Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Marie Severin, Gene Colan & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3487-9 (HB)

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer; a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett, Namor technically predates Marvel/Atlas/Timely Comics.

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally appealing fire vs. water headlining team in the October 1939 cover-dated Marvel Comics #1 which became Marvel Mystery Comics with issue #2. He shared honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated monochrome version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Rapidly emerging as one of the industry’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (Spring 1941) and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. In 1954, when Atlas (as the company then was) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two) costumed characters, Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but even so the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby started reinventing comicbook superheroes in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the awesome and all-but-forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac anti-hero. Decidedly more bombastic, regal and grandiose, the returnee despised humanity; embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing) whilst simultaneously besotted with the FF’s Susan Storm.

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, squabbling with other star turns such as the Hulk, Avengers, X-Men and Daredevil, before securing his own series as one half of Tales to Astonish, and ultimately his own solo title.

This third subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects The Sub-Mariner #2-13, spanning June 1968 to May 1969 (plus a spoof yarn from August 1968’s Not Brand Echh # 9) and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long fan Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Following the premiere issue’s recapitulation of the hero’s origins and some plot ground-laying regarding malign super-telepath Destiny (who was responsible for those memory-deficient years), Sub-Mariner #2 contrived an eagerly-anticipated undersea team-up as ‘Cry… Triton!’ (by Thomas, John Buscema & Frank Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin with a blockbusting battle epic in which the aquatic Inhuman stumbles into combat with Namor while exploring a monster-making lab run by D-list villain Plant Man.

Even as the heroes pummel each other, in the Destiny-wracked ruins of Atlantis, Lady Dorma leads an exodus of survivors to a new site to rebuild the empire. Meanwhile, Triton’s fellow Inhumans seek his rescue, prompting the vegetable villain to rapidly relocate…

Issue #3 sees Plant Man unleashing his colossal floral horror against London with his vegetable monsters in concluding clash ‘On a Clear Day You Can See… the Leviathan!’, before the undersea stalwarts unite to end his threat for the immediate future.

Still hunting Destiny, Namor then falls into the sadistic clutches of subsea barbarian Attuma after the merciless warlord attacks the wandering Atlanteans. Although he triumphs in ‘Who Strikes for Atlantis?’ and liberates his people, the Sub-Mariner swims on alone, believing beloved Dorma to have perished in the battle…

Twin nemeses debut next, in the forms of deranged bio-engineer Dr. Dorcas and crippled Olympic swimmer Todd Arliss who is mutated by mad science via Namor’s own hybrid powers into a ravening amphibian killer in ‘Watch Out for… Tiger Shark!’

As Dorcas’s blind ambition and lust for power unleash an aquatic horror he cannot control, Lady Dorma stumbles into Tiger Shark’s’ clutches after he seemingly kills Namor, which the man-monster parlays into an attempt to seize the throne of Atlantis (once it’s rebuilt) in …And to the Vanquished… Death!’ (inked by Dan Adkins).

Namor has been rescued by Arliss’ sister Diane (a beautiful surface-dweller who will be a romantic distraction for Sub-Mariner for many years) but has no time for gratitude as he tracks the mutated human and defeats him in personal combat.

Restored to his throne, people and beloved, the Sub-Mariner is immediately called away when his greatest enemy is located. The telepathic tyrant is about to seal his plans by taking control of America in ‘For President… the Man Called Destiny!’, but as Namor and Dorma challenge him in Manhattan, the villain’s own pride proves to be his downfall…

An epic clash in #8 pits the arrogant, impetuous Sub-Mariner against the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm – AKA the Thing – to possess the eerie helmet that furnished Destiny’s mental powers. However, the pointless devastation ‘In the Rage of Battle!’ is almost irrelevant: what is truly significant is the reintroduction of a woman from Namor’s past who can reason with him with as no other mortal can…

Penciller Marie Severin joins writer Thomas and inker Adkins for a landmark moment as the helmet of power metamorphoses into an arcane artefact that will reshape the history of the Marvel Universe for years to come. In ‘The Spell of the Serpent!’ the helmet is revealed as a seductive mystic crown that takes over the citizenry in Namor’s absence, recreating an antediluvian empire ruled by elder god Set. On his return, Namor steals the corrupting crown and is given a glimpse of the Earth’s secret history as well as a vision of a lost pacific subsea race… the Lemurians.

There’s no such thing as coincidence, so when their emissary Karthon the Quester suddenly attempts to take the serpentine totem, Namor is ready to resist in ‘Never Bother a Barracuda!’ (drawn by Gene Colan). As a tale of dawn age skulduggery unfolds involving a demonic immortal priest named Naga and valiant Lemurian heroes who saved the world by stealing his crown, the water-breathers are ambushed by human pirate Cap’n Barracuda and forced to assist his scheme of nuclear blackmail…

Seizing his chance, Karthon swipes the crown and flees, leaving Namor to face ‘The Choice and the Challenge!’ (inked by George Klein), and eventually scuttle the scheme of atomic armageddon, before making the perilous journey to Lemuria to challenge the mystic might and deadly illusions of Naga in ‘A World Against Me!’ (gloriously pencilled, inked and coloured by Severin). The epic encounter then concludes in the Joe Sinnott inked ‘Death, Thou Shalt Die!’ as Naga oversteps and loses the world, the crown and everything else…

Before the end, though, there’s a brilliant bonus bonanza…

Anyone who knew (or even knew of) Marie Severin soon learned she was a gifted gag cartoonist with a devasting wit and this tome includes her at her most devilish: adding a not-so-serious alternative spin to one of her own classics with ‘Bet There’ll be Battle!’, from satire mag Not Brand Echh #9. Here the Inedible Bulk and Prince No-More, the Sunk Mariner, create cartoon carnage and comedy gold in a brisk and brutal brouhaha…

in the form of pages of original art and covers by Colan and Everett.

These tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and the verve and enthusiasm still shine through. Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, especially from an art-lover’s point of view, is a wonderful exception: a historical treasure that fans will find delightful.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

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