First Published: March 1998
Contents: Silver Surfer #1 (August 1968) to #18 (September 1970), Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 (1967)
Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, John Buscema, Jack Kirby
Key First Appearances: Shalla Bal, Mephisto
Story Continues In: Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 2
Overview: At the creative peak of the Stan Lee-Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four in the mid-1960s, new characters and concepts were introduced including the Inhumans, the Black Panther, Galactus and his herald, the Silver Surfer. Imbued with the power cosmic, the Silver Surfer roamed the galaxy seeking out planets that his master could consume to sustain his own life. When the Silver Surfer reached Earth and encountered humanity, he rebelled against Galactus and fought side-by-side with the Fantastic Four. Faced with the threat of the Ultimate Nullifier, Galactus vowed to leave Earth but punished the Silver Surfer for his betrayal by placing an invisible barrier around the planet, keeping the Silver Surfer confined to Earth.
In this volume, the Silver Surfer explores Earth, trying to find ways to break the barrier. On his journey, he encounters many Earthlings that befriend and challenge the Silver Surfer. We discover his past as Norrin Radd, who gave up himself to serve Galactus in exchange for leaving his home planet of Zenn-La alone and saving his true love Shalla Bal. The malevolent Mephisto, Marvel’s incarnation of the Devil, is introduced and tempts the Silver Surfer multiple times. The series ends with issue #18, which left the reader on a cliff-hanger with the Silver Surfer vowing revenge on humanity. But #19 was never released, and it would be more than 25 years before the Silver Surfer received his own monthly comic again.
What makes this Essential?: I find two points that make this collection an Essential volume. The first is the breath-taking artwork by Buscema. While the Silver Surfer title had a sporadic publishing schedule during it’s run, Buscema was also providing art on the monthly Avengers and Sub-Mariner titles. The quality of the artwork, given his other monthly responsibilities, places Buscema on a peak of artistic greatness. His panels truly show the strength of the power cosmic.
A second point to make this collection an Essential volume is the moralities raised in these issues. Science fiction has often been used to introduce moral discussions without trying to offend the audience because the stories take place in a different world than our own reality. The Star Trek television series led the way in the 1960s, touching on topics such as racial differences and gender roles. Lee uses this title to start addressing moral topics, such as war, love, good and evil. The next wave of writers, such as Denny O’Neil, Roy Thomas, and Steve Englehart, would take on these topics via their monthly comics.
Footnotes: Even though this volume was released in 1998, the Silver Surfer’s first appearance in Fantastic Four #48 was finally collected in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3, released in 2001.
The Silver Surfer story from Fantastic Four Annual #5 is also reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 4.
If you like this volume, try: the Silver Surfer-Superman crossover from 1996. In the 1990s, Marvel and DC published multiple books teaming up characters from their respective universes. This volume teams up two similar characters in Silver Surfer and Superman. Both are exiles on Earth; both find themselves in the same power class; and are somber serious characters. The two team up to battle the team-up of Impossible Man and Mr. Mxyxptlk, two alien beings looking for a good time and a funny joke. Written by George Perez with art by Ron Lim, this was a highlight of the Marvel-DC crossovers.