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By Thomas Wheeler

Although as a general rule, the MARVEL LEGENDS SHOWDOWN figures, which include elements of some sort of game involving the figures, trading cards, and other items which can be found in the "Starter Set" two- packs, are too expensive to consider a complete collection, certain characters within the line are worth acquiring. One of these in the newest releases is the SILVER SURFER.

The Surfer is the creation of comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He first appeared in the 1960's in early issues of the FANTASTIC FOUR, in the legendary multi-part story that also introduced the awesome being known as Galactus. The Silver Surfer was the Herald of Galactus, sent ahead of the massive planet-devourer, to seek out worlds suitable for his master's monstrous appetite.

But on Earth, the Surfer found beings of intellect and nobility that he had not previously encountered. He rebelled against his master. Galactus ultimately left Earth, but not before imprisoning his former herald on the planet. The Surfer was unable to penetrate a barrier Galactus established around the Earth. He was trapped.

The Silver Surfer eventually gained his own title, scripted by Stan Lee, with artwork by John Buscema, who became just as well known for the Surfer as Kirby had been. The Surfer's origin also became known.

Originally, the Silver Surfer had been Norrin Radd, an inhabitant of the planet Zenn-La. The citizens of Zenn-La lived in a virtual paradise, their every need taken care of by the planet's vast technology. But Radd was something of an oddity among his people. He was not content to simply live a life of luxury like his fellow citizens. He wanted more out of life than that. He found the all-encompassing comforts of life to be stifling, and meaningless.

Then Galactus came to Zenn-La. For all their technology, the inhabitants had no defense against the mighty being. Norrin Radd was willing to fly an experimental spacecraft out to Galactus' immense ship, to try to reason with him. Ultimately, a deal was struck. Norrin Radd would act as Galactus' herald -- a scout, really, searching the spaceways for suitable planets for his master to devour. This would allow Galactus to conserve his own energy better, and not waste it in pointless searches to the point of desperation. In exchange, Zenn-La would be spared.

Galactus imbued Norrin Radd with a portion of his own cosmic power, transforming the once very much human Norrin Radd into the massively more powerful Silver Surfer. Radd's body was sheathed in a protective, silvery skin, and he was given a surfboard-like platform upon which to ride through the galaxies.

The character remains a favorite in the Marvel Universe, although his publishing history has been a little more sporadic. After the initial Lee-Buscema run, the Surfer had a second run in the 1980's and 1990's. He recently had a mini-series as part of the "Annihilation Wave" storyline, but at the moment, there is no regular Silver Surfer title.

Over the years, Galactus ultimately released the Surfer from his imprisonment on Earth, and the Surfer became a space-faring hero once again. Always something of a tragic character, he never entirely understood the people of Earth, and once back out in space, he discovered that the reputation he had built up over his lengthy previous service to Galactus generally preceded him, and he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms most places he went. He has nonetheless remained in the role of hero, fighting a wide array of assorted cosmic menaces.

The Surfer is not an easy character to draw. Credit should be given to any artist who has ever had the nerve and the talent to do so and get away with it. What you've got in the Surfer is a humanoid male, with no real ornamentation on his body except a silver skin. Drawing that level of metallic finish on something as detailed as the human body is no easy task.

Harder still is coming up with an action figure for such a character. How do you manage it? Do you paint the figure in silver paint? Do you chrome-plate it? The Marvel Legends Showdown Silver Surfer is by no means the first figure of this character Toy Biz has done, and in years past, they've tried it both ways, with varying degrees of success.

Ultimately, chrome-plating the figure tends to look a bit like overkill, unfortunately. A while back, Toy Biz did a standard-sized Marvel Legends version of the Silver Surfer, and came up with an agreeable enough compromise. They painted the figure in a VERY bright and VERY metallic silver paint, throwing in just a little bit of bright metallic blue on some detail lines, and then painting the eyes white with black outlines, much as the character appears in the comics.

It's a good figure -- with just one problem in my book. The head was a little too Kirby-esque for me. I realize that I'm probably committing comics blasphemy with this one. I will absolutely never denigrate the imagination of Jack Kirby. I will certainly never in any way put down the massive contributions he has made to the comics world, for both DC and Marvel Comics. He has created or helped to create some of the most legendary characters in the history of comics. I've just never been all that fond of his art style. It's just a little too quirky and not realistic enough to suit me.

Now, John Buscema, on the other hand, always tended to take a more realistic approach to his illustration work. Best known for his work on titles such as Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and Conan the Barbarian, John Buscema created a truly amazing level of work that holds up well even today.

And that's one of the reasons why I like this Marvel Legends Showdown Silver Surfer. Whatever other changes -- other than size, of course -- that Toy Biz might've made between the standard Marvel Legends Surfer, and the Showdown Silver Surfer, he's got a new headsculpt. And intentional or otherwise, it looks more like the Surfer as done by Buscema than by Kirby. And I heartily approve.

Overall, Toy Biz did with the Showdown Silver Surfer what they did with the Legends Surfer. They painted the entire body in a very bright, very metallic silver paint, gave it some very minimal light blue highlights, and then went in and did the eyes. And it works very well.

Of course, any toy line that's going to carry the name "Marvel Legends" as even part of its title is going to have tons of articulation. And the Surfer is, of course, no exception. A conservative but reasonable estimate gives the Surfer no less than 29 points of articulation. Not bad for four inches of plastic.

Of course he comes with his surfboard, and several other accessories which are mostly designed to be used with the Showdown game, which I'm not going to bother to get into here. I'd really like to know the percentage of fans buying these figures to play the game in the first place. Honestly, it's hard to see this as anything other than an excuse for Toy Biz to drive the price up on these things, which is why I'm not any sort of completist.

Here's one other EXTREMELY cool thing about the Showdown Silver Surfer in my book -- he works amazingly well with the Marvel Legends Build-a- Figure GALACTUS. A four-inch Surfer with a sixteen-inch Galactus. That's a cool display right there, Marvel fans!

I definitely recommend the Marvel Legends Showdown SILVER SURFER, but I also wish you luck finding him. I think he's short packed. In the recent assortment, I've seen plenty of the Green Goblin, some of Juggernaut, one or two of Elektra (who I also think is short-packed), and maybe one Silver Surfer. Two if you're very lucky. And be sure to give the figure a good visual inspection. Unfortunately, the silver paint tends to "clump" a bit here and there.

Two side notes: The last I heard, Hasbro was not planning on continuing the Showdown line once they take over the Marvel toy license. In other words, if you're a fan of these figures, get 'em while you can.
Secondly: The Surfer is expected to be such a major factor in the next Fantastic Four movie that he's even made it into the subtitle. Depending on how well the movie is received, one can expect the Surfer's popularity to soar faster than his surfboard. You might do well to pick up this figure just on that basis alone. And I, for one, will be very interested to see how the movie manages to "do" the Surfer in a live-action setting.

Apart from that, though, this is one cool figure. I'm fairly finicky about these Marvel Legends Showdown figures. The SILVER SURFER is definitely a worthy entry in this line, and most definitely gets my enthusiastic recommendation!