For my money, the best Silver Surfer story ever told is the 1978 original graphic novel THE SILVER SURFER by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
By 1978, the acrimonious Kirby/Marvel split was already history, as was his much-publicized stint at DC. Around 1976, Kirby had returned to Marvel, and had created books like THE ETERNALS, MACHINE MAN and DEVIL DINOSAUR for the publisher, as well as returning to his creation CAPTAIN AMERICA for a run as writer/artist. It was rumored that the ’78 Surfer graphic novel was created as part of a movie pitch, with the intention that this would be the version of the character that the film would follow. It makes sense, as the book retells the Surfer’s battle with Galactus without any involvement of the Fantastic Four as in his original first appearance, and the Surfer’s strong moral values are up front from the beginning, with him needing no convincing to fight to save the Earth, as was the case in the earlier FF version.
Lee and Kirby also introduce a new character to the Surfer mythos, Ardina, a prospective mate for the Surfer created by Galactus in the hopes of tempting him back to his service, abandoning Earth in the process.
The Surfer and Ardina fall in love, and Ardina too defies Galactus to stand with the Surfer, and is cruelly taken from him in a demonstration of Galactus’ limitless power.
In looking back, with the knowledge of the second ugly split between Kirby and Marvel to come, it’s difficult to know how closely Lee and Kirby really collaborated on the book, but this much is clear: here we have an example of both men at the absolute top of their game. Kirby’s art is reminiscent of his classic Silver Age Marvel stuff, but also shows the confidence and innovative panel breakdowns of his DC FOURTH WORLD work. Given the luxury of space (the book runs 100 pages), Kirby’s not afraid to open things up with plenty of full-page splashes, like these gorgeous renderings of the Surfer and Galactus.
At the same time, Kirby flexes his storytelling muscle with this sequence illustrating the Surfer’s fall from grace, having been banished to Earth for disobeying his master.
As for Stan, while the Silver Surfer’s dialogue had always given the writer an opportunity to delve into the philosophical (and occasionally border on a little religious martyrdom) here he balances the Surfer’s pathos and Galactus’ imperious monologues with a genuinely light touch, providing some of the best writing of his career. Here’s a bit of the Surfer’s dialogue, having just fought off a band of thugs who attempted to befriend him in order to capture and exhibit him like a carnival freak:
”Power is your god, and you bow to force and might! Thus you worship naught but folly! For power is blind – and serves any who pay it homage!
Only truth is constant. Only faith endures. And only love can save them.
But where can love be found?”
Stan calls back the moment in the book’s final panels:
The 1978 SILVER SURFER graphic novel isn’t easy to find nowadays, and sadly, Marvel shows little interest in re-releasing it. If you should stumble across it somewhere (like, say, a certain store in North Hollywood), don’t pass it up.