There are two main things of interest in Silver Surfer: Black, and the first of them is Tradd Moore. I came across his work first in The New World, the miniseries he co-created with Aleš Kot for Image. It’s art that pops. While some pages are hyper-detailed, others are simple and stark, usually colored flat. It gives them a faint sense of advertising. Maybe selling a soft drink, but one you can’t buy in this solar system.
It’s psychedelic, too. I don’t just mean that it has too-bright colors – though yes, it has those as well, courtesy of colorist Heather Moore. I mean his art features lingering trace-images, hanging in the air, and an organic quality that curves every straight line. Moore’s art breathes, in and out. His dynamic layouts mean the story’s always moving but moving in a kind of queasy slow motion.
So how do these qualities translate to the Silver Surfer, Sentinel of the Spaceways? Oddly.
I mean that in the best possible way. Moore’s art is one of the weirder styles you’ll see in a mainstream Marvel comic, rivaling Chris Bachalo at his most baroque. He draws his hero from underneath, highlighting his always alarming lack of genitals and abs that look more like tumors growing out of the Surfer’s torso. Exaggerated perspective gives the god-like Galactus a tiny helmet and enormous legs, swimming in a sea of blood. (The vivid colors are by Dave Stewart this time round.) The series swings from presenting the Silver Surfer as a pin-up superhero to a small point of light surrounded by cosmic madness. Writer Donny Cates’ script calls for the first page to be a “Tradd, show us what you got” moment, and Moore follows that command the whole way through.
The second point of interest is steeped in a little more Marvel lore, and concerns the Silver Surfer’s backstory. You see, he’s somewhat responsible for... uh... genocide. Multiple genocides, in fact. Silver Surfer: Black reminds its readers that its protagonist is actually Death incarnate throughout. Usually this is just an excuse for some angsty soliloquies, but Cates has something else planned too. It could be a pretty big shift for the character and it’ll be interesting to see if any other writers run with the ball. Cates does involve the larger Marvel Universe – the villain is from his Venom comics, I think? – but thankfully it’s nothing you need to know.
The story is a straightforward epic, eschewing unnecessary plot to allow more room for, say, a dark god riding a dragon through the void of space. Similarly, while the Surfer’s narration runs throughout, it’s never at length enough to distract from Moore’s heavy metal imagery. There’s throwaway cosmic poetry like “tectonic cancers and deep celestial hyper-light viruses” and smaller moments, too: when the Surfer encounters Ego, the Living Planet, he asks for permission to land. Ego gives it, adding, “Thank you for asking.”
When, late in the game, it’s revealed that Silver Surfer: Black is a loving response to the Parable two-parter from the late ‘80s – written by Stan Lee, drawn by goddamn Moebius – you have to admire Cates’ and Tradd’s ambition. As they say, you come at the king, you best not miss. Silver Surfer: Black might not be a bullseye, but it’s definitely a glancing blow.