THIS REVIEW OF ‘SILVER SURFER: BLACK’ #1 CONTAINS SPOILERS.
by Jarrod Jones. Silver Surfer: Black is about a man—a gleaming hood ornament atop a righteous surfboard, perhaps, but still a man—attempting to quite literally find his place in the universe. It’s written by Donny Cates, still the new kid on the block, seeking purchase on the next level of an increasingly steep Marvel summit, chasing his muse to ambitious ends. Norrin Radd (the eponymous Surfer) and Donny Cates, it seems, are kindred spirits, and in Silver Surfer: Black they are fellow travelers, pulled along by an unyielding need to explore the reaches of unfettered imagination, brave even in the face of existential terror.
What a colossal thing this is. There are ideas and concepts in here, nestled deep in the chasms between the book’s candy-colored spectacle and expansive voids, and Cates nudges us and the Surfer towards them. Gently, for now. Some concepts, such as the unique despair that follows a lifetime of doing the wrong thing, are tangible in the form of ponderous captions. Fascinating stuff for a cosmic superhero story, rich with Starlin-level promise. But in comics such as Silver Surfer: Black, it takes an omega-level talent like Tradd Moore to hurl us over the precipice of an idea, leaving us shouting back our gratitude as the work swallows us whole.
So, Silver Surfer: Black. Where are we? Well, between the panels of January’s Guardians of the Galaxy #1 it looks like, just after Thanos’ Black Order sent a horde of cosmic do-gooders and anti-demigods through a tear in the space-time fabric and just before Beta Ray Bill pulled most of them out the other end. So the opening pages of Black find the Surfer catapulting many of these disparate characters in Marvel’s menagerie towards their spin-off destinies in other books. That’s fine. This sequence is astonishing to behold—Cosmic Ghost Rider’s chains dancing around Stormbreaker as it hurled a succession of oddballs through a “tachyonic maelstrom” was especially gobsmacking—even if it saddles this mini-series’ prologue pages with continuity baggage it doesn’t necessarily need. (The issue’s ending provides a far more indulgent example of Cates roping all his inter-company ambitions together, though what it means for the overall quality of this mini-series remains to be seen.)
It’s still an important sequence for Silver Surfer: Black, a “hero for all heroes” moment there to contrast the aloof visage of the Surfer staring above the celestial horrors we saw in the issue’s preceding pages. There Moore and Dave Stewart, the series colorist, bring shifting, satanic form to what a Devourer of Worlds might look like in myth and nightmare, and underscore with thick crimson lines how far Norrin Radd has come in the eons since: Galactus feasted unrelentingly upon a parade of planets and his subservient herald, beautiful and beaming, did nothing as it happened. Never again. The panels underneath this bit show the Surfer weeping at those memories, speeding as fast as he can through the pitch-black yawn of despair towards giving a damn about this universe and its many living things. Here, Moore’s expressions run the gamut: placid, passive, pensive, pained. And later, purpose.
The opening calamity sends Norrin Radd tumbling through endless vacuum, broken and alone, for untold amounts of time. In this sequence Moore scrambles the Surfer into crushed aluminum foil and leaves Stewart to find the figure’s dimensions. (He succeeds, astoundingly.) It’s a fitting visual; Cates intends to put Norrin through a spiritual wringer by distilling the character down into his purest, most recognizable forms, those being an agent of darkness and a beacon of light. An effective pursuit that should yield nigh-limitless storytelling wealth, given the art team. And when Cates brings the Surfer to his first stop on this journey, he presents to us the series’ big hook: The consequences that come from pushing back against limitless dark. “I will not be devoured by the black,” Norrin says early on. I’m not sure of his prospects for success in this endeavor, given what’s ahead is, unbelievably, Knull and void. The ending raises questions, and eyebrows, but faith remains considering the strength of this debut.
The Silver Surfer is a distinctive presence in the Marvel Universe, a chrome fantasy careening along one of comics’ most hellacious journeys and led by some of the industry’s most generous stewards—Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Moebius, John Buscema, Dan Slott, Mike & Laura Allred… and now Donny Cates, Tradd Moore, Dave Stewart. Works for me. In fact, Black seems to offer a visual nod to the Allreds’ ludicrously great work in their own Silver Surfer series (with Slott), and perhaps it’s meant to—paying homage to what’s come before, showing the various links along this narrative chain, leading us to right now and bracing us for what’s to come.
It’s a story that aspires to be more than this—we can practically feel that ambition humming through the pages, and perhaps we’ll even see it realized before the series ends. As for the longevity of it all, that will depend on how much it ultimately needs to lean on its writer’s own professional journey.
Marvel / $3.99
Written by Donny Cates.
Art by Tradd Moore.
Colors by Dave Stewart.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
9 out of 10
Check out this 4-page preview (and trailer!) of ‘Silver Surfer: Black’ #1, courtesy of Marvel!