Marvel has made terrific use of their cosmic characters and settings in the past decade. Stories like Annihilation and War of Kings yielded the modern Guardians of the Galaxy team and returned Thanos to reality-threatening villain. They also cast the struggle of the Shi’ar, Kree, and Skrull societies as galaxy-spanning epic centuries in the making.
Imagine the confusion of readers who loved those stories as they look for all of the vast history they imply deep within Marvel’s classic continuity and find … nothing.
Well, not nothing. Thanos has lots of material, of course, via Jim Starlin. It’s just that those space-faring races had received their prior development in fits and starts, and in the background of other stories. We learned about the Shi’ar via The X-Men, and the infamous Kree/Skrull War was as much about the Avengers and Rick Jones as alien races.
If this fruitless search describes you, then Silver Surfer by Steve Englehart is the cosmic comic you are looking for. This was less a Surfer solo comic as a comic about all of Marvel’s vast galaxy of races and powerful entities – basically, everything that wasn’t Claremont’s Shi’ar or Starlin’s Warlock/Thanos territory.
It’s lengthy, full of intrigue, and uninterrupted by crossovers and superheroes – and that’s why fans insist it must see omnibus collection even though half of it is already in an Epic Collection.
(Note that this post was published quite a while after its post-date, as the original series was interrupted by coordinating my move to my new home in New Zealand).
Silver Surfer by Steve Englehart (AKA, Vol. 1) is the #32 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus of 2017 on Tigereyes’s Secret Ballot. Visit the Marvel Masterworks Message Board to view the original posting of results by Tigereyes and collect all of these issue right now as detailed in my Guide to Silver Surfer.
Past Ranking: #36 in the 2016 Survey
Probable Contents: This volume will definitely contain Marvel Fanfare #51 (a prologue story) and Silver Surfer (1987) #1-31 & Annuals 1-2.
It would also likely mirror Silver Surfer Epic Collection, Vol. 3 by including the preceding Silver Surfer (1982) #1, Super-Villain Classics #1, and material from Epic Illustrated #1.
If not exclusive to Englehart, this could could also include any or all of Silver Surfer (1987) #32-33, 38-39, & 41-43 to marry it to the Infinity Gauntlet omnibus. It might also contain material from West Coast Avengers Annual 2 and Avengers Annual 16, which tie strongly to this material, and an Al Milgrom short from Marvel Comics Presents (1988) #1.
(There’s a chance it could also include the Eisner-Award Winning Lee/Mobius Silver Surfer (1988) #1-2, though they are not in continuity (and probably have their own unique royalties challenges).)
Creators: Written by Steve Englehart with Mike Higgins (#21), Mark Gruenwald (Annual 1), Renee “Ink” Witterstaetter (Annual 2), and Peter Sanderson (Serpent Crown backup in Annual 2 – likely not collected here).
Pencils by Marshall Rogers (#1-10, 12, 21) and Ron Lim (#15-20, 22-31, Annuals 1-2) with Joe Staton (#11, 13-14). Inks by Joe Rubinstein (#1-12, 14-18, 20) and Tom Christopher (#20, 22-23, 25-30, Annual 2) with Dave Cockrum (#13 & 21), Jose Marzan Jr. (#14 & Annual 2), Keith Williams (#19, 31, Annual 2), Randy Emberlin (#24 & Annual 1).
Colors by Marshall Rogers (#1-12) and Tom Vincent (#13-25, 27-31, & Annuals 1-2) with Gregory A. Wright (#26 & Annual 1). Letterers by John E. Workman Jr. (#1-7) and Ken Bruzenak (#8-22, 24-29, 31, Annuals 1-2) with Joe Albelo (#23) and Richard Starkings (#30).
Marvel Fanfare with John Buscema pencils, Jack Abel inks, Christie Scheele colors, and Rick Parker letters.
Can you read it right now? Not entirely
Worse, Marvel Unlimited doesn’t have any of this material as of this writing!
Steve Englehart’s run on Silver Surfer is more than just a comic about one space-faring hero. It’s an intergalactic epic of multiple warring empires that will feel just right to modern fans who love stories like War of Kings and Game of Thrones. It was the first time Marvel’s cosmic characters had received such focus outside of a small cluster of 70s titles, mostly penned by Jim Starlin.
Ironically, Englehart’s Surfer run served to pave the way for Starlin’s triumphant return to Marvel, as he crafted the run-up to Infinity Gauntlet in the run that followed this.
Norrin Radd, The Silver Surfer, has always been an occasional star of Marvel’s comic line, dropping in for some focus and then disappearing off into the ether for a number of years.
Case and point: When the 1987 Silver Surfer series launched, it had been 17 years since the end of the Stan Lee penned solo series that launched in 1968. In the meantime, Norrin Radd had remained restricted to Earth and had appeared with the Defenders and in the pages of Fantastic Four and just a handful of other issues. There was a gentleman’s agreement between Lee and Marvel editorial that no one else would have the chance to write Surfer’s solo adventures without Lee’s explicit approval.
Into that detente came Steve Englehart, who not only broke up the Stan Lee status quo, but also that of Silver Surfer himself. In Englehart’s first issue he set Silver Surfer free of the edict of his former master, Galactus, that he be confined to Earth – a command still in place from his first story in Fantastic Four!
To do that, Englehart’s oversized first issue is an epic, continuity-packed tale that includes the Fantastic Four, the herald Nova, and even Galactus himself – such that Surfer’s freedom comes at the command of the same force that imprisoned him. As to how he gets off Earth and to Galactus, it’s far too clever to spoil here. It still puts a smile on my face, to this day.
While Lee had a ball writing Surfer as a wandering, earthbound philosopher, Englehart finally freed him to travel the stars in a way he was uniquely suited to do. That also enabled Silver Surfer to finally use the Power Cosmic to do epic, wide-screen combat with formidable foes.
Before he could do any fighting, Norrin Radd first wanted to return to Zenn-La, the homeworld he sacrificed himself to Galactus in order to save. He is reunited with his love as Englehart deftly weaves in (and amends) the continuity of John Byrne’s 1982 one-shot (which ought to open this omnibus for the sake of completeness).
From there, Surfer is thrust into intergalactic intrigue with the warlike Skrulls, who had been stripped of their native shape-changing powers and seen their empire decimated. Of course, they in turn cannot help but charge towards war with their sworn enemy The Kree!
At first, Surfer is at first too distracted to intervene as he follows a plot by the intergalactic Elders. They are the oldest beings in the universe, save for Surfer’s former master Galactus – who they plan to slay using the power of the Infinity Stones (known at this point as Soul Gems)! In the process, he teams with Mantis, who you might know best from the second Guardians of the Galaxy film!
(This plot is an extension of Englehart’s West Coast Avengers Annual 2, which in turn is an extension of the original Marvel event, Contest of Champions.)
It’s all massive, heady stuff. Some of it comes off as overly expository in a single read if only because comics were so serialized at the time. In the days before recap pages, comics often had to re-explain themselves to new readers each month within the course of their stories (with the aid of a few well-placed editorial boxes).
However, with Surfer now free of Lee and Earth’s confines, now it was Englehart’s turn to bump up against artificial constraints. While he was free to retread the Kree/Skrull material, he couldn’t use cosmic concepts originated by Jim Starlin in his 1970s plots for Captain Marvel and Warlock.
As a result, Englehart eventually winds down his run in #31 in a way that makes it a satisfying, self-contained read. Starlin himself would take over with #34, using Silver Surfer to build up to the famous Infinity Gauntlet.
The Infinity Gauntlet omnibus is also a de facto Silver Surfer volume, since it includes #34-38, 40, and 44-60. Some of those gap issues are still by Starlin, but they didn’t include Thanos or other Gauntlet buildup. A version of this volume not exclusive to Englehart could easily collect them all to give us an unbroken run of oversized Surfer through issue #60! Also, other Surfer collections of the period have included some other preceding stories listed above, including a Lee/Byrne 1981 one-shot.
Fun fact: Lee himself took another turn at scripting Silver Surfer in 1988 (yes, while this series was ongoing – who is going to say no to Stan Lee?) with famed illustrator Moebius. That two-issue story, Parable, does not fit well with Surfer’s narrative of the period and to this day isn’t definitively part of canon. Yet, it won an Eisner award and would certainly bring even more fans to a Surfer omnibus if it was included.
Will we see this omnibus in 2018? I’d typically be a hard no on this, but with this run acting as a rare classic intergalactic epic and setting up the Infinity Stones there’s an outside chance Marvel would consider it.
However, it’s much more likely we simply get Epic Collection Vol. 4 in the latter half of 2018, which should finish out this run.
Would I recommend buying it? Absolutely yes!
You’ve already heard my effusiveness about the space epic nature of this story, but there’s also the artwork.
The first half of the series had solid line work and colors by Marshall Rogers, who had a nice sensibility in combining sturdy Byrne-eseque figures with some trippy Kirby-influenced space visuals.
He’s succeeded by Rob Lim, who is synonymous with 80s Surfer as well as with Starlin’s Infinity Trilogy. His space figures are well-muscled, lanky, and maybe even a little rubbery in the fashion of an action figure. They’d look great in oversize format, with extra thanks to Tom Vincent’s colors.
The 2017 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus Secret Ballot Results
- #60 – What If? Classic Omnibus, Vol. 1
- #59 – House of M Omnibus
- #58 – Captain Marvel by Peter David, Vol. 1
- #57 – X-Force by Kyle & Yost
- #56 – Namor, The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 1
- #55 – X-Force, Vol. 3 AKA Cable & X-Force, Vol. 1
- #54 – Conan The Barbarian, Vol. 1
- #53 – Thor: God of Thunder by Jason Aaron
- #52 – Incredible Hercules by Pak & Van Lente
- #51 – Amazing Spider-Man: Brand New Day, Vol. 1
- #50 – Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch, Vol. 1
- #49 – Captain America (Silver Age), Vol. 3
- #48 – Doctor Strange by Roger Stern
- #47 – Marvel Horror of the 1970s
- #46 – Killraven
- #45 – Captain America by Mark Gruenwald, Vol. 1
- #44 – Runways by Brian K. Vaughan
- #43 – Superior Spider-Man
- #42 – The Punisher by Rucka & Checchetto
- #41 – Black Panther by Christopher Priest, Vol. 1
- #40 – Avengers West Coast by Roy Thomas
- #39 – Amazing Spider-Man by JMS
- #38 – TIE:
- #37 – X-Factor by David & DeMatteis
- #36 – Generation X, Vol. 1
- #35 – The Micronauts, Vol. 1
- #34 – Alpha Flight, Vol. 2 AKA by Mantlo, Ross, & Lee
- #33 – TIE:
- #32 – Silver Surfer, Vol. 1 AKA by Steve Englehart
- #31 – TIE:
- X-Factor (1986), Vol. 1
- Daredevil: Shadowland