By Jim Beard
"He's just an amazing character, really. He's completely unique. In a universe populated by heroes and villains with often simple goals and attitudes, you've got this surreal-looking cosmic wanderer, driven only by the sheer nobility of his spirit. He's thoughtful and philosophical without being pompous, and he gets incredibly frustrated by the stupidity of the behaviour he sees all round him. Plus when the chips are down there's nobody like Norrin Radd for a spot of visually-stunning action."
That's writer Simon Spurrier talking about a famous Marvel character he's recently spent some time with. You may have heard of him—the Silver Surfer. Spurrier? Maybe not so much if you're in North America. But if you're in England and familiar with his work, then it's time to get pretty excited by the writer's newest comic project. It's a four-issue, November-launching mini-series called SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME, and it's a space-faring humdinger.
In fact, if you're anywhere else in the world, you should also get excited. A fantastically unique character, a talented creative team, and both together at the greatest comic company of them all, Marvel Comics. Life is good.
"Simon is a new name to most folks state-side, but he's been a crucial part of the venerable 2000 AD over in Britannia for years now," explains Marvel editor Aubrey Sitterson. "Simon and I first met at the 2006 New York Con—he's a friend of Frazer Irving, who I was working with on IRON MAN: THE INEVITABLE at the time. Simon is a young, energetic, handsome guy, with crazy-ass ideas, so we had a lot in common and hit it off pretty quickly. For the rest of the year, I caught up with his 2000 AD work and really liked what I saw. As far as his getting this Surfer gig, it was a matter of an old-fashioned bake-off. I contacted Simon and a couple other guys, told them what I was looking for, and while they all did a great job, Simon knocked his out of the park and absolutely wowed us."
Yes, Spurrier has been providing top-notch writing for such British publications as the famous 2000 AD, Judge Dredd Megazine and Warhammer Monthly. He's also known as the creator of Lobster Random, The Simping Detective and From Grace, the latter two with the aforementioned Frazier Irving. It was this stellar resume and his pitch for SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME that earned him a place on that hallowed list of Surfer scribes.
"My original instructions to Simon," explains Sitterson further, "were to craft an evergreen story that really gets to the core of who the Surfer is, taking inspiration from that original Lee/Buscema run, and the awe-inspiring Lee/Moebius 'Parable' story. From there, Simon spun out, crafting a story that touches on imperialism, culture clashes and religious fanaticism—can you say topical?"
Spurrier notes his own outlook on the story was "…to tell an intelligent and meaningful tale that does justice to the Surfer's personality, with more madcap alien inventiveness than you can shake an organpirate's blurpoon at, and lashings of wild action."
Doing his homework, the writer realized exactly what he wanted to accomplish with the story and what cosmic emotional ground it would cover. "I went back and read a lot of the early Lee/Buscema run to get a handle on the mind of the character: That sense of tragic loneliness and nobility is just unbeatable for creating drama. Tonally, we're aiming for somewhere between those first solo stories and the 'Parable' serial Lee did with
Moebius: 'evergreen' tales that reflect the Surfer's core traits without getting too tangled in stuff going on elsewhere in the Marvel Universe.
"Essentially, he gets caught-up in festering tensions within a vast utopian empire—simply by trying to help—and quickly discovers his own presence is exacerbating the problem. He can't leave without causing chaos, so he has to go deeper into the complexities and try to find a tidy solution.
"On the one hand, it's a character-arc that takes him through loads of physical challenges and rises to an explosive crescendo," Spurrier continues. "On the other hand, it's an exploration of the part played by politics, greed, ambition and religion in war. As with any Surfer tale, it's ultimately a dissection of what it is to be Intelligent Life, from the perspective of a being on the outside looking in. The conclusions he draws are what form the Surfer's journey in this story."
In SILVER SURFER: IN THEY NAME you should expect aliens. Ohh, yes—expect alien aliens, whole races with well-thought-out existences and with enough wonder to keep you thinking about them long after you've finished the story. "Certainly I wanted everything to look very alien—technology, locations, etc." says Spurrier of his newest creations. "Then again, all the best sci-fi is allegorical one way or another, and you can't make comments on human behaviour if your examples are sentient ion-swarms with electromagnetic speech. Wildlife and non-empathetic characters, on the other hand, can be just as surreal as you like.
"So the main characters in this story are human-ish, though they're definitely more alien-looking than your average Kree/Skrull/Shi'ar types. The real trick is to make everything seem exotic and inventive, yet still strangely familiar."
That trick is, of course, largely on the shoulders of the artist, and boy does this book have an artist. An entire team of artists, in fact, every one of them a Surfer fan and ready to make comics magic with one of the greatest characters of them all. "Tan Eng Huat is incredible," says editor Sitterson about SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME's main illustrator. "There, I said it. People are going to see this book and wonder where the hell this guy has been hiding, as he's turning in some of the wildest, most detailed, fantastical stuff I've ever seen. His aliens look truly alien, but he still manages to imbue them with a huge level of emotion and personality. And Jose Villarrubia on colors? You could literally use it as a coffee table book—it's stunning.
"And with covers by Michael Turner, Gabrielle Dell'Otto and Paul Pope, you won't be able to NOT buy it."
"In a word: brilliance," say Spurrier of his creative compatriot on SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME. "Like me, Tan's a big fan of squeezing in inventive details and avoiding the most obvious visual cues. He's a devotee of films like 'Dark Crystal,' so you just know that his aliens aren't going to come from the Big-Lizard-With-Six-Eyes school of imaginative tedium. He's rendered every panel himself in stunning greyscale washes, and his take on the Surfer has a real fragility and warmth. And his action sequences have to be seen to be believed. I think what impressed me most when I first started getting pages was the ease with which he could adjust between scenes of epic-scale destruction and low-key characterful moments. Subtlety's a very rare talent in a lot of artists, and he's got it in spades."
The four issue SILVER SURFER: IN THY NAME mini-series begins November 2007.