On a technical level, “Parable” might be the single best comic book story Stan Lee has ever done. While his work with Kirby was defined by an energy that crackled off the page with excitement and adventure, this one has a level of craftsmanship that’s staggering, and was largely responsible for introducing American superhero audiences to the legendary French cartoonist Jean Giraud, better known by his pen name, Moebius.
As the title implies, the story is essentially a parable, weaving downright Biblical themes of morality and free will into an intense and thrilling epic. It focuses on Galactus, descending to Earth with a plan for satiating his endless hunger: feeding on the worship of humans who see him as God. He declares himself to be divine, and commands humanity to cease all wars and violence, which seems like a good idea until you consider that his act of saving us from ourselves is built around worship and obedience under the threat of planetary annihilation.
That’s where the Silver Surfer comes in, literally rising up from living on the streets — bundled up as a homeless person who just happens to also have a giant silver surfboard and the Power Cosmic — in order to confront Galactus and debate the nature of false divinity and whether Earth deserves the chance to make its own decisions, even at the cost of potentially destroying themselves through violence and cruelty. Throw in a famous evangelist who decides to declare Galactus the one true God, and his sister, who sees it all for the cosmic-scale scam that it is, and it’s a truly amazing story.
In a lot of ways, it feels like Marvel’s answer to books like Watchmen, jumping on the trend of using superheroes to tell “grown-up” stories, but I honestly think it holds up better than most entries in that genre. As befitting the idea of Stan’s take on the Surfer as a cosmic pacifist, there’s surprisingly little “action” in the story — aside from Galactus and the Surfer having a brief fight that levels a couple of skyscrapers — but every piece of it is compelling in a way that’s decidedly rooted in superhero comics and allegorical sci-fi. It might take a little digging to find it, since it’s been in and out of print in various formats ever since it came out in 1988, but it’s well worth tracking it down, and stands as one of the high points of a pretty legendary career. In fact, I’d say it would be the high point, if it wasn’t for…