Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer By Francesco Francavilla

The Silver Surfer is a fictional character, a superhero appearing in comic books and other publications by Marvel Comics. Originally a young astronomer named Norrin Radd on the planet Zenn-La, he saved his homeworld from the planet devourer, Galactus, by serving as his herald. Imbued in return with a tiny portion of Galactus’s Power Cosmic, Radd acquired vast power, a new body and a surfboard-like craft on which he could travel faster than light.

As the Silver Surfer, Radd roamed the cosmos searching for planets for Galactus to consume. When his travels took him to Earth, he met the Fantastic Four, a team of powerful superheroes who helped him rediscover his humanity and nobility of spirit. Betraying Galactus, the Surfer saved Earth but was exiled there as punishment.

Created by artist Jack Kirby, the character first appears in ‘The Fantastic Four’ #48 (1966), the first of a three-issue arc that fans call ‘The Galactus Trilogy.’ The Silver Surfer debuted as an unplanned addition to the Fantastic Four. The comic’s writer-editor, Stan Lee, and its penciller and co-plotter, Jack Kirby, had by the mid-1960s developed a collaborative technique known as the ‘Marvel Method’: the two would discuss story ideas, Kirby would work from a brief synopsis to draw the individual scenes and plot details, and Lee would finally add the dialog and captions. When Kirby turned in his pencil art for the story, he included a new character he and Lee had not discussed.

As Lee recalled in 1995, ‘There, in the middle of the story we had so carefully worked out, was a nut on some sort of flying surfboard.’ He later expanded on this, recalling, ‘I thought, ‘Jack, this time you’ve gone too far.” Kirby explained that the story’s agreed-upon antagonist, a god-like cosmic predator of planets named Galactus, should have some sort of herald, and that he created the surfboard ‘because I’m tired of drawing spaceships!’ Taken by the noble features of the new character, who turned on his master to help defend Earth, Lee overcame his initial skepticism and began adding characterization. The Silver Surfer soon became a key part of the unfolding story.

The following year, Lee launched the solo title ‘The Silver Surfer.’ John Buscema was penciller for the first 17 issues of the series, with Kirby returning for the 18th and final issue. The first seven issues, which included anthological ‘Tales of the Watcher’ backup stories, were 72-page (with advertising), 25-cent ‘giants,’ as opposed to the typical 36-page, 12-cent comics of the time. Thematically, the stories dealt with the Surfer’s exile on Earth and the inhumanity of man as observed by this noble yet fallen hero. Though short-lived, the series became known as one of Lee’s most thoughtful and introspective works.

The Surfer sustains himself by converting matter into energy; does not require food, water, air, or sleep (although he occasionally enters a sleep-like meditation in order to dream); and can survive within nearly any known natural environment, including deep space, hyperspace, and even within black holes and stars. The Surfer can project energy in various forms for offensive and defensive use, including bolts of cosmic force powerful enough to destroy entire planets, and create black holes. He can utilize the Power Cosmic to augment his superhuman strength to indeterminate levels. The Surfer can heal living organisms, though he cannot raise the dead, and he has proven capable of revitalizing and evolving organic life on a planet-wide scale. He can cast illusions, create interdimensional portals and microverses, phase through solid matter, and exercise some level of control over the Astral Plane (a metaphorical level of existence with ties to the physical world which only psychic entities can visit).

His senses enable him to detect objects and concentrations of energy light years away and to perceive matter and energy in subatomic detail, including life energies of living beings. The Surfer can even see through time, and with concentration he can achieve limited perception of past and future events in his general vicinity. He has demonstrated telepathic ability, including mind-reading on occasion and has proven to be able to influence human emotion and sensation.

The Surfer’s board is composed of a nearly impervious, cosmically powered silvery material that is similar to his own skin. The board is mentally linked to the Surfer and moves in response to his mental commands even when he is not in physical contact with it. The board is nearly indestructible, but on those rare occasions when it has been damaged or destroyed, the Surfer has proven able to repair it, or even recreate it, with little effort. The Surfer can attack opponents remotely by directing the board against them, and the board is capable of absorbing and imprisoning other beings, at least temporarily. When Galactus exiled the Surfer to Earth, his means of imprisonment was linked to the board. When the Surfer and the Fantastic Four realized this, the Surfer put it to the test by leaving the board planet-side and entering space in the Four’s spacecraft. Once he was free of Earth, the Surfer remotely converted the board to energy, recalled it to him, and reformed it in space.

The Surfer’s first animated appearance was in Hanna-Barbera’s ‘Fantastic Four’ animated series in 1967 (which closely followed the Marvel comic story), voiced by Vic Perrin. He also made several appearances in the 1994 version of the animated series (that was part of ‘The Marvel Action Hour’), voiced by Robin Sachs in the first season, then Edward Albert in the last episode of the second. This series stayed true to the original comic book story, recounting Surfer and Galactus’ coming to Earth in a two-part episode as well as Doctor Doom’s theft of the Surfer’s powers.

In 1998, the Surfer starred in a solo animated series on Fox, voiced by Paul Essiembre. Blending cel and computer animation, this series was rendered in the style of Surfer creator Jack Kirby. Further adventures included appearances by many characters from Marvel’s ‘cosmic’ stable, including Thanos, Uatu the Watcher, Ego the Living Planet, Mentor, Drax the Destroyer, Pip the Troll, Nebula, and the Kree and Skrull empires. Despite solid ratings, it was canceled after one season of 13 episodes.

In the 1983 film ‘Breathless,’ Jesse Lujack (Richard Gere) is a drifter in Las Vegas, obsessed with the Silver Surfer, the rock and roll music of Jerry Lee Lewis and Monica Poiccard (Valérie Kaprisky), a UCLA architecture undergraduate whom he knows only from a weekend fling in Vegas. The Silver Surfer was the primary inspiration for Lujack’s strong sense of love, loyalty, identity, free-spirit, and self-determinism at all costs, even to the point of self-destruction.

In 1991, Erik Fleming and Steven Robiner, two film students from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, approached Marvel Studios and producer Bernd Eichinger to ask permission to make a short film featuring the Silver Surfer as a proof of concept for the use of CGI in creating a realistic silver colored human figure. This short film, completed in 1992, not long after the release of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (which featured a similarly rendered character), led to significant interest from major studios in a feature length Silver Surfer project.

The Silver Surfer appears on the cover of the Joe Satriani album ‘Surfing With The Alien,’ and provided the inspiration for the title track. Additional songs by Satriani were inspired by the Surfer mythos: ‘Back to Shalla-Bal,’ on ‘Flying in a Blue Dream’; and ‘The Power Cosmic 2000,’ a two-part song on ‘Engines of Creation.’

The Silver Surfer made his film debut in 20th Century Fox’s ‘Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,’ the sequel to the 2005 film ‘Fantastic Four.’ Doug Jones played the Surfer on set, and a computer simulation enhanced the reflective look of his prosthetics. Laurence Fishburne provided the character’s voice.

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