WWC: Spurrier Talks "The Silver Surfer: In Thy Name"

The cosmos of the Marvel Universe is vast place and nobody knows that more than the Silver Surfer. In his wanderings through infinity, the gleaming Sentinel of the Spaceways has met a variety of alien species and cultures and tried to help them rise above their differences and solve their problems. On November 7, the Surfer will find himself embroiled again in the dangerous and delicate matters of an intergalactic empire in the four-issue "The Silver Surfer: In Thy Name" miniseries by writer Simon Spurrier and artist Tan Eng Huat. CBR News spoke with Spurrier about the mini-series.

Spurrier credits his editor for making "In Thy Name" a reality. "It came about through the sheer awesomosity of my editor, Aubrey Sitterson," Spurrier told CBR News. "I met him last year at the New York Comic Con and he's been keeping an eye open for potential projects ever since. He wanted to run a Surfer serial and I guess all my '2000AD' work gives me sci-fi credentials, because I was one of the guys he got to pitch for it.

"At the time, I was completely buried with finishing my novel 'Contract,' so I wasn't convinced I could really afford the time," Spurrier continued. "But when you're a newbie and Marvel asks you to pitch something - especially if it's a character as brain-fuckingly wonderful as the Surfer - you don't say no. My sly solution was to put together a pitch full of weirdness and - in the later episodes - psychedelic stuff; hoping that Aubrey would be sufficiently impressed to keep me in his good books but unable to give it the go-ahead because of its lack of familiar notes. There are no humans, no superheroes, no costumes, just Norrin Radd out among the stars getting tangled in the affairs of an alien empire. The wily bugger gave it the nod, I resigned myself to not having a social life; the rest is history."

As readers may have guessed from Spurrier's remarks, he was happy to write a Silver Surfer tale because he's a huge fan of the character. "I sometimes have a hard time empathizing with the motives of superheroes, but show me a cosmic guru-philosopher who's just plain decent - despite being frustrated by the idiocy he sees wherever he goes - and that's a headspace I'm happy to occupy," Spurrier said. "The Surfer is a perpetual idealist: he can spot the potential for great things in the people around him, but can't understand why, in spite of it all, they're so petty, small-minded and intent on self-destruction. He lacks the ability to just shrug and say 'that's life', so he wanders about trying to make things better whilst constantly being reminded of how little success he's having. It's a really weird combination of depression and optimism that I love.

"As for his flaws--I can think of only two. The first is that he simply won't allow himself to accept that people are vicious, brutish creatures; he's so convinced that we all have the potential to be better that he'll do anything to bring that about. The second is that there's still a lot of the man he once was inside him, which ironically can sometimes make him subject to the same flaws - temper, impatience, self-centeredness - as the people he's trying to help."

Spurrier's tale of the Silver Surfer is an entirely self-contained. "It's set away from the Earth, with a bare-minimum of continuity tangles and references to current events elsewhere in the Marvel Universe," Spurrier stated. "The idea is to explore the core of the character: trying to find out what the Surfer's really all about, and at the same time we're getting a big dose of dramatic tension out of the lives of the other characters around him - all of whom are constantly at risk of True Death and not subject to the protection that comes with Having Your Own Title - and without worrying about how it all fits in to some wider event."

"In Thy Name" does not depict the Surfer serving as the Herald of the planet devourer, Galactus. "He's in a phase of simply wandering the galaxy; contemplating the harsh realities of life and death and exploring the wonders of the void," Spurrier said.

The Surfer's wanderings in Spurrier's series bring him into contact with a diverse collection of beings. "It's all set in and around an empire of worlds and races known as the Ama Collective. They consider themselves highly progressive: peace-loving, idealistic, inquisitive," Spurrier explained. "The administrative hub - Ama Prime - is thought of as a Utopia, and it's there that much of the series is set.

"The other major location is a world called 'Brekknis': a recent addition to the Collective," Spurrier continued. "It's poor and industrialized, and its people have a history of religiously motivated war. That's all stopped now, thanks to the collective's intervention, but there are one or two worrying traces of the old ways still lying around: not least a ghostly presence that torments the capital city every night."

Naturally, Spurrier couldn't give too many specific details about what the Silver Surfer does in the Ama Collective or in the plot of "In Thy Name." "All I'll say is that when I was first thinking about the character I noticed how many people had implied the Surfer was some sort of Cosmic Messiah," Spurrier said. "Obviously he'd be the first to deny that - he's just the product of some fucking impressive science - but I got to wondering what would happen if someone really did believe it, and started basing their decisions upon his supposed divinity. That would make him - in a perverse sort of way - responsible for the actions of his 'followers.' And that got me thinking about what other reasons people might have for doing extreme or unpleasant things...and of course that got me thinking about exactly what the Surfer could or would do to try and stop them. And that's essentially the plot of 'In Thy Name' right there...Except with added organ pirates, demon-monsters, astral beings and Machiavellian conspirators."

Organ pirates, demon-monsters, astral beings, and Machiavellian conspirators are just some of the enemies the Surfer must deal with in "In Thy Name," but the real problems he confronts are much larger. "The obstacles are all products of simple human nature (or, more accurately, 'intelligent life nature'). It's basically all about the Surfer confronting the ideals and values of the people around him, and how they're used to justify all sorts of awful behavior," Spurrier explained. "Whether those ideals are religious or social or financial, it's the arrogance of deciding to inflict them onto others that leads to conflict. Obviously there are one or two parallels here to stuff going on in our own world at the moment - all sci-fi is ultimately allegorical in some form - but it's absolutely not explicit, and I'm not in the habit of preaching or taking sides. The beauty of writing the Surfer is that the 'message' - if there is one - can usually be boiled down to: 'People are all just as shitty as each other, regardless of country, creed or color.'

The tone of in "In Thy Name" will include elements from a variety of science fiction styles including Sci-Fi Action, Hard Science Fiction, and Space Opera. "The story's far more about the actions of the people involved than any particular sci-fi tropes, so I've used the genre as a way of generating ideas, of setting-up stunning visuals and pulse-quickening situations, and of exploring rhetorical situations which don't exist on the earth," Spurrier said. "I guess it has more in common with a 'fantasy-in-space' vibe ('Star Wars,' say) than with any straight-faced attempt to play with 'real' physics ('Star Trek,' etc), but even then a story needs the internal logic of science and technology. It's very easy to 'cheat' in sci-fi - inventing some daft macguffin to pep things up at the expense of plausibility - and that's something I'm dead against. There's a difference between things being weird/inventive/imaginative, and things being unbelievable."

Spurrier hopes readers enjoy "The Silver Surfer: In Thy Name" because he'd love the chance to take readers on more intergalactic wanderings with the wielder of the Power Cosmic. "My suspicion is that Surfer stories live or die according to how empathetically he's presented. It's hard for readers to have any emotional investment in an alien of unimaginable cosmic power who's always in danger of becoming - let's face it - a smug bastard. So it's really important that we can get inside his head and see his decency laid-out.

"I'd enjoy taking him off on a romp through the galaxy," Spurrier continued. "Visiting the earth once in a while, but mostly just exploring; tangling with all manner of weirdness and galactic scum. The thing to remember is that despite his power and age, the Surfer can be childishly naïve. When he's immersed in some really sinister debauchery it creates fantastic scope for drama."

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