Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Life & Times of Norrin Radd - A Silver Surfer Retrospective

He's one of the least used characters in the Marvel bullpen these days. A lot of newer readers are not even sure of who he is, much less what abilities he has. I'm speaking, of course, of the Silver Surfer. For a character that used to be such a huge part of the Marvel Universe, the Surfer now almost seems to be taboo to writers, almost as if they don't want to touch him unless they have a giant big-bad that need dispatching. Not the best use of the character. So why should you like the Silver Surfer? Read on for my thoughts of his use in the past, his current status, and possible future uses for the character.

This guest post is brought to you by Brandon Whaley. He loves the Silver Surfer, but you'll get to see that in just a moment. Brandon is a long time comic reader who blogs about comics and life in general at his blog, Prime Example. He also writes for Prent and DamnLag.com.  Finally, don't forget to follow his random musings on Twitter @primewax.

Backstory of the Silver Surfer

For those of you out there who may not be familiar with the Silver Surfer (and it's possible if you've only gotten into comics in the past few years or so) allow me to break down a little backstory so you know what we're dealing with here. The Surfer was originally Norrin Radd, a resident of the planet Zenn-La, approximately 3000 light-years from our own planet Earth. Zenn-La was a society without war, poverty, or disease. They had everything they needed and wanted for nothing. However, the ever curious Norrin Radd was growing restless. He wanted to know more. He yearned for knowledge. The only person who understood him was his beloved Shalla Bal, although she did not share his wandering spirit. Norrin was alone in his state, but it would not be long before that would change.

Galactus, the world eater, came to the peaceful world of Zenn-La. Galactus sustained himself on planets and thought little of the life contained by them. Norrin is horrified by Zenn-La's inability to fight, so he takes an ancient spaceship to the stars to confront Galactus. He makes him a deal: if Galactus spares Zenn_La, Norrin will be his herald and hunt out energy-rich planets for Galactus to consume. His thoughts were that he could lead the world-eater to planets bursting with energy, but barren of life. Galactus agrees and grants Norrin the Power Cosmic, which transforms him into the Silver Surfer.

As Galactus' herald, the Surfer loses his identity and leads Galactus to any planet, regardless of native life. This leads our duo to Earth, were the Surfer runs afoul of the Fantastic Four. They battle, and the Four find that the Surfer is too powerful for them. Galactus comes to devour the planet, and in the midst of the battle, the Thing's girlfriend Alicia Masters awakens the kind spirit within Norrin. Norrin then turns on his master and drives Galactus away, but not before the mighty being strands him on Earth as punishment.

Many adventures (or misadventures) later, the Surfer escapes his confinement thanks to the simple thinking of the Thing and sets to the stars again. He has many adventures there, and then...


Stories of the Silver Surfer

After 146 issues, the Surfer becomes a C-list character at best. Let's look at some highlights of what he's been involved in since then.

Silver Surfer: Loftier Than Mortals

This is the story on which Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer was loosely based. I mean loosely. Basically, Doctor Doom tricks the Surfer into relinquishing his powers. The Surfer becomes Norrin again, and Doctor Doom flies around and terrorizes the world on a barbed-wire covered surfboard. Yes, its as cool as it sounds.

The Defenders

Way back in the day, there was a group of heroes known as the Defenders. It was made up of The Hulk, the Silver Surfer, Namor, and Doctor Strange. This was basically a revival of that series. The ongoing lasted 12 issues, and then a couple of minis were produced.

Silver Surfer: Communion/Revelation

A short-lived attempt to revive the franchise may have been its death-knell. Put frankly, this series was terrible. It involved the Surfer and another alien culling human specimens from Earth to create a superior human race that could survive a coming catastrophe that the Surfer had foreseen. Way out of character for Norrin, and more than a little creepy.

Cable & Deadpool

The Surfer had a brief stint in Cable & Deadpool. Basically, Nick Fury thought that Cable had become too powerful and was afraid he would turn into a loose cannon, so he called in the Surfer to put a stop to it. It ended when Cable broke the Surfer's board.

Planet Hulk

This is one of the better appearances of the Surfer in the past few years. During Planet Hulk, the Red King arranges a battle between the Green Scar (The Hulk) and the champion of Sakaar. That champion turns out to be the Silver Surfer, although he is dressed in armor, wields a mace and sword, and wears his surfboard as a shield. He goes by the name the Silver Savage. In the midst of battle, the Hulk destroys the obedience disc that is making Norrin fight, and once freed the Surfer destroys all the slaves' obedience discs. He then offers to return Hulk home to Earth, but the Hulk refuses, saying that Earth is no home to him.


We catch up with the Surfer soon afterward and find him pondering the Annihilation Wave, led by Annihilus to reclaim territory for the Negative Zone. The Surfer is part of the battle against Annihilus and, once Galactus has been freed from captivity to Annihilus, he pledges himself to Galactus once more as his herald. He gains even more use of the Power Cosmic at this time.

Silver Surfer: Requiem

Silver Surfer: Requiem takes place outside of the main continuity of the Marvel Universe. This series involves the Surfer developing a blemish on his silver skin. He goes to one of the few people he trusts, Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Reed conducts many tests, and even enlists the aid of other Marvel Universe smart-guys including Doctor Strange and Professor Charles Xavier, but in the end he concludes that the Surfer will die. The rest of the series focuses on how the Surfer spends his last days, including a poignant conversation with Peter Parker, before he returns to his final resting place on Zenn-La, where his funeral is overseen by none other than Galactus himself. Galactus then gives the people of Zenn-La his pledge that he will never destroy their world under any circumstances.

Silver Surfer: In Thy Name

I'm honestly not sure if this is in continuity or not, but it really doesn't matter. The Surfer stumbles upon a utopian society, but the lower class citizens begin to cry out to him as savior. Norrin soon learns that all is not what it seems and ends up leaving in frustration as the two societies go to war. Norrin decides that the nature of people throughout the universe is one of hatred and bloodshed. A lot of people didn't like this, but I really enjoyed it. It's nothing special, but the art was very flighty and light and fit with the utopian facade presented in the story.

Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter

Sure, the Surfer isn't the main character in this story (kind of a recurring theme for him) but my it does star another of my favorite characters, Beta Ray Bill. Basically, Bill is angry that Galactus destroyed his home planet, leaving him the last of his race. Bill decides he is going to kill Galactus by starving him. He begins systematically destroying every planet Galactus targets before he can feed on it. This of course put him at odds with the Surfer, who is of course the one leading Galactus to these planets. Beta Ray Bill actually manages to subdue the Surfer. Of course, in the process of this rampage, Bill loses his worthiness to hold Stormbreaker and has to resort to other methods of destruction. But that's another review.

Possibilities for the Silver Surfer

So, as we can see, the Silver Surfer has shown up in many things since his series ended back in 1998, but never as a very prominent character. His most notable roles are in Annihilation and Planet Hulk. He has since come into conflict with Skaar, the Son of Hulk, but I am trade waiting these and have yet to read them.

So what's in store for the Surfer now? At NYCC, Marvel held a panel for War of Kings. Bill Rosemann, the editor of the event, stated that Norrin would not be appearing. He went on to say that the Surfer was "the last jewel in the cosmic crown that needs to explode." He referred to the Surfer as a "great character" and said they were trying to figure out the trick of what would make him work as an ongoing hero. We don't want to rush it." I have some ideas of my own as to what can be done to bring him to the forefront of Marvel's newly revived cosmic line:

Guardians of the Galaxy

Back in the 90s, Norrin had a fairly long romance with Mantis, a former Avenger, and current Celestial Madonna. Recently, Mantis was thought to be killed by the Magus, but it has since been revealed that he is holding her and the other members of the Guardians that were presumed dead in suspended animation. This would be a perfect time for the Surfer to show up and pit his Power Cosmic against the Magus' Cosmic Awareness.


Sure, its a long shot, but it would be very easy to incorporate the Surfer into the upcoming Avengers title. They wouldn't even have to make him a main member, but he could be a backup. This would work well with him being herald of Galactus again, as he would probably be too busy to be a full-time Avenger, but he could be called in to deal with threats on the cosmic level. He could also serve a similar role in the upcoming Fantastic Four books.


Of course, in the Realm of Kings, the cosmic players are moving all over the place, so Marvel could even take the easy way out and have someone stumble upon him during his voyages as herald to Galactus. This could make for some good conflict, as well as be an easy way of bringing him back to the forefront. They could at least make him a member of a team this way, perhaps even one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, which could then in turn tie back into the Mantis plot.


These are just a few ways I would like to see my favorite comic character return to his former glory. If it seemed like I was picking at straws earlier, its because I was. Its hard to find any prominent presence of the Surfer outside of his former ongoing series. That's a far cry from the character who was at the forefront of the cosmic line in the 90s, including the classic Infinity Gauntlet series. So what about you? Do you guys have any ideas how the Surfer could be used in the current cosmic revival? Do you even want to see him return? Let me know in the comments below.

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Klep said...

I always enjoy seeing the Surfer. His internal conflict between his moral code and the actions he must take for Galactus makes for solid drama, and he's powerful enough to frequently act as the arbiter in conflicts that don't involve his duties as Herald. He's also a tragic figure, having lost his own connection to his homeworld in order to save it for his people, which gives great fodder for stories like Requiem, which was brilliant. I'd be thrilled to see more of him.

brandon said...

Nice post.

I personally thought that World War Hulk was going to end with Silver Surfer stopping the Hulk but I was obviously wrong.

I'd like to see the Surfer as the herald but in a series of one-shots - something like Jonah Hex. Ultimately, each planet dies but its a struggle each time. I'd enjoy it and if written well it could be a mid-level hit IMO.

szul said...

Isn't there a Surfer movie in development? That ought to enhance his comics visibility soon - as well as whatever role he plays in the upcoming Thanos Initiative.

Anonymous said...

i havent read any of the old surfer stuff......but his entire story in annihilation was amazing...and galactus and his interaction was awesome

Aaron Kimel said...

I think his appearance with the other heralds of Galactus in Annihilation - especially his miniseries - was wonderfully done. I think the problem with the Silver Surfer is that he is too big for most Marvel comics. Spider-Man can worry about guys on gliders. Silver Surfer needs to take on opponents of a much greater stature to make it even halfway interesting. (I have the same complaint about Thor, my favorite character. He needs to fight frost giants, not a guy with the strength of a mere dozen men.)

If Silver Surfer were on the Avengers - and they're not fighting off alien invasions - that just makes the Avengers too strong. There are a few heroes in the MU that are way too powerful to be on Earth and provide interesting and compelling stories. The Surfer is one of those. I think he would fit in with the Guardians or the Nova Corps about a thousand times better, but his current status as herald of Galactus should prevent him from being much of anything EXCEPT a villain (ala BRB: Godhunter or in Nova).

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Pretty sure J. Michael Straczynski has written the Surfer movie script, and he's just shopping it around and waiting and wishing.

I like the Surfer, and would love to see some Djurdjevic covers for him.

Also, Brandon, this is a well written article, I'm a fan. It logically breaks it down, it includes alot but isn't overwhelming. Well in, mate!

Ivan said...

He should be the one kicking Sentry's ass during Siege. Just because it would be so cool.

Radlum said...

I always loved Silver Surfer, since his first appearance in the Fantastic Four cartoon in the 90s (back then I didn't read comicbooks). I really liked Requiem, it seemed to be too similar to All-Star Superman in certain themes, but it still was a great book. It's a shame we don't see this character often in the Marvel Universe.
By the way, am I the only one that liked the Silver Surfer cartoon? I thought it was deeper and more interesting than most of the superhero cartoons back then, sadly I haven't been able to find dvds of the series anywhere.

btownlegend said...

His solo series was always a fun read. Ron Lim drew the Surfer well. He has to be free of Galactus to really be used right.

Brandon Whaley said...

@szul: Yeah, I turned this article in to Kirk the day before they announced the Thanos Imperative. Coincidence? Or am I the sole creator of the Surfer's fate?

@Ryan L: Thanks for the kind words (and editing job as well). I also think Djurdjevic could crank out some stellar work for the Surfer.

@Radlum: If you happen to live in the UK (or have a PAL region DVD player) you could always get this: http://bit.ly/bbcy8u I'm seriously considering picking up a PAL player just for this, that show was awesome. Too bad it never finished. In the meantime, Youtube has em: http://bit.ly/d5NJmy

Tye said...

NOOOOO.... I just stared reading guardians/wok.

Spoiler attack!!


Also this is my first post on your site. I have been reading for a while and just wanted to let you guys know that it s the first site i check every day.

Great article too!

Anonymous said...

I just finished reading Communion/Revelation and needed to see if anyone else out there thought it was as mind-numbingly awful as I did. Glad to see I'm not alone. Great reviews. With Thanos Imperative, Annihilators, and the new miniseries, hopefully Marvel is starting to give the Surfer the attention he deserves!

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