Who is Shalla-Bal? The MCU’s female Silver Surfer, explained

Who is Shalla-Bal? The MCU’s female Silver Surfer, explained

The Fantastic Four has found its Silver Surfer, and they might not be quite what fans expected. Although rumors had been swirling since November that a gender-swapped version of the chromatic cosmic crusader could be happening, now it’s official, with Julia Garner inhabiting the role.

As per Deadline, the Ozark actress has been added to the cast of the much-anticipated reboot from Marvel Studios, which was previously announced to star Pedro Pascal (Mr. Fantastic), Vanessa Kirby (Invisible Woman), Joe Quinn (Human Torch), and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (the Thing) as the titular foursome. Once upon a time, Anya Taylor-Joy was linked to the concept of a female Silver Surfer but now we know Garner is the one who got the highly coveted gig.

This marks the Surfer’s second cinematic appearance, following Laurence Fishburne voicing the character in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, with Doug Jones providing the physical performance. Technically, though, Garner’s role is a whole other character as she’s not playing Norrin Radd but Shalla-Bal. Here’s all you need to know about the MCU’s twist on a familiar favorite.

Shalla-Bal’s Marvel history, explained

Screenshot via Marvel Animation

Certain fans may bristle at the idea of a female Silver Surfer, but Shalla-Bal is actually almost as old as Norrin Radd himself. While Radd debuted in Fantastic Four #48 in 1966, Shalla first appeared in 1968’s Silver Surfer #1, which fleshed out the Surfer’s backstory for the first time and introduced her as his great love. When Galactus threatened to consume his homeworld, Zenn-La, Norrin made a deal to become the World-Devourer’s Herald. Shalla-Bal, and the planet, survived, but the two star-crossed lovers were nonetheless pulled apart.

Once the Fantastic Four helped Silver Surfer rebel against Galactus, Norrin went off to reunite with his lost love but found Zenn-La and its people drained of their life energies by his enraged former boss. All except Shalla-Bal, that is. As part of a typically convoluted scheme, in an attempt to corrupt Radd’s noble soul, the demon Mephisto had kidnapped Shalla, wiped her memory, and dropped her in Latveria, where she went by Helena. Doctor Doom then “married” Helena in a fake ceremony to make the Surfer mad. It worked.

Radd freed Shalla and imbued her with a portion of the Power Cosmic — the source of Galactus’ power that he was given when he became the entity’s Herald — which she used to restore Zenn-La to life. Given her newfound powers, however, Shalla was named Empress of Zenn-La. Due to the pressures of her office and his as a hero of Earth, these two crazy kids still could not make it work and separated. That is until the Universe X arc, in which Galactus is finally killed — only for Norrin to discover he was actually essential to the balance of the universe.

Image via Marvel Comics

In order to fill the void, Franklin “Son of Reed and Sue” Richards — a vastly powerful and reality-warping mutant — allows the High Evolutionary to speed up his evolution to the point where he can take over from Galactus. Norrin Radd and Shalla-Bal then share the Power Cosmic equally between them and become dual Silver Surfers and Heralds to Franklin, enjoying a brief stint of happiness together.

Unfortunately, the original Galactus gets better and during his epic battle with the Celestials Shalla is killed. Norrin eventually sacrifices his life so that Mar-Vell, the first Captain Marvel, can possess the Power Cosmic. Finally, at long last, the souls of the two lovers were reunited in the Realm of the Dead… Until the afterlife was destroyed when Lady Death was killed, but that’s a whole other story.

So what can we learn from Shalla-Bal’s (ridiculously convoluted) comic history? Well, given the distinct but close relationship between these characters it’s possible she’s not necessarily replacing Norrin Radd but filling his role for now, and eventually the fan-favorite will make his MCU debut. Alternatively, maybe events played out slightly differently in the MCU. Perhaps, when Zenn-La was threatened by Galactus, it was Shalla who volunteered to be his Herald to protect her people and her lover, Norrin, instead of the other way around?

Either way, this is certainly Marvel’s most significant instance of gender-swapping to date — even though there have been plenty at this point. The Fantastic Four certainly seems to be less traditional and more innovative than its 60s stylings would’ve had us believe. We’ll find out if its big swings pay off come July 25, 2025.

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