Fantastic Four: Julia Garner Silver Surfer Casting Reinforces a Dark Plot Theory

Shalla-Bal might not be the most popular Marvel character, but making her the Silver Surfer suggests a dark theory about the Fantastic Four movie.

Fantastic Four Cast
Photo: Marvel Studios

“Somewhere, deep within the deep vastness of outer space, an incredible figure hurtles thru the cosmos, a being whom we shall call the Silver Surfer, for want of a better name!” That typically verbose bit of narration by Stan Lee comes from Fantastic Four #48, in which it accompanied the powerful imagery of Jack Kirby in his prime.

Since that moment, the Silver Surfer has become a major part of the Marvel Universe, appearing not only in countless comics but also in many film and television adaptations. The upcoming Fantastic Four MCU movie promises to continue the tradition, and director Matt Shakman has announced that the character has been cast. However, it’s not comicdom’s original Silver Surfer, Norrin Radd, whom actor Julia Garner (Ozark) will be portraying. Rather it’s Shalla-Bal.

Certainly, some people will gripe about this major change from canon, beginning with the fact a female actor is playing a traditionally male character. More surprising though is Marvel has selected a fairly minor figure from comic lore to take such an important role in the Cosmic MCU. Beyond all that noise, however, the casting also points to a theory about the Fantastic Four movie, one which could have great ramifications for the universe Marvel Studios is building.

Who Is the Silver Surfer?

Inspired by his fascination with the counterculture, Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer as a cosmic wanderer, an incredibly powerful figure who travels the cosmos while musing on the nature of existence. But before that, he was just Norrin Radd, a peace-loving resident of the planet Zenn-La. When the planet devouring Galactus came to consume Zenn-La, a desperate Radd agreed to serve the world-eater and help him find different planets to satiate his hunger, provided he leave Zenn-La unharmed.

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Galactus agreed and imbued Radd with the Power Cosmic, near-omniscience and invulnerability, transforming him into the Silver Surfer. As the Silver Surfer, Radd served as the Herald of Galactus, finding new planets to consume and warning the residents to prepare for their fate. It was that position that sent the Surfer to Earth in Fantastic Four #48.

While the genius of Reed Richards and the intervention of the Watcher allowed the FF to dissuade Galactus in Fantastic Four #50, Ben Grimm’s blind love interest Alicia Masters appealed to the Silver Surfer’s emotions. Upon Alicia’s urging, the Surfer defies his master and ends the issue traveling the galaxy alone.

Over the years, the Surfer gets forced back into the service of Galactus every now and again, only to free himself once more. But Galactus doesn’t wait around for his servant to return. Instead he regularly recruits others to become his herald, imbuing them with powers as well. Past Heralds have included Firelord, Terrax the Tamer, and even the Asgardian Destroyer.

But Galactus of the comics only chose Shalla-Bal as his herald once, in a little-loved alternate reality series from the early 2000s. So who the heck is Shalla-Bal anyway?

Who Is Shalla-Bal?

When Marvel announced the casting of Garner as Shalla-Bal, it wasn’t just normal movie fans asking about the character. Not even regular Marvel readers know the name right off the top of their heads, and with good reason. She’s largely been a supporting character in Silver Surfer comics and with only a handful of appearances to her name. Like Norrin Radd, Shalla-Bal lived on Zenn-La. After a long series of flirtations, the two became lovers and, in fact, Radd’s love for Shalla-Bal inspired him to enter into his deal with Galactus, sacrificing himself so that she might live.

Throughout the first 20 issues of the Silver Surfer’s inaugural solo series in the late ’60s, Shalla-Bal appeared regularly as a temptation for the Surfer to give up his role and a symbol of his lost identity. On a plot level, she usually gets kidnapped or threatened by Doctor Doom or Mephisto as a ploy to get the Surfer to work for them.

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More recently, Shalla-Bal played a major role in Dan Slott and Mike Allred’s delightful Doctor Who-inspired run on Silver Surfer. There Shalla-Bal became the Keeper of the Great Truth, a cultural dictator on Zenn-La. As the Keeper, Shalla-Bal threatened to conquer other planets and enforce Zenn-La’s more “enlightened” ways. Although she’s stopped by the combined efforts of the Silver Surfer and the Fantastic Four, Shalla-Bal enacts her revenge by revoking the Surfer’s Zenn-La identity.

Shalla-Bal and Marvel’s Silver Surfer

Given that brief history of two characters, it’s clear that Kevin Feige is making major lore changes for the Fantastic Four movie. But, of course, we already knew that. From the initial casting announcement for the movie, it’s been clear that the film would take place in the 1960s that initially inspired the team. Given what we know about the mainline MCU Earth, that could mean that the Fantastic Four takes place in an alternate reality—which is a theory more than a few fans have speculated on.

In that context, it could make sense that Shalla-Bal would be the Silver Surfer for the FF’s earth, as the MCU has made similar changes in the past. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and The Marvels have given us examples of Maria Rambeau living a life that doesn’t involve her working for S.W.O.R.D. and eventually dying of cancer, as she becomes Captain Marvel in one reality and Binary in another.

But while the various lives of Maria Rambeau amounted to little more than cheeky nods to the comics, Shalla-Bal’s Silver Surfer adventures might point to a much bigger plot point, one that’s been oft-theorized.

Obviously, the FF won’t stay in their separate universe and will make their way to the mainline universe eventually. Initially, it seemed that this reality shift would occur in relation to the incursions mentioned in Multiverse of Madness. As seen in the 2015 comic book storyline Secret Wars, incursions occur when two realities collide into one another, which puts the Illuminati, including Reed Richards, on a desperate mission to save their universe.

However, by emphasizing the Silver Surfer, and a very different Surfer than we’ve seen before, Fantastic Four may be showing how the team will come to the prime Earth much sooner. After all, the Silver Surfer is the Herald of Galactus, and Galactus is rumored to be the main villain of the film. Could, perhaps, the Fantastic Four come to the main MCU Earth after theirs gets destroyed by Galactus, killing Shalla-Bal in the process?

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The Dark End to Fantastic Four Optimism

The comics support this reading. Shalla-Bal became the Silver Surfer not instead of, but alongside of, Norrin Radd in the Earth X maxi series by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger. Earth X and its sequels, Paradise X and Universe X, take place in a future in which all of humanity has mutated, and the Celestials threaten to destroy reality. That story ends badly for Shalla-Bal, who perishes while fighting the Celestials alongside Radd and Galactus, who in this reality is Sue and Reed Richards’ son Franklin.

Furthermore, Marvel just today deemed April 4 “4/4 Day” and is celebrating by offering readers five free digital comics. While the pack includes the expected offerings, Fantastic Four #1 and the three-part Galactus Saga in Fantastic Four #48 – 49, it also includes the relatively recent Fantastic Four: Life Story #1 (2021).

Like the excellent Spider-Man: Life Story, Fantastic Four: Life Story (written by Mark Russell and penciled by Sean Izaakse) follows an alternate reality version of team in realtime from 1961 to the present. In this story, the journey of the Marvel-1 not only exposes the team to cosmic rays and transforms them into the heroes we know and love, but it also gives Reed a glimpse of Galactus. Reed then becomes obsessed with preparing the Earth for Galactus, eventually alienating his family and the rest of the scientific community, at least until the world devourer actually arrives several decades later.

Between the allusions to Secret Wars, Earth-X, and Life Story, the casting of Garner as the Silver Surfer Shalla-Bal seems to all but confirm the dark end of the otherwise optimistic Fantastic Four movie. This alternate Earth will be destroyed by Galactus, sending Reed and his family to our Earth with a desperate warning to prepare for the devourer of worlds.

Bleak? For sure. But let’s be honest, it would be a heck of a lot better than Kang and all of his variants.

Fantastic Four comes to theaters July 25, 2025

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