideal for the character. It was as if he hadn't quite broken away from Kirby's rendition, and Joe Sinnott's inking didn't help: compare his inking in the first two issues, where he seems intent on highlighting every muscle in the Surfer's body, with that of Sal Buscema or Dan Adkins on later issues where they barely even indicate things like the ribcage. They seem more intent on highlighting the sheen on the Surfer's body, for instance, to give him a sleek look that suits the grace and speed of the character.

Even by issue #3 you can see Big John has started to slim the Surfer down in comparison to other characters; even though it lists Sinnott as the inker, it certainly looks as if Big John is having more of an influence over how the character looks, and in my opinion some of the pages appear to be pure JB in that issue. By the time you get to the one with Thor and the other Asgardians, even Loki appears to be much heavier than the Surfer.




*Sorry for rambling on a wee bittie, Kid. Artists like Adams and Buscema, I've known their work for so long now that I tend to know when there was a change in the way they drew certain characters; JB on the Surfer or Conan, for instance, or when Adams started to lengthen Batman's cape or give Hal Jordan longer hair.*

Kid said...

Yes, but back then he thought mankind was noble because of Alicia Masters. After a while, he learned that not everyone was like her, CJ. He did whinge a bit much, but, overall, the series was good. I think.

******

MM, I think any resemblance to Kirby is down to Joe Sinnott's inking, to be honest. Kirby usually had much more fore-shortening going on. Incidentally, SH #1 came out on March 1st (dated 8th). I've got a complete set, the ones I originally bought back then.

******

I'd noticed that very thing myself, GB, but I wonder if Stan directed Joe Sinnott to make him a little more muscular and highlight the sheen, until JB perhaps objected. Could've been Stan who asked John to slim the character down 'though. I guess we'll never know. And you ramble on all you want - it always makes for interesting reading.

Colin Jones said...

Kid, the cover of The Super-Heroes No.1 says there is a color poster of the Surfer - do you have it and if so is it the same picture as on the cover ? I kept missing No.1 issues - the first one I had was Captain Britain No.1 which had a stupid cardboard mask rather than a poster. How big were the posters ? I mean were they just the size of a centre-spread or did they fold out to a much bigger poster ?

John Pitt said...

Well I bought that SS #1 on release toally drawn in by the cover. However, now looking back the Kirby cover is much better. No complaints about JB's interior art though! Who COULD find fault?!?!

Kid said...

I bought two issues at the time, CJ, and still have one with the poster inside. I've still got the other issue, too, with the poster up on my wall. It was a cut and paste job featuring the Surfer and the X-Men, and was roughly just under 4 x a comic page in size.

*****

I didn't see SS #1 at the time, JP, but I bought it back in the '80s and have had all 18 issues for quite a few years now. The cover in this post is a scan of my own personal copy.

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

Silver Surfers first run under big John is amongst my all time favourite comics, total soap opera but I loved it. I actually thought the first issue of SS was a Kirby version it does not look like John Buscema at all to me, still he more than made up for that one with issue 4 where SS fights the Surfer (weren't issues 17 and 18 drawn in a "Kirb"y style also by Trimpe (and/or possibly Barry Windsor Smith?).

I agree having big John as artist and more importantly the change in direction of the character by giving him a back story and making him more "human" (and lets be honest at times a borderline big girls blouse) was a great decision by Stan Lee. I also liked the idea of the "cold" Kirby character version, but that character (imho) would have limited appeal in his own book, as a back up character he was great though. I really liked Sal Buscema 's version as well but few others have done the character justice since the early 70s- The new SS is yet another take on the character nice art but as a big fan of the "soap opera" era Surfer the new direction is not my cuppa tea.

the stiKman said...

Problems with the Lee-Buscema version abound. But they do outline a consistency: The more human-like appearance goes with the ret-conned human history. My favorite thing about the Silver Surfer at first glance was his non-humanity. He didn't wear shorts because he had no "junk" to conceal. No ears, Inhumanly proportioned, yet still somehow possessing a nobility from the start. Few artists and writers are comfortable with non-anthropomorphic characters. That's one of the reasons that no one but Kirby can draw the Thing. They try to give him human anatomy. These characters were merely humanoid. Not human.

Kid said...

SS fights the Surfer? You mean Thor, don't you, McScotty? (Just back from the pub, eh?) The Surfer did fight 'himself', but that was in issue 7, not 4. The covers of #17 & 18 were by BWS & Trimpe respectively (I think), but the insides of 17 were Buscema (18 was Kirby). Lee & Buscema's run has yet to be surpassed, I think, or even matched for that matter. Moebius's version just left me cold.

******

Stk, I think Buscema drew a good Thing. In later issues, Kirby's version was a bit too cartoony-looking for me. Byrne restored the 'monster' look.

Paul McScotty -Muir said...

Ooops a wee typo on that sorry yes I meant Thor - cant blame the booze I don't drink Monday - Thursday and having a tea total month (my Kidneys and liver insisted)

Kid said...

Always wise to listen to your liver and kidneys, McScotty. What's your heart and lungs saying these days?

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