Surfing With the Alien

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The recent New York Comic Con produced a tidal wave of announcements concerning new comics.  The most interesting  news, to me,  concerned two science fiction-oriented characters who will be making a comeback early next year.

Marvel announced that the Silver Surfer will be getting his own comic again, starting in April.  The book will be written by Dan Slott,  best known for his work on Superior Spider-Man,  while the art will be provided by Mike Allred, who is known for his creator-owned books like Madman.

The Silver Surfer was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby during the original run of the Fantastic Four comic book. He is, as the name suggests, a silvery figure who travels through space on something that looks very much like a surf board.

The Surfer began as a scout for a being called Galactus,   looking for planets that he could devour.  He decided to look for a new line of work when Galactus tried to put Earth on the menu,  but, like a divorced couple who can’t quite split up,  they’ve encountered each other sporadically since then. The  Surfer has been a regular part of the Marvel  Universe since his introduction, appearing in his own comic and as part of a team. He was featured in the second Fantastic Four movie and starred in an animated series for one season. (And when is that going to become available on DVD?)

There isn’t much information available yet about the plot line of the Surfer’s new comic. But the creative staff has been fairly clear about the tone they’re aiming for.  The cover of the first issue proclaims “ Anywhere and everywhere—hang on!” Slott has told at least one interviewer that he and Allred are “going to the “Hitchhiker’s Guide” section of the universe.  We’re going to the Red Dwarf and Doctor Who section of the universe…We’re going to do things you’ve never seen before.” One thing  that is known about the plot is that the Surfer will be escorting Dawn Greenwood, a human woman abducted by aliens, back to  Earth.  At least he isn’t wearing a fez.

All of this is a long way from the original characterization of the Silver Surfer, as developed by Lee, Kirby and John Buscema (the artist on the Surfer’s first solo comic run). To them, the character combined the angst of Spider-Man with a cosmic background.  But that doesn’t mean this approach won’t work.  It’s not hard to imagine the Surfer experiencing the same awe that the Doctor feels when traveling the universe. Whether he has the same sense of playfulness remains to be seen.

The other revival I’m looking forward to is of a character that has an even longer history than the Silver Surfer.  In  March 2014, Dynamite Comics is reviving Magnus, Robot Fighter a comic first published in 1963.

classicmagnus 001Magnus Robot Fighter is set in the early 41st century, in the city of North Am.  With a few exceptions (such as the Grand Canyon), North Am covers every available square foot of North America. Robots and artificial intelligences are an integral part of daily life, and few question the arrangement…but some do. One dissenter, oddly enough, is 1A, an ancient robot.

In order to protect mankind against renegade robots  and to provide an example of a different way of life, 1A takes an orphan boy he calls Magnus and trains him in his secret Antarctic refuge. 1A teaches  him  how to destroy renegade robots and implants  a device in his brain that allows him to eavesdrop on communications between robots.

Magnus was first published by Gold Key Comics, a relatively small company. But it made an impact for two reasons. Russ Manning’s crisp, dynamic artwork gave the comic a unique look and suggested that a world existed beyond the borders of the panel.   The premise allowed for pulp-style action, and for serious talk about how technology affects society, something that’s still hard to find in science fiction comics.

In the early 1990s, Magnus, Robot Fighter returned as part of the first wave of titles from Valiant Comics. It was written by Jim Shooter, the former editor at Marvel Comics, who made a simple but profound change in the premise. Rogue robots were now freewill robots. Magnus has been back three times since then, once with Shooter back at the helm,  but none of these revivals lasted long. Still, Magnus is still well-regarded among comics and sf fans. Personally, Magnus was one of the characters who introduced me to both sf and comics. So he’ll always have a permanent spot in my personal panetheon.

The Dynamite Comics version will be scripted by Fred Van Lente (Brain Boy; G.I. Joe; Cowboys & Aliens and Action Philosophers!) with art by Cory Smith (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).  Dynamite is also bringing back three other characters from the Gold Key stable: Doctor SpektorSolar, Man of the Atom and Turok, Son of Stone.

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