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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


John Byrne's 1980s tenure on the SUPERMAN titles has almost nothing to recommend it in terms of symbolic discourse. In every way, Byrne seemed dedicated to reducing the florid creativity of the Silver Age down to his drably functional revisions. Still, his revision of the Weisinger version of Krypton was not entirely of his own invention, but was borrowed from the 1978 Richard Donner film, wherein the Man of Steel's homeworld was re-imagined as a glacial, over-technologized place.
Given Byrne's enthusiastic endorsement of the Donner Krypton in his 1980 COMICS JOURNAL interview, one might have thought he'd never want to write any stories about such an unappealing environment.

Yet the 1987 WORLD OF KRYPTON, written by Byrne and (principally) penciled by Mike Mignola, is the only time Byrne contributed anything interesting to the Superman mythos.

The story begins a thousand years before the birth of Jor-El, with Van-L, father of Jor-El. In those days, Kryptonians enjoyed near-immortality, hardly ever bothering to sire children, thanks to their advanced techniques in cloning. The opening sequence of issue #1 makes clear that most Kryptonians live a privileged life.

Clone technology makes it possible for Van-L's potential girlfriend Vara to be instantly repaired when she loses an arm in a crash. However, the ethical debate over the immorality of cloning is growing, because the clones are kept in stasis and never allowed to take on individual identities. (The "anti-clonists" use the slogan "minds for the mindless" a couple of times.) Eventually Vara-- whose name references that of Superman's mother "Lara," though she's presumably no relation-- becomes a radical "anti-clonist," and accuses her fellow citizens of being virtual "cannibals." However, what really stokes the cultural conflict-- and even leads to a series of destructive wars-- is the abuse of a clone by Nyra, the mother of one of Van-L's contemporaries, one Kan-Z.

What kind of abuse? Well, I referenced this particular taboo in my analysis of Jerry Siegel's 1960 "Superman's Return to Krypton"-- but where the taboo in that story is purely symbolic within the boundaries of the narrative, Byrne's KRYPTON makes the taboo of incest more literal. Nyra, because she does not believe any woman is good enough for her son Kan-Z, abducts one of her own clones from its facility,. Somehow she contrives to grow the clone to maturity, educate her, and give her a separate identity, all for the purpose of marrying her son to a version of herself. Kan-Z's reaction is to kill his mother and her clone, and to attempt his own death. Later Kan-Z too becomes an ally of the "clones rights" terrorists, whose most radical group is called "Black Zero," after this earlier Superman villain.  

Apparently in Byrne's world incest is worse than cannibalism, for the scandal of Nyra's deed sparks a thousand-year-war, as well as the ultimate destruction of the planet by Black Zero. As if to disavow the sybaritic lifestyle of earlier Kryptonians, the post-war Kryptonians become extreme isolationists. They no longer need clones to extend their lifetimes, having invented other anti-aging techniques, but they've become the inhumanly glacial humanoids seen in Donner's film and Byrne's rewrites.

Mignola's art is consistently gorgeous, but Byrne's ability to invest his characters with dramatic heft is seriously lacking. However, I will give props to the schematic sociological myth he devises for Krypton: first too sensuous, then too abstemious. This stratagem succeeds in characterizing the homeworld of DC:s pre-eminent hero in terms of unpleasant extremes, as against the "divine middle" embodied by the Planet Earth.

Given Byrne's tendency to rewrite earlier stories. it's not hard for me to believe that he caught onto the way Jerry Siegel concealed the quasi-incestuous theme of his story by giving Superman's Kryptonian lover the name "Lyla Lerrol," a shuffling of the name "Lara," Byrne thus creates both a bad mother and a not-so-good girlfriend, Nyra and Vara, before introducing the "good mother" who will make possible the birth of a "savior" of sorts. Byrne doesn't devote nearly as much attention to the two main male characters, dramatically or symbolically. Van-L's name doesn't seem to hold any strong associations, though an old SUPERBOY story does state that one of Superboy's ancestors is named "Val-El." As for "Kan-Z," I can't help but note that his name resembles that of the American heartland where the infant Kal-El ends up; i.e., "Kansas." But the latter confluence may not have been consciously intended.


In recent weeks SYFY has debuted a teleseries devoted to Superman's homeworld, so it seems a good time to descant on the subject of Krypton.

Though "Man Who Destroyed Krypton" is executed by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, two regulars in editor Mort Weisinger's stable, the story's also an early example of a comic-book "retcon." Usually in the Weisinger-verse, newer stories rewrote older ones with no concern as to what had been established before. However, this time there seems to be a marked attempt to play to fannish ideas of "continuity" by proposing a new paradigm-- though it was one that largely renounced by both fans and later professionals.

Oddly, the tale begins with Superman learning of an extraterrestrial menace from mundane law enforcement authorities. Through their sources, the top cops have established that an alien operative, Black Zero, plots to destroy the Earth. Superman locates the alien, who has a bit of news for the Kryptonian. Years ago, Zero was sent to destroy Krypton because his bosses, a planetary combine called "the Pirate Empire," feared the planet's culture could prove a threat to their conquering aims. Before he even tried to eradicate the world, though, Zero encountered the warnings of Jor-El, to the effect that the world was already on the brink of destruction. Zero checked things out, and found that Jor-El was wrong, but that the nuclear reaction inside the planet could be re-started. Thus, Black Zero, rather than cruel fate, was responsible for billions of dead Kryptonians.

Thus, Superman's mission becomes twofold: he must both save the Earth and capture the destroyer of Krypton. (Preumably Zero has destroyed other worlds for the Empire as well, though somehow these other worlds are never mentioned.) Zero eludes the Man of Steel, but the hero receives help from one of the Phantom Zone prisoners: Jax-Ur, who was in Silver Age SUPERMAN stories was usually framed as the brains behind the other Kryptonian criminals. Jax-Ur and the other Zone crooks are genuinely desirous of vengeance for their homeworld, and they persuade Superman to release Jax-Ur alone, after he swears a criminal's oath not to double-cross the hero.

Naturally, Superman succeeds in thwarting Zero's plans for Earth, and Jax-Ur gets the chance to take the vengeance that Superman won't take: turning Black Zero into a stone statue and then smashing it to bits.

The story's most interesting myth-moment is not so much the rewriting of Jor-El's doomsaying-- which, as I said, most fans did not like and which most pros ignored-- but the fact that the theme seems to be "set a genocidal madman to catch a genocidal madman." For Jax-Ur is sent to the Phantom Zone for a sort of "accidental genocide," in that he's testing a missile and unintentionally destroys a Kryptonian moon inhabited by 500 people. Binder's story does not reflect on Jax-Ur's past history, but since Binder created the story in which Jax-Ur first appeared, it's at least feasible that he remembered that bit of continuity-trivia when he chose Jax-Ur to be Superman's ally.

Monday, May 21, 2018


I've just written a very brief exploration of Poe's PIT AND THE PENDULUM, but wanted to expand on the subject on my theory-blog to further explore the remarks made in OBJECTS GIVEN LUSTER PT. 2., where I said:

...I briefly touched on Rene Clair's silent film THE CRAZY RAY for purpose of contrast, saying that, unlike the Destroyed Earth, the focal presence of the Crazy Ray really was the source of "chaos on a global scale," and that in itself would argue a similitude with the persona of the monster. This also applies to other non-sentient phenomena that get out of control, whether they are objects created by man...or have come into being through geologic processes...

In my Poe-fragment I noted:

 ...whereas a setting like the House of Usher has become monstrous simply by dint of absorbing the nature of the corrupt Usher family, the prison-cell that encloses both the Pit and the Pendulum has been designed to be monstrous by its creators, the torturers of the Inquisition.

That said, I don't think of the Cell with the Pit and the Pendulum as a focal presence. Rather, the story's focal presences are the Inquisitors, the conscious architects of the cleverly designed torture-device, just as the Ushers, the unconscious architects of the titular House of Usher, are the focal presences of their story.

There are, however, other Poe stories in which a "non-sentient phenomenon" is the star of the show. The great storm of A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM, which is uncanny only in terms of the "natural science" Poe attributes to it, rates in my system as a "monster." The naturalistic sketch-story THE ISLAND OF THE FAY, however, presents a "demiheroic" physical setting upon which the unnamed narrator projects both his desires for innocent happiness and his fears of doleful death.


In CREATOR AND CREATED ENSEMBLED HE THEM I sussed out the centricities of various "mad scientists" and their creations. In Stevenson's DOCTOR JEKYLL AND MISTER HYDE, Jekyll's alter ego Hyde has the greatest centricity, and is therefore the story's focal presence. In Wells' ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU, the beast-men creations of the scientist are less central to the story than Moreau himself, and so he takes the position of the focal presence. However, in Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN, both the creator and his creation share the spotlight.

From these books, it should be clear that the title of a feature doesn't indicate the focal presence, and as I've noticed elsewhere, this is equally true in other media. As others before me have noted, the Universal Frankenstein series is principally about the monster, while the Hammer series concentrates on the scientist.

This principle applies across the board to many comics-features. BATMAN started as a concept with just one focal presence. But the addition of Robin, BATMAN became known as an ensemble of two focal presences for the next twenty-odd years. After Robin went away to college, the serial feature frequently alternated between Batman on his own, and Batman rejoined with a new Robin, though some of the Robin-rebirths didn't go so well.

I would tend to say that whenever a comics-feature presented a team-mate as an "equal partner," then that partner, however nugatory he might be as a character, became an equal focal presence in the feature. Yet this sense of equality had to flow more from the creators' attitude toward the character than from the character's representation in the stories. As a contrary example, the comic strip introduced "Junior" to the DICK TRACY in 1932, and the youth got more than a fair number of storylines devoted to him. But he was not treated as an equal partner, and so he remained one of the main character's support-cast.

In the terminology I've introduced here, then, Robin has a transitive effect in terms of his centricity, so that he's centric to the action even in stories where he has no significant role. Junior, though, has an intransitive effect in terms of centricity. Whole story-arcs can be centered on him, but he's never really the focus, but rather a reason for central character Tracy to take action. Tracy is always the "common thread" of the stories, even if he doesn't appear that much in a given arc, much the same way that Will Eisner's Spirit is that feature's common thread even in stand-alone stories where the masked detective barely appears.

Titles of movies and movie-serials are similarly deceptive. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR picks up story-lines that are established in other movies, particularly AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and Captain America shares the stage with about eleven other costumed characters. Yet the other Avengers and hangers-on are in the same position as Junior in the DICK TRACY strip: intransitive. The main thrust of the story focuses on two aspects of Captain America's personal cosmos: the fate of his old friend Bucky Barnes, and the need to keep himself and his fellow superheroes free of government oversight (which attitude is to a slight extent justified by the events of INFINITY WAR). The other heroes of CIVIL WAR are more in the nature of "guest stars" than supporting characters-- even the Falcon, who had the status of an equal partner during a brief period of the CAPTAIN AMERICA comic book, but did not achieve that status in the movie series.

But though the title of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR correctly foregrounds the fact that it's a Captain America film in a series of Captain America movies, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is not focused only upon the Avengers in the diegesis. The title in this case only functions to provide a semblance of continuity with the 2012 AVENGERS film, but in structure the story is just as much a sequel to the first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY film. INFINITY WAR's structure is directly patterned upon one of Jim Starlin's many superhero smorgasbords, which in turn owes its lineage to early multi-character mashups like Marvel's SECRET WARS. To be sure, not every character in such mashups is necessarily a focal presence. For instance, Shadowcat's quasi-pet Lockheed the Dragon, who was never a focal presence in the X-MEN titles, did not become one just because he also took part in SECRET WARS. He would still be intransitive in terms of centricity, just like Junior Tracy-- but almost every other hero in the story would be a focal presence, whether that hero played a large or small part in the story. (CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS also tosses in many hero-cameos that simply don't register high in terms of centricity.)

But INFINITY WAR doesn't have those niggling problems, and so all the featured heroes of the Avengers and the Guardians groups are focal, as is the one solo act, Doctor Strange, making a total of nineteen focal presences in all. The only characters who aren't part of the ensemble are those who weren't ever focal in other films: "helper-types" like Nick Fury, Wong, et al.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


While reading some online Golden Age comics courtesy of the site COMIC BOOK PLUS, I investigated the now-obscure company known as "Chesler/Dynamic." Scarcely any of the superheroes published by Chesler became renowned, even within the small enclave of Golden Age enthusiasts, but one character caught my eye because he (almost) fits my parameters for the concept of "potency" as expressed in earlier sections of this essay-series.

MAJOR VICTORY didn't create much fuss in his time. He only had about four-five adventures, and though he appeared in three issues of his own comic, all of the Major's stories in the comic were reprints of stuff that had appeared earlier, particularly in DYNAMIC COMICS, where the Major almost lost the cover-spot to Chesler's hero "Dynamic Man."

Nevertheless, he had an interesting origin. Unlike many costumed heroes, Victory never has a name. He's introduced as a guard at a wartime facility. A saboteur breaks in, and the guard sacrifices himself trying (and failing) to defuse the saboteur's bomb.

Simply coming back from the dead was nothing special even in the 1940s, nor was it unusual to see a revival take place thanks to some celestial presence with some vague patriotic appeal-- this one being "Father Patriot," who I guess is the propaganda-version of "Father Christmas." Anyway, the mentor revives the heroic no-name and gives a flag-themed costume, resources, and a superhero name so that he can go forth and battle the Axis evil. It's a decent enough costume, but one wrinkle I for one have rarely encountered. Major Victory has no powers here. He shows off admirable athleticism as he boards a plane and manages to take out an enemy squadron--

But he had no real powers as such, unlike comparable types like Kid Eternity and the Fighting Yank.

To be sure, there's one incident when Victory gets his strength ramped up by hearing a simulacrum of the Liberty Bell. But this seems to have been a toss-off, not integral to the original idea, particularly since he doesn't use the super-strength for the remainder of the story.

So if one were going to ignore the temporary super-strength and focus only on what makes the Major "marvelous," it would be the fact that he's come back from the dead, Since he tries to avoid getting shot or falling from great heights, the implication is that he can't come back to life ever again, either in his original body or another one. So he's marvelous not in terms of his personal powers, but in what might called an "existential" sense: the fact that he's a man alive when he shouldn't be. This provides a strong parallel to the line of thought in POWER AND POTENCY PT. 3, where I discussed various time-traveling protagonists whose only "super power" was that of existing in a time-frame where they never would have existed, except for a time-travel device. I will attempt to explore these parallels in the concepts of potency at a later time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018


In my essay on the EC Coniics story "Daddy Lost His Head," I remarked that the story had a bit of a "pro-feminist outlook." The tale, credited to artist Jack Kamen and co-scripters Al Feldstein and William Gaines, concerned a little girl named Kathy who was tyrannized by her bad stepfather. Ab old woman with the suggestive name of "Mrs. Thaumaturge" gives Kathy a magical helping hand, with the result that her bad dad loses his head in a non-figurative fashion. Apparently the editors at Fantagraphics liked the title of the story, since said title featured in one of the company's selective reprints of the EC oeuvre. 

To be sure, EC probably wouldn't win any awards from modern feminists, as their stories of horror and suspense were often filled to the brim with trampy ladies and cheating wives (for instance, Kamen and Feldstein's "Piecemeal," printed a couple of years later). Since all or most of the EC personnel were men, it's not surprising that their stories played to male fears or insecurities-- which, to a pluralist critic like myself, is all to the good.

Over a year after "Daddy" appeared in print, some unbilled creator or creators produced a horror-story for a lesser-known company, Superior Comics. "Crawling Evil" seems like a deliberate inversion of Kathy's psychological situation, one that exacerbates male anxieties by portraying women who use their witchiness for evil rather than self-defense.

The splash page for "Evil" is crudely drawn but captures the raw vitality of a free-flowing imagination. If it were less formulaic in its construction, the narrative might be indicative of a trampling fetish, though the subject's a moot point since the creators-- credited simply as "the Iger Shop" in Craig Yoe's HAUNTED LOVE reprint-- will probably never be identified. (Curiously, though, Bradford Wright's COMIC BOOK NATION states that sadomasochistic images were common in the Iger Shop, and that much of the work was produced by women.)

The story's opening puts an emphasis on femininity as a source of evil. Here main character Lorna is just a little girl when she witnesses her granny-- also her only parental figure-- spit at some male road-workers who are just minding their own business, though it's clear that Granny has a reputation for the "evil eye." Lorna asks her grandma for an explanation, and the otherwise unnamed beldame tells Lorna that she wishes all men were dead because one of them left Granny at the altar. The old woman still made a marriage of convenience to a "spineless fool," and that before Lorna's grandfather died, they gave birth to Lorna's father, who is now also dead. No mention is made of Lorna's mother or any maternal relations, but clearly Granny is the only woman in her life. Lorna immediately feels indignation against all men like her granny does, and begins destroying her male dolls while Granny cackles triumphantly.

By the next page Lorna's a young woman and Granny's dying, but the old bat hates men so much, she won't even call for the local male doctor. Strangely, despite having converted Lorna to her man-hating religion, Granny waits till she's on the death-bed to reveal a greater secret, that she's concealed a book of witch-magic behind the fireplace. Granny also warns Lorna of some unspecified "danger" but kicks the bucket before telling Lorna what it is.

Lorna, who unlike her granny has never had a man romance her, throws all of her libido into becoming a self-taught witch. A stranger comes to her door, seeking shelter, and Lorna decides to try her magic on him. She kisses him while mentally reciting the Latin phrase "dies irae et dies ilia"-- which, rather comically, is taken from the first lines of a popular Roman Catholic hymn, and simply means "day of wrath and day of doom." The man is transformed into a crawling victim of the evil spell, and Lorna kills him, not by stomping on him, but crushing him in the pages of her magic book.

Lorna's next act is to bid farewell to the local yokels by driving her car at a road-crew like the one she and her granny met years ago. She apparently injures no one in that incident, but this act sets her on a whirlwind tour of man-hating murder, wherein a caption tells us that "Lorna wandered the world over, always hating men-- and living off them!" Page six makes her modus operandi clear: she charms men into spending money on her, and then kisses them, transforming them into worms. On this page the mature Lorna is finally seen performing the trample-fetish on one of her victims.

Lorna also keeps traveling to avoid being suspected by any local cops, and it's clear that she "squishes" more than a few more lovers, though for the climax to work, she must leave a lot of them alive, to suffer their fate. Then, Lorna's normal libido finally overtakes her perverted habits. She dates a square citizen named Dan, falls in love with him, but refuses to let him kiss her magically tainted lips. He steals a kiss when she's sleeping, and he devolves into wormdom. Worse, when Lorna wakes up she steps on poor old Dan. Distraught, she takes poison to punish herself. But the worms that she didn't squash have waited to have their turn.

I should point out that though I naturally saw the phallic implications of the worm-forms, other online fans have been more imaginative. One pointed out that killing the first victim between the pages of the witch-book might also count as getting crushed within the female "danger zone" (my term), while another fan thought that the sight of the worms swarming all over dying Lorna might be construed as "killer sperm," finally having their way with the man-hater.

While "Crawling Evil" is obviously too brain-fried a story ever to be popular with most comics-fans, it may be the source of a considerably inferior spoof by Daniel Clowes, "Crawl, Worm," seen in an inset picture on the cover of a 1988 LLOYD LLEWELLYN comic. Clowes' story is markedly inferior to the original Iger Shop tale in every way, except that Clowes is much better at being superficially supercilious.

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Following the Silver Surfer's 1966 debut in The Galactus Trilogy, the character became a peripatetic guest-star in assorted Marvel features, with the exception of his one starring role in the backup tale of FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #5. As I noted in my essay on the Trilogy, the SF-trope of menacing Earth or some comparable planet with a world-destroying being had been done before, The Trilogy, however, succeeds in infusing the story of Galactus and his rebellious herald with a dense level of symbolism, largely drawn from Judeo-Christian mythology. However, the Trilogy also offers a more mundane point of interest for fans of Silver Age Marvel, given that it's the one time in the history of the Lee-Kirby collaboration that Lee unequivocably credited Kirby with inventing one of the characters totally on his own, repeatedly asserting that the Silver Surfer appeared in the story sans any input from Stan Lee.

Without rehashing the many facets of the Lee-Kirby history, suffice to say that when the Surfer appeared, he had no explicit origin. He's consistently portrayed by Lee and Kirby as an alien humanoid, who, much like Galactus, is beyond human comprehension, and who shares none of the emotions known to Earth-people. From a "Skrull's-eye" view given to the reader, it appears that the Surfer has existed for some time as Galactus's herald, and it seems implicit that in the past the silver-hued, surfboard-riding extraterrestrial has guided his gargantuan master to devour planets that may have been inhabited. Certainly the Surfer evinces no initial compunction about drawing Galactus to the Earth, and only within the course of the narrative does he develop a conscience against killing, which brings about his opposition to his master and the Surfer's concomitant exile to the Planet Earth.

Reportedly Jack Kirby had conceived an origin for the Surfer, and he was not pleased when Stan Lee, working with John Buscema, presented his own origin for the hero in SILVER SURFER #1. To my knowledge, Kirby never spelled out exactly what his intended origin would have looked like, but clearly it would have proceeded from the initial idea that the Surfer was distinctly not human. Lee must have been on the same page with this conception back in the day, for in FANTASTIC FOUR #55, the Thing picks a fight with the Surfer out of jealousy over Alicia Masters, and Mister Fantastic tries to tell his partner that the Surfer doesn't even understand human modes of expression because "he isn't even human." I've theorized that some of Kirby's original concept was possibly recycled into 1978's SILVER SURFER graphic novel, the last collaboration of Lee and Kirby. Although the dialogue establishes that the story is "in continuity" with the origin given by Lee in the 1968 tale, there are suggestions that the Surfer may be, like other characters in the GN, an emanation from Galactus's own being, not unlike the stories of angels being directly manifested by the Will of God.

But in 1968, Lee distances himself from Kirby's 'science-fiction angel." It appears that Lee wanted to humanize the Surfer, probably to make the character more relatable to the average comics-buyer. At the same time, clearly Lee wanted the Surfer's debut to be perceived as an event, since the story premiered in a 25-cent "book-length" format to start, though by issue #8 the feature was retooled for the 15-cent market and kept that status until cancellation at issue *18. Lee had received approbation from his fans for the philosophical musings of the Surfer and other Marvel characters, so it's likely he thought that the SURFER title was a chance to see if the audience would support a continuing character with an extremely heavy philosophical attitude.

For the first six pages of SILVER SURFER #1, the protagonist evinces the same speechifyin' tendencies seen in his earlier appearances. He rails against the "unforgivable insanity" of the human race with whom he's been consigned to dwell, and speaks of humans' "hatred, fear, and unreasoning hostility." He's met with animus even when he rescues astronaut John Jameson from a watery death, which is certainly a patent reference to one of the earliest feats of Lee's most popular martyr-hero, Spider-Man. Then on page seven, the Surfer begins recollecting what his life was like before he was the Surfer-- and this remembrance of things past, though occasionally interrupted by present-day interludes, forms the bulk of the story.

Lee's retconned Surfer is still an alien, but one with an entirely mortal nature. In that life, the Surfer was Norrin Radd, a native of Zenn-La. Despite the resemblance of the planet's name to that of James Hilton's pacifistic paradise Shangri-La, Zenn-La is drawn from the science-fiction trope of the overcivilized civilization, one whose inhabitants are supported by such glorious technology that they need do nothing but live in sybaritic stagnation. But here Lee reverses the formula of the Surfer inveighing against the savagery of Earth-people, for the mortal Norrin is discontent with the complacence of his people, observing that "those to whom no distant horizons beckon-- for whom no challenges remain-- though they have inherited a universe, they possess only empty sand." His girlfriend Shalla Bal, also introduced for the first time here, is as happy as any other Zenn-Lavian with their unchanging status. Norrin alone mourns the loss of real history: of his ancestors' renunciation of warfare, of the dawning of an Age of Reason, and, most relevant to Norrin, the culture's era of space-exploration. 

However, an invader appears to menace the peaceful world. Since the locals have forgotten how to practice eternal vigilance, they fall back on their sole defense: a great super-weapon. The use of the weapon wrecks half the planet, but the invader's craft takes no harm at all. Norrin, though he has no method of retaliation, chooses to confront the invader in a spacecraft, if only to learn what menaces his world. He gets more than he bargains for.

Galactus, possibly impressed by Norrin's courage, deigns to justify his planet-devouring proclivities with one of Lee's best lines: "If your own life depended upon stepping on an ant hill-- you would not hesitate." When Norrin continues to plead for the lives of his people, Galactus happens to mention that he would be willing to spare living  beings if he had a herald capable of searching out worlds that could nourish a world-destroyer's appetite, but without intelligent life. Norrin responds by offering his services to the planet-eater, even though it means cutting all ties with his mortal existence. 

At the same time, though Norrin gives up his beloved to become the Silver Surfer, cutting ties with Zenn-La doesn't seem to affect him much. In this quasi-Faustian bargain, the hero loses the girl but he pursues a higher passion: the exploration of the universe's ceaseless wonders. However, though in this iteration the compassionate Surfer is able to guide his master away from some planets with intelligent life, he's unable to keep Galactus from imperiling Earth because the master just happens to be really hungry. In other words, Lee exonerates the Surfer from the deeds of his earlier, indifferent-alien persona, and ends the story by having the depressed alien state to the reader that "my destiny still lies before me."

I've omitted the interludes, though one of them is interesting because it shows the Surfer musing in "Ozymandias" fashion on a long-dead civilization. To be sure, Lee isn't interested in cosmic relativism. In this story at least, Lee celebrates the period of civilization in which people are still young and vital, yet wise enough to renounce war and pursue the goal of enlightened exploration. It's  not a particularly deep proposition, but there's a germ of a good idea in it that could be given more sophisticated treatment. The biggest problem with Lee's retcon of the Surfer is that the character's constant jeremiads against violence were not likely to prove popular with an audience that wanted to enjoy spectacles of violence. Most Marvel heroes in those days showed some reluctance to fight, but once they were pressed to do so, they were usually allowed to feel moments of triumph for overcoming a powerful opponent. The Surfer, awash in his ongoing Christ-complex, could never take satisfaction in his victories, and this-- perhaps more than the feature's almost total lack of humor-- may have spelled doom to the first outing of the silver-hued sky-rider.