Space is a vast place. Someone once described it as being 'big... really big'. There are most likely gazillions of planets in the Universe. Some of these probably aren't inhabited and others only might be, but we know of one that most certainly is - the Earth. By and large, this goes for the comic-book universe too, so when a huge planet-eating alien drops into Earth's solar system then fancies having a nibble on the world you live on, you'd expect your own home-grown superheroes to meet this invader and give him what for. Well, in the case under consideration here, they sort of did... and didn't do much of a job. So the Earth required a different kind of saviour and that's just the premise needed for the introduction of the interstellar anti-hero - the Silver Surfer1.
Hark! The Herald
The Silver Surfer first came to prominence in comics as an enemy of Earth and of the superhero 'family' the Fantastic Four in particular, but his origins are complex. The Silver Surfer is a humanoid being called Norrin Radd, who comes from the planet Zenn-La. Now, to cut a long and somewhat unbelievable story short, the planet Zenn-La had come to the attention of one Galactus, a god-like being who, when he felt a tad peckish, ate planets. Norrin Radd, inhabitant of Zenn-La, decided in his wisdom that if he could find non-life-bearing planets for Galactus to gnaw on, he'd be able to save his home-world from imminent destruction. So he suggested this plan to Galactus and, amazingly, it was accepted.
But, of course, there was a catch. In order that Zenn-La be saved, Norrin had to become the herald of Galactus - which was fine, but he also had to give up any chance of seeing his home-world and the people he loved ever again, becoming an emotionless and purely logical being2. The bargain did have some perks though. Galactus granted Norrin Radd the 'Power Cosmic', a skin-tight silver suit that protected him from the harsh conditions of deep space and a natty interstellar surfboard for getting about on. Once the suit had shaped itself onto Norrin Radd's body he became 'The Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds'3. Nice title to put on a business card, eh?
Granted to him by Galactus, the Power Cosmic is the Silver Surfer's lifeline. It enables him to channel ambient cosmic energy into his body at will and expel it violently through a beam of energy as a concussive force, with sufficient power to destroy a planet. He can also generate subtle amounts more gently, as a means to restructure molecules and transmute elements according to his mental design, such as altering the natural pigments of a plant to change its colour.
The Surfer was also given super-strength when he took on the Power Cosmic, becoming able to lift in excess of 100 tons. He can increase this to amazing degrees, enabling him to move almost limitless amounts of mass, including comets, planets and even stars. In addition, his body can move and react at superhuman velocities, putting Superman and the Flash to shame. The physical properties binding together his 'skin' are such that there are few known forces in the Universe strong enough to overcome them. Thus the Surfer is invulnerable to most forms of physical harm and is able to withstand extremes of temperature caused by the build-up of friction or the vacuum of deep space, or even the intense heat of nearby stars.
The Silver Surfer is also intrinsically aware of energies around him and this ability ensures that he has no need to eat or breathe, since he absorbs life-maintaining cosmic energy directly through his skin. Although his body does not require sleep, his mind still does in order to give him the opportunity to dream. The Surfer's mind has also been restructured so that he has resistance to telepathy and other forms of mind-control. The Silver Surfer can also heal and revitalise himself - although his extraordinary abilities do not extend to creating or restoring life, they did once enable him to travel through time.
To Me, My Board!
The Silver Surfer's iconic 'surfboard' is his means of transport around the Universe. Composed of the same substance as the Surfer's 'skin', it is impervious to virtually all forms of physical damage and is linked telepathically with the Surfer. Only a being possessing the Power Cosmic can cause the board to fly and it also uses ambient cosmic energy in much the same way as the Surfer himself. Although the Silver Surfer can utilise the Power Cosmic to fly, the surfboard helps him attain 99% of the speed of light, in order to travel through hyperspace to reach distant destinations. The board is a handy weapon in a tight spot too, either as a club or as a means of escape.
...There Must He Soar Alone
The Silver Surfer has a varied collection of friends, allies, lovers and enemies in his life, even though he is somewhat of the lonely type. The most influential seem to have been:
With a moniker like 'Devourer of Worlds', Galactus is not someone to be trifled with. Galactus is a god-like entity, the only problem being that he was around long before anyone ever thought about gods - before the Big Bang, before anything. As such, he's not really evil and not really good either - the perfect 'amoral' being. So he is in some ways like a small hungry child, who needs someone to keep him in check.
Norrin Radd's first love and Empress of Zenn-La, Shalla Bal never understood why Norrin became the Silver Surfer. On becoming Galactus's herald, he remembered nothing of this beautiful woman. However, after discovering his emotions soon after his arrival on Earth, the Surfer found he still had feelings for Shalla Bal. He searched for his long-lost love, only to find her in the clutches of Mephisto, the Ruler of Hades.
The Fantastic Four
The 'F-4', made up of Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, the Human Torch and the Thing, are first on the scene when Galactus comes to town. It is they who do battle with the Silver Surfer and the Devourer of Worlds and are instrumental in the plan to defeat Galactus and save the Earth. The Surfer eventually befriends them all, despite a certain amount of animosity between him and the Thing (aka Ben Grimm), concerning one Alicia Masters ...
The young, blind sculptress Alicia Masters first meets the Silver Surfer when he battles the Fantastic Four. It is she who finds him to be more than just a 'soulless monster', sensing that he has human emotions bubbling inside him. The Surfer (and Norrin Radd) discover love with Alicia as she helps him find his human side, seemingly lost when he took on the Power Cosmic.
Mephisto is the Ruler of Hades4 and it isn't long before the Surfer meets him, as one does when one is an all-powerful cosmic being. Mephisto has his heart (or what passes for one) set on Norrin Radd's soul, fearing that the Surfer would inspire mankind to greatness and thus cut off his supply of sinners. The Surfer has had to confront Mephisto and his schemes to take his soul often, including saving his first true love from the fiery depths of Hell itself.
Every superhero needs an arch-nemesis, and Thanos is it. A self-declared god, not content with havoc, destruction and mayhem, Thanos proclaimed his love for Death and took it upon himself to kill half of all sentient beings in the Universe for her5. The Surfer wasn't having a bar of it and after battling Thanos and his mighty Infinity Gauntlet - and losing - he decided to grab all his superhero mates and defeat the evil Thanos once and for all...
A Star is Born
The Silver Surfer, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, first appeared in Marvel comics through the platform of the Fantastic Four. In 1966, Fantastic Four #48 saw Galactus come to Earth on the bidding of his herald. Touched by humanity, the Silver Surfer turned against his former boss and convinced Galactus to leave Earth alone - but at a price, with the super-being preventing the Surfer from ever leaving Earth by way of a powerful cosmic barrier. Within the next few months the Silver Surfer made several appearances in other Marvel titles, until he finally received his own in 1968, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by John Buscema. Silver Surfer #1 revealed the Surfer's origins and from then on, the comic fans were hooked.
The Surfer has influenced many people over time. Quentin Tarantino is a huge Surfer fan, making references to the hero in a number of his films, while guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani has also featured the Silver Surfer, not only in songs, but also by depicting him on his album covers. Other musicians have made reference to the Surfer, including 1990s Indie band The Warm Jets and heavy metal bands Bal-Sagoth and Iron Maiden. The Silver Surfer at last made the transfer from comic book to big screen in 2007, having a major role in Fantastic Four 2 - Rise of the Silver Surfer, much to the joy of many Surfer fans.