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Surfer's Up

Can TV Handle Him?

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the February 26-March 4, 1998, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels


"I didn't really have a plan, to tell ya the truth. That's the problem with bein' a hero: Most of the time ya just have to wing it."

— Spuckler Boach in Akiko #21 

A bald, shining intergalactic surfer dude sounds like a bad comic book parody, but it’s a prime example of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s genius. In anyone else’s hands, the idea might have lasted one issue, but Kirby and Lee spun silver into gold for the Surfer’s 32 years in the Marvel Universe.

The Silver Surfer began as a supporting character in 1966. Lee and Kirby were trying to figure out the next nefarious challenge for the fearless foursome, the Fantastic Four, who had already faced numerous powerful foes like Doctor Doom. Kirby and Lee wanted to top themselves — and keep the readers on the edge of their seats — and they succeeded with the world-devouring Galactus. This villain was totally merciless and all-powerful yet not evil. He stood above most sentient beings as we do above fish or cows, and sees us with as little malice.

Kirby drew the first 20-page installment of what was to be a three-part FF story and surprised Stan the Man with a new character when he turned in the pages for dialogue. Kirby explained that a god-like being such as Galactus would probably have a herald who served as his advance guard. Lee then used the noble bearing Kirby drew into the Surfer as a jumping off point for the character and imagined him being unselfish and possessing the best qualities of sentient life.

The Silver Surfer’s origin was told in 1968 when he got his own book written by Lee and drawn by John Buscema. The Surfer is revealed as Norrin Radd, a good but restless inhabitant of Zenn-La, a planet devoid of war or hate. But this paradise is nearly lost when Galactus chooses it to become his next meal. Risking all, Radd offers to become Galactus’ herald and find him uninhabited worlds to devour in exchange for leaving Zenn-La untouched.

I bet you’re wondering why I’m giving you the history lesson. The Saturday morning debut of the Silver Surfer series on Fox might have something to do with it. Fox, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few years, has had incredible success with The X-Men and the recently and unfortunately retired Spider-Man series, so it signed a seven-year deal with Marvel to develop new series based on their characters. Silver Surfer is the latest with Captain America debuting in the fall.

I’ll confess to mixed feelings about The X-Men series, mainly due to the overexposure of Marvel’s merry mutants. But to their credit, it finally captured their personalities and had good voices. Remember the X-Men appearance in an episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends? It was a prime example of why fans typically greet news of a TV show or movie based on their favorite characters with a great deal of skepticism and trepidation.

But the Fox version of Spider-Man was very good, as is the Silver Surfer. The origin story deviates just a fraction from the original in that the Surfer becomes Galactus’ herald after the showdown with the Fantastic Four and Galactus’ promise to leave Earth in peace. In this version, Galactus also cheats: When transforming Norrin Radd into the Silver Surfer, he wipes his memory of Zenn-La, his beloved Shalla Bal and his code of ethics. Needless to say, all will be restored in a future episode.

The only potential problem with the series is the same one that has sometimes plagued the comic book version of the Surfer, as well as The Spectre over at DC: With a seemingly limitless source of story options and beyond superpowered characters, the series will have to walk the line between falling into a rut or being unbelievable. But with the quality of the animation, Fox’s obvious commitment and track record, I’ll bet on the bald surfer with the iridescent skin condition. As Stan the Man says, Excelsior!


Column 1998 Long Island Voice. Artwork 1998 Fox Kids.