Monday, April 14, 2014

365 Days of KirbyTech, Day 104: Al B. Harper's Device

And now...Al B. Harper!

No, no, no, not Al B. Sure(!)...Al B. Harper. Al B. Harper has never had a top Billboard Chart hit single, but he was a brilliant scientist who had doorknobs that responded well to the "cosmic thrust" and OH NO WE DON'T WANNA KNOW WHAT A "COSMIC THRUST" IS, NORRIN RADD.

Panels from Silver Surfer (1968 series) #5 (April 1969), script by Stan Lee, pencils by John Buscema, inks by Sal Buscema, letters by Sam Rosen

Al B. Harper (it's kind of hard to just only refer to him as "Al") was not only a genius, but a kindly man who bonded with the Silver Surfer and vowed to help create a device that would aid the Sky-Rider of the Spaceways (as S.S. was billed in his first series) to escape the barrier placed around Earth by Galactus. In other words, Al B. Harper was assisting in the Silver Surfer's great escape. All the more reason I feel that they shoulda filmed the Surfer movie in the late sixties and cast Steve McQueen.

Al B. Harper: empathetic human, big brain, and tobacco smoker. Well, he was bright on two out of three fronts then, I guess. Geez, that guy smokes like a chimney!

The Surfer is quickly equipped with Al B. Harper's device, which isn't actually given a proper name in the script — unusual for Stan Lee, doncha think? I'd like to propose from here on in when we talk in hushed whispers of the events in this comic book (and we will, we will) we refer to Al B. Harper's Device as the Cosmic De-Earthinator. Also, you use it like you would use a pool cue, banking shots off the sides. Asteroid six in the corner pocket dimension!

Unfortunately for both the Silver Surfer and Al B. Harper, the Stranger, the cosmic god who won't introduce himself to you, approaches Earth, intent on destroying our little blue planet! Why? Eh, because he's a jerk. Does he need any other reason?

So actually, the Surfer never even gets a chance to use the Cosmic De-Earthinator, because he and Al (B. Harper) suddenly become too busy, trying to save the Earth. Don't you just hate when that happens? You sit around for weeks with nothing to do and then suddenly your mother-in-law or a cosmic destroyer drops in just as you begin a new hobby project!

The late 1960s, ladies and gentlemen: an era where it's easier for a black man to talk to the authorities than a silver spaceman. Oh, wait.

Okay, I've got good news and bad news? Which do you want first? Eh, let me given 'em to you both together. Al B. Harper manages to save the Earth from the Stranger's Null-Bomb, but he dies defusing it thanks to the Stranger making it out of mustard gas. Al B. Harper, we barely knew you: a fine human being, but maybe he should have worn a protective nylon jumpsuit.

The Surfer buries Al B. Harper, and while we wipe away our sniffled tears at this downer of a message-comic-book, he ignites an eternal flame above Al B. Harper's grave, so that we may forever remember: holy cow this guy's grave is on fire!

Does the Surfer ever again try to use the Cosmic De-Earthinator? No. No, he does not. Although he does pose meaningfully with it in the next issue.

Panels from Silver Surfer (1968 series) #6 (June 1969), script by Stan Lee, pencils by John Buscema, inks by Sal Buscema, letters by Sam Rosen

Was Al B. Harper ever seen again? Well, surprisingly for the Marvel universe, no, he never was; he never came back from the dead, depriving Earth-616 of a brilliant scientist who also happens to be black, because, you know, we've already got the Black Panther and Bill Foster, so...oh wait, yeah, just the Black Panther. Still, the Surfer will never forget him and will forever honor him, as shown when he re-visits his grave (with pal Spider-Man) years later.

Panels from Spider-Man Team-Up #2 (March 1996), plot by Roger Stern, script by George Pérez, pencils by Tom Grindberg, inks by Bill Anderson, colors by Tom Smith, letters by Richard Starkings

So, forevermore, swears the Surfer, the flame above Al B. Harper's grave will burn...

Panels from Silver Surfer (1987 series) #123 (December 1996), script by George Pérez and J.M. DeMatteis, pencils by Ron Garney, inks by Bob Wiacek, colors by Tom Smith, color separation by American Color, letters by John Costanza


Ah well. Let us salute one of the great unsung heroes of the Marvel Universe. In fact, let is sing him now! Won't you join me in singing...

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