For the last four years, Silver Surfer has been among the finest comics being published every month, at Marvel or anywhere else. Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred have created a sci-fi adventure that’s warmer, sharper, and better-looking than anything else in the genre, but the thing that really caught my attention – and my heart – is that they’re also telling one of the finest romances in modern superhero comics. The basic premise of the Slott/Allred/Allred Silver Surfer stories is this: Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer, finds himself saddled with an Earth girl named Dawn Greenwood on one adventure to save a world in deep space. There’s nothing particularly special about Dawn, a small-town girl who lived a pretty plain life most of the time, but when adventure calls, she answers. The two form a bond as they travel from planet to planet, and that bond deepens as they come to know each other, blossoming into a sweet-natured romantic relationship. The series has been called out in review after review as a clone of Doctor Who in the way it mashes up classic sci-fi adventure with out-of-this-world romantic tension, but I think those reviews miss something important: This is not a change to who the Silver Surfer is, but a return to the character’s romantic roots.
We first meet the Silver Surfer, in 1966, he was a villain, the Herald of Galactus. It was his job to scout planets so that his master, a cosmic deity who needed to consume whole planets to survive, could feed. Upon arriving on Earth, he clashed with the Fantastic Four, but he eventually came around to the side of angels and helped the Fantastic Four repel his master. He was trapped for years on Earth afterwords, becoming a regular guest star in various Marvel books. In short, he became a hero — but how could a man who helped murder planets be a hero? What compelled him to join Galactus?
As we eventually learned, it was love that pushed the Surfer into his cosmic monstrosity. Galactus came to his own planet, Zenn-La, intent on devouring it and killing its populace. Silver Surfer, then named Norrin Radd, was deep in love with a Zenn-La’s princess, Shalla-Bal. He went to Galactus to negotiate, promising to serve him… if he spared Shalla-Bal and his people. He was granted the Power Cosmic and set out on a lonely journey through the spaceways that found his name cursed the galaxy over. He was a monster, but he was a noble monster, tortured by what he did but firm in his love of his people and his princess.
Once he become a hero, much of that idea was lost. Critics focused on the Surfer’s isolation and outer-space adventure, but not the core idea that Norrin Radd was such a romantic that he was willing to do anything for love was lost. Dan Slott, alongside Mike and Laura Allred, brought the hopeless romanticism of the Surfer back in sight, but they did so in a fundamentally optimistic series that uses the science-fantasy adventure stories of Doctor Who. If classic Silver Surfer was a man willing to do monstrous things for love, then these new stories illustrate a man who is willing do the right thing for love, even when the right thing is incredibly difficult to do. It was a surprisingly effective way to combine the ideas of the surfer as a lonely wanderer, a hopeless romantic, and a man with a dark past.
I’m equally interested in the characterization of Dawn. Dawn is explicitly not the damsel in distress in many of these stories. While it is the Surfer’s ‘Power Cosmic’ that allows them to fly through space unharmed, the Surfer has an aloofness that would prevent him from getting involved in many adventures. It is Dawn, so excited by the mysteries of the universe, who pushes the Surfer into action – not unlike Nora in the Thin Man series – and it is often Dawn who forces him to pull back and make the right choice.
That said, Silver Surfer acknowledges the downside to Dawn’s adventurous spirit as well. The book periodically returns to Earth, and to Dawn’s much more complex family life. There, she has a sister, a father, an inn she was supposed to help run — she has a life. And as she gallivants across galaxies, she lets increasingly important moments of that life slip by, including one gut-punch moment late in the series that reverberates for issues to come. The series is dedicated to the spirit of adventure, but capable of acknowledging the complexities of the relationships that may be affected by that adventure. Norrin’s isolation was difficult for him, true, but it meant that he was never tied to one place for too long.
When the Slott/Allred/Allred Silver Surfer #1 debuted in 2014, it had, like so many comics these days, multiple covers with varying gimmicks. It is rare, in my experience, that the covers do so fine a job at getting across the ethos of, not just an issue, but an entire series.
In the first, you see chaos — warmth and cartoonish invention, an outerspace adventure that pairs daring rescues with weird aliens. Space is a large, messy, populous place, full of adventure and mystery, and even the void is not completely dark, but streaked with purple and full of planets teeming with life. This gets across the look and tone of the series well. In the other, you see the Surfer alone, in black and white, a stark and isolated figure pushing forward in a hostile universe. One cover acknowledges the Surfer’s past; the other pushes him to a new and more hopeful future. Or perhaps one is just a brief interlude in a life defined by the other. But which is which?
Silver Surfer has been running steadily since 2014, and it finally came to an end last week. The journey has been thrilling, emotional, and frequently romantic, and it will be hard to imagine a future without Dawn and Norrin waiting for me each week. Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred revitalized Marvel’s cosmic comics, bringing wit, warmth, and creativity to outer space. More importantly, they found a way to make longform, serialized romance thrilling and inventive in a way superhero comics have typically struggled to do, and they did so with one of the most entertaining and approachable books on the shelves.
Links to the complete series on Amazon can be found below. You can also read them on digital services, like Comixology, or on Marvel Unlimited.
And if you find yourself enjoying Silver Surfer, I also strongly recommend that you check out Ivar, Timewalker, a similarly romantic sci-fi adventure story by the same author, Dan Slott (edit: Ivar is actually by Fred Van Lente, not Dan Slott. Sorry for the confusion!). Ivar is twistier, dealing less in cosmic adventure and more in time travel shenanigans, but the heart of the book remains similar.