The Silver Surfer was always the most intriguing of comic book figures to me. He was a genuinely tragic character in a genre full of people with rough backstories. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been thinking about him over the last couple of weeks and I’ve been encouraged by a friend to share my musings with you.
For those who don’t know, the Silver Surfer was an ordinary man named Norrin Radd living on a world so advanced that its inhabitants needed nothing, feared nothing, did nothing. Radd is discontent with life on his perfect world, and even the love of Shalla Bal cannot satisfy him. They are all taken aback when a visitor from space overwhelms their defenses and threatens to destroy the planet.
This is Galactus, a freakishly powerful creature who must devour worlds in order to survive. Radd bravely confronts Galactus and offers to serve as his herald, to find him worlds to devour. Galactus agrees, changing Radd into a powerful creature called the Silver Surfer.
The Surfer finds himself unable to fulfill his duties, as he has compassion for the life on the worlds he finds. Arriving on Earth, he finally confronts Galactus and prevents his master from consuming it, and the price he pays is to be trapped upon the Earth forever where he is frequently feared and misunderstood.
There are, of course, innumerable twists and turns to the story after that, and I stopped reading long ago. It’s not the soap-opera aspect of the Surfer’s life that interests me, but the initial set-up. What a story like that says about who we are.
The thing about Galactus is that he isn’t evil, but simply ravenous. He doesn’t want to destroy worlds, he just wants to eat so he doesn’t die. His hunger makes him oblivious to any consequences of his actions.
I doubt the creators, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, meant to depict America when they created Galactus, and yet that’s just what they did: we were and are a country that has proved to be insatiable, sucking dry the planet with no will or ability to stop. The world has followed our example, and so we face ourselves, a huge Galactus, above reproach, destroying the ground on which we stand.
Lee and Kirby described the Surfer as a kind of fallen angel, but I see him as more than that. He’s an immensely powerful force with a conscience that has vowed to save the world, but instead of being able to wield that power and receive thanks, he is instead trapped here and hated for his power. It’s quite a mirror image to the Jesus story, where the savior is not able to transcend earth and petty human hatred but must instead deal with it.
Who is the Surfer for us? Is he our conscience, straining against an invisible barrier? Why can’t we use that power instead of hating it?
We face an impossible choice: allow our power to save the world and as a result be forced to live a completely different life, or fall subject to our insatiable hunger. You’d think the choice would be easy, but the Surfer tells us it isn’t, that we fear our power to defeat our hunger, hate it. Yet as readers we are always asked to side with the Surfer, feel compassion for him, root for him.
I suspect the Surfer exists as a hero because we believe, deep down, that we will defeat our hunger. We fear the consequences for doing so. Yet at this terrifying moment in our existence, I think we’d better learn to own our power in the face of the hatred, the self-hatred, that will come our way once we realize there are no more excuses.
*** News From A Jazz Musician Who Writes Books ***
Check out the third in my series of unwashed (i.e. - unreleased) demo albums. It's another romp through a series of songs I recorded in versions I enjoy listening to, but whose production was never polished. Demo Listen Up, just released on Apple Music and everywhere else you can find music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/demo-listen-up-the-unwashed-demos-of-adam-cole-vol-3/id1522974155
As the Director of the Grant Park Academy of the Arts I'm continuing to interview people I think you'd enjoy meeting and learning from. This week it's Glo Boi, a young rap artist who has some interesting things to say about the industry. https://youtu.be/s3xXFl4mn2w
There's lots more good stuff coming, so please stay tuned, and tell your friends about our community!