Why did the original Silver Surfer run fail? #1-18

A little more than two years after the first book hit the stands it was part of a Marvel wave of cancellations due to poor sales (Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, and The Silver Surfer) and suspensions (X-Men & Captain Marvel) and it was gone. I can’t say I was that sorry to see him go. What happened? There are a gazillion reasons and theories why the Surfer failed in his first solo effort. I will list some of my own reasons I thought the book failed and then we will take a look at the high’s and lows of the run itself. For anybody who thinks this run is not a failure I say this – when you are cancelled and the Sub-Mariner continues you have done something wrong.

The first time I ever saw the Silver Surfer was on a slightly used copy of Fantastic Four #55 from the old long gone Galt Book Exchange, which I happily traded in for with four copies of Ripley’s Believe It or Not . I was hooked. The FF was only at #59 at the newsstand and I quickly tracked down his recent appearances, although #48 and #49 were difficult to find and in tough condition at used book stores even away back then. Your friends wouldn’t trade with you either. If they had the books they kept them! I continued to buy up his FF appearances and the Tales to Astonish cross-over in issues 92 (partial) & 93 (full) which were immensely popular. Two years in to my collecting of the Surfer it was announced he was getting his own book! The first one was going to be a double –sized $0.25 center! This excitement wasn’t just me, there was an enormous built in audience for the Surfer.

A little more than two years after the first book hit the stands it was part of a Marvel wave of cancellations due to poor sales (Nick Fury, Doctor Strange, and The Silver Surfer) and suspensions (X-Men & Captain Marvel) and it was gone. I can’t say I was that sorry to see him go. What happened? There are a gazillion reasons and theories why the Surfer failed in his first solo effort. I will list some of my own reasons I thought the book failed and then we will take a look at the high’s and lows of the run itself. For anybody who thinks this run is not a failure I say this – when you are cancelled and the Sub-Mariner continues you have done something wrong.

1. My number #1 pet peeve with the book was the Surfer’s non-stop chronic moaning about his own predicament and the mad state of humankind. I was so sick of it by the end of the 10th issue I wanted to cut a hole in the atmosphere and let the guy out myself. This I leave at the feet of Stan Lee. He has used this self-pity but I’ll do the right thing anyway device often in the past with The Thing and Spider-Man to excess, with the Silver Surfer he turned it in to an art form.

2. The first seven issues were double size and bi-monthly. This would have been OK if the books were all great, but they weren’t. For me it really began to fall apart at issue #8 and by the time it reached issue # 10 -13 the book was D.O.A. Even stories with Spider-Man and the Human Torch couldn’t save it. I know a few of my friends that got off the bus after issue #5.

3. It never felt like the book had a sense of direction (for me at least). The love of the Surfer’s life, Shalla Ba, was on another planet and he couldn’t go there. What else? Mephisto trying to steal the Surfer’s soul; well, you can only successfully do that once. I had thought Mephisto would become to the Surfer the way Loki is to Thor, a life long antagonist who never really gets what he wants. They needed a bigger playing field and a supporting cast.

On to the Silver Surfer run itself. All of the issues in this run are written by Stan Lee and he has his high and low points throughout the series. The art, which is second to none, is by John Buscema in all interiors except the final book (#18), which has Herb Trimpe and Jack Kirby art. Marie Severin (#15), Barry Smith (#17), and Herb Trimpe (#18) contribute cover art as well. I will cover highlights of the run below.

Silver Surfer 1Silver Surfer #1

The Origin of the Silver Surfer

I am usually the first person to get excited about an origin issue but I must say I was a tad disappointed with this issue. It is not because it is written poorly and the story itself is not bad. The art is fantastic. It is because at the time I expected a much more alien type origin. Everyone in the book looks and sounds human. Shalla Ba is gorgeous we do understand the sacrifice Norrin Radd is making for himself and the planet. I expect on earth you would find thousands of people who would do the same thing in the same circumstances. The Watcher presents are re-worked stories from old Marvel horror titles and are good fill-ins in a back –up role for the book. An OK start to the run. If I was writing a column about books that are overvalued by Overstreet this book would be very high on the list.

43rd Overstreet: 8.0 $384 | 9.0 $867 | 9.2 $1350

Silver Surfer #3

The Power and the Prize

This is my second favourite issue of the run and introduces Mephisto to the Silver Surfer. Dennis De Pues wrote an excellent article on this issue and the art of John Buscema in Tales from the Comicdenn on Oct.30, 2013. Please check it out for more of the many virtues of this great book. Walter Durajlija also wrote a piece about how undervalued this book is to Silver Surfer #4 (sorry can’t find it Walt). I think it needs a UV spotlight. Silver Surfer #1 is nowhere near the book this one is, but of course this is a #3 (groan).

43rd Overstreet: 8.0 $124 | 9.0 $275 | 9.2 $425

Silver Surfer 4Silver Surfer #4

The Good, The Bad, and the Uncanny

The highlight of the run for me and I suspect countless other Silver Surfer fans. For all of the things that went wrong with this run of books, this book goes along way to atoning for it. This has to be John Buscema and Stan Lee’s best work together. The art is stunning and the story sound.

The Silver Surfer has been duped by the master of the dupe – Loki – into believing that Thor and Asgard pose a mortal threat to earth. A long well matched battle between Thor and the Silver Surfer takes place before the Surfer realizes he has been had and the battle ceases. There is more but we will leave it at that. It is an expensive book to own now but worth every nickel. This book will stand the test of time.

43rd Overstreet: 8.0 $303 | 9.0 $689 | 9.2 $1075

Sadly the run goes downhill from here, picking up steam at issue #8 and is like a downhill rocket when it gets to #13. They bring in Spider-Man for issue #14 and the Human Torch #15 and the Surfer runs afoul with both of them! Done! The only thing left to do is bail out and they do in our final issue #18.

Silver Surfer 18Silver Surfer #18

To Smash the Inhumans

In what turns out to be the last issue of the run, we have Jack Kirby pencilling two of his favourite creations The Silver Surfer and the Inhumans. This had to be a pretty emotional time for Mr. Kirby. He was leaving Marvel and for all he knew he would be drawing these characters for the very last time in a comic book. It always made this book a little special to me. The story doesn’t really matter as part two never happens and we don’t get issue #19 and the new Savage Silver Surfer. I for one am glad the story never took place.

43rd Overstreet: 8.0 $64 | 9.0 $132 | 9.2 $200

The Silver Surfer moved on and soon was showing up in the Sub-Mariner (#34 &35) the Defenders prequel, FF #121-123, Thor #193, The Defenders starting with issue #2, and all was good. He had a successful run of his own in the late 80’- 90’s, and is still a big part of the Marvel Universe today.

I have to admit it is a little more difficult to write a negative piece about characters you like than positive ones. I think I will avoid them in the future!

Silver Surfer issue 1 cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott.  Source.
Silver Surfer issue 1 cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott. Source.

Going bi-monthly for the summer at least so see you in two weeks!

     

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Mike Huddleston
Mike was born and raised in Cambridge, Ontario. He has read and collected comics for over 40 years. A Marvel Zombie specializing in the Silver, bronze and early copper age of comics.
Articles: 101

11 Comments

  1. As cool and as interesting some characters may be, I think certain concepts work better as support. The less you know about the Surfer or the Punisher the better. It’s the mystery that entices us. As soon as you put them in their own title, you’ll have to flesh out more details thus making them… less interesting. Considering how popular the Punisher is, aside from ASM#129, his books are not valued much. Add Ghost Rider to this list…

    I find it interesting that you include prices to all your write ups. You work in mysterious ways Mike and I find that… enticing.

  2. Hi Charlie,

    I agree with you on the Surfer being better in a supporting role. I had thought when the Surfer first arrived he was very different, and somehow from a more evolved species. That is not how I read the Surfer once he got his own book. Less is more with some characters.

    I really started putting the prices in so people could get a rough idea what an arc or run I was writing about might cost to procur if they liked it. Collecting big full runs of mid to high grade books is pretty unrealistic nowadays, unless they are low grade reader runs ( like I think both you and I collect). I should really be putting in the 6.0 grade as well, they can make a fine (argh!) looking collection of arcs and runs, and are easier on the pocket book.

  3. I think the main reason the original run failed commercially was that the average age of comic book readers in the 60’s was probably around 12 years old and the stories being portrayed in the first 7 double sized issues were pretty deep philosophically for the average 12 year old. I for one loved it! Number 3 and 4 are generally acknowledged as masterpieces of the art form, and I would agree. However number 5 featuring the tale of Hal B. Davis was a tale that showed the true side of good and evil on a human scale as well as noble sacrifice and selflessness. Number 6, the tale with the Overlord showed the destructive nature of fear and fascism while number 7 showed the folly of man playing god and the over reaching nature of ego. I personally enjoy these stories much more than the multi title story arcs of major stars either being killed or resurrected on a much too frequent basis for my tastes. I also think that the industry as a whole is shooting itself in the foot by not paying attention to and lifting up the younger reader so that the future of our hobby has a future. Because unlike the Surfer in issue 6 we cannot go forward or back in time to correct our mistakes in the present.

  4. Well Dennis I was 12 when I read them the first time LOL! I have read them since of course and on second and third readings 2, 5,6,+7 are better. Number #1 is still a dissapoint for me and 8 through to 17 ditto and are some of the most over priced (for what you get ) books in Overstreet IMO. Still have a soft spot for #18. I have never owned a really nice copy of Silver Surfer #4, but I must get one. Silver Surfer Masterworks Volume 1 (#1-7) is a good way to try that run out.

  5. Number One was a disappointment to me as well but I think Stan wasn’t quite sure either with exactly how to use this character.It’s funny but 16-18 were an immense disappointment for me.Th eChic Stone inks were not suitable at all and then the last issue by Kirby was the absolute lowest point for me in regards to where the character was heading.And then he was gone….

  6. i have one issue to go (#18) before i have the whole run, regardless of story i think the series is some of buscema’s best work, and thats mainly why i like them. i have to conceed as well that i started buying these before i had ever read them and the writing could be better. On the flip side i also agree with Dennis’s comment above on the humanity portrayed in the writing. (though i cant read my #1 & #4 because theyre CGC’d! getting cheap reader copies isnt easy!) when it comes to them being ‘worth’ what theyre priced at, isn’t that more about supply and demand rather than content? these are classic silver age, mostly giant sized issues and are hard to find in high grade for a reason. i also think its easy to look back at these comics and see them as inferior because the stories of (most of) today’s comics are a bit better. either way, i’m glad they’re in my collection! (anyone know how many copies were printed of #1 vs #18?)

  7. Good points Rob. On the #18 I don’t have any concrete evidence, but my guess is this would have been a lower print run as they knew they were cancelling the book and it was selling poorly. When I bought the run a second time (the completeist in me) in the 80’s it was the last book for me to find as well.

    One of the points I maybe didn’t hit home hard enough was the fact that just because the series failed didn’t mean there wasn’t some great work in it. Nick Fury also failed but I love Jim Steranko and his work in issues #1-7 on that series. Ditto for the Surfer in #3 & 4. I find the balance of the giant size books OK, but I know others treasure them. Buscema’s work was stellar.

    Iam looking back at these stories, but I also lived them, buying them off the rack as they came out. (and I bought and sold the set a couple of times since!).On reflection the books from 8-18 did not get better for me. The content of those books I felt led directly to the poor sales and cancellation of the title. I do have a problem with the pricing of these books by Overstreet. I think it is too high for what the books deliver and I don’t see pent up demand for those books. I might be all wet, it’s just my opinion. I do hope content counts for something, but you are right a book sells for what someone is willing to pay for it.

  8. NUmbers 8 and nine , were split in two if we are to believe the letters page or soapbox where Stan said that was the case.I was extremely disappointed with the books no longer being double sized, but in retrospect the John Buscema /Dan Adkins team on 8 and 9 ar surprisingly strong.I have seen some of the original artwork from those 2 books and they certainly reach out and grab you.

  9. I read somewhere that Kirby’s nose was out of joint when he heard they were doing a SS book without him. SS#3 is one of my all time favorite Marvels, but the series as a whole holds no appeal. I’d love to know Kirby’s thoughts on it. I didn’t mind (and still have) the graphic novel they did a number of years later. The colours haven’t faded and the pages are a white as they were when originally purchased. Just shows you how paper quality and binding have gone down the toilet since 1978.

  10. Kirby was immensely unhappy with the book not only because he was not even asked to do the art, but because that first issue completely changed Kirby’s conception of the Silver Surfer. Remember, Kirby created the Silver Surfer entirely on his own — when Lee first saw the art for FF # 48, he had no idea who that character soaring through space on a surfboard was supposed to be until Kirby explained it to him. Kirby’s idea was that the Surfer was entirely a creation of Galactus. Aside from his humanoid form, he was not human at all, but a sort of artificial intelligence and was already ancient when our planet was young. Lee & J. Buscema, of course, turned that around so that the Surfer was essentially a human, albeit from another planet, and was not so old after all and had a very pretty girlfriend on his home planet, which he saved when he allowed himself to be transformed into the Silver Surfer and started his quest for other planets for Galactus to consume. Whether or not the Silver Surfer as conceived by Kirby would have been more successful than the transformed Surfer of Lee & Buscema is impossible to say, but I did love Englehart & Marshall Rogers revised Surfer series which had him breaking free of that barrier in the very first issue so he could indeed be the sentinel of the spaceways rather than a sulker in the clouds of Earth.

  11. Hi Fred, thank you for your comments and input on this post and the others you put up yesterday. I don’t get back to my old posts as often as I should. I was researching some material for this June’s post when I came across these commments here and on other posts.

    I guess we will never know the whole story on the Lee/Kirby break up. The early FF/Surfer books were amongst my favourites growing up as a kid. They were a pretty good standard to measure other books by!

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