Doug: An apology to those readers expecting to find the conclusion to our reviews of Frank Miller's Dark Knight graphic novel. As today approached Karen and I knew that we didn't have the review in the condition we desired. This has been a special series of conversations, and we hope you'll indulge our need to take a few extra days to "get it right". The review that follows was actually in the queue for next week, so we are just trading places with TDKR #4. Thanks, and enjoy!
Silver Surfer: Judgment Day (October 1988)(cover by Joe Jusko)
Stan Lee -John Buscema (plot by Buscema and Tom DeFalco)
Doug: Do you have this one? This is from the era when hardcover graphic novels seemed to become "a thing". Of course, this would also have been during the era when I was a sucker for any new presentation innovation that came my way -- not only hardcovers with dust jackets, but perfect binding, acetate covers, variant covers, etc. Yes, the 1990's were only a short time away! Besides the classic creative team, this book also boasts an unusuality (made that word up just now) in that it is told entirely in splash pages. If I recall, the fact that I was going to see John Buscema art at a larger size (8.5"x11.5") trumped the fact that despite it's 68 pages, I'd only be getting 68 Buscema panels.
Doug: I'm going to break today's review into some components. First, I'll start you off with a 100-Word Review in case you've not read this prior -- it's always important to know what the heck is going on, right? And then I think I'll just fall back to a common format I've used in the past, revealing my thoughts on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of the book. So shall we begin?
The Surfer evades the clutches of Mephisto by denying himself three women seductively posed at a gateway, promising him anything he desires. He later meets up with and has a fun romp through space with Nova, the herald of Galactus. She also faces the same temptation of Mephisto, falling for it. Tricked into “loving” Galactus, Nova will do anything to please him. As she leads him to life-sustaining worlds, the Surfer knows something is awry. The story culminates in a battle royal in the depths of the Realm of Flame and Darkness as Galactus comes to reclaim his lost herald.
The Good: It would be a coin flip, with a coin that has many sides to try to decide what I liked best about this story -- Stan Lee with the character he fancied his own and writing him as such, the pulse-pounding pencils of Big John Buscema, the presence of Galactus, or the messianic Norrin Radd tempted in the wilderness of Mephisto. All of these things conspire to make a really fun story. Stan wrote a preface, and in it he remarked, "To say that this volume is a "first of its kind" is to not fully do it justice. It is truly a watershed moment in the history of publishing. Visually, stylistically, dramatically and artistically, John Buscema and Marvel Comics have made a totally unique contribution to the illustrated epic genre." You would have been disappointed if Stan had not employed a little bombasticism, wouldn't you?
Buscema's art is a wonder. Of course every page is packed with energy, every figure rendered by a master of anatomy. The grotesque characters are just that, yet the peaceful denizens of a doomed planet are cute little humanoids, ugly in a different way. Mephisto is a villain deserving of a treatment similar to Victor von Doom; he gets that in every appearance under Buscema's pencil. At times I've thought that Jack Kirby's fascination with the gods has been balanced with the ghoulishness (oozing with bad intentions) of Buscema's demonic characters. And we get what we pay for when we read a JB Surfer comic -- Norrin Radd is lithe and noble, Galactus is imperious and densely built, and Mephisto is delightfully devilish. Oh, and did I mention that the women are voluptuous?
However, and maybe this is where I segue to the next section of my thoughts, I am not always the biggest advocate of JB inking himself. I am placing this paragraph in the "good" category basically because a happy John Buscema (and he was when he did the full art chores) should make us all happy. But I got a little Vinnie Colletta vibe from some of the art now and again -- not that Vinnie's all bad. The man has a reputation, but I think we've all enjoyed his work many times over (OK, maybe not when erasing Kirby Thor pages). Buscema's brushwork just seems a little feathery or sketchy in some panels. His faces and figures don't really lose any majesty... but it's just not as polished as I'd like it. Some of us have said Joe Sinnott could bury a guy. But the finished product always looked slick, right?
The Bad: As big a fan as I am of Buscema's art in just about any genre, I've always found a quibble here and there with his faces. It's almost like he sometimes forgets what emotion should be conveyed and instead a character will be left with a facial expression akin to "Uhhhhhhhhhh..." Galactus seems this way a time or two, as do the Surfer and Nova. It's not a huge deal, and I wouldn't say it detracts from the overall enjoyment of the story. But it's noticeable. I've provided several examples of the Big G in various fits of boredom and rage. Please judge for yourself -- maybe I'm off base.
There was a mention of Shalla Bal, and of course the Surfer pined for her. We get it, dude. Even in 1988, it had been 20 years. C'mon, bro...
I found the plot point of Nova being manipulated by the Prince of Darkness to the reality that she would bring Galactus to worlds with sentient life an uncomfortable element of the read. Much as I was drawn into the horror of such a reality with Galactus's unceasing hunger, I must say that perhaps this belongs in the section above. Lee and Buscema wanted to raise the stakes and invest the reader in the story by playing on the sensibilities of a civilized morality; they achieved that.
The Ugly: Mephisto and his demons. That's about it! There wasn't anything about this story, the design of the book, the price point (a steal even back in 1988 at $14.95) -- nothing -- that would fall into this category. Count me a satisfied customer. BONUS -- Below is the cover to the paperback edition of this graphic novel. Which cover (both by Joe Jusko) do you like more?