Silver Surfer Black #1
“Black, One of Five”
Writer: Donny Cates
Artist: Tradd Moore
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Tradd Moore (regular)/Nick Bradshaw, Gerald Parel, Ron lim and Mike Zeck (variants)
Editor: Darren Shan
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
I haven’t been following Donny Cates’ work at Marvel in the last couple of years, but he’s certainly generated a buzz. So when my local comics retailer urged me to check it out, touting the weirdness and wonder of the book, I decided to take the plunge. Visually, the book doesn’t disappoint. The colors are vibrant, and the fluidity of the linework and designs are dazzling. The story reminds me of the sort of philosophical tone one finds in the scripts of J.M. DeMatteis, and Cates challenges his audience. Unfortunately, everything about the plot — the struggles, both internal and external — is so utterly alien, I found it difficult to connect with the subject matter. I applaud Marvel for taking a chance on something so unconventional for the super-hero genre, but for me, the story didn’t quite stick the landing.
The Silver Surfer and several other space-faring champions have been flung into a black hole, and after the former herald of Galactus ensures the others’ safety, he’s drawn deeper into the abyss, into a time and space that’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. Weakened and reeling from his mind-bending experience, the Surfer finds himself beset upon by towering, malevolent sentries at the gate of some dark place. But Norrid Radd has faces giants before, and even in his weakened state, he won’t submit in the face of evil.
While Tradd Moore’s name is far from new to me, I really haven’t examined a lot of his work. My main exposure to his craft was from the first issue of All-New Ghost Rider a few years back, so I was well aware that he boasted an exaggerated style. But what I found here completely took me by surprise, and I love what I see. Based on All-New Ghost Rider, I had expected his art to be elongated and sharply angular, and while the former proved to be the case, the latter didn’t. He embraces bold curves here, and plot elements allow for and call for distortion and extreme lines. Moore is more than equal to the task, offering bizarre visions physiology. The linework is presented as competing eddies and currents, pulling and shaping characters in impossible manners, and it’s mesmerizing. I was reminded of a cross between the styles of Mike (Madman, Silver Surfer) Allred and Liam (The Green Lantern) Sharp. Those looking for conventional super-hero comic storytelling might be disappointed, but then again, but they might discover the potential of the medium as its tapped here.
The colors by Dave Stewart really pop, though that hardly comes as a surprise, given his skill developed over a stellar career in the business. Despite the title and the darker leanings of the plot, the creators here have chosen to imbue the visuals with powerful colors that convey the cosmic and surreal tone of the story. The scenes featuring the title character’s memories of his former master’s consumption of life look like fiery forges, conveying the destruction and hellish ends that the hero continues to mourn.
The first act of this comic focuses on sending other characters where they need to be in other comics. Now, I didn’t read the story that led to this Surfer epic, and the good news is, one needn’t have done so to follow this new arc. But it felt as though addressing the fates of Beta Ray Bill, the Starjammers and other characters didn’t need to happen here. An editor’s note directs our attention to Guardians of the Galaxy comics, and it seems like the Surfer’s efforts to save his comrades could have been covered there, leaving the reader with a singular spotlight on the Surfer’s woes.
Cates does an excellent job of establishing a melancholic tone here, and the most interesting aspect of the script is the exploration of the Surfer’s guilt and angst over his past sins. His anguish is conveyed well, and that was the point at which the comic resonated the most for me.
Unfortunately, while Cates’ script conveys the Surfer’s sense of isolation and inner strength fairly well, somehow, the conflict, as it externalized, didn’t resonate as much for me. I think part of the problem is that this character is so far removed from the human experience, it’s difficult to identify with him. His stilted language and impossible circumstances make him so foreign to me; it’s the same sort of dynamic that made Thor and other godly/cosmic characters so uninteresting to me in the past. Furthermore, the big villain reveal at the issue’s cliffhanger makes it clear to me that this story is designed very much for those who have been following Cates’ storytelling at Marvel in the last couple of years, and that’s a club to which I haven’t belonged. What I found here piqued my interest in his writing, but it didn’t completely hooked me either. 6/10