Monday, June 11, 2007

My editor asked me to do a "Fantastic Four" story

This is what I came up with:

No doubt you’ve seen the promotional material for the latest Fantastic Four film — a movie trailer here or a billboard poster there — all bearing the iconic image of a metallic man zooming across a gleaming surfboard.

That figure, known by the descriptive title of the Silver Surfer, (hence the film’s title: “Rise of the Silver Surfer”) has made a number of devoted Fantastic Four fans excited and hopeful for the new sequel.

Though he’s never captured the public imagination in the same way as Spider-Man or the X-Men, he remains a strong supporting character within the Marvel Universe, one with a strong fan following.

For those interested in the film but not familiar with the character, however, a bit of back story might be required.

The Silver Surfer first appeared in March 1966 in Fantastic Four No. 48 as the herald of Galactus, a planet-eating, space-faring giant who thought Earth might make a nice late-night snack.

Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the “Galactus Trilogy” is regarded by many as one of the best superhero stories ever, an epic, lofty blend of science fiction and action tropes.

Persuaded by the Fantastic Four that Earth is worth saving, the Surfer betrays Galactus, who ultimately spares Earth, but not before exiling the Surfer to the planet forever.

Now a regular part of the Marvel Universe, the Surfer quickly got his own regular series and a new origin.

Turns out his real name is Norrin Radd, an ordinary Joe from another world who volunteered to become Galactus’ herald in order to spare his home planet.

Forever separated from his true love, Shalla-Bal, the Surfer, when not battling the forces of evil, was often given to bouts of expository self-pity, as well as philosophical musings on man’s inhumanity to man. (“Is it but in desolation that man can find the peace he seeks? Was it for this that I renounced my heritage?”)

That original series, written by Lee with art by John Buscema, lasted only 18 issues, but the Surfer has appeared regularly in a variety of Marvel titles in the decades since, including a second series that lasted 194 issues.

The character was a particular favorite of Lee, to the point that for many years he requested that he be the only one allowed to write his adventures.

So what’s the appeal of a silver-plated guy who roams the cosmos on a fancy boogie board?

“The Surfer, when done well and properly, is best as the alien observer on our culture,” Marvel editor Tom Brevoort said. “It’s about being able to take a look at mankind from an outsider’s perspective and hold up a mirror to ourselves and our foibles.

“While he may not be as popular as a Spider-Man or an X-Man, he’s in that solid bedrock of perennial Marvel characters,” he said. “Even though he hasn’t had a movie of his own, people seem to remember and recognize him. There’s an essential Marvelness about him. There’s something about him that sticks in people’s imaginations.”


I asked Marvel Universe editor Tom Brevoort to list five Silver Surfer books that would allow the uninitiated to get up to speed. Here’s what he picked: 

“The Silver Surfer Omnibus.” This $75 “dictionary-sized hardcover” collects all 18 issues of the original series — including the letters pages — plus various odds and ends. “It’s your one-stop shopping for surfer information,” Brevoort said. 
“The Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1-2.” A more affordable version of the omnibus, these black-and- white softcovers collect 500 of reprint material, from the 1960s onward. 

“Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four Volume 5.” This $50 hardcover collects the “Galactus Trilogy,” the first Silver Surfer story. 

“Silver Surfer: Parable.” Written by Stan Lee and illustrated by French cartoonist Moebius. Brevoort describes the plot of this standalone story: “Galactus’ return to Earth is turned into a subject of worship by an unthinking humanity, and the Surfer must again stand in defense of mankind even against itself.” You might have to dig around a bit to find this one. 

“Silver Surfer Requiem.” The Surfer faces his own mortality in this new, ongoing series by J. Michael Straczynski and Esad Ribic. $3.99 each.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2007

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