Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Heart of Great Super-Hero Epics

It isn't that astonishing to find that love makes the super-hero world go round. Lois has her Clark, Peter Parker his Mary Jane, Mr. Fantastic has Mrs. Fantastic - well, Invisible Girl/Woman, Wonder Woman her Steve Trevor, and so on. But perhaps one of the most intensely love-driven super-heroes is the Silver Surfer, alias Norrin Radd of the planet Zenn La. Norrin, and his sweetheart, the gorgeous Shalla Bal, were sorting through Norrin's restlessness, when events took a fateful turn. Zenn La had a peaceful, technologically advanced civilization that had outgrown war, and so was defenseless when the planet consuming entity known as Galactus arrived there to feed:

Norrin sacrificed his freedom and became Galactus's herald in order to save his home planet, and Shalla Bal, from destruction, and so the romance of the young couple became one that spanned vast tracts of space.

All that was recounted in Silver Surfer 1 (which embellished Jack Kirby's original saga of the Silver Surfer from the pages of the Fantastic Four). The first few issues of the Silver Surfer showcase what was probably John Buscema's career pinnacle, despite the volumes of work he produced subsequently. Certainly in contention for his best ever work is Silver Surfer 3, which introduced the supremely evil and malevolent Mephisto, who simultaneously despised the Surfer for his purity and integrity, and at the same time desired to gain control of the Surfer's soul. To this latter end he quickly realized that the Surfer's one weakness was his love for Shalla Bal (although it could also be considered a strength), and through several issues of the series he plots to capture his prize, the Surfer's soul, using Shalla Bal's well-being as his bargaining chip.

Norrin's and Shalla Bal's love proves stronger than Mephisto's sinister plans, but the cost is that, although brought together for the first time since Norrin became the Surfer (now confined to Earth for disobeying Galactus and fighting against him to save Earth), they are again parted. In Silver Surfer 10, however, Shalla Bal returns, with the help of Norrin Radd's rival for her affections, the twisted and evil Yarro Gort. They travel by space craft from Zenn La to Earth, where they find the Surfer entangled in a Latin American freedom fight, a struggle of the people against their would be conquerors and dictators. The Surfer has rescued the beautiful and passionate Maria Perez from her captors, and as he flies her to safety Maria shows her gratitude with a kiss, which happens to be what Shalla Bal sees on the spaceship's view screen as the Zenn La craft approaches. Shalla Bal erroneously concludes that she has lost her lover.

As this story continues in the next issue, Yarro Gort of course hooks up with the bad guys, hoping to destroy the Surfer in the process and make Shalla Bal his. Sharing his technology with the oppressors, Gort goes to turn it on the Surfer, and as Shalla Bal tries to stop him she is gunned down. Despite his godlike powers (Stan had to keep the separation of the Surfer and Shalla Bal going for the sake of future plot lines), the Surfer is unable to mend Shalla Bal's wounds, and arranges her return to Zenn La, while Yarro Gort has met the demise he so richly deserved.

Finally (in the original Silver Surfer series) Mephisto returns with Shalla Bal again, and issue 16 ends with him making a deal with the Surfer - the Surfer's soul for Shalla Bal's life, and to prove his surrender to Mephisto, the Surfer must attack S.H.I.E.L.D. This becomes the plot for issue 17:

Mephisto is such a baddie that he substitutes Shalla Bal for one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. office staff so that when the Surfer arrives to keep his part of the bargain with the devil, he will destroy his love along with the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Somehow, however, Nick Fury and his group are able to capture and imprison the Surfer, but when he becomes aware that Shalla Bal is outside his prison cell with Mephisto, those thick walls can't keep the Surfer from his heart's desire.

One issue later the series was canceled, and the rest is history. But whatever twists and turns the Surfer's saga took later on, that lost love that could never be, between Norrin Radd and his Shalla Bal, is really what drives this definitive series, just as much as the Surfer's despair at the shortcomings of the human race, and his persecution at the hands of those he always helps. John Buscema did draw some nice romance stories for Marvel around the same time as his Silver Surfer work, and made a great romance artist.


  1. Hmmm...odd that I never considered Buscema as a romance artist, but you make a really good case. Some of his Conan, and Thor work could also be slipped in as evidence. He sure did draw some beautiful wimmens, ( in my opinion some of the prettiest in comics ) and he knew how to make them expressive as well. In addition who hasn't swooned a little when seeing a terrific Buscema kissing sequence? Yup you sold me...looks like big John was a romantic at heart, but after all.... what Italian isn't :)

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