Saturday, October 3, 2009

Woe is Me

I recently finished Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1, which a co-worker gave me, and I can't say I'm impressed. First some thoughts on the Essentials line.

The idea behind the Essentials books is a good one. They are the size of phone books and reprint a whole lot of issues (which would usually cost a small fortune to get individually) for around $16.99. A great price for that big of a book. The only problem is that they are in black and white. I have no problem with black and white comics, but I do have a problem with reprinting comics in black and white that were originally meant to be in color. It loses something. It's like making a color movie black and white or even colorizing a black and white film.

That rant is over.

The Silver Surfer is not a character I ever really cared about. He was fine guest-starring in stories, and that '90s Ron Lim series wasn't too terrible, but overall he's always been a whiner. Shedding a tear (literally) over his lost love and the cruelty of humanity. I always looked at him as what Marvel considered to be its Jesus figure (when in reality that is my favorite hero, Daredevil). The Surfer was a mass of twisted, poorly handled contradictions (he won't steal from Reed Richards, but has no problem stealing from a bank in the same issue) when his first solo series first started, and to solidify that Jesus angle, a recurring villain was none other than Mephisto.

I've kind of like Mephisto in the Marvel Universe. Face it, he just looks cool. And his mission when it comes to Surfer is to get him to give up his soul. Pretty straightforward. Could make for engaging reading with another hero and a better writer's hands. (Oddly enough, later in the Surfer series they both end up donning the same disguise to blend in with humans: trench coat and hat.) In these first 18 issues (and on Fantastic Four annual) the red one (though you wouldn't be able to discern that from the Essentials book) makes several appearances, none of which are truly memorable (though him getting Surfer to attack SHIELD was pretty cool).

Surfer is such a whiner, however, that I kept wishing every villain he went up against, whether it be Yetis or the U.S. Army, would tear him in half. His constant sorrow is not only depressing, but it actually serves as a reminder that while pathos can work well for some, on Surfer it is about as appealing as it was with Kurt Cobain. One just wishes Surfer would have checked out the same way.

In these first 18 issues, humanity is shown as the beast it is. I agree with Stan Lee's depiction. What I don't agree with is how humans treat Surfer, and how Surfer reacts to that. Humanity wouldn't hate Surfer because he was different or misunderstood. It would hate him because here he is, essentially a god, and all he can do is lament. He has the Cosmic Power, which enables him to heal the sick and wounded (except when it really counts), and all he can do is think about how he wishes humans would understand him. I get the fact that he is trapped far away from the woman he loves, but he seems incapable of moving beyond that. Why even venture to Earth then? Especially after the first time humans attack him? Why not just stay in space? I know it's because the writers need to write stories, but it makes the Surfer come across as a pathetic idiot who doesn't learn from his mistakes. I would attack him, too, especially when he refused to reduce the attackers to steaming puddles of bubbling flesh.

Before reading these stories I didn't understand the Surfer's appeal. After reading them, however, I think I got it. Surfer appeals to armchair intellectuals who thought they were deep in the 1960s because they smoked pot, read some philosophy and still were into pop culture enough to read highbrow comics like Silver Surfer. They thought they were special because they could somehow misinterpret the Kronstadt rebellion and find imaginary parallels to the Surfer's plight on planet Earth. They'd drop acid and then proclaim that real revolutionaries read of the Surfer's exploits and "the Man" and his apologists stuck to capitalist drivel like Detective Comics. Every adult over 40 I've ever met who likes the Surfer has kind of fallen into that category, and they haven't changed. "Surfer is deep, man. He, like, points out all our problems and shows us what is wrong with the world ... and he surfs ... the sky!"

Silver Surfer is a baby with a bazooka. He knows not what he can do. Thank God I was only given the first volume.

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