Wednesday, June 12, 2013

True of False: The Silver Surfer Works Best as Stan Lee's Messiah-like Figure (+ Bracketology)

Doug:  It's a 2-for-1 post today, kiddie-winkies!  Feel free to make comments on both topics -- no holds barred for readers of the BAB...  New polls for our best penciler extravaganza were posted late yesterday, and will remain active through Friday evening (USA, Central Time).  The updated bracket, showing the results of the first half of the first round, is below:


Edo Bosnar said...

I'll give a tentative "true" response to your question, just because most of the SS stories I've read are by Lee. I never read any of that solo series that started in the late '80s, which apparently took him in a different direction, so Lee's characterization always seems like the fallback position to me.

As to the brackets today, like I said in the comments to the other post a few days ago, I found a lot of these choices tougher. Even in cases when I had no dilemmas, e.g. voting for Aparo and Staton, I still kind of regretted not being able to give a thumbs-up to Val Mayerik (by the way, there's no 'c' before the k in his last name) or Aragones.

dbutler16 said...

I like the Surfer as a bit of a hippy. Some ultr powerful being who is opposed to violence and strives for peace, brooding and wondering what is wrong with us crazy, violence loving humans. Something like the Surfer in Silver Surfer: In Thy Name. However, the messianic figure can be well done, too, as in Stan Lee's Silver Surfer: Parable.

david_b said...

I would have to say arguably FALSE. Let me quantify that..

As Lee/Kirby's minion of Galactus who finally liberated himself, I'd say TRUE, he served a great purpose in the Galactus trilogy and later issues.. As the seemingly-always whiner in his own mag, totally FALSE. Despite his homeworld backstory, he never came across in his own mag as someone you really rooted for. When he wasn't sitting along side streams of water with the wildlife spewing mornful soliloquies about mankind's evil and ambivalent nature, he didn't have much for really cool battles to balance the mood.

Hate to say, but personally I found him as a better character in the early Defenders, like the Hulk/Subby/Surfer team up in Subby's mag.

Doug said...

Thanks, Edo -- that's sloppiness on my part. I'll correct it on the bracket for the next time we run it. Unfortunately, once the polls go "live" they cannot be edited, so my goof there will have to stay.


William said...

I've never been the biggest Silver Surfer fan, but 'd have to say my overall opinion is FALSE.

The whole wandering super-hippy who was prone to talking to himself ad nauseam about the failings of humankind, worked for a while, but it got old pretty quick. I would have to say I liked the later version of the character better, after he was able to leave the earth and soar through space again. The only time I read his solo book was when it was written by Jim Starlin and drawn by Ron LIm. Those were some pretty cool stories. But for the most part I prefer the Surfer in small doses, either as a guest star in another character's comic, or as a member of a team.

As for the Voiting - It's a shame that either John Romita Jr. or Barry Windsor-Smith is going to be eliminated in the very first round (looks like JR Jr.), when at the same time I didn't even cast a vote for Frank Thorne v Richard Corben, or Dick Dillin v Alex Nino, because I couldn't tell you who any of those guys are, or what they have ever worked on. (Without Googling them anyway).

Doug said...

William --

With JR JR, I can never tell how much of him we see, and how much of the inker. I am speaking of his runs on ASM and Iron Man. I know on Iron Man we got way more Bob Layton (to the benefit of the art, in my estimation). I do know this about JR JR's output, and that is that I did not care for his X-Men run, and do not like his 21st century work.

But I do really wish I knew about his early 80's art.


MattComix said...

There is much to enjoy about Lee's take but the more I hear about Jack Kirby's original ideas for the character the more it makes sense to me.

The problem with trying to do that now though is that it would likely get compared too much to characters like Commander Data from Star Trek TNG and others known for their witness exploration of humanity.

Garett said...

Surfer question: False. Cool character, but written too whiny at times.

I had an easier time with the votes this round. Went with Sienkiewicz for his experimental art, and even early on in his Neal Adams phase he was great. Would have gone Alan Davis if we could include his later work, but in the Bronze age, voted Golden. Voted Thorne over Corben--Corben is an original, but I think his painting is better than his straight penciling. Thorne seems like Kubert/Aparo, not as good, but then he also drew/wrote interesting erotic Heavy Metal type stories, carved his own niche there.

I like Jackson Guice's later art, like on the Crossgen series Ruse, and the Humanoids book Olympus--but for Bronze, I'll go with Wood. Loved Wrightson and Buckler as a kid, but I'm going Wrightson as he had a more fine art style, especially when you add in his inking. He really flourished during the Bronze era.

Aragones is so fun, but as a penciler I'll still go with Staton. Those giant crowd scenes in Groo are fantastic though!

Karen said...


Personally, I dislike the whiny Surfer. When he's got something to say about the sorry state of mankind, that's OK, in small doses. But the 'woe-is-me' routine gets old fast. I like him as a peaceful guy seeking his place in the sun, but I can do without all the self-pity.

Honestly, I think he is one of a number of characters that probably work better as guest stars rather than as headliners. Which could be the topic of another post...if anyone's interested...

Doug said...

When I bought the Essential Silver Surfer I read it straight through over a relatively short period of time. The 17 issues by Stan Lee and John Buscema were a) generally beautiful to look at and b) generally redundant and bordering on painful to read at times. However, the 18th issue that Kirby was given control over was such a departure from what had gone before that I really cared for it even less than the total product of the Buscema-drawn issues.

I agree that the Surfer works best as a guest star, or in a longer graphic novel-type of format. The endless whining and pining for Shalla Bal? You can have it. That's why the Englehart/Rogers series around 1990 was pretty good (as I remember it).


Anonymous said...

I agree with the prevailing opinion...Stan's philosophizing in the Surfer comic is interesting at first, but soon becomes tedious.

Mike W.

William said...

Doug, I am mostly thinking of JR Jr's original run as penciler on Amazing Spider-Man, along with Roger Stern as the writer. It is widely considered by most to be one of the very best periods of that book.

That's a good idea Karen. I think along with Silver Surfer, Dr. Strange and Namor fall into the "better as team player than as a stand alone headliner" category as well.

Anonymous said...

I also like a bit of the old disillusioned hippy in the Surfer, but he did run it into the ground. Maybe the problem is that he doesn't have much else to talk about. He doesn't go to college or have a day job, a romantic life, or a family of any kind. If I was a writer, I would be hard pressed to figure out what to have the character think and talk about, other than flying around zapping people.

Doug said...

William, that's the period of ASM that was published when I was out of collecting. I have all of them on the dvd-rom, but have only read a smattering. What do you think of JR JR's X-Men, Daredevil: Yellow, and his more recent work? I find his work scratchy and boxy-looking. It's a style, I know, but just not my cup of tea. I prefer more realistic depictions.

Anonymous, how about the Surfer teaming with Hal and Ollie as a Hard-Traveling Hero?


Comicsfan said...

I don't think I was ever on board with the "messiah" aspect of the Surfer that's often bandied about when talking about Lee's take on him. When reading his adventures either in Fantastic Four or his own series, he never struck me as any sort of "deliverer" or even humanity's "savior," nor was it my impression that Lee was portraying him that way. The closest you could come, I think, was Fantastic Four #72, when he tried to unite the human race by becoming so great a threat that humanity would have to put aside its differences in order to deal with him. But you'd have to make quite a leap from that to messiah, IMO.

What Lee seemed to be doing was using the Surfer to shine a harsh light on our various prejudices and irrational fears--spoken from the point of view of a character who, wrongly hunted and accused, suffered greatly from them. But a messiah? Someone who often retreated into Earth orbit and passed his time in solitude on his board didn't really strike me as a traditional messiah intent on spreading their message. Others, like the Inhumans and certainly the Sub-Mariner, have had sentiments similar to the Surfer's without being likened to such a description; the difference is that the Surfer mostly speaks such thoughts aloud to empty air--to us, in other words. It's perhaps that difference that made him more tiresome, since there was usually no one around in order to gauge the reaction to his words--which, in subsequent issues, made it often sound like he was repeating himself.

During his first series, I think it would have been interesting if the Surfer could have voiced more than the negative aspects of humanity, if only for the sake of making The Silver Surfer a less depressing and pessimistic read. I mean, it's a big planet, full of diversity and differing values, and the Surfer had all that time on his hands--wasn't there more than one Al Harper to be found?

Fred W. Hill said...

Gotta join the majority here -- Stan's messiah-like figure just didn't pan out that well. Fantastic art, but the tone of the stories got too repetitive. For me, Englehart's & Starlin's stories were a lot more fun to read. Certainly it helped that there were longer storylines -- some of Stan's Surfer yarns would have worked better if they had been expanded to several issues. Heck, part of the Silver Age Marvel magic was those multi-issue sagas, mixed in with occasional done-in-ones, and the ongoing subplots and personal dramas. I'm sure there were far more readers of the various Marvel mags who were hooked due to all those continued stories than were put off by them. It also didn't help that Stan's Surfer had no real supporting cast so we could get another point of view or even a chuckle every so often amidst the heavy drama. Pip the Troll certainly brought some much needed levity to Starlin's Warlock series, which is among my top ten runs of the Bronze Age.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on what Comicsfan said!

I'd say true - at least in the Lee/Kirby era. False after that.

Yes ol' shinypants was an original concept (did Kirby really create him because he was tired of drawing spaceships?) for his time, and at least in the early part of his existence the Surfer was the proxy for Stan's introspective take on mankind. However, as the other commentators have said, too much self pity becomes a real drag when it's overdone. I've always wondered, 'how come someone blessed with the Power Cosmic can be so morose?'.

-Mike 'what would I do if Galactus chose me as his herald?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

vancouver mark said...

Kirby was apparently working on his own pages for a Silver Surfer book, with an origin totally different from Stan's, until being told that he would not be on the title. I'd love to see those pages, and have often wondered quite longingly what a Kirby Surfer book would have been like.

John Buscema's pictures are very pretty, but I much prefer Jack's original look, so alien and seething with strange power. And to me, Lee's writing on that title became the most tedious and maudlin of his Silver Age.

Edo Bosnar said...

William, on the subject of JRjr, I don't hate his work, but I'm not the biggest fan, either. I really didn't like him on the X-men, and it was one of several reasons that I eventually dropped that title.

Loved his work on Iron Man and the Spider-man run you mentioned, but as Doug noted, I think the inkers played a big role here. Doug pointed out how overpowering Layton was in Iron Man, and I think Jim Mooney, Frank Giacoia and Dan Green, among many others, really did much to solidify the art in ASM.

Rip Jagger said...

Mopey Norrin is the first Surfer I read, so that's my impression of the way the character ought to be.

This is one instance when I think it's pretty clear that Stan's development of the Surfer supplanted what Kirby originally created, as I don't think the "King" had much planned really. Kirby's weakness with character was his own inventiveness which caused him to abandon intriguing creations too quickly.

With the original Surfer series, Stan armed with Buscema's powerful and emotional pencils and some outstanding inking by Sal Buscema, Dan Adkins, and Joe Sinnott, really bored into the Surfer in a way I don't think Kirby was capable of doing.

Did it eventually get tiresome and dreary, yeah, but it took a while and all that time before it was darn good.

Rip Off

Humanbelly said...

Geeze Lou-eeze--

Down the road we're gonna have a Gil Kane/Gene Colan match-up. Man, that's a soul-breaker!


Greg said...

I always thought Surfer worked best, at least for me, when they freed him from Earth and let him wander the cosmos. I remember when his 80's series came out I thought why did it take them so long to free him and get him out there? With all those tripped out cosmic storylines in the 70's, the sky was the limit for this guy. And while not all the stories were good in that mag, there was some decent stuff. Loved the Ron Lim art, thought he did a great Surfer.

I thought for a long time that Marvel neglected the cosmic side of things. Same old races pop up- Kree, Skrulls, Shi'Ar, and while I love all those, I often wish they would explore other corners of the Marvel cosmos, make some new stuff up. I remember Claremont had the X-Men out in space at one point and they encountered some interstellar whale creatures that Storm bonded with- goofy maybe but at least he was making new stuff up. Seems like with Surfer free to roam the cosmos, there would be no shortage of possibilities.

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