Silver Surfer (Vol. 1) #14

 Lookback: Al Observes
 Posted: 1997
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


When Marvel decided to create Spider-Man Team-Up, they apparently chose to try to sell the book on the strength of its guest-stars. (They certainly weren't publishing these stories for their plots, people.) Of the first four issues, three combined Spidey with big-time super-hero teams. (The X-Men, The Fantastic Four, and the Avengers.) The fourth one featured the Silver Surfer.

Actually, using the Surfer is not as odd a choice as it seems. (Too bad the Spider-Man Team-Up story wasn't worth the telling.) Once upon a time, this was a team-up that everyone was asking for. Back in the sixties, Marvel may have been dazzling readers with the bizarre villains and supporting cast of Spidey, the epic fantasy of Thor, and the creation of a whole universe in the Fantastic Four...but the Silver Surfer was becoming everyone's favorite hero. He was a perfect representative for the counter-culture, with his sleek look, pacifist philosophy, "acidhead" journeys through Kirbyesque space, and pop culture origins. Soon, the Surfer was appearing on psychedelic concert posters, painted Volkswagen vans, and album covers. Fans were clamoring for a solo series.

In 1968, they were given one, written by Stan Lee (who insisted on writing every solo Surfer appearance until the recent Surfer series began in the 1980s) and drawn by John Buscema (who somehow managed to replace creator Jack Kirby as THE Surfer artist in many people's minds).

Unfortunately, a little bit of the Surfer's soliloquies goes a long way. While fans cherished his appearances when they were infrequent, they got a little tired of him in regular doses. The series only lasted 18 issues. During that span, Stan teamed the skyrider up with various other Marvel heroes in an effort to boost its readership. So, the Surfer met the Mighty Thor, the Human Torch, the Inhumans, and, in answer to requests, the Amazing Spider-Man. That first team-up between the two appeared in Silver Surfer #14 (appearing at the same time as Amazing Spider-Man #83)and that's what we're looking back at this time.

Story Details

The Silver Surfer, Norrin Radd from the planet Zenn-La and former Herald of Galactus, is flying around on his board in the upper atmosphere when he notices two meteors set to collide just above the earth. Knowing that such a collision at that speed could set up an explosion on the level of a hydrogen bomb, he places himself between the two lumps of rock and blasts them both with his power cosmic. This saves the world from nuclear winter but chunks of meteor debris strike the Surfer on the noggin and he plunges down, unconscious, to earth. He lands in the polluted waters of the Hudson (all that way up in space and he lands by New York!) where he is "revived by the cooling currents". Summoning his board, the Surfer prepares to return to the surface.

Meanwhile, on that surface, a young boy named Henry is watching Marvel Super-Heroes on TV. Just as Captain America breaks down a door to get at the bad guys, Henry's angry father snaps off the set. Brandishing Henry's copies of Captain America, Fantastic Four and Sub-Mariner comics, his dad tells him, "it fills your head with useless daydreams!" Henry tries to defend his hobby but dad, unheeding, sends him to his room.

The boy sits in a chair leaning out the window of his Manhattan apartment home, brooding that his father "wouldn't feel that way is he'd bother to read 'em!" But his thoughts are interrupted by a sight right outside. It is the Surfer, kneeling on his board, still dazed from his meteor experience. Henry runs to get his father but by the time Dad shows up, the Surfer is no longer in sight. Still hoping the air will refresh him, the sky-rider continues to drift, traveling "too low...too close to the humans!"

Nearby, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is webbing his way home. He overshoots a roof ledge with his web and finds himself instead attached to a flying object, something that pulls him along at a tremendous speed: the Surfer's board. The Surfer himself, still dazed, suspects an attack. He takes his board to a much higher altitude. Spidey, panicked by the high rise tries to get the Surfer to "get back to the rooftops!" but the silver alien has been the victim of too much deception over the years to listen to the web-slinger. In retaliation, Spidey shoots a web which covers the Surfer's head and yanks him off his board.

The plummeting sky-rider dissolves the webbing with one blast of his power and his board soars down to catch him, towing a helpless Spidey along with it. Once he finds his balance, the Surfer blasts the trailing webline, not realizing he is sending Spider-Man on a fast plunge down to earth. Luckily for the Web-Slinger, however, Norrin notices him and uses his power to blast a fire hydrant. The Surfer saves Spidey and sets him in the water jet to break his fall. The nearby crowd is amused by the Wall-Crawler's predicament but Spidey is angered by the humiliation. "I don't know what the Surfer's game is...but if he thinks he's gonna make a laughingstock out of me...he's gonna have to use those blasts of his!"

Meanwhile, back in his room, young Henry sees the former Herald surf by his window and land on his building's roof. He puts down the Thor comic he's been reading, sneaks by his father who is asleep in his armchair, and goes topside to see what's up. He finds the Surfer deep in despair (so what else is new?) wondering why he alienates all that he meets. "Am I never to know an ally...never to find a friend?" His reverie is interrupted by a seething Spidey who tells "Mr. Clean" that they have unfinished business. "In every voice... in every human heart... a smoldering hostility", the Surfer laments but Spidey, who feels that he was almost killed by his adversary, is unmoved. Interpreting the Surfer's movement as an attack, Spidey strikes first. He is startled by his opponent's passivity. "I don't get it!", Spidey says, "I thought... you were about to attack me!" "Being human what else could you think?", replies the haughty Norrin, who then attacks him. Spidey dodges the power blast, then webs the Surfer from head to foot causing him to fall off the roof and land on the building's fire escape (just as Spidey planned). Peter leaps down to join his captive but the Surfer retaliates by using his power to make the metal of the fire escape white-hot. Spidey is forced to leap off; but he knows he can't leave the Surfer there. "He's too powerful... too dangerous to be running around loose!" (Sounds like that sense of responsibility kicking in again.) He swings back up to tackle the sky-rider again.

In the mean time, the Surfer has freed himself of the web and is indulging so seriously in more of his philosophic soliloquies that he doesn't notice the Webhead leaping down and putting a scissor lock on his head. Already weakened by the excessive heat, the fire escape cannot withstand the force of Spidey's leap and it collapses.

Down below, the cops suddenly realize that the situation has gotten out of control. More from fear of the Surfer than anything else, they alert the governor and call in the Army. (The Army hangs out a lot in the New York of the Marvel Universe, have you noticed?) The troops move in quickly, clearing the crowds off the street and evacuating the nearby buildings. But they do not notice Henry up on his roof, standing on the Surfer's board and pretending he's the sky-rider of the spaceways. "If only I could make it fly!" he says.

Just below Henry, the Surfer grows weary of battle. He uses his power to summon a parked car and wraps the car around our Friendly Neighborhood Web-Slinger, then he starts to leave, saying, "my contempt for man grows stronger with each breath." In no time at all, Spidey manages to free himself from the car, proclaiming, "No one is safe with the Surfer roaming free... He's more deadly than a dozen Vultures... or Doc Ocks." But before Spidey can rejoin the fray, the Army attacks the Surfer with a barrage of gunfire. Protected by his personal force field, Norrin Radd is unharmed but still decides, "They leave me no choice! I can either destroy them... or take to the skies and flee!" (Well, it sounds like a choice to me but who am I to argue with the Surfer?)

Unwilling to hurt anyone, the Surfer summons his board to depart but Henry is still standing on it as it flies! The Surfer notices the boy on his board and knows that the youngster will soon fall. So, even though it weakens his defenses, he extends his force field over the boy and the board and, amidst further shelling from the Army, takes Henry down as light as a feather. Henry's Dad breaks from the crowd and run up to protect his son. Henry, though, tells his father that he is OK and that the Surfer risked his own life to save him.

The Surfer is weakened from the effort, on his knees, his force field down, but all the soldiers lay down their arms after listening to Henry. Spider-Man does some soul-searching as well. "Because he was strong... because he was different... I thought he was a menace! I was guilty of acting toward him the way others have acted toward me!", he says as he leaves the scene.

The Army is ordered back to base and the Surfer is left behind to muse. "Now when I am weak and spent, they turn to leave! No longer do they seek to slay me! Perhaps there still is hope for them! Perhaps one day they will renounce all use of force. For only then, at last, will mankind come of age!"

Now, I know this was the Surfer's book and letter's page, not Spidey's, but I still want to mention two letter writers in particular.

The first is a long piece that compares a comic book artist to the "director, cameraman, set designer, choreographer, casting director, and special effects man" of a film... and that letter was written by one Douglas Moench of Chicago, Illinois (and subsequent Master of Kung Fu, Aztec Ace, and Batman fame).

"It is the duty of a comic mag to show both sides of life-the good and the bad- objectively", declares our second letter writer: Alan Brennert of Haledon, New Jersey (now known as a screenwriter, television writer, and a winner of science fiction's Nebula Award).

The Surfer kept very good company, didn't he?

 Lookback: Al Observes
 Posted: 1997
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)