Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 4

By Roy Thomas, Marie Severin, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Jack Katz & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5048-0 (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 darkly timely fantasy tales, but even his input wasn’t sufficient to keep the title afloat and Sub-Mariner sank again.

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing comic book superheroes in 1961 with the groundbreaking 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 fourth subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner #14-25, spanning June 1969 to May 1970 and opens with another heartfelt appreciation and some creative secret-sharing from sometime-scribe and life-long devotee Roy Thomas in his Introduction.

Innovative action and shameless nostalgia vie for attention as Thomas, Marie Severin and Mike Esposito (moonlighting as Joe Gaudioso) decree ‘Burn, Namor… Burn!’ in Sub-Mariner #14, as the Mad Thinker apparently resurrects the original – android – Human Torch and sets him to destroy the monarch of Atlantis. This epic clash was one prong of an early experiment in multi-part cross-overs (Captain Marvel #14 and Avengers #64 being the other episodes of the triptych).

Inked by Vince Colletta, ‘The Day of the Dragon!’ finds Namor back in Atlantis after months away, only to find his beloved Lady Dorma has been abducted by old foe Dr. Dorcas. The trail leads to Empire State University and brutal battle against mighty android Dragon Man

“Gaudioso” returned for Namor’s voyage to a timeless phenomenon in search of mutated foe Tiger Shark who had conquered ‘The Sea that Time Forgot!’, after which the Sub-Mariner contends with an alien intent on draining Earth’s oceans in ‘From the Stars… the Stalker!’ pencilled in tandem by Severin and Golden Age Great Jack Katz, using nom de plume Jay Hawk.

The saga ends calamitously in ‘Side by Side with… Triton!’ (Thomas, Severin & Gaudioso) as, with the help of the aquatic Inhuman, Namor repels the extraterrestrial assault, but loses his ability to breathe underwater. Now forced to dwell on the surface, the despised Atlantean then crushingly clashes with an old friend in the livery of a new superhero in ‘Support your Local Sting-Ray!’ This bombastic battle yarn also offers a delicious peek at the Marvel Bullpen, courtesy of (ex-EC veterans) Severin and inker Johnny Craig’s deft caricaturing skills…

John Buscema returns for #20, with Thomas scripting and Craig inking a chilling dose of realpolitik. ‘In the Darkness Dwells… Doom!’ sees Namor lured by the promise of a cure to his breathing difficulties into the exploitative clutches of the mad Monarch of Latveria. Trapping the Sub-Mariner and keeping him, however, are two wildly differing concepts…

Informed of Namor’s condition, the armies of Atlantis are marshalled by Dorma and disgraced Warlord Seth in ‘Invasion from the Ocean Floor!’ (art by Severin & Craig) besieging New York and almost invoking a new age of monsters.

As Namor’s malady is treated by Atlantean super-science, a key component of a new Superhero concept begins.

Last of the big star conglomerate super-groups, the Defenders would eventually count amongst its membership almost every hero – and a few villains – in the Marvel Universe. No surprise there as initially they were composed of the company’s bad-boys: misunderstood, outcast and often actually dangerous to know.

The genesis of the team in fact derived from their status as publicly distrusted “villains”, but before all that later inventive approbation linked tales of enigmatic antiheroes as best exemplified by Prince Namor, and the Incredible Hulk. When you add the mystery and magic of Doctor Strange the recipe for thrills, spills and chills became simply irresistible…

Following on from Dr. Strange #183 (November 1969) – which introduced the infernal Undying Ones, an elder race of demons hungry to reconquer the Earth – February 1970’s Sub-Mariner #22 ‘The Monarch and the Mystic!’ brought the Prince of Atlantis into the mix, as Thomas, Severin & Craig relate a moody tale of sacrifice in which the Master of the Mystic Arts apparently dies holding the gates of Hell shut with the Undying Ones pent behind them.

In case you’re curious, the saga concludes on an upbeat note in Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970). You might want to track down that yarn too…

Even restored to full capacity, there’s no peace for the regal, and Sub-Mariner #23 finds Namor still contending with Dorcas and arch villain Warlord Krang after the human mad scientist uses his power-transfer process to create an Atlantean wonder with the might of killer whales in ‘The Coming of… Orka!’ The slow-witted psycho subsequently sets an army of enraged cetaceans against the sunken city as John Buscema & Jim Mooney step in artistically to depict how ‘The Lady and the Tiger Shark!’ finds Namor enslaved and Dorma making Faustian pacts to save Atlantis.

This scintillating volume concludes with a landmark tale as – restored to rule and ready to be riled – Namor becomes an early and strident environmental activist after surface world pollution slaughters some of his subjects. Crafted by Thomas, Sal Buscema & Mooney, ‘A World My Enemy!’ follows Sub-Mariner’s bellicose confrontation with the UN as he puts humanity on notice: clean up your mess or I will…

From this point on the antihero would become a minor icon and subtle advocate of the issues, even if only to young comics readers…

These tales feature some of Marvel’s greatest artists at their visual peak, with all the verve and enthusiasm still shining 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 fans will delight in forever.
© 1968, 1969, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.