Fans of Marvel’s Silver Surfer don’t usually have reason to compare him to BBC’s Time Lord Doctor Who. But when you think about it -- as the filmmakers of Marvel's Cinematic Universe are expected to at some point down the road -- the two characters actually do have a lot in common. Which may be just what Marvel needs to help Silver Surfer stand on his own... in a movie universe already filled with badass cosmic heroes.
Both the Surfer and the Doctor are powerful beings who travel the cosmos righting wrongs. Both can time travel. And both usually favor non-violent solutions when confronted with problems settled by open conflict. The only Doctor Who trope the Surfer lacks is a Companion to take across the stars. But that changed from 2014 to 2017 when Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred teamed up to offer a different take on the Silver Surfer. Rather than retell the usual “Lone Sentinel of the Spaceways” stories, Slott and the Allreds crafted whimsical tales that emphasize the fun of being able to go anywhere and everywhere you want. And while the Surfer has since reverted to his usual serious persona, it may be the perfect time to revisit this series, and consider how the unusual stories made possible by the Silver Surfer might influence a possible MCU Silver Surfer movie.
Reimagining the Silver Surfer
Since his introduction in the classic Fantastic Four story “The Coming of Galactus!” the Silver Surfer has been depicted as a tragic figure. Stan Lee’s early Surfer stories show the alien trapped on Earth behind a barrier erected by his former master Galactus, forced to deal with the many injustices he sees on Earth. Later, Jim Starlin freed the Silver Surfer from his prison in his Silver Surfer run and made him a galactic hero, battling universal threats like the Skrulls and Thanos. The Surfer brooded over these duties, seeing them as penance for his role in helping Galactus devour countless worlds.
Dan Slott, however, saw the Silver Surfer differently. To Slott, the Surfer’s ability to go anywhere in the universe made him “the embodiment of freedom.” Combining this concept with his love of BBC shows like Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, along with classic science fiction novels like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slott worked with artists Mike and Laura Allred to create a Doctor Who-style Companion for the Surfer in the form of a young Earthwoman, Dawn Greenwood. At first, Dawn seems a far cry from a universe-traveling heroine. While her globe trotting twin sister Eve loves traveling the world, Dawn is content to spend her days managing her family’s New England inn with her father. But that all changes when Dawn gets abducted by aliens, used as a bargaining chip after determining she's 'the most important person in the life of the Silver Surfer'… even though he has no idea who she is.
Ultimately, the Surfer and Dawn team up, along with the Surfer’s board -- nicknamed "Toomie" by Dawn, after mishearing the Surfer’s popular catchphrase, "To me, my board!" That "Toomie" twist proves one of Slott and Allred’s most engaging new twists on an old idea. As yet another parallel to Doctor Who’s time traveling TARDIS, the Surfer’s board is now a sentient being who communicates by manipulating the images of the people reflected in its mirror-like surface (i.e. making that person’s reflection laugh or cry to represent the board’s current mood). It’s a clever way of inserting a third character in the mix, who often serves as an intermediary between the Surfer and Dawn (and the MCU has already shown characters don't need to speak to be beloved the world over).
Dawn herself provides the ideal counterbalance to the Surfer’s overly serious nature. Opting to treat the aliens she encounters with the same kindness she shows the guests at her family’s inn, Dawn offers a grounded earthy charm that brings out the comedy in the book’s outer space wackiness. And once she starts traveling with the Surfer, her mundane needs, like bathroom breaks, mealtimes, and doctor visits offer the Surfer challenges he’s never dealt with before. A cosmic battle is entertaining, but the Surfer forced to use his cosmic senses to find “the greatest ice cream in the universe” for Dawn after a 'Power Cosmic tonsillectomy? Now THAT is a twist.
A Love Story Disguised as an Adventure
But while Silver Surfer and Dawn’s adventures offer plenty of weird characters and settings, the creators never shy away from the tragic aspects of the Surfer. Silver Surfer (2014) #8 sees the Surfer and Dawn encounter a planet full of alien refugees from all the worlds the Surfer helped destroy during his servitude to Galactus. The revelation that the Surfer once participated in universal genocide traumatizes Dawn (whose family never followed superhero news too closely on Earth) and challenges their relationship.
It’s at this point that Slott and the Allreds unveil their main plot, which shows the Silver Surfer gradually reconciling with Dawn and the two falling deeply in love. It’s a plotline most Doctor Who stories won’t let their Time Lord indulge in, yet it feels natural here as Dawn’s compassion brings out the Surfer’s humanity and his ability to express emotion. Their romance forms the core of the series’ run, as the Silver Surfer discovers having the Power Cosmic doesn’t make being in a relationship any easier.
This is best seen when Dawn’s father dies on Earth during her outer space adventures, and the Surfer tries giving Dawn a chance to say goodbye by using his power to take them back in time. The attempt throws them all the way back before the Big Bang, into the universe that existed before the current one. Unable to return, the pair continue exploring this new universe, eventually marrying and growing old together (with the immortal Surfer using his Power Cosmic to give himself the illusion of aging). Eventually, Dawn dies, leaving the Surfer to wait for the universe to end and a new one to be born.
Here, Slott and the Allreds offer an appropriate end to their space opus. As the old universe collapses, the Surfer transforms Dawn’s remains into energy and releases her into the void of the newborn universe – effectively making his beloved the first “dawn” of the Marvel Universe. He then chooses to wait patiently for trillions of years as the universe evolves around him, just so that he can journey back to Earth and briefly spend some time with a younger Dawn (under the guise of a human visitor to her family’s inn) before seeing her fly away with his past self. It’s a bittersweet ending that stays true to the comic’s whimsical nature and the grandiose nature of classic Silver Surfer stories.
The Cinematic Future of the Silver Surfer
With a solo Silver Surfer movie possibly in the works for a future Phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it remains to be seen if Slott and the Allreds’ take on the Silver Surfer will influence the film’s storyline. The comic was embraced by both critics and readers, with Silver Surfer #11 winning a 2016 Eisner Award. It's a visually stunning entry that shows the Surfer navigating a time loop represented by page layouts fashioned into a giant Möbius strip. That said, some readers felt divided on the Surfer’s more lighthearted personality in the series, making pop culture references and even taking out a villain by poking him in the eyes Three Stooges-style (yes, really). Many wanted the more dramatic Silver Surfer, which is likely why he has reverted back to form in his recent comic Silver Surfer: Black.
Even so, with MCU movies like Guardians of the Galaxy offering lighthearted space operas full of pop culture references, and seriousness not exactly an issue for MCU lovers, perhaps a Silver Surfer who embraces the fun of being a space faring superhero would fit in with the MCU. Certainly, Slott and Allred’s Silver Surfer shows the cosmic superhero works well in whimsical, Doctor Who-style adventures. And given the special place its found among fans, it’s possible we’ll be seeing Dawn Greenwood appear as an Easter Egg (or possibly even a supporting character?) down the line.