Silver Surfer In Animation - A Retrospective
Part One - Part Two
One of the favourites characters of both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, easily comics greatest creative forces, The Silver Surfer originally appeared in The Galactus Trilogy in 1966 in the pages of The Fantastic Four. He eventually soared in popularity and was given his own series, but has remained one of the most popular characters in the Fantastic Four lore ever since.
As such, The Surfer made his animation debut in the cartoons very show, along his Galactus, his master. The episode is pretty much like the comics it is based upon, although thereís the slight admission that The Surfer learns about humanity as Sue cares for him, rather than Alicia. Yup, he learns about how great humans are after Ben beats the tar out of him. This is a kids show, plain and simple, but the word is that this is the finest the show had to offer.
The Surferís design is as primitive as the show itself, but it works pretty well in the grand scheme of things. One would assume that a guy who is covered in the same colour without any distinguishing features aside from his plain white eyes wouldnít be a difficult design to translate but Marvel Action Hour season one simply pissed all over that theory didnít it?
Iím a big fan of The Fantastic Four but Iíve never made any great attempt to track this, or any other episode of the show down. Iíve seen one episode of the 1978 show and deduced that it wasnít for me, but I donít know if this show would yield similar results. Would I find it to be charming, light hearted and occasionally hilarious fun like that the 1967 Spider-Man show? Doubtful, but itís not something that will keep me up at night.
Curiously absent from the 70ís cartoon, The Silver Surfer would have to wait until 1994 to return to animation with in the Marvel Action Hour, a syndicated show which featured both Iron Man and The Fantastic Four. Given the enormous success of both Spider-Man and X-Men in both the ratings and the quality of the show, it made sense to get more of their characters on TV.
For reasons that still escape me, the quality of the show is simply dreadful. From looking at screen captures of the show, you wouldnít believe that this was made in the 1990ís Ė it literally looks like something from the mid 70ís. Even The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends from the mid 80ís look far more polished than this, and the 80ís werenít renowned for their high quality production values. Everything the show touched simply crumbled. The character designs lack any kind of spark to them. The animation is jilted and lifeless. The casting of the leads is pretty good, but when you compare it to how much better the same voices were in season two, you could tell they were simply uninspired with the lines they were given. I think Tom Tataranowicz, the supervising producer of season two said it best when I interviewed him.
I personally thought very little of the 1st Season. The stories seemed poorly conceived, weakly executed and lacked any strong artistic vision that I could discern. Basically, I think that it may have been the end result of the wrong people being put in charge for the wrong reasons, making the wrong decisions on many production and creative fronts and having no real love or respect for the subject matter.
It was clear from the first few episodes that the people in charge had absolutely no idea how to craft and entertaining story or develop and interesting character. Worse still is that the majority of the stories were based upon comic books from the charactersí illustrious history. Iím not sure how they managed to butcher the stories so badly but they were constantly successful in ruining them. I remember actually being impressed with how badly they managed to ruin the characters they were translating when I created my website for them years later. It must be difficult to create a show that has absolutely no redeeming factors at all. Even as an 8 year old, I thought Fantastic Four was utterly crap. I managed to make it to the end of the season but the kids in school I talked to the show about couldnít hack it Ė I vividly remember my best friend at the time saying he was never ever going to watch the show after The Mole Man episode. The lad was yearning for X-Men to come back and rejoiced the day it did!
The show was dismal and not even the presence of mighty Galactus could save it. The show did a terrible job with itís villains but itís guest stars were even worse (looking at you, Namor).
The Silver Surfer was simply a calamity. A horrendous surfer announced his entrance and his design was simpleÖ hell, I donít know a word good enough to describe how bad it actually is. I donít feel the term ghastly does it justice. Nor does grisly. Iíd say what I really think of it, but people complain about my potty mouth too much already. Itís such a simple design Ė your basic body shop with white eyes. Yet, this model has little blue curls all over it, in an attempt to make it shiny. When I was screen grabbing it from the DVD they released to cash in on the movie, I literally thought my eyes were going to bleed. When The Thing grabs The Surferís board and wallops him with it, everything moved so slowly and looked so crude I genuinely believe pre-schoolers couldíve animated it better.
The episode in question is really dumb. It is again based upon the famous Galactus trilogy but they do such a terrible job with all the characters. You donít really see why The Surfer decides to betray his master and Galactusí defeat is perhaps the most anticlimactic conclusion I can recall. If thereís ever been as bad a translation of two characters from a comic to a cartoon thatís worse than this, I pray I never have to witness. For those of you who think youíve outsmarted me by saying Ant-Man from Avengers: United They Stand, I call fowl Ė Ant Man has been a lame character since his creation whilst Galactus and The Silver Surfer were entertaining characters before Ron Friedman got his hands on them. Casting wise, Robin Sachs wasnít memorable in his role as The Silver Surfer. As with the leads, he never had any decent lines to work with, so one canít really blame him for sounding like he wasnít trying Ė neither was anyone else.
The Surfer would be forced to appear on the show once again in the season finale as whatever passes for this showís version of Dr. Doom attempts to steal his power cosmic, severally weakening him in the process. The Surfer originally returned to Earth to warn Alicia that Galactus was coming and that he seeks The Fantastic Fourís help in defeating him one final time. Presumably his shiny self forgot that the last time Galactus invaded, they all just sat on top of their roof and watched him assemble his device that he planned to use to eat their planet.
Upon arriving at Galactusí ship, the 5 dumb asses realise theyíve been duped and itís actually Dr. Doom, not the devourer of worlds. He then steals The Surferís powers and goes about declaring himself master of the world. (1980ís solo Spider-Manís version of Dr. Doom was presumably rolling in his grave)
They eventually trick Dr. Doom into meeting Galactus who is known too impressed that his former herald has had his powers stolen by a pitiful Earthling. I donít know why he decided to give the Surfer his powers back as it wasnít quite explained why he no longer hated Norin for betraying him the last time they visited Earth, but hell, the season was over now, good riddance!
Much better things came in season two, including Doom, Galactus and in the showís finale, The Silver Surfer made his return. Again tricked by Dr. Doom and having his powers stolen, Doom declares himself unquestioned master of the world only this time, doesnít look like an imbecile when he does it.
The Surfer himself is much more bitter in this appearance. As someone who is used to roaming the cosmos, being forced to stay on a planet full of selfish beings such as ourselves overcomes the noble Surfer and people like Dr. Doom donít really help our cause. His design is much better too. I couldíve done without the heavy use of black but at least it animated well. The best ever animation voice for the Surfer is used in this episode with the late Edward Albert being cast in the role. He doesnít really do a whole lot in the episode as itís more about Doom using his newfound powers to bring chaos to all around him and demonstrating Reedís frustration at being unable to defeat the dreaded Doctor. He eventually learns that there is good to humanity and sets about to try and find more. One could accuse the Surfer of being a little ignorant here Ė he complains about all that is bad about humans yet does nothing to help them with his great power.
Entertaining episode certainly, but there was a lot more top it than a simple guest spot from he who roams of the cosmos.