“Hear me my once and for­mer herald. Yield and you live. Op­pose me and die!”

Comic Heroes - - Feature - By James Love­grove

For a time, the Sil­ver Surfer was Marvel’s golden boy. Mak­ing his de­but in the famed three-is­sue “Galac­tus Tril­ogy” arc ( Fan­tas­tic Four #48-50), he was granted his own ti­tle in 1968. That book was ex­cep­tional in that each is­sue was twice as thick – and twice as ex­pen­sive – as the aver­age comic, with the Surfer’s strip oc­cu­py­ing 40 pages rather than the usual 20-odd. Artist John Buscema filled large pan­els with shots of the Sen­tinel of the Space­ways emot­ing dra­mat­i­cally while Stan Lee pro­vided im­pas­sioned declam­a­tory di­a­logue.

Man’s in­hu­man­ity to man was a recurring theme of the Surfer’s tor­tured so­lil­o­quies, as well as the un­fair­ness of his own lot (he had been ex­iled on Earth as pun­ish­ment for de­fy­ing his mas­ter Galac­tus’s will). The char­ac­ter was both Je­sus and Lu­cifer, mes­siah and fallen an­gel, suf­fer­ing for his in­di­vid­u­al­ism and his de­fi­ance of author­ity, a brave loser in tune with the era’s pre­vail­ing coun­ter­cul­ture move­ment, which favoured suf­fer­ing he­roes.

When the book was can­celled af­ter 17 is­sues, spo­radic guest ap­pear­ances fol­lowed, along with a cou­ple of su­per-sized one-shots, both writ­ten by Lee, one drawn by Jack Kirby, the other John Byrne. It felt like any Surfer solo ad­ven­ture was a rar­ity, a spe­cial event.

A sec­ond se­ries ar­rived in 1987, but this was mainly space-op­er­atic su­per­hero shenani­gans. Steve En­gle­hart and Mar­shall Rogers ac­quit­ted them­selves cred­itably on script and art, but it didn’t feel like a proper Surfer book.

Lee ex­pressed dis­ap­point­ment about the new se­ries, lament­ing the fact that he didn’t have the time to write the comic him­self. He felt a pro­pri­eto­rial love for the Surfer stronger than he felt for any of the other char­ac­ters he had co-cre­ated. A chance meet­ing with the French comics artist Jean Gi­raud (aka Moe­bius) led to the two of them agree­ing to col­lab­o­rate on a Sil­ver Surfer tale, and thus Para­ble was born.

Moe­bius was keen to try work­ing to the Marvel method – lay­ing out the pages ac­cord­ing to a de­tailed plot syn­op­sis, with the writer adding cap­tions and di­a­logue af­ter­wards – and ad­mit­ted be­ing ter­ri­fied by the project. “Un­til the very last mo­ment,” he said, “I had no idea how I was go­ing to draw this book.” He also in­sisted that the book come out in the usual comic for­mat and on stan­dard newsprint paper so that he could ex­per­i­ment with a thicker line and a plainer pal­ette of colours than he was ac­cus­tomed to.

The re­sult was a two-is­sue mi­croseries that was al­most im­me­di­ately reprinted on glossy paper stock in a pres­ti­gious hard­back edi­tion. So seam­less is the join be­tween the two halves that it is, for all in­tents and pur­poses, a sin­gle comic, and the tale it tells is as heart­felt and tragic as any Lee has writ­ten. Set in the near fu­ture, the story opens with a hun­gry Galac­tus re­vis­it­ing Earth in a none-more-phal­lic space­ship. In­stead of the tac­i­turn, enig­matic en­tity we’re used to, this is a talkative and demon­stra­tive fig­ure who quickly leaves the world’s pop­u­la­tion in no doubt that they are in the pres­ence of a supreme be­ing – a god, even – whose creed is chaos. “I am come to set you free, free from guilt!” he de­clares. “Free from worth­less man­made laws! If you would be saved, do what you will! Take what you will! There is no wrong! There is no sin! Plea­sure is all! … So speaks GALAC­TUS!”

The Sil­ver Surfer, his for­mer herald, is now a derelict, liv­ing on the streets with his surf­board wrapped in rags. Only he sees the truth: Galac­tus is pulling off a con. In or­der to get around his vow to leave Earth alone, the World Devourer is en­cour­ag­ing hu­mankind to de­stroy it­self in an orgy of self­ish­ness and an­ar­chy. He can then con­sume what is left.

An evan­gel­i­cal preacher, Colton Can­dell, pro­claims him­self Galac­tus’s prophet and ex­horts ev­ery­one to obey this self-styled de­ity’s word. His sis­ter Elyna has her doubts, and she finds her­self ques­tion­ing a dogma which drives chil­dren to burn their schools, turns brother against brother and sees the strong im­pris­on­ing the poor and help­less. Her pu­rity of soul im­pels the Surfer to turn on Galac­tus again and lead the way in re­ject­ing in­sane fa­nati­cism and vi­o­lence com­mit­ted in the name of faith.

Thus the Surfer be­comes in­ter­ces­sor, plac­ing him­self be­tween god and man, ar­gu­ing for love and free will over cold divine author­ity. The Christ par­al­lels are made ex­plicit in a panel where he hangs in mid-air on his board, arms out­stretched, for­giv­ing the an­gry mob who are pelt­ing him with mis­siles: “Truly, they do not know what they do.”

Para­ble is the work of two comics greats from the op­po­site ends of the artis­tic spec­trum – bump­tious Amer­i­can enthusiasm meets cere­bral Euro­pean el­e­gance – and the re­sults are uniquely pro­found and ma­jes­tic.

para­ble | BY Stan Lee & Moe­bius | Date 1988

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