Silver Surfer: Parable (Marvel)


Rating: 3.5/5 – Stan Lee/Moebius (refreshing) far exceeds Stan Lee/Pollard (forgettable).
Collects Silver Surfer (1988) #1-2 and Silver Surfer: The Enslavers HC

With the way the Jack Kirby and Stan Lee debate has raged on over the years on who is really responsible for creating the bulk of the Marvel Universe, it’s hard not to feel like an apologist for liking something Stan has written. I think we have all been polarized since the court ruling against the estate of the King not long ago. So I wanted to try and get a picture of Stan outside of current events. To read his work without seeing Jack’s lines to  allow me to square up to where I would draw the line regarding who is responsible for creating the Silver Age Marvel U.

And let the record show, in those debates, I am pro Kirby getting his fair share all the way… but to be clear I think that share is half.

I also think Stan has been an amazingly charming ambassador for the medium I love. He has been the booster and face for the comics industry, good or ill, for as long as I’ve been alive, and I think this is the only work of his I can think of where no debate lingers on how the credit should be divided, it’s just a powerful mingling of idea and art. As a result, I got to meet both of these contributors on the page rather than anything vestigial from the collective voice of the community.

Preamble complete, this is what I came up with:

I think Stan wrote an amazingly heartfelt story. Sure, the language has that tinge of purple prose that I get from all of Stan’s writing, but it is not without its charms. The characterization was subtle, pushing everyone into their archetypal roles early on – some not the most flattering.

Man is portrayed pretty openly as a cruel and stupid mob, quick to turn to lawlessness and anarchy at the drop of a hat. Cast among them in the rags of the destitute we find the Silver Surfer, a noble outsider who refuses to let us destroy ourselves no matter the personal cost. Galactus and his prophet pick up the rear as simple forces of nature that drive the events of the story. One of them avarice, the other blind hunger; both struggling to tip mankind toward what appears to be that inevitable end.

While the brush strokes are pretty heavy conceptually, I think it was a pretty powerful and forward thinking story, touching on themes and concepts that I would not have expected of Marvel at the time or if it had come from the House of M, I would have certainly expected something so initially bleak to come from another writer altogether.

This was clearly Stan’s swan song in terms of message, with fears and observations about people that had been swirling in his belly for a long time. It just drips with subtext, and I would say it stands a tier just below Dark Knight, Year One, Watchman, and other touchstones from that decade as a story executed in an adult and un-ironic way unintentionally elevating the medium (hence it’s winning of an Eisner award in 89), even if it wasn’t as nuanced with characterization as the others. And let’s not forget about the art. My exposure to Moebius has been limited to the Airtight Garage and Blueberry. I was as unfamiliar with his artistic stylings as I was with Stan’s voice in the singular. Moebius has this thick feathered line which took no time to get used to – it’s gorgeous. He renders cities in this stark futuristic but believable way that just drips with life and motion. The colors are blissfully muted which gives it a different feel from the bright primary colors you see in books of the time, casting everything with a painterly form and function I really enjoyed.

If I have one criticism for Parable as a story, it is that I kept waiting for the preacher to turn out to be Adam Warlock; under any other circumstances that’s a pretty minor gripe, especially with a review like the one above.  This volume would easily rate a 4 maybe even a 4.5 if I were to squint my eyes just right…

Sadly, Parable is not where this book stops.

For some unfathomable reason Marvel has seen fit to publish a very stand alone story with a completely unrelated tale of the Silver Surfer to give some thickness to the page count.  Not only does this story fail to feel like a value, it’s a bit of a gut punch for the reader as well as the art team. The shift is so disjointed as to make it completely unlikable which drags the overall score down at least half a point, more if you aren’t feeling so generous.

Entitled: The Enslavers, by Stan Lee and Keith Pollard, it’s a story about how all of earth’s heroes have fallen before the might of Mrrungo-Mu and his Enslavers – all but the Surfer. Mrrungo plans to turn five billion pesky humans into fuel, and all that stands between him and that goal is Norrin Radd.

I’m sure in some other context under different circumstances this story would be a much less frustrating – if forgettable – endeavor, but after enjoying the Parable story as much as I did, watching our hero stumbling through such a weak plot feels like lifeless filler with mismatched art and distracting colors by fan favorite Paul Mounts.

Don’t get me wrong, Parable is still worth the read, if for no other reason than to have an opinion on it, just make sure to stop after page 53; maybe then the $24.99 price tag for the hardcover will feel more warranted.

Guest Reviewer: Asher L. Turnaround – Covering the full spectrum of comics culture

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