… there’s no foe like Doom.
I’ve not been hibernating, honestly!
The job has been busy and I just simply haven’t had much time to update the blog. (Oh, and I became a grandfather, too! That’s been interesting.) I’m going to try and do something about that over the next couple of weeks. There’ll be some reviews hopefully, although I will actually have to finish some books first. There’ll definitely be some fiction and there may even be some political/cultural stuff. Who knows?
In the meantime, here’s some Silver Surfer…
Last birthday, my son (I may have mentioned him already) who is something of a comic aficionado himself gave me the first Silver Surfer Epic Collection. It is, as you might expect, rather good. I’m going through a bit of a Kirby phase at the moment. My teenage disdain for his Super Powers era style has given way to a sort of awestruck wonder at Kirby’s storytelling powers and a deep sense of shame that I could have ever been that ignorant. Rather than focusing on the whole collection (which would be difficult, because – yes – I still haven’t finished it), I’m going to look at a particular moment which, I think, highlights just how good the creative team on the title at this point were.
As is invariably the case with 60s Marvel, issue 57 of the Fantastic Four, which starts the second story arc in the collection, crackles with ideas, invention and the kind of over-the-top grandiose dialogue that was typical of the era. It’s also genuinely funny, not least when the Silver Surfer is summoned to the picturesque residence of Doctor Doom.
At this point, following his dramatic introduction during the FF’s first encounter with Galactus, the Surfer is essentially exiled to wander the Earth and has decided to stop off in Latveria. Whether he already knew that he was visiting the homeland of Doctor Doom is unclear. It’s the meeting that’s important ultimately and the Lee/Kirby partnership delivers us a really rather intriguing scene between two of the most iconic characters they have ever created.
That the Surfer, for all his power, is an ingenu, largely ignorant of the political machinations of people like Doom means that the reader, while generally sympathetic to the Surfer’s moral viewpoint, is considerably more aware of the threat posed by Doom than he is. The subsequent underlying tension in the scene is handled very well. Doom starts off by trying to flatter the Surfer, but the Surfer ignores this and cuts right to the heart of what Doom is all about: “Why do you rule other humans? What quality of leadership do you possess that so sets you apart?”
Doom’s answer is brilliantly disingenuous and is deliberately shown to be false by the creative team a couple of pages later. Having earlier proclaimed himself to be a “servant” to his people, Doom dismisses the Silver Surfer’s offer to rebuild the portion of Doom’s castle that he’s just destroyed as a way of demonstrating just how powerful the ‘power cosmic’ can be. (Technically it’s Doom that destroys it – the Surfer has merely built the weapon that he uses. Actually, that’s pretty clever, too, now I think about it. Rather than just displaying his power with a generic blast, the Surfer builds a weapon out of thin air whose simplistic and lightweight design completely belies its effortless destructiveness. This kind of approach has already been used in Fantastic Four in the form of the Ultimate Nullifier, a potentially universe-ending weapon that can fit in the palm of Reed Richards’ hand. A similar idea is used in the first Men in Black movie for a more explicitly comedic effect.) Doom responds by saying that the Surfer doesn’t need to exert himself. He’s got “serfs” for that kind of thing.
This moment is deliciously ironic, but also a great example of Lee and Kirby at the heights of their power. It’s memorable, genuinely amusing and reminds the reader that, while Doom’s literal mask (almost) never comes off, the self-aggrandising arrogance of the character can never be concealed for very long.