Warning: SPOILERS for Silver Surfer: Black
When it comes to determining the oldest Marvel superhero, the list of potential candidates is surprisingly long. After all, when you have gods like Thor who live for millennia, cosmic entities like Thor’s mother Gaia (one of the first goddesses born on Earth), and heroes like Doctor Strange living millions of alternate futures... it's a close race.
Recent events, however, reveal that at least ONE Marvel superhero’s lifespan outstrips all of these beings, earning him the title of Marvel’s oldest superhero. In the miniseries Silver Surfer: Black, the former Herald of Galactus finds himself billions of years in the past after being caught in a black hole. The only answer is to wait out the history of the universe as the immortal Silver Surfer, surviving for eons until catching up with his own time. But what makes this feat more impressive is that this isn’t the first time the Surfer has lived for billions of years. Just a few years ago, in Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer (2016), the Surfer traveled past the beginning of time and waited billions of additional years for history to catch up with him. While these events undoubtedly make the Silver Surfer Marvel’s oldest superhero, the question inevitably arises... what the heck did the Surfer do during all those years?
The Silver Surfer Waited Eons for His Love
Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer series shows a different side of Norrin Radd (aka the Silver Surfer). Where other stories depict the Silver Surfer as a lonely, solitary being, Slott based his Silver Surfer off the more lighthearted BBC series Doctor Who. The series shows the Surfer traveling the stars and falling in love with a human woman, Dawn Greenwood. When Dawn’s father dies back on Earth, the Surfer tries giving Dawn a chance to say goodbye by traveling back in time. Instead, the attempt throws them back to a point before the Big Bang into the universe that existed prior to theirs. Realizing they can’t get back to their own universe, Dawn and the Silver Surfer spend the next sixty years exploring the new universe, eventually marrying and settling down. Dawn ultimately dies, leaving the Surfer heartbroken. A few months later, however, the doomed universe collapses and the Surfer transmutes Dawn’s remains into energy, vowing to take them both home as his Power Cosmic allows him to survive the Big Bang and enter the new universe.
Here, the Surfer offers the newborn Marvel Universe two significant things. First, he releases his wife’s energy into the black void, making her light the first “dawn” of our universe. Next, as the first wielder of the Power Cosmic, he chooses the look of its energy signature – and decides to make it red with black polka dots (after Dawn’s favorite dress design) to always remind him of their love. Other than this, however, Norrin vows to take no significant action as the universe evolves. He disguises himself as an invisible phantom named “Nor-Vill” and waits patiently for billions of years, watching as planets and cosmic beings, including his future master Galactus, arise and fulfill their roles.
Here, the comic deviates from the official rules of time travel in the Marvel Universe, which dictate time travelers move sideways into alternate universes resembling a past or future time period. The Surfer lives through the history of the mainstream 616 universe (possibly due to the Power Cosmic), and 13.7 billion years later, arrives at the events of the Galactus Trilogy where his past self turns against his master and gets trapped behind an invisible barrier on Earth for years. “Nor-Vill” takes advantage of this by intentionally trapping himself on Earth and taking on the human identity of “Norville Rappaport.” Under this guise, he stays at Dawn Greenwood’s New England inn, becomes a friend of the family, and watches his future wife grow up until she flies off with the Silver Surfer of her time. Once the pair travel to the past, “Nor-Vill” reverts back to the Silver Surfer, free to live out his life as himself once more.
Then, He Built the Entire Marvel Universe
The Silver Surfer was careful to remain mostly passive during his first trip to the beginning of the universe. But he might have felt differently if he knew what he was destined to do the second time he found himself at the dawn of time. In Donny Cates and Tradd Moore’s Silver Surfer: Black, the Surfer again travels back billions of years to a point where planets and some early civilizations have already formed. He finds himself in conflict with Knull, the God of the Symbiotes, who seeks to infect him with one of the parasitic organisms destined to evolve into the Venom symbiotes. To survive, the Silver Surfer once again introduces light into the dark universe, using his waning Power Cosmic to birth a new star.
Wounded, the Surfer finds aid and counsel from a young Ego the Living Planet (who’s surprisingly less egotistical than his older MCU counterpart), Uatu the Watcher, and even a still-gestating Galactus. While the Surfer considers killing Galactus and saving countless future worlds, both the Watcher and Galactus convince him otherwise. Nevertheless, the Surfer takes a more active role to defeat Knull, sacrificing his waning Power Cosmic and his body to birth new stars and empower “galactic seeds” that go on to give life to new planets, including Zenn-La. Over the millennia, the Surfer’s body reconstitutes and he re-emerges, his silver sheath now replaced with black.
Remarkably, the Silver Surfer’s actions this time around redeem his past genocidal deeds as a Herald of Galactus. Where before he felt great guilt about leading Galactus to planets the Devourer of Worlds destroyed, he now realizes he created those same worlds (including his home planet), which balances the scales of his conscious greatly. More importantly, however, as someone who has made multiple marks on the universe and lived an unimaginable long life (roughly over 27.4 billion years) the Silver Surfer is no longer just a Marvel superhero with god-like abilities. He is, effectively, the god who brought the first light and life into the Marvel Universe.
While the Silver Surfer’s future from this point on is still unrevealed, his status as Marvel’s oldest (and now likely greatest) superhero will likely play a big part in stories to come.