Surfing Safari: Giffen talks "Silver Surfer"

The Silver Surfer has used the power cosmic to destroy a number of threats to the cosmos of the Marvel Universe, but beginning this spring the Surfer will be plunged into the heart of a cataclysmic cosmic event from which he won't emerge unscathed. CBR News spoke with writer Keith Giffen about his four issue "Silver Surfer" limited series, featuring art by Renato Arlem, which ties into Marvel Comics's "Annihilation" storyline.

"Annihilation" has gone through a number of changes in the planning stages and the wielder of the power cosmic was not originally scheduled to be one of the four characters with an individual limited series. "Silver Surfer was one of the last minute additions that was too good to pass up," Giffen told CBR News. "When JMS [J. Michael Straczynski] heard about 'Annihilation,' he was the one who actually said, 'Hey why don't you use Silver Surfer?' This was a very generous gesture on the part of the guy. I know he has plans for the Surfer."

Giffen was also grateful to JMS for allowing him to use a character that he's loved for a long time. "One of my all time favorite comic book stories was the Silver Surfer back up story in the 'Fantastic Four' annual where he fought Quasimodo," Giffen said. "I think it was Jack Kirby at the top of his game and it's a wonderful story."

In prepping "Annihilation," Giffen re-familiarized himself with many of the old Surfer stories. "I have never done this much research in terms of where the characters have been and continuity as I'm doing on the 'Silver Surfer' and 'Annihilation,'" Giffen explained. "I want to make sure that if I make a move there is a historic precedent for it or an established character trait that can springboard the characters into the actions that I need them to take. If it doesn't work, I won't do it."

In "Silver Surfer," Giffen will be reexamining the character's motivating traits. "Nothing drives me crazier than seeing a character like the Silver Surfer who's ultimately powerful, has seen the wonders of the universe, has lived a life few of us could even dream about and all he does is lay on that surfboard with his forearm across his head going, 'Oh woah is me,'" Giffen said. " I would think that maybe up until this point the Silver Surfer's primary motivation has been guilt and trying to make good for what has gone down before and that's pretty much been beaten into the ground."

Giffen believes a strong and innate sense of nobility is one of the Surfer's driving forces. "He does have a solid moral center," Giffen said. "It may not be a moral center that we feel comfortable with, but I think the Silver Surfer is a character of strict principal. He has a line and he won't cross it. That line is a lot farther out than ours.

"The Silver Surfer is not from Earth; he's not from a Judeo-Christian tradition," Giffen continued. "I think that we tend to forget sometimes when dealing with cosmic characters that they're not coming from a 'Thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal,' background. What's morally reprehensible to us because of where we're coming from might be perfectly acceptable to an alien culture. I think the Silver Surfer has a little bit of that in him. There's got to be something in him that made him think it was okay to lead Galactus to all those planets. There should be something disturbing about this character. You may know he's on your side and he's mostly shown kindness, but he's still an alien."

In the past, some people have said the Surfer is a Christ-like figure. Giffen doesn't like using theological metaphors, but if he had to use one to describe the Surfer he would choose something different. "I would say the Silver Surfer should be more like the Angels who appear to people, which are beautiful and terrible and people greet them with awe and fear," Giffen stated

One of the challenges for Giffen in writing the four-issue "Silver Surfer" limited series and "Annihilation" was coming up with ways in which the immensely powerful Surfer could be made to feel awe and fear. "It's almost like the Superman quandary in that I don't care how clever a story you write, it still comes down to a guy who can dropkick our planet into the sun as if he was picking on a short, pudgy bald guy," Giffen said. "So the trick is to take the Silver Surfer and inject a real sense of jeopardy. I just thought, what would happen if the Silver Surfer had to face off against a small army of foes, each one of whom was as powerful as him? So I'm going to put him through the paces."

As a result of going through the paces and facing the challenges of "Annihilation," the Surfer will be undergoing some radical changes. "I'm not talking about the kind of change for the sake of change," Giffen stated. "It will make sense. It will honor his history and to me it's long over due. We're going to redefine the Silver Surfer by going back to what originally defined him."

One of the changes in store for the Surfer at the end of "Annihilation" will be a clear definition of his role in the Marvel Universe. "The Surfer has been one of those malleable characters and each writer that has tackled him has assigned a different role to him," Giffen said. "So there's all these different takes on the Silver Surfer, all of which are entertaining and valid, but none of which take the character in the direction I would like to see him go; that's the writer's ego. Hopefully enough people agree with me."

One of the groups of people that Giffen hopes agrees with him is the Silver Surfer's fan base. "I think it's good to acknowledge that there's a real fan base for these characters and if you can't always please them, at least respect that they have been the primary reason this character has survived this long," Giffen explained. "I'm going to try and do that with all the cosmic characters, but most specifically with Silver Surfer because I believe once I've had my take on Silver Surfer, he slides back to JMS."

The Silver Surfer fans that disliked the way Giffen and co-writer Marc DeMatteis portrayed the character in the recent "Defenders" limited series (as a free spirited beach bum) need not worry about that portrayal carrying over to this limited series or "Annihilation." "I believe each project dictates the approach you take to that project," Giffen said. "'The Defenders' is a book that deliberately goes and has a little bit of fun with the characters. There's room for that. No harm was done. For all the stuff that we did in 'Defenders,' I don't think we demeaned a single character. Everything we do, it's with great affection for these characters. Are the two characters the same Silver Surfer? Yeah. Are they being handled the same? No not all.

"Although I will say for those who are more continuity minded, there is a very specific continuity driven reason that the Silver Surfer was reacting the way he was in 'The Defenders' and if 'The Defenders' continues in some form or another we'll reveal why," Giffen continued. "Then everyone can go back and read 'Defenders' and go, 'I get it now. They got us.' It was not just a lark. Believe it or not there's a method to our madness. It's not always clear, it's not always clean, but there's a method."

With the four-issue "Silver Surfer" limited series, Giffen's primary method was to craft a story that can be enjoyed on its own, if a reader desires. "If you read the four issue 'Silver Surfer' limited series you will get a complete story with a beginning, middle and end," Giffen explained. "Everything you need to know is going to be in there and it's going to be a satisfying read over all. Say you decide to just pick up the 'Surfer'; I'm hoping that the bigger story will fascinate you enough to drive you to the other limited series or 'Annihilation' proper. You will not get to the fourth issue and have the end say, 'to be continued.' It is going to be continued, but you don't have to follow it. It will be satisfying in and of itself."

After "Annihilation" wraps, the Silver Surfer goes back to JMS, but Giffen would love to tell more stories featuring the Surfer or any of the other cosmic powered Marvel characters. "Ideally I would love to be able to take a handful of these cosmic characters and follow them out of the tail end of 'Annihilation,'" Giffen said. "With any bit of luck the 'Annihilation' series might be popular enough to warrant some spin-off projects. That would be a cool thing."


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