Norrin Radd has a long, long history in the realm of the Marvel Cosmic—but a new chapter in his tale isn’t just going to bring the Silver Surfer down to earth, but introduce a major new hero to the Marvel Comics universe.
Silver Surfer: Ghost Light, by writer John Jennings and with art from Valentine de Landro, is a brand new five-issue miniseries set to kick off early next year. Although he’s spearheading the title, the Silver Surfer isn’t the biggest mystery of Ghost Light—the titular new hero themselves is, as Norrin is drawn to the quiet town of Sweetwater when a young girl named Toni Brooks discovers something so strange that even the Sentinel of the Spaceways is intrigued by it.
But what does Ghost Light have to do with it, and what’s his connection to Norrin going to be? To find out more, io9 spoke with Jennings over email about what to expect from Marvel’s latest cosmic hero, and why Norrin is involved with their mysterious origins. Check the interview out below, and then click through to see some exclusive preview artwork from Valentine de Landro, including some new character designs from the book!
James Whitbrook, io9: Why was now the right time to give Norrin his own miniseries?
John Jennings: The Silver Surfer is one of Marvel’s most important, beloved, and iconic characters. I feel he’s incredibly timeless and, therefore, perpetually relevant.
io9: What appeals to you about taking this grand cosmic character like the Silver Surfer and bring him down to Earth?
Jennings: I’ve always felt that the Surfer is one of the most empathetic and human protagonists in the Marvel Universe. Even the symbolism of his design is all about reflection and connection. He’s like a walking mirror and everyone can see themselves in him. He’s almost like a mannequin. He is incredibly powerful but you can project yourself onto him like a screen. Even in the original story that inspired this mini-series, [Stan] Lee and [John] Buscema go out of their way to inscribe the struggles of the common man upon him. He literally puts on clothes and tries to fit into society to no avail. He is the other that is us. So, to me, his cosmic power is cool and amazing but his sympathy for humanity is his true power and I think that’s why so many people relate to him.
io9: Tell me a little bit about developing Toni as a character. How is she our window into the world of the Marvel Cosmic?
Jennings: Toni, who is named for Toni Morrison, is our “fish-out-of-water” character. She’s a teenage girl who is from the big city and all of a sudden, due to family issues, is dropped in the middle of the woods in upstate New York. Much to her chagrin, this is her new life. The strangeness of the story resonates with her coming to grips with her new environment. This, of course, is adjacent to the mysteries of the town of Sweetwater, NY itself and the connections to an eerie entity that seems to be haunting her new home. Marvel always wants to show the “world outside your window.” This is a new window and a new occupant through which audiences can see themselves through. In some ways, she the avatar of what anyone feels when embarking on a new journey. Little does she know how far this trip is going to take her and her family!
io9: Of course, one of the big things Marvel is teasing with this series is the debut of the mysterious Ghost Light. Can you tell us a little bit about the ideation process on the character? Why has it taken half a century for Ghost Light to come to, well, light?
Jennings: I remember reading a re-print of Silver Surfer #5 as a kid. I do remember enjoying it but not having the context to see what the story was trying to do. I was working on research for a new book that I am writing with my collaborator Angélique Roché, of Marvel’s Voices, and I came across the story of Al. B. Harper. The book, My Super Hero is Black, is a chronological rough guide to the Black characters created by Marvel from about 1950 to the present day. Dr. Harper was introduced a few months before the appearance of the Falcon. He was virtuous, handsome, and brilliant. He also willingly chose to sacrifice himself to save the world! The Surfer then marks his grave with a cosmic flame to symbolize his heroism for all eternity. Now, I was reading this right after my oldest sister had passed away suddenly and in the midst of the global George Floyd protests. It just occurred to me that Dr. Al B. Harper could live again! I just saw so much potential in him and, thankfully, Marvel agreed!
It’s hard to say why Dr. Harper hasn’t been brought back sooner. I will say that he’s always represented a symbolic resonance for Norrin as a proof of the goodness of humanity. So, in this symbolic representation he has remained. Even the title of the original story, “And Who Shall Mourn for Him,” shows that Stan Lee was attempting to have a conversation about Civil Rights in what I would almost term as a “Black Death Matters” story. It was my goal to answer that question: Who shall mourn for him? Our mini-series seeks to respond to that query posed so long ago by one of the most iconic comics creators in history.
The “ghost light” is a term taken from the theater. It’s often said that all theaters have a ghost and this light is for them. It also symbolizes that the show will go on after a theater closes. So many theaters had to shut down due to the pandemic. When I read about this, I knew that it would be a fine handle for a character who, like Lazarus, has come back for more adventures with his cosmic powered ally.
io9: We got to see a tease of Ghost Light’s design at NYCC. What was it like working with Valentine on the process for designing Ghost Light’s look?
Jennings: So, when I pitched this story, I had a lot of designs in the dossier. It was great working with Valentine. He totally understood what I was going for and made it more streamlined and functional. If you ever saw the original drawings I did, you’d see the echoes of it in his designs. It was a delight to see a master artist at work and I totally loved the process. He’s a great collaborator. Totally without ego and totally dedicated to the story.
io9: What has it been like working with Valentine on Ghost Light? What has he brought to the table that you’ve liked most about that process?
Jennings: Valentine is an amazing writer in his own right. So, sometimes, he’d have suggestions for changes that would make my script “pop” differently. Or, he’d render a scene in a way that hadn’t occurred to me. I think that because we’re both writer/artists we have a way of speaking visually that’s innate? It’s been a true joy to see these characters come to life and I hope that fans of Marvel embrace these new inhabitants of this sleepy corner of the Marvel Universe.
io9: What do you hope Marvel Cosmic fans take from a series like Ghost Light, and what can you tell us about what it sets up for Norrin and Ghost Light going forward?
Jennings: I hope that fans understand that history is important; that where you come from can help guide you into new and wonderful pathways. “And Who Shall Mourn for Him” was written over half a century ago and it still resonates with today’s social circumstances. It shows how Marvel has consistently been ahead of the curve. I think the story will connect the Surfer to his roots a lot more and, maybe, remind him of his own humanity. I will say that we’ve put down some seeds for some potentially interesting new stories if the fans support Ghost Light and want to see more. I really hope they do!
Silver Surfer: Ghost Light begins in February 2023.