Earlier this month, Marvel Studios made the casting announcement that Julia Garner (Ozark, The Royal) would portray Shalla-Bal/Silver Surfer in the upcoming Fantastic Four.  There was the usual vocal minority indignant Marvel Studios dared to gender swap an iconic character. Other folks of course started making memes based on Garner’s role in Ozark. However, less comic book oriented people probably asked the questions; who is Shalla-Bal and how does she relate to the Silver Surfer?

Shalla-Bal and Norrin Rad converse in a 70s space age home.
Art by John Buscema/Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Who is Shalla-Bal?

In the comics, Shalla-Bal is the long time love interest of Norrin Radd, the Silver Surfer. She first appears in a flashback in Silver Surfer #1 in 1968 by Stan Lee and John Buscema. The Surfer had been a mysterious character prior to the first issue of his regular series. This issue explains the origins of the Surfer before his time as a herald of Galactus.

Silver Surfer contemplates his new role as Galactus' herald. He tells Shalla-Bal the bad news.
Art by John Buscema/Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Born on Zenn-La as Norrin Radd, he strove to reach for the stars. However, the people of Zenn-La were no longer a spacefaring people. They reached perfection and stagnated. Shalla-Bal is his fiancee who of course wonders why anyone would want to go anywhere when Zenn-La is a cool place to live.

Shalla-Bal and Mephisto are under attack in a space ship. Silver Surfer tries to stop the attack.
Art by John Buscema/Courtesy of Marvel Comics

In these Stan Lee Silver Surfer Stories, Shalla-Bal acts like most of the women in Stan Lee written stories. She’s mostly a love interest who adores Radd. Naturally she begs him not to go to Galactus. When he comes back as the Surfer, she begs to come with him but the Surfer must forever be alone.

Shalla-Bal cries in the foreground as Mephisto laughs at her.
Art by John Byrne/Courtesy of Marvel Comics

It should be pointed out until his second regular series in 1986, with a few exceptions, only Stan Lee wrote the Silver Surfer. He saw the Surfer as a way for him to tell weighty, philosophical stories. This meant that when Shalla-Bal appeared it would be as a tool Mephisto used to either tempt or taunt the Silver Surfer. This made her more a plot device than a character.

Thankfully other writers would go on to flesh her out over the years. Writer Steve Englehart made Shalla-Bal the Empress of Zenn-La and had her deal with galactic politics such as a resurgence in Kree-Skrull hostilities. Her role as Empress drove a wedge in her relationship with the Surfer as her duties took precedence over him.

Shalla-Bal stands revealed as the Keeper of Truth.
Art by Michael Allred/Courtesy of Marvel Comics

Her most recent appearance came during the Dan Slott and Mike Allred Silver Surfer title run in the mid-2010s. She re-emerged as as an antagonist trying to force the culture of Zenn-La over the galaxy. The Silver Surfer defeated her but at the cost of their relationship (and the culture of Zenn-La).

Has Shalla-Bal ever been the Silver Surfer?

The answer is no and yes.  If we’re strictly talking about Marvel Universe Earth 616, Shalla-Bal spends her time as a humanoid individual. The Surfer did once imbue her with the Power Cosmic so that she could live. But never has she been the Sentinel of the Skyways herself. 

It’s only in alternate universes where she’s neen a herald of Galactus or the Surfer. In the Alex Ross and Jim Krueger written and John Paul Leon drawn Earth X, she was sort of the Silver Surfer. She became a silver coated companion to Norrin Radd and joined him as a herald of Galactus. 

Silver Surfer and a silver Shalla-Bal in space.
Art by Alex Ross/Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

So what does this mean for the MCU?

Honestly, it just seems that Marvel Studios are taking a slightly different take on the iconic character. The announcement hints the movie may tackle the iconic “Galactus Trilogy” from Fantastic Four #48-50, maybe the apex of that legendary Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run.

It’s also possible given Marvel’s history of making lesser known characters villains, that this Shalla-Bal version of the Surfer could be the film’s villain. It may be possible that there’s a whole race of Silver Surfers as seen in Warren EllisUltimate Galactus Trilogy that the FF have to face off with. If that’s the case, it would be disappointing to waste a character like Silver Surfer as another disposable MCU villain.

Hopefully, the filmmakers only change the character in name not spirit. The Silver Surfer remains one of the greatest characters to come out of the Kirby/Lee collaboration. One can only hope that this screen portrayal honors their imagination.   

Silver Surfer avoids cosmic debris.
Art by Jack Kirby/Courtesy of Marvel Comics


  1. I have never had an issue with the MCU or comics or DC or whatever changing the race/gender of characters, but the Silver Surfer is so iconic and such a high point of Lee/Kirby that I’m not a fan of this move. The fact that it’s Shalla Bal and the MCU is currently drowning in alternate universes, gives me some hope that this is just some alternate story and the real Norrin Radd is still surfing the spaceways somewhere. I’m hoping they don’t even touch the classic FF48-50 story. Make it its own thing and I’ll be fine with it.

  2. Gender swapping is lame. There is no logical reason to do so, and their theory of reaching a larger audience makes no sense considering A) there is no history of gender swapping increasing audience (Ghostbusters, Oceans 11) and B) considering Endgame was the biggest movie of all time and their box office has been tanking since becoming female lead obsessed, it doesn’t seem money is the reason to do it. So then other than calling everyone toxic and some random -ist, why do it? Just theoretically why is a female Surfer more desirable than a male? I love the FF, but as I told my friend when he told me this actress was good, I don’t care if she is Meryl Streep’s better sister, the Silver Surfer is a dude. Going to a larger topic, Marvel had about 35 years of producing actual popular comics written by some of the most talented people to ever work in comics, and about 10 years of not being able to give their comics away, and the period they look to to base their films on is?

  3. The reason for doing so is the same reason Marvel is now deciding to give Roy Thomas co-creator credit on Wolverine that he doesn’t deserve; by using Shalla-Bal, it muddies up the ‘first sayer’ genesis of the Silver Surfer as a character completely generated by Kirby, based on Lee’s own accounts. Kevin Feige has cited Lee as the only creator of several characters in interviews several times; Anthony Mackie said this very year that “Stan Lee only left us so much content”- this is a narrative they’d like to continue. So that’s the reason for Shalla-Bal.

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