Silver Surfer: Black #1
Written by Donny Cates
Art by Tradd Moore and Dave Stewart
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
If there’s any book that might be considered critic-proof this week, it might be writer Donny Cates and artist Tradd Moore’s Silver Surfer: Black – because when you throw a celebrated concept man like Cates with a modern superstar like Moore, do you really think you’re going to get a bad book? And to be fair, this is a great book, one that should be checked out for the spectacle alone – but as this book’s high concept itself admits, even the Surfer can’t escape the void without just a little bit of tarnish. I’d also argue that like most forces of nature, Moore winds up exploding off the page, sending even the bombastic Cates into catch-up mode – while one might argue that Cates doesn’t quite reveal anything new under the Surfer’s polished exterior, it’s the thrill ride of watching Moore cut loose that makes Silver Surfer: Black worth reading.
While cinematic interpretations of the Silver Surfer have portrayed the character as a sort of liquid metal, that’s nothing compared to the way Tradd Moore draws him – Norrin Radd winds up becoming the perfect avatar for Moore’s stretched-out anatomies, his fingers and musculature waving and curling seemingly under cosmic gravity as we see him fall into a wormhole with the other Guardians of the Galaxy. In a lot of ways, this feels like the natural evolution for Moore’s style, which started off (comparatively) tight and refined in the days of Luther Strode, only to rev up in Ghost Rider and then spill over the lines of “naturalism” in The New World. It’s what I imagine seeing Rob Liefeld explode on the scene must have felt like – Moore’s trailblazing brand-new territory for how an over-the-top superhero comic book might look, and it times it might be overwhelming to look at.
But with the artistic volume cranked up to 11, Cates finds himself in unfamiliar territory – he’s not the loudest guy in the room. It’s not to say that he isn’t throwing out some choice one-liners into the void, as “strands of reality explode into fictional debris” – it’s just that with all the psychedelic visuals going on that twist the Surfer all around us, what else can really be said? But I’ll add this – that in trying to corral Moore with a script, Cates is in the unenviable position of trying to harness a hurricane, and so while he tries to explain how the Surfer managed to free his friends from this interdimensional death trap, it takes more than a couple reads to really understand exactly what happened, even with Cates trying to lead us by the hand with his narrative captions. (That said, there’s an unbelievably cool moment with the Surfer’s board that shows Cates can still hold his own.) The overall trajectory is sound – at least in terms of getting the Surfer’s head above cosmic water, to a status quo we can actually start to follow – but at times there is the sense that the script and the art are sometimes at odds.
And with Cates doing some narrative heavy lifting to get Norrin from Point A to Point B, he does so with an implicit concept that I’m not sure is 100 percent correct – namely, the assumption that readers are already on-board with the Surfer as a concept. With that in mind, if you’re looking for the sort of pioneering character work Cates has achieved in Venom, you might be surprised to discover that there’s really no new ground broken with the Sentinel of the Spaceways – we know he’s the former herald of Galactus, that he feels the horror of what he’s done, but Cates isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means. (Although, continuing the trend of the spoiled reviewer, Cates does deserve a ton of credit for channeling the same sort of voice for Norrin that Matt Fraction did back during his criminally underrated Thor run.) But beyond the Surfer’s escape, the inevitable fight scene he encounters almost feels… perfunctory? It’s solid work, but because it slides across those well-worn superhero grooves, the Surfer doesn’t like up as a character as much as he does a runway for some sick artwork.
But maybe that’s enough – or at minimum, maybe this level of insane spectacle is way more than we fickle comic fans deserve. (I’d believe it.) Given the pedigree of the creative team involved, there’s no danger of Silver Surfer: Black being slept on – quite the contrary, I think the comics review industry as a whole is probably going to break its back trying to think of new words for “brilliant.” I’d say visually, they’re not wrong – and to be honest, when the “lows” of this book is just Donny Cates being drowned out by all the crazy visuals, you’re operating in some pretty lofty territory. While I’m not sure I’m ready to join the breathless praise I’ve seen of this book elsewhere, Silver Surfer: Black is a strong follow-up to Cates’ work on Guardians of the Galaxy, and deserves a place on your bookshelf simply to see a modern-day master like Moore chase the galaxy untethered.