It is said that a writer’s stiffest competition is often themselves and their prior work; that every new project can see them reinvent themselves. At best this is understood that every work brings with it its’ own challenges, circumstances, perspectives, and goals. At worst, this can lead to a writer being dubbed “hit or miss” if this variance between the quality of their work can become too extreme. For the moment, nowhere is this better illustrated than “Silver Surfer” and “Amazing Spider-Man”, both written by Dan Slott. The former is full of imagination, inspiration, heart and fun, while the other has devolved (at least since 2013) into a crass and cynical marketing strategy based on repetition and shock value. The contrast is like night and day, or between a yellow sun and a black hole. The question is, why?
This issue, as with most of the rest, tells a complete story which has a subplot which stretches back to previous issues as well as inspires future ones. Silver Surfer (the former herald of Galactus and sometime Defenders team member) continues to explore the cosmos with his newest friend, the small town “earth girl” Dawn Greenwood. Their fates have been intertwined since the beginning of the series and they appear to be growing closer the more time they spend together. Such a connection is made stark in this month’s adventure, as finding a pocket of space in which not even his “Power Cosmic” can sense leads to both the Surfer and Dawn wishing to explore a void of seeming “nothingness”. Once within, Dawn is immediately sucked in by its’ dark powers and the Surfer (and his board) must go over all they’ve learned of her in their travels to figure out the root of the mystery. The experience shakes the usually stoic Norrin Radd to his core, but at the end, the experience has only strengthened the bond that the two share.
As always, equal credit has to be given to Michael & Laura Allred for the quality of this issue, and run in general. Michael Allred is credited as a “co-storyteller” alongside Slott, same as Chris Samnee is the “co-storyteller” of “Daredevil” alongside Mark Waid. And while Allred’s art may be an acquired taste for some, it is a feast for the eyes for those it does appeal to. The color work is so well detailed by Laura Allred that she remembers that Silver Surfer’s metallic surface would reflect colors back at different degrees. There is a charm and innocence to their art together, which adds heart and soul to what could have been a generic script. It is unknown whether Slott writes this in such a format or in “Marvel style” to allow the Allreds near equal footing in terms of crafting every plot, but considering the pedigree of the Allreds it is very likely. And while Slott’s dialogue can sometimes be very on the nose, that seems to fit well with a host of aliens as well as the Surfer himself, who has always had a flair to being both melodramatic and literal in his interpretations of things. Dawn Greenwood herself is easily one of the best supporting characters Dan Slott has ever co-created, with a quirky charm about her which seems to effect everything she does and encounters.
So, what is the answer to the above question; why is “Silver Surfer” so much better than “Spider-Verse” playing out in Slott’s “Amazing Spider-Man” right now? It could be due to “Silver Surfer” being more of a joint production alongside a different set of artists with different sensibilities than “Amazing Spider-Man” has. It could be due to different editors and assistant editors working on each book. It could be due to “Amazing Spider-Man” having the pressure of being one of Marvel’s oldest and most successful franchises which always has to be “important” and “drive up the needle” while also remaining in an inflexible status quo with the licensing department, while “Silver Surfer” remains a B-list space hero despite having appeared in both TV animation and feature film. “Amazing Spider-Man” is a big book in which many big writers have left major impacts on that eternal franchise, and Dan Slott’s desire to follow suit (if not surpass them) while also pleasing his bosses as they perpetuate a culture of endless crossovers and immaturity for the web-head may result in a very different comic than “Silver Surfer”, which has fewer eyes upon it and thus a lot more freedom.
In fact, this issue’s final page may be a sure sign of such freedom. The Dan Slott and Michael Allred run of “Silver Surfer” has sought to define the wayward space hero by his choice of traveling companion. For the first time since his original love Shalla Bal died, he has met a new women with whom he is sharing both his experiences and his heart with. Without the pressures of a multinational licensing department, endless fame, or pressure to succeed with crossovers, “Silver Surfer” is allowed to not only grow and develop, but form a deep and wonderful relationship with a significant other which is allowed to grow and develop. In contrast, the very idea of Spider-Man being married is considered so “toxic” at Marvel Comics that their former editor-in-chief (and current chief creative officer) Joe Quesada drew and (mostly) wrote a story eliminating it from continuity personally. Yet at least in “Silver Surfer”, Slott and Allred realize that the creation of a deep bond between people isn’t the end of a story or all potential adventure, but merely the spark for it. There also isn’t a hint of the cynicism or the mean spirited plot points and selling tactics that are present in “Amazing Spider-Man”. The comic is allowed to simply…be.
That isn’t to say it is beyond flaws or doesn’t have some elements which may contradict previous volumes of “Silver Surfer”. While his board has always been a “part” of him, this run has seen it all but established as a near independent being which has its own likes and dislikes. One scene in this story which has, for lack of a better phrase, “space hillbillies”, is an example of an attempt at a laugh playing awkwardly in a series set in the cosmos. On the other hand, Silver Surfer has been written so many different ways by so many different writers before – he acted and spoke like a surfer in a “Defenders” mini of a decade ago and even recently was a herald of Galactus again – that unlike Spider-Man, there is still room for a more unique spin and interpretation for him.
There’s no shaking the feeling of good cheer and warmth that this series conveys. It is a shame that “Amazing Spider-Man”‘s position as well as the desires of those who write and edit it have seemed to remove it from being a series which offers similar quality, at least for the moment. It still may be difficult to peg down who the “real” Dan Slott is between both books, but what isn’t difficult is enjoying this run of “Silver Surfer”. It is a strange time in Marvel Comics when “Silver Surfer” is about a couple making love work despite dealing with adventure and villains while “Amazing Spider-Man” is about the universe reinforcing a hero’s endless bachelorhood by having alternate reality doubles of himself be slain by Victorian era slashers, but it is what it is.
Below are honorable mentions. They are comics worth reading, but for some reason are not as spiffy as the title above. At least as far as this week is concerned.
Big Trouble in Little China #6: The adventures of Jack Burton and his big rig circa 1986 continue under the stewardship of John Carpenter, Eric Powell, and artist Brian Churilla (and colorist Lisa Moore). With the dreaded Lo-Pan resurrected, Jack Burton and his friends have decided to split up lest they all be destroyed by the immortal wizard. So, while Miao Yin displays martial arts moves of her own alongside Egg Shen while on the demonic “Midnight Road”, Jack and Wang find themselves dealing with bad diner food, rednecks bikers, and strange urban legends about the ghost of an alien from Roswell. Despite having led a very strange and unusual life, Burton’s not one to believe in such myths easily, even if it seems to be real enough to save the pair from some slick hit men. Most of the issue sees Jack chat with one of his endless trucker contacts, Moonie Joe, and as always it is hilarious stuff. The ever feisty Gracie Law even makes a cameo in an issue which some could say feels a bit light on plot development, but as usual offers a lot of laughs and a steady stream of one-liners for a fan’s four dollars.
Captain America & the Mighty Avengers #1: Al Ewing’s surprisingly effective Avengers series starring (mostly) a cast of Marvel’s best heroes of color fighting threats to New York of the criminal and supernatural nature saw an end in September, but has been relaunched after a month break with the wind of promotional schemes behind it. Not only does it bare the banner of “Axis” on its’ cover, but the title has changed to reflect the Falcon’s promotion to the mantle of Captain America within Rick Remender’s run on that book. Even better news is the addition of a true regular artist in Luke Ross, who alongside colorist Rachelle Rosenberg makes this opening issue (of the relaunched “Mighty Avengers”) look as terrific as possible. In fact, the only downside to the start of this team’s “second season” is that Ewing does have to reflect how the latest crossover of the moment has effected two of his starring heroes. To make a bad story short, a big fight between the Avengers, the X-Men, and a an armor clad, giant-sized, tentacled, and psychically empowered Red Skull (which sounds even dumber when stated like that) has caused a wave of psychic energy to flow over the planet. The end result has been various characters acting out of character, which in professional wrestling would be called “baby face turns” or “heel face turns”. The most notable effect is that Sam Wilson is acting more aggressively “right wing” now that he is Captain America, proudly using his birds to spy on New York and enjoying pummeling criminals with an internal monologue that hits every “Fox News” talking point in a row. Meanwhile, “Mighty Avengers” team leader Luke Cage refuses to hear Spider-Man attempt to apologize for all the trouble he caused the team when possessed by Doctor Octopus while holding a phone call with the series’ stock “evil corporate boss”, Jason Quantrell (of Cortex Incorporated). The highlights include Ross’ great art and a fun take on the Plunderer as a swash-buckling Robin Hood imitator. The low lights include Sam Wilson being forced to act like a jerk due to what can only be described as the editorial desire to make readers extra joyful when Steve Rogers reclaims the mantle in a year or more’s time. The Mighty Avengers began as a rag tag team of heroes trying to look out for each other and the little guy, and it has been relaunched as a team led by jerks in the name of “drama”. Doesn’t Marvel realize this sort of stuff plays into the sort of “angry black man” stereotype that some of their less tolerant fans online use to try to spread bigotry across the Internet or resist any change? Overall, an uneven start to a relaunch of one of this year’s more entertaining Avengers books.
Hobgoblin #2: Easily one of the few unexpected hits of the entire “Axis” crossover has been this mini series by writer Kevin Shinick and artist Javier Rodriguez (with Alvaro Lopez on inks and Muntsa Vicente on colors). Although the plot convenient psychic energy wave produced by Red Skull has caused some heroes to act like villains, it has also inspired some villains to act like heroes. The titular case in point is Roderick Kingsley, who has moved on from running an underworld villain franchising scheme and has become a very public superhero franchising kingpin and merchandise shill. Quickly merging the realms of being both a superhero and a shameless informercial tycoon has made him the enemy of Phil Urich, the last person who attempted to be a heroic “goblin” who has since taken over Norman Osborn’s criminal empire. Kingsley is unflappable as Urich’s attempts to be taken seriously as a major contender are undermined at every turn. Not even the police or media take his “Goblin King” personal seriously. Kingsley never wastes a chance to use his position to sell something nor seems to be caught off guard by anything Urich tries. Within this issue are some hilarious satires of previous Marvel ads as well as the sheer volume of C and D-list characters clogging the corners of the universe. The art is fresh and the the series has quickly become one of the most entertaining satires offered by a “big two” company. Self-aware and delightful with every turn of the page, the only downer is that it’s next issue will also be its’ last.
She-Hulk #10: Unfortunately, this series has become a dead book walking, having been announced as canceled within two issues’ time due to low sales. It’s unknown if its’ inability to catch on is due to poor promotion or the fill-in run by a different artist after the first arc which was vastly polarizing. Regardless, writer Charles Soule, artist Javier Pulido and colorist Muntsa Vicente make the most of it by finishing a two part story which pits Jennifer Walters against Marvel’s other superhero lawyer, Matt Murdock, in a wrongful death suit against the currently aged Steve Rogers. Every attempt by Walters to win the case via legal technicalities have been endlessly shot down by her client, who has also been the entire mastermind with bringing this case to court as well. Seemingly blamed for inciting a crook to kill a man back in 1940, Rogers tells his side of the story, and as always his side seems to include his ability to stumble into Nazi spy plots even before he was ever a superhero. After obtaining conclusive, but inadmissible, evidence to Rogers’ innocence, it all comes down to closing arguments between the lawyers in red and green. The fact that Rogers isn’t found guilty isn’t so much of a surprise, nor is the fact that it was all a scheme from one of his more subversive enemies. The real meat of the arc has been seeing Walters and Murdock trade legal barbs with each other, as well as the charm of Pulido’s artwork throughout the story. At one time seen as an alternative to Michael Allred, Pulido’s art seems to now have traces of Marcos Martin’s flair as well. The dialogue is refreshing and despite being on opposing sides, Soule’s ability to allow all of the heroes to have mutual respect for each other until they can once again be allies is a skill that one wishes more of Marvel’s writers and editors utilized. Having the legendary Steve Rogers place so much trust in She-Hulk’s abilities (which have little to do with her powers) is an underlining highlight of this arc, which is well appreciated. The next two issues will be spent wrapping up the series’ one dangling subplot (a “blue file”), but the ride to it should be just as great as the previous issues have been.