Around this time last year, I was finishing my time with Marvel’s Infinity Wars storyline. That story began in the Gerry Duggan Guardians of the Galaxy series, which I really enjoyed. Then Guardians folded to make way for the countdown miniseries, which led to the Infinity Wars mini, which let to the Infinity Warps tie-ins, and increasingly expanded its scope at each step along the way. The books were fun, but my interest wasn’t there towards the end as they continued expanding. Then, I heard they were rebooting Guardians, with a different character line-up and creative team. As miniseries begat miniseries that splintered off into several more, I dropped off and closed the door on the cosmic side for the time being.
That didn’t take long to re-open.
Enter Silver Surfer: Black, a 5 issue miniseries by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore, with Dave Stewart on colors and Clayton Cowles handling the lettering duties.
The story is an extension of whatever had been going on in the cosmic line. That means even though I’ve only missed a few months, I have no idea what’s going on. It opens with the Silver Surfer and the Guardians of the Galaxy being tossed into a black hole by Thanos’s Black Order. Surfer finds a way to channel his powers to save the Guardians, but leaving him trapped and vulnerable as he has to fight Knull, the Venom god.
I’ll be 1000% up front, the only reason I bought this book is the art. I wasn’t looking to dive back into cosmic drama, but this opening page alone made the first issue worth the price of admission.
Then, things get trippy.
If those two pages haven’t sold you, you can turn back here. This probably isn’t for you. If they’ve sold you and you don’t want spoiled any more, I also recommend you turn back at this point. The story is a solid version of “hero finds motivation to overcome obstacles” and the art looks like those two pictures. You won’t be cheated if you go in with that knowledge alone.
If you’re ok with spoilers or if you’ve already read the series and want to work it out, then feel free to proceed.
I will gush about the art shortly, but let me talk a bit about the scripter, Donny Cates, for a moment. Cates is an up and comer at Marvel. His is a name I keep hearing with very positive associations, and I figured I would dive into his work sooner or later. The problem, for me, is that he tends to write characters that I don’t have a lot of affection for. Venom, Cosmic Ghost Rider, and Absolute Carnage are all titles that I hear great things about but aren’t anywhere near my personal wheelhouse. I worry that it might sound at times that I’m against Cates here, and that’s not the case. I’m just not for him yet. I can appreciate that he might be the type of writer who really appeals to other types of readers, but I’m not ready to make that call yet, either. Since this series is my first real exposure for more than a single issue or a few pages, maybe there are quirks to his style I just haven’t figured out yet.
While we’re here, I’ll just let loose with my grievances:
1) Knull is stupid. This isn’t so much a reflection on Cates as it is a character who is a god-level evil wearing a Spider-man symbol on his chest and dressing like a goth extra from Medieval Times. I’m ok with the universe cosmic exploring the symbiotes, but my first reaction every time was ‘this guy looks dumb.’You can’t name the guy who is in charge of the void Knull. That’s too on the nose even for me.
2) Uatu’s back? I thought Nick Fury was the Watcher now? Maybe this is me not keeping up with the ever-changing, always complex side of the cosmic universe, but this story didn’t gibe with the stories I’ve read over the past few years. And I know they’ve made tons of changes to Galactus recently, but I wasn’t sure how or if those changes mattered or where that character was in the grand scheme. Maybe things have been re-set yet again.
It’s just…I’m not a continuity wank, but pick a lane. This series plays fast and loose with the time stream, continuity, or both at the same time much to my confusion. Either this is an Elseworlds/what-if style story or it isn’t. Let me know up front. I don’t mind new creative teams with their own takes on universes. Those omelettes taken broken eggs, and I get that; just tell me.
This Surfer, btw, is a million miles away from the characterization from the recent long-running Slott/Allred series. Maybe that change is addressed in some other series I skipped. I just felt like I needed a scorecard that wasn’t being provided here. What counts, what doesn’t, what am I going to need to know moving forward?
3) The big change with the Silver Surfer at the end—it’s predictable and dumb…But…man oh man does the idea seem cool for at least a little bit. I would genuinely love a 4 inch scale action figure of a chromed out Silver Surfer who was actually all black. It’d be like Snake Eyes and Silver Surfer altogether at the same time!
I’m thinking this is the area that Cates lives in—big ideas that should be shot down as dumb, but in reality are pretty cool. Cosmic Ghost Riding Frank Castle with a baby Thanos? That shouldn’t work. But as I type it out, am I intrigued? Yeah. Yeah I am. Is this a grievance against Cates? Probably not. I guess I’m saying Cates makes me mad at myself for liking his stupid ideas because even though they’re really dumb, they’re actually simultaneously really cool. Dammit, Donny!
Ok. Enough complaining. Throughout this series, I accepted the very Staid, serious, self-righteous Silver Surfer. He’s a very broody character trying to redeem himself from his past deeds, trying to maintain that light in the dark. Here, he’s tasked with taking down the god of the dark, and every time the Surfer uses his powers to their full potential, he surrenders a bit of himself to the black. First it’s a hand, then it’s an arm, and he proceeds until he’s split down the middle, etc.
In his efforts, he meets up with all manner of friends and former foes. He meets up with Ego the living Planet, Galactus, Uatu, and pre-Galactus Galen.
He wallows a bit, remembering his time on Zenn La with Shalla Bal, as is tradition for the serious Surfer stories. The interesting wrinkle in this series comes when Galactus makes his arrival and meets our pre-cosmic-powered pal.
Andy once explained to me years ago the theory that Galactus is such a powerful idea that people perceive him as their brains allow them to perceive him. It could be different for everybody. Basically, Galactus is not a dude in a big purple bucket hat, but since we, the people of Earth, really love crazy Jack Kirby designs, that’s what we see. If we were the Broccoli guys from the Dark Phoenix Saga, we might have seen Galactus as a giant asparagus—you know, if Phoenix hadn’t gotten there first.
Anyway, the twist Cates and Moore put on Surfer’s origin story is that the Galactus Norin Radd sees—is himself! He’s a Silver Surfer who has let himself go over to the dark, with Venom symbiote tentacles spreading and doing the ultimate damage. That was pretty cool, if you’re into metaphors and whatnot.
But each encounter give the Surfer the help, the guidance, the respite he needs for the final battle where he realizes that he doesn’t win by killing the evil, he wins by spreading life. There are incredible moments, like where Surfer becomes the Ant Man to Ego’s Vision and traverses through the insides of the living planet to help cure Ego of his ailment.
There are cool manifestations of Surfer’s powers, whether it be turning his board into a corkscrew or using the power cosmic to create new stars. He fights Galactus at one point Harry Potter Patroneous-style, with cosmic dolphins fighting octopuses or silver wolves facing the deer of destruction. It’s really trippy, imaginative stuff. Tradd Moore’s art along with Dave Stewart’s colors can’t be praised enough for how visually enthralling this series is.
I’ve read it multiple times already and I can’t stop myself from going back and admiring how cool the art is on this book.
I bought this series in issues as they came out, but I’m really grateful to have the digital copies baked in as well. Both experiences have their benefits, and this series is worth seeing both ways. There’s definitely an effect that being able to hold the physical art in your hands has—and this art really is art.
However, the double page spreads really sing without the page breaks. It’s almost as though this series is so expansive it can’t be contained in either form. I might end up picking up the treasury sized trade for the bookshelf, too, just to show off really cool comic bookery.
In the end, this is definitely something I would recommend, if only because it is a true experience. Much of the story reminds me of the Daredevil stories that I love where the character is broken down and then finds something inside to carry on. I’ve read and enjoyed those stories hundreds of times. But because it is the Silver Surfer, it is much more alien and detached–by design. That could be perceived as hammy or heavy-handed, despite the mitigating factors at play. Although the humanity is dulled a bit, the consequences are on a cosmic scale. The dialogue, the thoughts, the words on the page—they’re a jumping off point to the vast and expansive ideas in this series. They’ve got a cosmic scale of their own going on here.
Knull, while I may mock his idealization, actually makes for an interesting obstacle for a character on the level of the Silver Surfer. It’s odd to me that Venom, the equal but opposite of Spider-man is the springboard for the equal to the Silver Surfer, but that’s the crazy mixed up world we live in now.
While I hope the end result isn’t something that lasts forever–he’s the Silver Surfer, not the Silver and Black Surfer, duh— I am interested to see what they do with him from here. How can they reincorporate him into his old roles, popping up in the Defenders or the FF after this one? How do they put the Silver Surfer back together again? Will I at least get a really cool action figure out of the deal? Who knows? At least I got this cool story out of it so far.
Silver Surfer: Black Final Grade: A
The more I think about the series, the more I like it. It’s a visually stunning experience that stretches what your average comic book does. It definitely sets up Tradd Moore as a name I’ll pay attention to, and it even lets me know that this Donny Cates might be a fit for me, even if he is writing characters I’m not crazy about.
Check with your local comic shop as they might still have the issues on the shelves, or you can hang on until the trade hits in Treasury Edition later on in December. But this series is definitely worth the look.
Until next time, I’ll be fighting the dark in my own way… leaving the lights on! No, honey, I didn’t forget to turn out the lights! I’m helping fight the Knull and void guy!