Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hello Cosmic Part 21: Silver Surfer Volume 3 Part One

[Continuing my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel. In this, the first of two posts discussing his run on Silver Surfer volume 3, I will discuss #34-43 and annual #3. New posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

First off, I skipped posting yesterday and on Monday to give the top ten list the "top post" status for a couple extra days. Also, I had planned to discuss Starlin's Silver Surfer run in three parts (#34-38, #39-43 (w/annual #3), and then #44-50), but when I read the issues I saw that it wouldn't work that way and, honestly, I could probably get through the entire one in a single post if I wanted--but I don't, so I cut it to two. Apologies if they're shorter than usual as a result.

Starlin's run on Silver Surfer is notable for a few reasons: it launched his cosmic work of the '90s, including his masterminding stuff like the Infinity Trilogy, as he resurrects Thanos, Drax, Adam Warlock, Gamorra and Pip the Troll; and it is also unlike anything else he's written for Marvel in that the book has a very light, almost humorous tone.

The issue here are really part of the overall storyarc, which is the lead-in to The Infinity Gauntlet, but can be divided in two: the Silver Surfer's confrontation with Thanos and his time in Dynamo City.

First, issue 34-38 contain the Silver Surfer dealing with a newly resurrected Thanos charged with killing off half of the universe's population to give balance to the duality of life and death. Thanos' argument for this is strangely compelling, falling into the same sort of logic that hunters often use about keeping animal populations in check--kill some now so that the whole will ultimately survive. Starlin understands Thanos well enough to know that he wouldn't tell the Surfer that he's doing it for the approval of Death. He doesn't deny that as a reason, either, but Thanos is such a clever character that he aims his argument at the Surfer--not to actually convert him to the position that killing half of the universe is a good thing, but just to confuse him and delay any actions the Surfer would take.

With the resurrection of Thanos comes the resurrection of Drax the Destroyer by Chronos since Drax's mission and only desire is to kill Thanos. The beginnings of Drax's brain damaged character are here and, over the course of the run, he becomes dumber and more docile. When he first appears, all he seems able to say is "Where is Thanos?" and be very, very angry. It's interesting to see the character evolve over this run as Starlin moves him to a position where he's comfortable. Even by issue 50, Drax isn't quite as innocent and childlike as he is in Warlock & the Infinity Watch #2, but there is enough movement to justify that ultimate depiction.

These are not strong comics. They are puffy and breezy, and the light humour doesn't work a lot of the time. Starlin outright wastes issue 36 with the first part detailing Thanos' past and the second part dealing with the Impossible Man. No story advancement, no character advancement, nothing gained. Issue 37 is also padded in that it has the Surfer trying to get rid of Drax for reasons I still don't quite understand. Yes, Drax is a violent moron here, but his violence is directed at Thanos, so why not bring him along to confront Thanos? Issue 38 has the Surfer seemingly kill Thanos and lead into Thanos Quest. By this point, I wonder why it took five issues to accomplish what three could have EASILY.

There are a few moments of worth like the means Surfer uses to get rid of Drax: he goes to Earth, visits the Fantastic Four and tricks Drax into watching TV. It's a clever little scene. Thanos' issue-long discussion with the Surfer in issue 35 is also quite well done as Thanos tricks the Surfer into assisting with the slaughter of half a planet. Starlin only delivers a fraction of the time here.

Issue 39 is a fill-in by Alan Grant and James T. Sherman that very well could be a decent issue, but its placement here makes it stand out like a sore thumb as it breaks the rhythm of the ongoing storyline, especially since issue 40 picks up right where 38 left off. As well, Sherman's art is ugly and does not tell the story well. Some may think that my hatred of this fill-in issue is an argument for shipping late books when really it's more an argument against FULL fill-in issues. While I'm not a fan of Sherman's art, I doubt I would have minded 39 as much had Starlin been writing and it continued his story.

Issues 40-43 feature a much more light-hearted story as the Silver Surfer is trapped in Dynamo City, a sprawling Metropolis floating in space that is mired in greed and bureaucracy. He is tricked into entering the city by Thanos through a last will and testament where the Surfer's name is mentioned (so he jumps at the chance to visit Dynamo City because who doesn't love being willed something?)--the only thing is that energy is public domain there, so his power cosmic is confiscated by the city and he's arrested for trying to illegally leave without paying the exit tax. These issues aren't bad as the Surfer tries to get a job and fails without his powers. He's shuffled off the underbelly of society and gets taken advantage of numerous times. These issues are a nice little send-up of capitalism and bureaucratic governments as well as Hollywood. However, they do little to advance the story of Thanos, but that doesn't hurt as much as it should since his story continues off in The Thanos Quest. For the last two issues of this story, Ron Marz is credited as co-writer, but I don't notice any real change.

Ultimately, the Surfer escapes with another unemployed man who he's become friends with. The story ends with the Surfer wanting to use his powers to attack Dynamo City for all that it's done to him and others, but doesn't when he realises that he would injure many innocent people in the process.

The closest thing to this arc we've seen previously in Starlin's work is in his first Warlock run where Adam is arrested by the Magus' church and receives a very one-sided trial. There's a similar scene where the Surfer is one trial, but his robot laywer isn't turned on because doing so would be a waste since the Surfer is so obviously guilty. Taken by itself, this arc works better than the previous issues because the light, breezy tone matches the subject matter. The Silver Surfer looking for a job? Funny. The Surfer trying to stop someone from killing half of the universe? Not so much.

Ron Lim provides the art for the Starlin issues and this is the weakest work I've seen from him. It's not bad, it's just mediocre a lot of the time. Maybe it's the colouring and the poor paper stock that makes it look worse. Also, at the time, he was also working on The Thanos Quest (where his art looks MUCH better), so that could be a reason.

The third annual's main story is the fourth part of a crossover with other cosmic annuals from that year and not worth discussing. The back-up story by Ron Marz, "Shades of Guilt" sets up one of the story points of the second half of Starlin's run by pointing out that the Surfer, in his years as Galactus' herald, is responsible for the deaths of dozens of worlds--but he doesn't feel guilty. Why is that? No answers are given, but the question is one of the most interesting I've seen posed regarding the Silver Surfer.

On Friday, I'll do the last seven issues of Starlin's run, which bridge the gap between The Thanos Quest and The Infinity Gauntlet.