Silver Surfer #5
Issue(s): Silver Surfer #5
Unfortunately it is untested and it does not work. The Surfer goes crashing back to Earth and is found by a man named Al B. Harper, and brought to his cottage to rest.
It is implied that Harper understands the Surfer's isolation and lack of acceptance in human society because he is black, but we are not beaten over the head with it. Harper is a physicist, and he thinks he can find a way to get the Surfer through Galactus' barrier by disguising his genetic make-up (which is a pretty clever idea), but he needs money to complete his research.
After a comical sequence where the Surfer tries to get a job (for one thing he has no documentation of any kind, and for another he goes to interviews wearing a trenchcoat and sunglasses)...
...he gives that idea up and comes very close to robbing a bank. In the end, he earns cash by cheating some crooked gangsters who are running a craps game with loaded dice.
After Harper builds the device, the Surfer heads up into space, but before he can use it, he encounters the Stranger.
The Stranger is still on his "The human race needs to be destroyed before it infects the entire universe" kick. He seems to have abandoned the Abomination. He's got a Null-Life Bomb that he's going to use to destroy the planet. The Silver Surfer fights the Stranger while Harper searches for the bomb.
When Harper finds it, he de-fuses it, but the bomb releases fumes that kill him.
This issue is considered by many to be a classic. You can see in the letters pages for Silver Surfer #7 that it affected people quite a bit. Although there is one letter writer who writes:
There has been a recent trend by Marvel to put the Negro in the spotlight (i.e., the Black Panther, Joe Robertson, Centurius). I'm all for it, but when you start your own civil rights protest, well, I'm against that. I
The response is:
But, such matters as racism and equality do concern us, Tim - not just as comic-mag artists and writers and publishers, but as human beings.
To a reader today, this comic seems relatively harmless, but seeing a letter like that makes you realize how different a world it was back in 1969 and that there really was some risk in writing a story including a character like Harper.
On a much more fanboyish concern, not sure why the Surfer didn't subsequently try to use the genetic disguise device or ask Reed Richards or another scientist to try and replicate it.
I like the Stranger's "floating head" method of transportation.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Fantastic Four appearance is relatively context free (although i'd like to point out that it's weird how they all use the bathroom at the same time), but since the Fantastic Four spend all of this year in stories that run pretty much directly into each other (from Atillan to Latveria to the Mole Man's weird house to outer space) it causes major shuffling for me.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Fantasy Masterpieces #5
This story was parodied later that year in "Not Brand Ecch".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 7, 2011 12:17 AM
Great side note about how the Al Harper character was controversial at the time. Having read these from Marvel Masterworks, I missed out on that.
Posted by: Dave B | October 4, 2011 10:52 AM
In one of George Perez's misguided "emotionless Surfer" stories (post Uni-Lord saga), Norrin desecrates Al Harper's grave and snuffs the eternal flame. So I guess it didn't burn as long as there was life on the planet, after all.
Sigh. What pea-brain editor okays that kind of crap?
Posted by: Dan Spector | July 8, 2014 12:23 PM
It's amazing to me reading through these first five issues of Silver Surfer just how many of Buscema's panels made it into the Handbooks in the '80s. His work on this series was some of the best of his career.
Posted by: Robert | March 6, 2016 5:22 PM
When the Blue Marvel first showed up, he reminded me of this comic very strongly.
Posted by: FF3 | March 21, 2016 3:56 PM
Defnitely a classic and of it's time,but it's very difficult to think of such a story being done today.The mixture of fantasy and realistc elements are extremely well integrated,without one hurting the other.The themes were handled excellently,without self-conscious involvement.The Stranger,up until then,an obscure character,is neither a hero or a villain,and provides ambiguous content.
John Buscema,with his realistic style,was I think,perfect for the magazine,and it's difficult to imagine anybody else handling the art on this sensitive piece.His brother Sal's inking was also very well done,and suited John's style,while Lee's scripting skills and characterisation,were superb.
Posted by: Richard Fahey | November 26, 2016 12:14 PM
I appreciate fnord occasionally posting excerpts from letters pages in his issue overviews, such as he does here with the reaction to the character of Al Harper. Items like this are an important reminder that comic books have always been political, and that unfortunately there have always been small-but-vocal groups of fans who have complained that comic books should not be political. It's just that in those pre-internet days the only forums for their criticisms were lettercols and fanzines, as opposed to the 21st century, where any angry person with an axe to grind can loudly go off on social media.
Posted by: Ben Herman | June 12, 2018 1:15 PM
The Stranger is far too cool to be wearing A Studio 54 space disco costume equipped with a peekaboo waist sash...
Posted by: Rocknrollguitarplayer | June 13, 2018 1:40 AM
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