Monday, January 25, 2016

Best Comic Book Reads of 2015: Dan Slott and Mike Allred's Silver Surfer

Silver Surfer
Cover image from Silver Surfer
Vol. 1 TPB.
Written by Dan Slott and drawn by Mike Allred

Much like Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil, Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer is imbued with a sense of fun, strong characterization and a willingness to take the character in entirely new directions. In the case of Norin Radd, the intergalactic surfer and ex-herald of Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, there is space aplenty to play with. This is, without a doubt, one of Marvel Comics' most successful relaunches of a title as a starting point to bring in new readers.

I recall being a young teenager and watching the 1985 film, Explorers, about three kids who end up exploring outer space. The premise with its wide-open possibilities was irresistible to my impressionable mind. However, the execution of the premise fell far short of my lofty expectations. The kids end up chasing space aliens or getting pursued by space aliens. Now, as much as I liked aliens at the time, I thought the film could have done anything—been anything—instead of this rather simplistic and limiting piece.

In Slott’s Silver Surfer, I find a similar premise with many possibilities. But instead of disappointment, I find joy and great writing. Norin develops a passing friendship with Dawn, a down-to-earth human who runs a bed-and-breakfast in New England with her father. Through a series of events, Dawn ends up travelling with the Surfer. Their adventures take them near and far and Dawn’s presence humanizes Norin Radd. Now, I‘ve seen many examples of good and so-so portrayals of Radd, a series in the 1990’s pencilled by Ron Lim and penned by a variety of writers and a limited series by Stan Lee and Moebius among them. The Norin Radd character is as malleable as the writer’s intentions, as can happen in the comic-book industry. Thus, he can be vengeful, benevolent, disenfranchised—iin other words, the characterization varies wildly.

Slott, in his enjoyable run, uses Radd’s alien nature to his advantage. The Silver Surfer thinks himself beneath such menial pleasures as eating, or thinking of others first, or staying anywhere for long. So Slott establishes Radd’s ability to transform back to human form, granting Radd the ability to eat and to enjoy small pleasures. Radd also forms a rapport with Dawn so that he is not merely flitting away at his nearest opportunity. Neither is he pouting like in many of his lone-wolf incarnations. These alterations to the Silver Surfer mythos allow for narrative far beyond simple cosmic tussles. Instead, the Surfer is learning. Through Dawn, he is rediscovering joy, from the simple of act of eating to witnessing grand cosmic beauty. He also finding out what it feels like to care for someone else instead of heading off again into the cosmos.

Lastly, Norin’s surfboard is shown as being sentient and Dawn even names it “Toomie” from the Surfer calling “My board! To me!” To top that off, Toomie even saves Dawn’s life in a few instances (This last observation is courtesy of a seven-year-old boy who is also a fan of Silver Surfer.). 
An example of Mike Allred's simple, clean lines. What beauty.

That there is a sense of fun and adventure and admittedly a kid-friendly aspect to the book is also a boon. It’s this sense of fun and humour and playfulness that Marvel Comics sometimes lacks in its other titles, most notably in Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers: Everything Dies. This particular story arc lives up to its billing as a grim and relentless march requiring sacrifice after sacrifice and little action. Hickman's interpretations of the Avengers represents a fascinating phase in the history of the book, but not a very palatable one.

But I digress. Industry legend Mike Allred’s masterful art on Silver Surfer is a pleasure to behold—clean, beautiful, and simple. Comic-book folks have compared his scribbles to the iconic Jack Kirby’s. Regardless, Allred’s style is perfectly suited to storytelling that can reach to the far ends of the universe, and into new places of storytelling. 

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