Friday, April 27, 2012

Silver Surfer--science fiction superhero

For this installment of my continuing series, I am going to take a bit different approach.  Sure, I'll give you the origin, the background, and the science fiction aspects of the Silver Surfer, but I wish to focus on one particular issue of the comic book series that prompted me to write.

The Silver Surfer began his life as an ordinary humanoid being named Norrin Radd, a young astronomer on the planet Zenn-La in the Deneb star system.  Radd was a normal guy, even by Earth standards.  He worked a day job as a scientist and had a lovely girlfriend named Shalla-Bal.  Then one day, the cosmic being known as Galactus came to Zenn-La.  Galactus was a giant man who could only live by consuming entire planets.  Norrin Radd begged Galactus to spare Zenn-La, pledging to trade anything in return.  Galactus agreed to forgo devouring the planet if Radd agreed to certain terms.  Norrin Radd would have to become the herald of Galactus, one who soars through space and ferrets out hearty planets for Galactus to eat.  Additionally, Norrin Radd could never go back to his home...not even to see Shalla-Bal.  Being truly noble in spirit, Norrin Radd agreed to the terms, anything to save his home.

Galactus endowed Norrin Radd with a portion of "the power cosmic."  Radd's entire body was encased in a chrome-like coating, allowing him to survive perfectly in the vacuum and cosmic radiations of space.  It also makes him nearly invulnerable and able to fire energy blasts from his personage.  He would travel ahead of Galactus on a type of surfboard, originating from a childhood fantasy of Radd's and moving at speeds far beyond that of light.  He was now the Silver Surfer.  Eventually, the search for edible planets led the Silver Surfer to Earth.  There he encountered the Fantastic Four.  The superheroes were struck by the nobility of the Surfer's spirit and the Surfer could no longer conscience giving up planets full of sentient beings for Galactus to nosh upon.  The Silver Surfer betrayed his master and aided the Fantastic Four in repelling the giant.

Again and again the Silver Surfer came to humanity's defense, often times waxing philosophical and becoming quite flummoxed and appalled by man's inhumanity to man.  Indeed, Silver Surfer was quite an intelligent comic book series.  A prime example of this, to my way of thinking anyway, comes in issue #41 written by Jim Starlin.

In this issue, the Silver Surfer comes to Dynamo City, a free-floating satellite city whose only purpose is commerce and making money (umm...sound like America to anybody?)  It also has an energy siphon that drains the Silver Surfer of all of his super powers.  Like all other beings in Dynamo City, the Surfer is then forced to wait in the unemployment line to get a job in order to earn money to pay the fee that will allow him to leave the satellite.  Like yours truly, the Surfer has very little in the way of employable skills.  He tries to work in construction but ends up getting fired from that line of work.

Dejected, the Surfer goes to live in a mammoth tent city, a shanty town of homeless and unemployed who have little hope of ever paying the exit fee and leaving Dynamo City.  One of the residents there takes pity on the Silver Surfer and recommends that he try selling his memories to the TV networks for entertainment.  Left with little other choice, the Surfer agrees.
As do the networks.  They pledge to pay him 200 credits, enough to pay the exit fee, for broadcasting his memories.  So everyone tunes in to see the Silver Surfer and all of his pain, his sacrifices, his battles, and even his intimate moments with Shalla-Bal.  Once complete, the Surfer is paid only two credits.  You see, he was paid the full 200...minus a tax of 100 credits, management fees totaling 50 credits, union dues amounting to 25 credits, make up costs of 10 credits, and a miscellaneous handling fee of 13 credits. 

The Silver Surfer is understandably upset by this.   The corporation deflects such protestations.  After all, it's not their fault that the Surfer allowed himself to be swindled.  It's not their fault he didn't know how to negotiate a decent corporate deal. Why didn't he have the good sense to get an agent for himself?  Where is the Surfer's sense of personal accountability? 

This is Jim Starlin at his absolute best.  His writing takes a satiric bite at our everyday lives.  Is this not what happens to us in America?  Is this not what the whole Occupy and 99% movements are about?  Starlin just takes these themes...and he did this all the way back in 1990...and brings them to us in an entertaining and halfway escapist superhero format.  Heck, this isn't just Jim Starlin at his best, this is comic books at their best.

It's characters like this and writer's like Starlin that make me want to write.  When you can have thrilling entertainment and force your reader to think...then, I believe, you've done it all.  I can only hope to be so lucky with my fiction one day.

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