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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Silver Surfer #50

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1991′s foil-embossed Silver Surfer #50…

SS50 Cover

Silver Surfer #50 (published June 1991) – Script by Jim Starlin, art by Ron Lim and Tom Christopher

To celebrate the 50th issue of Silver Surfer’s second series, Marvel unleashed one of its first embossed covers, adorning the titular character and the comic’s title in reflective silver foil. The embossed gimmick would go on to be used on countless other comic book covers throughout the 1990s, by both the “Big Two” and numerous independent publishers. Of course, in the case of this comic book, it actually made sense for the Silver Surfer to be … ahem … silver.

But what about inside the comic?

Beyond functioning as a special “milestone” issue for the Silver Surfer series, the comic also serves as a prelude to the critically acclaimed Infinity Gauntlet mini-series, also penned by Starlin. So the comic needs to deliver on two fronts: a satisfying Silver Surfer story that caters to the character’s fan base, and a riveting set-up to Marvel’s big crossover event in the Infinity Gauntlet. In both instances, Silver Surfer #50 is successful.

The story focuses on Surfer’s mad dash towards Earth to warn about the danger posed by everyone’s favorite cosmic sociopath, Thanos, who has just recovered all of the infinity gems giving him omnipotent power. Thanos confronts Surfer and forces him to face a buried secret about his childhood and family while living in the utopian world of Zenn-La.

Surfer 01

Using the power of the mind gem, Thanos discovers that Surfer’s father Jartan Radd has committed intellectual fraud and eventually commits suicide when his son fails to grant him forgiveness for his transgressions. The buried secret brings out Surfer’s violent side, who on multiple occasions smashes Thanos’ body, which is currently in its stone husk form.

Surfer 05

Thanos, naturally reanimates to keep toying with Surfer, before letting him finish his journey to Earth to sound the alarm that will kick off the Infinity Gauntlet.

Surfer 02

Starlin is arguably Thanos’ greatest writer and it shows throughout this issue. The imminent threat of the Mad Titan is ever-present as he pokes and prods Surfer, always making sure to stop short of driving him into complete madness, or leaving him “a drooling vegetable.” Demonstrating why he’s one of Marvel’s greatest villains of all-time, Thanos is able to show the parallels between his murderous ways and Surfer’s cold disconnect from his father which led to Jartan’s suicide. “Some cosmic saint you turn out to be!” Thanos tells Surfer.

Surfer 04

“At least I let the light of day shine upon my crimes!” I’ve always maintained that the best villains can always find a way to get the audience to empathize with their madness. By issue’s end, Thanos has certainly made me question whether someone who can’t forgive his own father is truly a hero, or just a hypocrite.

Meanwhile, the story provides some tremendous insight into Surfer’s origins. Whereas Marvel could have used the milestone issue as an excuse to repackage existing content, instead we learn more about Zenn-La and the indulgence lifestyle of its inhabitants, which ultimately made the planet so vulnerable to Galactus (and how Surfer agreed to become the planet eater’s herald in exchange for sparing the life of his home world).

The way Thanos so efficiently emotionally and mentally rapes Surfer leaves the hero questioning his morals and motivations as he soars towards Earth to announce the inevitable showdown. Starlin’s script sings here as Surfer wonders, “is the present held hostage to the past? Does one mistake dilute the good of a thousand honorable deeds.” By the issue’s end, Surfer is lying in wreckage, both literally and figuratively.

Artistically, Lim delivers a definitive version of the Surfer. His fight scenes with Thanos are dynamic. The Zenn-La scenes reflect something out of a dystopian film like Logan’s Run. Thanos flashes his trademark demonic grin as he digs deeper into the recesses of Surfer’s mind, and there’s even one scene where the hero flashes a mad smile reflecting his emotional descent as his board smashes the villain into hundreds of stone pieces.

Surfer 03

Silver Surfer #50 works as its own contained piece of story and comic book art, and as a worthwhile lead-in to the even broader Infinity Gauntlet series. The gimmicked cover likely bumped up sales when it was on the newsstand, but the comic itself is successful on its own merits.

Verdict: Good

49 Comments

While this story was enjoyable, particularly by the standards of the time, I believe Jim Starlin hit his creative apex in the 1970s and 1980s. He really should have quit Marvel while he was ahead, because all the Infinity Whatevers were just retreads of his far superior 1970s Marvel stories.

He did quit Marvel while he was ahead. But then he came back.

There is doubt that Starlin writes the best Thanos. The only other writers that I’ve seen come even close are Abnett and Lanning.

the only surfer’s story I read was “Parable”. Otherwise I mostly ignored SS’s comics.

also, I never liked Surfer (hero), but I always liked Thanos (villain). I think it speaks for itself.

Ryan Costello, Jr

March 20, 2013 at 5:53 am

This was my first Silver Surfer comic, purchased as a youth 100% because of the chrome cover. Between this and Infinity Gauntlet, I have had a fondness for the Surfer ever since. Agreed that this issue is very successful, with the conversation/battle between Surfer and Thanos working as both a book end and its own B-story.

This was the first comic I ever bought. Loved everything about the Silver Surfer during that time. Good times!

I wonder how the Marz run has aged. I remember loving it as a kid.

Charles J. Baserap

March 20, 2013 at 6:19 am

I loved this comic as a kid and still love it today, even getting it signed by Starlin right across the surfboard last year in Baltimore.

The only issue of Silver Surfer I own. Saw it on a rack and just picked it up, because of the cover.

Definitely a good one. I should also note that I’ve always thought of Ron Lim as *the* Silver Surfer artist, the same way people put Walt Simonson as Thor’s or Frank Miller as Daredevil’s.

Agreed. Lim has always been the surfer artist in my mind too.

Oh wow. Because I was never a fan of the “galactic” storylines and thus not much of a Surfer reader, this issue is entirely unknown to me. However, based on the little snippets posted in this article I must say that artwork is FANTASTIC. I think I messed up by avoiding that title!

Charles J. Baserap

March 20, 2013 at 8:13 am

Adam and Ben, I have to echo that. It was Lim’s use of the “shine” and “gleam” off of the Sufer’s body that really made him look silver, as in metallic, as opposed to a guy in a full bodysuit.

I am really awed by that Lim work. It’s amazing. One of the things I found interesting is that the Image boys really wanted Ron Lim on board for Image when forming it. I wonder how his career trajectory would have changed if he took them up on it? A great interview with Liefeld about it:

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=182

Like many who posted, this was the first issue of SILVER SURFER I ever bought (yep, due to the cover). Gimmick cover or not, the story was pretty good and I recall the issue being a solid read.

And, also like many of you, I share the opinion that Ron Lim is the, definitive, SILVER SURFER artist. His style was just so “right” for the book.

Yet another “this was my first Silver Surfer issue” comment, and it was also the first comic that was my very own and not my older brother’s. I came back from a vaction with my parents and my sister had bought it for me. Still one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. I know that the cover’s super-duper ’90s, and even as a little kid I hated most of the then-new comics, much preferring the back issues my brother had and would pick up—but this was a good one. And I’ll always think the Infinity Gauntlet is legitimately great and not a retread “of his far superior 1970s Marvel stories”. It’s more like a fitting conclusion to those stories. Sure, Infinity War is like an unsatisfying action movie, and I remember Infinity Crusade sucking a fatty (although I haven’t reread it since I was 8-9, I’m guessing that’s still true), but I think it’s unfair to lump Gauntlet in with the rest.

LouReedRichards

March 20, 2013 at 11:32 am

I’ve never understood the appeal of Lim’s version of the Surfer. It’s all just matters of opinion of course, but to me he always made the Surfer look buffoonish and way too bulky.

I greatly prefer the Buscema version of the character. That version has a lithe, poetic quality that I feel is missing in Lim’s version.

Plus the way Lim draws characters heads has always bothered me.
I’m currently reading a co-workers copy of the Infinity Gauntlet and I’m not looking forward to the Lim portion of the story.

He’s decent narrative storyteller though, so there’s that. It did always seem like he put the story first rather than the flashy visuals. That was a trait all too lacking in a lot of early 90′s comics.

So far, what I’ve read of the Infinity Gauntlet doesn’t seem to me as good as Starlin’s Warlock stuff in the mid 70′s – but it’s been a long time since I read those, so I may be looking back through rose colored glasses.

Sorry, didn’t mean to come off sounding like a grumpy old man.

Lou–

I’ll concede that a lot of Lim’s work in the 90s was hit or miss. His SILVER SURFER work tended to be great. His stuff outside of it could look a little bland, and sometimes looked a bit rushed or incomplete. Honestly, I think it depended on who was inking him. I see that in SS #50, it’s somebody named Tom Christopher. In INFINITY GAUNTLET #4, the inkers were Joe Rubenstein and somebody named Bruce Solotoff–not sure who did Perez and who did Lim, but it doesn’t look quite as strong.

In the pages above, I see lots of good use of darks, craggy spots, and tiny dots really bringing out the rocky details in Thanos. In other Lim books that I can remember, it’s not as good.

The jump from Perez to Lim in IG #4 is pretty jarring. Lim’s work is by no means bad, but you do lose that weird visual style that Perez had been using in the first few issues. I still don’t know why the switch happened–was Perez unable to keep up with the schedule for some reason? (I seem to recall IG being a bi-monthly event.)

Charles J. Baserap

March 20, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Lou, I can definitely see what you mean about the bulkiness. For me, it was more the little touches, like the gleams shining off him that drew me in. Actually, a perfect hybrid to me would be the more lithe form you mentioned, but with the more metallic look Lim gave him.

Hey, although not a cover, how about a “gimmick or good” for the pop-up insert in Ghost Rider #25? I can imagine a trades department going crazy at trying to figure out how to reprint that…

Adam, Ghost Rider #25 is certainly on my radar. The good news is, there are so many gimmicked comic books from this era, I could probably do this forever (at Brian’s discretion of course).

LouReed, do you hate him by even 90s standards? Because I can see what you mean about things like the bulkiness and all, but that was such the norm in the 90s. Look at even the 90s Spider-Man cartoon for instance. Compared to many of his 90s peers, I definitely think Lim was one of the tops, especially compared to other hot artists like Liefeld, Lee, Valentino, etc. I agree he can’t compare to John Buscema in many ways, but who from the early 90s, especially during the height of the early 90s, could?

Wooly –

Jim Starlin in the 1990s was… well, I was going to say Michael Bay, but not quite so bad. INFINITE GAUNTLET was a popcorn, action cross-over with some nice touches, and a charismatic villain that Starlin has perhaps used too much. I don’t hate it, but it’s nothing special. I like the big battle of the heroes vs. Thanos. It’s likely better than any big battle we’ve seen in other cross-overs in the Bendis/Millar era.

Jim Starlin in the 1970s was a mix of Michael Moorcock, David Bowie, and Jack Kirby, channeling into comics all that weird cosmic psychodelia. If comics had a bigger body of critical analysis, Starlin in the 1970s would have been included into the collection of works that have changed comics. Sadly, it was dilluted into the mediocre work Starlin has done later. Because comic creators apparently can’t let go of their old characters. Bringing Adam Warlock back for INFINITE GAUNTLET was like Nicholas Roeg bringing back THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH to use him in ARMAGGEDON with Michael Bay.

And Ron Lim is like T. said. A good artist for the times, but I’d much rather have John Buscema, Jack Kirby or Moebius doing the Silver Surfer.

And Ron Lim is like T. said. A good artist for the times, but I’d much rather have John Buscema, Jack Kirby or Moebius doing the Silver Surfer.

Well, I’d rather have those guys doing Silver Surfer over EVERYONE, so I don’t think that’s a fair standard. Who could meet that standard.

I don’t think Ron Lim was just a good artist for the times, but I think his 90s art specifically was good for its times. I’ve seen some of his newer work, and I think his art has modernized well, far better than many of his 90s peers like Liefeld, Brett Booth, and Lee:
http://ronlimart.com/

If it weren’t for Ron Lim being the artist on Silver Surfer, I’d never have read it. And I started with the return of Thanos in Surfer #34-something. and after reading it, I was all “Who’s THIS guy??” fascinated and then I read all the previous Starlin Warlock and Thanos stuff I could get my grubby paws on.

Maybe I need to re-read it with a more critical eye, but I still remember Infinity Gauntlet fondly as a heck of a ride. Have a bit of regret for going crossover-crazy with the subsequent Infinity minis tho, I own a lot of crappy comics just because they were linked to those stories. (And “The Infinity Watch”, too. Hoo boy those were some major fishwrappings.)

Surfer #34 was my introduction to Thanos (bought some years after it came out). I’ve been digging Starlin’s work ever since. I agree that this was a good book. Lim is also a very good artist. I do find it amusing that anyone would try to compare him to Kirby or Buscema. Do most people compare to them favorably? Let the work stand on its own.

Sure, lead Galactus to countless occupied planets, be responsible for the deaths of billions, meh. Not forgive your father? ‘I’m just like Thanos!’

I kid, I kid. I love the Surfer. Also I think Starlin did an issue on the Surfer confronting his guilt over his culpability in planet-catering.

And of course Starlin had Thanos whup up on Surf a bit much in the classic ‘make my character look tough’ pattern in his early issues of the Surfer, once he got the Infinity Gauntlet, less of a thang.

I’d go for gimmick though, I bought the comic and I was disappointed, I didn’t care about psychological father issues at the time, and not much more now.

And I liked Ron Lim’s Silver Surfer, even if he’s not Mobius, Kirby or Buscema, who is? I do think that reason his art was so inconsistent was because he was drawing a rather high page count some months, to keep up with all the Infinity series and others. I recall there were several panels in ‘Infinity Crusade’ where the background characters were literally barely more than stick figures.

I’m surprised that no one has yet mentioned all that beautiful Marshall Rogers artwork in the first 10 or so issues of that Surfer run! Rogers drew the Surfer as extremely graceful and lithe, yet strong and very metallic looking (without all the spikey little flashes everywhere no matter where he was) and better heads and faces than in Lim’s issues. I’d put Rogers and Byrne in my top 5 Surfer artists. Lim might be in there too but I haven’t given it much thought, and I got kinda tired of his work after a while, but he’s preferable over most 90′s Marvel pencilers to me.

LouReedRichards

March 21, 2013 at 3:58 am

@T:
Well yeah in comparison to most other 90′s artist I’d say he held better than most. Of those you mentioned I think only Jim Lee had better draughtmanship, but he let his drawing abilities get taken over by all the flashy gimmicky early 90′s stylistic tics. Like I said, I appreciate that Lim put the story first and didn’t get wrapped up in the crosshatching spittlefest that was taking over comics at the time.

To P. Boz and Phred:
I don’t think it’s unfair to compare Lim’s work to previous artists that worked on the Surfer. Buscema and Kirby set a standard for the character. It seems natural to compare and contrast their work with the artist who follow in their footsteps. I wouldn’t have brought it up, except that I hear a lot of commenters here rave about his work and like I said, I just don’t see it.

We all have different tastes, mostly I was jut hoping that I might get a better insight into why people like his work so much. Lim seems to be a sentimental favorite with a lot of people because he was the artist on some of the first comics they ever read. That’s an understandable reason – I probably have an undue fondness for Mike Zeck (Shout out to Secret Wars #6!) for the same reason. It’s funny when I think about it, Zeck also draws heads in a weird way and was working on the big company crossover when I discovered his work.

We all have our favorite versions of the Surfer. Lim, Rogers, Bryne, Moebius, Garney. I’m sure somebody out there thinks Rich Buckler’s mid 70′s version is the “one”.

Now I’m going to have to pull out my Fantasy Masterpiece comics with reprints of Lee/Buscema’s Surfer and Starlin’s Adam Warlock stories.

BTW: I still think Zeck’s work is pretty awesome!

That was probably the most beautiful of all “gimmick” covers. Worked very well with the character. It also helped that the issue had an actual good story too (although at the time I thought it not as good as the previous Starlin issues – the man was on fire!).

Lim’s artwork was for Silver Surfer was very good. OK, he is no Buscema, Kirby or Moebius, but none of those guys was available to do a monthly Surfer series. Lim was and did a remarkable job all things considered – and drew over 50 issues of the Surfer! More than any other artist, as far as I know.

Going back to the cover, my former comic shop kept an issue framed on the wall for years just because the owner found it beautiful. I agree with him.

other then the issue the old gimick foil cover . the thing showed that the silver surfer is really not so much the saint he tries to be that even as thanos points out the silver surfer has his flaws including not taking the steps to prevent his father from killing himself by just saying the words i forgive you. and thus also the story proved how thanos will not hesitate in his methods of hurting his opponent mentaly . by using the silver surfers father against him

Lim seems to be a sentimental favorite with a lot of people because he was the artist on some of the first comics they ever read.

I don’t think that’s a fair summary. Reread the comments in this thread. No one said that. In fact, one guy went so far as to say he’d never even have tried a Silver Surfer comic in the first place if not for Ron Lim’s artwork. I think you don’t like Lim, so you want to believe that’s the only reason why people like him, but nothing in the actual comments supports your claim that he seems to be a sentimental favorite because he was the first artist he was exposed to.

@Ganky,

” I got kinda tired of his work after a while, but he’s preferable over most 90?s Marvel pencilers to me.”

I liked Lim’s work from this period. My favorite Lim-drawn comics are still the first few issues of X-Men 2099. Adam Kubert inked some of them. I found month after month of Ron Lim art boring, however. Not bad, but deadening after awhile. I’ve had the same reaction to the art of Jim Lee (especially during “Hush”), Mark Bagley, and both Kubert brothers. It can be preferrable to Marvel or DC switching artists or needing fill-ins after three issues, though.

LouReedRichards

March 21, 2013 at 11:37 am

I never stated that was the ONLY reason he was somebody’s favorite Surfer artist.

Several people here have stated that this was one of the first comics they ever owned.

If I have confused the issue please forgive me. I don’t think I was out of line in stating that though.

Also: If you reread my original post I never stated that I HATE Lim.

I have gone out of my way to make sure and compliment his storytelling abilities and resistance to much of the excess of the early 90′s.

I don’t know why you’re so hung up on my distaste for his art though.

You find it amazing and awe inspiring. I find it flat and generic, nothing excites me about ANY of the pages. I don’t hate it, it’s just dull. It is easy to read and not confusing to the reader, so I appreciate that about it.

I just don’t understand the love that certain artist get on this site. I stated what I don’t like about it. Can you enlighten me as to what you do find so amazing about it? I’m not being sarcastic. I love talking about comic art, and welcome the opportunity to learn how other people view an artist’s work.

God knows I wish someone could explain me to what is so great about Breyfogle…

LouReedRichards

March 21, 2013 at 11:50 am

BTW: I enjoy Mike Sekowsky’s art (which seems to be reviled by a lot of people) so if anybody wants to give me a hard time about art – there’s your opening! : )

Lou–

I’m pretty libertarian on matters of taste: you like what you like, and I’ll like what I like. Having said that, I guess the Lim-love is based on the fact that he was THE Silver Surfer artist through the 90s, which is probably when a lot of people were introduced to the character. (Come to think of it, I think SS #50 was my first issue of his book as well.) Looking at his Wikipedia page, he was on the book from roughly issue #15 to #90, albeit with a lot of holes in there. A 70-issue run by an artist is almost unheard of these days. Anyway, if you were reading Silver Surfer or anything cosmic in the 90s, chances are Ron Lim was drawing it.

With Lim’s style: his Surfer is sleek and clean. I don’t know if Lim was the first artist to get rid of the Surfer’s “underwear” (maybe Moebius did it first), but the character looks sharper for it. Another bonus: Lim definitely makes the Surfer look shiny and metallic with all the reflective lines and reflective spots. Metal is difficult to do in 2-dimensions and 4 colors, but you get an appreciable sense that the Surfer is metallic.

I won’t say that Lim is a flawless artist. Looking back, Lim was drawing a LOT of stuff in the 90s, possibly to the point of oversaturation. There’s times where his art looks quick and rushed, and I was sometimes bothered by the way he drew women’s faces. (Then again, look at old Jack Kirby art. In Avengers #2, the Hulk goes between having three toes and four.) However, when Lim was on his game and paired with a good inker, he looked fine.

Overall, however, this is THE artist that a lot of people associate with the Silver Surfer given the era and the number of Surfer-related projects he did. You’d probably get the same reaction if you said you didn’t like John Byrne’s Fantastic Four, Walt Simonson’s Thor, Dale Keown’s Hulk, or John Romita’s Sr.’s Spider-Man.

Several people here have stated that this was one of the first comics they ever owned.

Several people DID say that this was one of their first comics ever. But if you reread the comments thread you’ll notice that most of those people saying that aren’t the same ones proclaiming their love for Ron Lim. And most of the comments proclaiming a love for Lim never say that this was one of the first comics they ever owned. You combined two sets of commenters into one narrative.

Also, one of the few comments that says this is the first Surfer comic they ever owned AND proclaim a love for Lim explicitly says the only reason he ever tried the comic at all was that Lim’s art wowed him. So rather than loving Lim because this was the first Surfer comic he ever owned, it’s the opposite: it’s the first Surfer comic he ever owned because he loved Lim.

Youu may end up being right about why people love Lim. I’m just debating that the comments here lend support to that theory.

I like these stories. But they do get an exaggerated amount of love, IMO. Almost everything by that time was such a train wreck at Marvel that the few things that weren’t really stood out. But these stories were nothing more than competent superhero comics. Monthly Marvel comics of that time, there was little that could be considered essential today. Alan Davis in Excalibur, Byrne in She-Hulk, PAD in Hulk. What else? I think, if I absolutely had to re-read a straightforward 1990s Marvel superhero comic, I’d rather read the first 50 issues of New Warrior than this. Or maybe the first 2 years of Jim Valentino’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

But I have to admit that Englehart, and later Starlin, did very good considering that the Silver Surfer’s traits and personality used to be set in stone (silver?) by Stan Lee.

I like Lim’s Surfer art…..

….. but thought Marshall Rogers on the earlier issues of the title was sooooo much better

“I still don’t know why the switch happened–was Perez unable to keep up with the schedule for some reason? (I seem to recall IG being a bi-monthly event.)”

Per the covers, it wasn’t supposed to be bi-monthly [and given the way some titles just crossed over the whole time, probably for the best]. So if your memory has any merit, you probably answered your own question.

[...] Gimmick or Good? – Silver Surfer #50 (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) [...]

[...] or if it was actually “good.”  Today’s entry looks at the chromium embossed Silver Surfer #50 (which also functioned as a prelude to the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series). Be sure to check it [...]

Definitely Good! I remember buying this comic like it was yesterday. This SS run was the great return of Starlin to Marvel and to Comics itself. This issue told a totally new story with a view for SS never seen before, with the same psychological touch that Starlin used on Warlock.

It was recently republished as a Graphic Novel.

Nobody captures Marvel’s cosmic characters quite like Jim Starlin and Ron Lim. And in my opinion, nobody writes dialogue for Thanos better than Starlin. Other writers come close, but Starlin’s Thanos was sadistic, sarcastic, and downright brutal when he wanted to be. The Infinity Gauntlet was the best out of all the the Infinity stories as well. Like most sequels, the stories just lost steam and originality as the mystery of the Infinity Gems was lost a little more each time.

The Infinity Gauntlet was, in my opinion, a three part story starting with Thanos Quest, making a stop in Silver Surfer, and then into the limited series. This was one of the biggest event that Marvel had done at the time and has been one of the best since then.

[…] [Images via Comic Book Resources: Gimmick or Good? – Silver Surfer #50] […]

Timothy Markin

May 25, 2014 at 3:29 pm

It’s funny how many people, when they learn I collect comics, tell me they “have that death of Superman comic, and it’s still bagged, in mint condition!”

I have to say that I’ve always disliked how Starlin wrote and writes the Surfer. Starlin is in love with his own creations, especially Thanos- Thanos is stronger, smarter, more capable than anybody else. This is literally true. The only person who ever beats Thanos is Thanos. Starlin’s take on the Surfer was “how can I come up with more ways to have Thanos kick the crap out of him?” This issue was just another example of a pattern Starlin had already set with the two characters. Most recently, his “Infinity Revelation” carried on the pattern as usual. In my view, there should be a moratorium on Starlin writing the Surfer.

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