Friday, March 8, 2013

An Obscure Silver Surfer Story: The Answer

Epic Illustrated #1 (Spring 1980)
"The Answer, A Tale of the Silver Surfer"
Stan Lee-John Buscema/Rudy Nebres

Doug:  Back on January 21, our friend and frequent commenter Edo Bosnar subtly reminded me that back in January of 2010 I'd made a pledge to review a short Silver Surfer story that I'd read within the pages of the hardcover (must-have hardcover to you) Marvel Visionaries: John Buscema.  I told him in a reply that I'd totally dropped the ball on that, and would soon enough provide said review.  That's today.  You'll see that the story was published in the pages of Marvel's Epic Illustrated, the company's attempt to catch on to a bit of the market enjoyed by such publications as Heavy Metal.  One might also consider this an evolution of Marvel's extensive foray into the realm of black and white magazines during the early Bronze Age; you'll note that Epic Illustrated was entirely in color.  Let's check it out --

DougOne of the aspects of this story that you may notice right from the get-go is the quality of the artwork.  From the linework to the coloring to the panel details, this is far different from any four-color comic books we've examined in the past here on the BAB.  While the pencils are John Buscema's, I wouldn't say the pages scream Buscema.  Rudy Nebres is overpowering to say the least.  It seems that every time we discuss Big John outside the Silver Age, the issue of lay-outs vs. full pencils comes to the fore.  As this was published in 1980, I honestly don't know how tight John's pencils would have been.  While he could draw anatomically correct figures with the best of the masters, there are details in the story that lead me to believe that Nebres had some real liberty with the finished product.  As I said above, this magazine was a conscious effort by Marvel to get into whatever comics/magazine market periodicals such as Heavy Metal occupied.  For those of you who've seen anything in that genre, I think you'd say this is a pretty solid effort on Marvel's part.

Doug:  The story is only eight pages, and it's quite simple.  What we have here is an untold tale of Galactus and the Silver Surfer, from their earliest adventures together.  This almost has a warm feeling to it, sort of a mentor/mentee vibe.  Norrin Radd asks his master how he might learn the answer to the mystery.  As you can see, Galactus' answer is a flat "There is no answer."  The Surfer pushes him, asking if he himself knows more.  The Surfer, feeling small in comparison to not only Galactus but the universe, compares himself to a mere flyspeck.  Galactus declares that while he himself is more than man, he is less than god.  The Surfer presses him, even accusing the master of lying to him.  Galactus calmly states that he is power absolute, and has no reason to lie.  He repeats that there is no answer, but encourages the Surfer to seek his own resolution.

Doug:  The Surfer takes to his board, seeking to "strip away the final veil of darkness".  In a quest to see beyond the furthest star, he streaks away from the asteroid he and Galactus had occupied.  Pledging to not turn back, the Surfer goes deeper and deeper into space, until finally he finds what he is looking for:  a black hole, a fissure in the very fabric of space.  Entering it, Norrin Radd is positive that his power cosmic will protect him while he searches for infinity.  What he finds is an overload for his senses, a writhing, sharp, stabbing collection of light colors that spiral to the center of the black hole.  This is no Kirby spacescape!  This is akin to a journey to the center of the human being rather than down Alice's rabbit hole.

Doug:  The Surfer begins to feel very emotional -- excitement, anticipation, and perhaps even trepidation.  He nears his goal: the answer.  Yet, closing his eyes, he is astounded upon opening them that he found not what he sought and is instead on his way out of the black hole.  Disappointed, he's somewhat incredulous to return to Galactus so soon.  Asking his master if he had reached the answer first, Galactus assures his herald that he has not moved in the Surfer's absence.  The Surfer cries out, "It cannot be!  There must be something -- somewhere --".  Galactus answers that he tried to warn Norrin Radd.  And here is the resolution:

Doug:  Is anyone out there surprised that this comes from Stan Lee and not Jack Kirby?  Kirby had for years explored religious themes in his art and plotting/scripting, but for the most part Stan's dalliances in religious topics seemed to focus more on ethics rather than theology or the existence of God.  Here Stan not only names God, but takes one of Marvel's more powerful beings and humbles him in the presence of God.  This would seem to be an examination of the very nature of and existence of a deity as it might have played out in the Marvel Universe.  The result seems not too different from interpretations of God from the great religions around the world, and Stan seems careful not to make this God slanted toward any of those specific religions.  

Doug:  It's a curious tale, tucked far away from the eyes of the everyday Marvel Comics reader.  While I knew Epic Illustrated existed, this was the time when I was not buying comics.  It was still published, and indeed on its last legs, when I returned to the hobby in late 1984/early1985.  I believe the Surfer series ran throughout, and I'd be in debt to any of our readers who can shed some light on the life of this magazine and even moreso on the Surfer feature.  You have my thanks in advance.


William Preston said...

I remember this issue--and I'm pretty sure it's upstairs in a box, along my other Epic Illustrated mags. I don't recall the Surfer as a recurring feature, but there was a (black-and-white) Jim Starlin story that ran across many issues. (It looked awesome, but the story left me cold, and it advanced slowly.) There was also a barbarian/swordplay epic that ran continuously. I enjoyed the strange assortment of writers and artists.

Now I'm going to have to dig out those issues.

Rip Jagger said...

That Jim Starlin saga dubbed "Metamorphosis Odyssey" I believe eventually morphed into his relatively long-running Dreadstar comic which Epic Comics ran for some time. I agree, that it was a bit strange and distant.

The saga that first jumped into my mind about Epic Illustrated was the long-running John Byrne epic tale about Galactus that ultimately remained unfinished. It was for a time a very nice counterpoint to the work he did in the regular Fantastic Four book.

Epic was a solid entertainment, a bit more approachable than Heavy Metal which could, depending on the issue be totally incomprehensible to this reader.

Another highlight was John Bolton's artwork on Marada the She-Wolf, I think she was called. The series was all about the artwork for me, and to a lesser extent the story despite a master wordsmith like Archie Goodwin in charge.

Archie even did some artwork if memory serves, and I rather liked it.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for posting this; the story actually appears less interesting than the art. It's quite lovely, and I don't mind the fact that Nebres seemed to overpower Buscema at places.
I only read a few issues of Epic, so I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure William (Preston) is right: there was no regular Surfer feature. You might be mixing that up with Byrne's Last Galactus Story that Rip mentioned - as far as I know, it ran in the last 10 or so issues of Epic and remains unfinished to this day.
By the way, based on the few issues I've seen, I have to agree with Rip: Epic was a much more solidly entertaining magazine than Heavy Metal.

Doug said...

You guys are exactly right -- I certainly did confuse a Surfer ongoing feature with Byrne's Galactus serial. My apologies.

Epic came out during my hiatus, so any issues I'd have seen at the newsstand would have been circa 1984-85. At that point I was worried about catching up on comic books and didn't really give this magazine a try -- sounds like it was my loss.

That being said, the few times lately that I've gone to a convention I've been drawn to dealers who sell the Marvel magazines from the Bronze Age, such as Planet of the Apes. It's like a whole 'nother world that I'm on the outside looking in!


Kid said...

It looks like an interesting tale, sure enough. I'll have a look for that Visionaries volume the next time I'm in my local Forbidden Planet comics shop.

I would be interesting to know what Big John thought of Ruby's inks over his pencils. Apparently, Mr B didn't care for Alfredo Alcala's inks over some of his Conan stuff, which astounds me. I thought the combination was brilliant.

Doug said...

Great point, Kid. From all I've read of Big John, he hated anyone working over him with the exception of Sal, and himself. As to the latter, both Karen and I tend to agree that we'd prefer someone other than the Master himself doing the embellishing.

And think about all of the great ones who "covered" Buscema -- Palmer, Sinnott, Alcala, Ayers, Chan, Roussos, and on and on. Just some stellar combinations, and each in their own way uniquely pleasurable to the eye.


Kid said...

Oops! Meant to type 'Rudy', not 'Ruby' - must've been thinking of the 'b' in his surname.

pete doree said...

Epic was a GREAT magazine, like Heavy Metal but more reader friendly and less pretentious. With Archie Goodwin as editor it was much more story based, had great paper and printing, and superb artwork. That Surfer story was obviously intended to ease Marvel readers into the brave new world of Adult Fantasy and, yeah, it's overwritten, but that's Stan for you. You can't knock the art.

It did get a few raspberries in the letters pages though, I seem to remember.

As for Epic, honestly, next time you see any copies at cons, buy them immediately. Just off the top of my head, as well as Metamorphosis Odyssey, you had great serials like Tim Conrad doing Robert E. Howard's
' Almuric' ( John Carter as rewritten by REH ), Rick Veitch's 'Abraxus & The Earthman ' ( Moby Dick in space ), Carl Potts ' Last Of The Dragons', Craig Russell doing Elric AND John Byrne's ' Last Galactus Story 'as well as one-off strips by Howard Chaykin, Barry Smith, John Bolton, Mike Kaluta, Vaughn Bode & Neal Adams to name but a few. It really is that good.

Garett said...

Love that splash page! It really draws me in and makes me want to read the story.

The inkers on Buscema were always a big topic of discussion at the JB yahoo group. I initially didn't like Big John inking himself, but then it grew on me, and I couldn't get enough! Savage Sword 73 and 61 were favorites, along with a partially inked story in 70. There were also some great covers around issue 96 of the regular Conan series.

I'm not a big fan of Nebres, as his inking often looks to me like springs covering the bodies--too much. This Surfer story inking is all right.

William Preston said...

Almuric! Right, that was the swordplay epic. I didn't care for it, but there was always something for everyone in Epic. It covered a wide range of genres, often featuring more sex and violence than the regular comics.

As for Nebres: I met him at a convention in a NJ mall back in the '70s. I asked him to draw a Dr. Strange (for a price); when he finished the requested pencil drawing, he offered to (for a price, of course) ink it. It took him quite a while, but the result, which I still have, is gorgeous.

I can't paste a picture here, can I . . . ?

Inkstained Wretch said...

Great art, but that's an odd, frankly unsatisfying tale... Lee tried too hard to be profound at times. While it is always good to stretch oneself, he didn't have the gifts of a real poet.

Pretty-looking though, even if it the inks overpowered Buscema's pencils. You can't argue with the finished product.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see this forgotten gem of a Silver Surfer story!

Yes, Nebres' inks do overpower Buscema's pencils here; Big John probably regarded this like Alcala's inks - too overpowering! However, in this story the artwork looks great. Maybe they had extra time to do this - perhaps they had more time to do good pencils and inking without having to face the Dreaded Doomsday Deadline as in their four-colour comics counterpart?

Stan might not be a great poet, but I think he got his message across without being too preachy - many times you look very hard for meaning outside of your life, but ultimately you have to find it within yourself.

Epic was under the radar for me here in T & T - it was available, but I generally stuck to the usual comics format.

- Mike 'wish Warren Publishing was still around' from Trinidad & Tobago.

david_b said...

William, just post the pic on the 'net and link to it. (Yahoo album or something similar, etc..).

It's what I liked about being a Mego Museum member, I could post pictures, then link to them in my post.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I remember the Epic Illustrated #1 issue, which this came from. It's Heavy Metal with a Marvel spin. I liked the art but the premise of it seemed long winded. It looked like a chapter in an unfinished graphic novel. I never got into the surfer until much later.

I loved the art and it was the frist time issues were published on good paper. The Hulk Magazine made this change and improved it's circulation and readership dramatically .

Epic and this story was a mixed bag. It was an experiment that did better when it became it's own comic line under the editor Archie Goodwin's guidance.

The stories were better developed under their own monthly titles. I do remember Dread Star and it was much better in color and in a monthly format.

But I digress, as much as I didn’t like this Silver Surfer story, the Silver Surfer was a concept that should have been done in a full color magazine format.

I wish Epic Magazine could have continued. However the stories were too uneven in quality. On the flip side of the coin, Marvel used that same full color magazine format for Star Trek The Motion Picture. Even though the art by Klaus Janson was cartoony, I preferred that over the newsprint comic book that failed to get Star Trek fandom interested.

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