Namor, the Sub-Mariner Epic Collection volume 1 1962-1966: Enter the Sub-Mariner


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Larry Lieber, Gene Colan, Dick Ayers, Wallace Wood & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2836-0 (TPB)

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 fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics). 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 promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 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 costumed character “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for a 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 comic-books in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the all-but-forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal, if not grandiose, antihero. 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 Sue Storm.

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

Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal limiting the number of titles they could release per month. In 1968 the company ended this commitment and expanded exponentially.

This first celebratory volume – available in trade paperback and eBook formats collects all those early 1960’s guest shots in one tumultuous tome. Here you’ll find Fantastic Four # 4, 6, 9, 14, 27, 33 and Annual #1; Strange Tales #107 & 125; Avengers #3-4; X-Men #6, Daredevil #7 and the first arc of his own series from Tales to Astonish #70-76. These span May 1962 – February 1966 and open without preamble on that fateful first encounter in this cataclysmic clutch of curated classics…

Crafted by Lee Kirby & Sol Brodsky, Fantastic Four #4 proudly shouted ‘The Coming of the Sub-Mariner’, reintroducing (or introducing) the all-powerful amphibian Prince of Atlantis. The star of Timely’s Golden Age had been lost since 1955 – almost a lifetime for the kids believed to be the prime consumer of comics.

A victim of amnesia, the relic recovers his memory thanks to some rather brusque treatment by teen delinquent and AWOL Human Torch Johnny Storm. Namor rapidly returns to his sub-sea home only to find it destroyed by atomic testing. A monarch without subjects, he swears vengeance on humanity and attacks New York City with a gigantic monster. After its demise amidst a mass of collateral destruction, Sub-Mariner espies and falls for the Invisible Girl: a fascination that will fuel many a monumental battle…

This saga is when the Fantastic Four series truly kicked into high-gear and Reed Richards was the star of the pin-up section reprinted here…

FF #5 debuted the diabolical Doctor Doom who returned in the next issue after duping and teaming up with a reluctant Sub-Mariner to attack the quarrelsome quartet heroes as ‘The Deadly Duo!’ – inked by new regular embellisher Dick Ayers.

Issue #9 declared ‘The End of the Fantastic Four’ as Sub-Mariner Prince Namor returns to exploit another brilliant innovation in comic storytelling. When had a super-genius superhero ever messed up so much that the team had to declare bankruptcy? When had costumed crimefighters ever had money troubles at all? The eerily prescient solution was to “sell out” and make a blockbuster movie – giving Kirby a rare chance to demonstrate his talent for caricature…

Of course, Sub-Mariner’s film project is simply a ruse to divide and conquer and everything is settled with bombastic action and typically off-kilter romantic twist…

The saga is topped off with a Fantastic Four Feature Page explaining ‘How the Human Torch Flies!’

By this time kid-friendly teen Johnny Storm had been awarded a solo-starring lead series in former mystery anthology Strange Tales. Scripted by Larry Lieber and limned by Ayers, #107 featured a splendidly mindless punch-up with the ‘Sub-Mariner’ – a tale powerfully reminiscent of the spectacular and immensely popular Golden Age battles of their publishing forebears.

It’s back to Fantastic Four next as #14 (Lee, Kirby & Ayers) features the return of ‘The Sub-Mariner and the Merciless Puppet Master!’: with one vengeful fiend the unwitting mind-slave of the other, after which 1963’s Fantastic Four Annual #1 offers a spectacular 37-page epic battle as, finally reunited with their wandering prince, the warriors of Atlantis invade New York City and the rest of the world in ‘The Sub-Mariner versus the Human Race!’ by Lee, Kirby & Ayers.

A monumental tale by the standards of the time, the saga saw the FF repel the undersea invasion through valiant struggle and brilliant strategy, and includes the secret history of the secretive race Homo Mermanus. Nothing is really settled except a return to the original status quo, but the thrills are intense and unforgettable…

Also included is a rousing pin-up of Namor from ‘A Gallery of the Fantastic Four’s Most Famous Foes!’.

By now Marvel had many more superheroes and Namor met some in Avengers #3. In the previous issue, the volatile Hulk quit the nascent team in disgust, only to return here as an outright villain in partnership with ‘Sub-Mariner!’ (by Lee, Kirby & Paul Reinman). This globe-trotting romp delivers high-energy thrills and one of the best battle scenes in comics history as the assorted titans clash in abandoned World War II tunnels beneath the Rock of Gibraltar.

Inked by George Roussos, Avengers #4 was a groundbreaking landmark as Marvel’s greatest Golden Age sensation returned in another increasingly war-torn era. ‘Captain America joins the Avengers!’ has everything that made the early tales so fresh and vital. The majesty of a legendary warrior returned in our time of greatest need: stark tragedy in the loss of his boon companion Bucky, aliens, gangsters, the menacing majesty of Sub-Mariner and even subtle social commentary capped by vast amounts of staggering Kirby Action.

The creators had hit on a winning formula by including other stars in guest-shots – especially as readers could never anticipate if they would fight with or beside the home team. FF #27 again finds the undersea anti-hero in amorous mood, but after abducting Sue, he finds the boys have called in called in Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts to aid them in ‘The Search for Sub-Mariner!’

Delivered by Lee & Kirby, X-Men #6 features ‘Sub-Mariner Joins the Evil Mutants!’: a self-explanatory tale of gripping intensity elevated to magical levels of artistic quality as superbly slick inker Chic Stone adds crisp clarity to proceeding when potential mutant Namor is duped into joining malevolent Magneto and his sinister brotherhood. The issue also incorporates a stunning ‘Special Pin-up page’ starring “Cyclops”.

Impetus was building and support growing for renewed sub-sea skirmishes starring Namor, and Strange Tales #125 (October 1964) presented another bombastic battle between the old adversaries as the Torch and Thing picked a fight with the sea lord in ‘The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!’ courtesy of Lee, Ayers & Reinman.

The princely PR campaign then blossomed into unlikely alliance as FF #33 saw the team ‘Side-by-Side with Sub-Mariner!’ (Lee, Kirby & Stone): bringing the aquatic antihero one step closer to his own series as they lend surreptitious aid to the embattled undersea monarch against deadly barbarian Attuma and supplemented by a glorious Kirby & Stone ‘Prince Namor Pin-up’.

As previously stated, prior to Tales to Astonish, Namor appeared in numerous titles as guest villain du jour. One last guest shot with Namor acting as a misunderstood bad-guy was Daredevil #7 (April 1965): a tale that qualifies as a perfect comic book and a true landmark – to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time.

Here, Lee and creative legend Wally Wood concocted a timeless masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’ as Prince Namor of Atlantis – recently reunited with the survivors of his decimated race – returns to the surface world to sue mankind for their crimes against his people. To expedite his claim, the Prince engages the services of Matt Murdock’s law firm; little suspecting the blind lawyer is also the acrobatic Man without Fear.

Whilst impatiently awaiting a hearing at the UN, Namor is informed by his lover Lady Dorma that his warlord Krang has stolen the throne in his absence. The tempestuous monarch cannot languish in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom through the streets of New York, smashing battalions of National Guard and the dauntless Daredevil with supreme ease.

The hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and the innate nobility of a “villain” far more complex than most of the industry’s usual fare at the time.

Augmented by a rejected Wood cover repurposed as ‘A Marvel Masterwork pin-up: Namor and D.D.’ this yarn is merely a cunning prequel…

A few months later Tales to Astonish #70 heralded ‘The Start of the Quest!’ as Lee, Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) & Vince Colletta set the Sub-Mariner to storming an Atlantis under martial law. The effort is for naught and the returning hero is rejected by his own people. Callously imprisoned, the troubled Prince is freed by the oft-neglected and ignored Lady Dorma…

As the pompous hero begins a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune – which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold – he is unaware that treacherous Krang allowed him to escape, the better to destroy him with no witnesses…

The serialised search carries Namor through a procession of fantastic adventures and pits him against a spectacular array of sub-sea horrors: a giant octopus in ‘Escape… to Nowhere’; a colossal seaweed man in ‘A Prince There Was’ and a demented wizard and energy-sapping diamonds in ‘By Force of Arms!’

As the end approaches in ‘When Fails the Quest!’, revolution grips Atlantis, and Namor seemingly sacrifices his kingdom to save Dorma from troglodytic demons the Faceless Ones.

In issue #75 ‘The End of the Quest’ finds the Prince battling his way back into Atlantis with a gravely-injured Dorma, before the saga calamitously concludes in ‘Uneasy Hangs the Head…!’ with the status quo restored, Namor again on the stolen throne and further danger and drama to come…

Supplemented with House ads, a full cover gallery, unseen, unused and original artwork pages and more, this assemblage of tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, with creative verve and enthusiasm shining through.

Perhaps more vicarious thrill than fan’s delight, 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 irresistible.
© 2021 MARVEL.

Fantastic Four Epic Collection volume 6 1969-1970: At War with Atlantis


By Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, John Romita, Ron Frenz, Joe Sinnott, Frank Giacoia, John Verpoorten & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2202-3 (TPB)

Cautiously bi-monthly and cover-dated November 1961, Fantastic Four #1 (by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Klein & Christopher Rule) was crude: rough, passionate and uncontrolled excitement. Thrill-hungry kids pounced on it and the raw storytelling caught a wave of change starting to build in America. It and succeeding issues changed comics forever. Happy Anniversary!

This epic and extras-packed full-colour compendium – also available in digital editions – gathers issues #88-104 and Annual #7 (cumulatively spanning July 1969 – November 1970) plus Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure #1 (2008). It covers the final days of the King’s reign on Marvel’s flagship title and shaky transitional start of a new era. And includes diverse bonus treats including a rejected, recovered, recycled tale to delight all aficionados, only finally released in April 2008.

As seen in the ground-breaking premier issue, maverick scientist Reed Richards, his fiancée Sue Storm, their close friend Ben Grimm and Sue’s teenaged brother survived an ill-starred private space-shot after Cosmic Rays penetrated their ship’s inadequate shielding and mutated them all.

Richards’ body became elastic, Sue gained the power to turn invisible, Johnny Storm could turn into living flame whilst tragic Ben shockingly devolved into a shambling, rocky freak. After the initial revulsion and trauma pass, they solemnly agree to use their abilities to benefit mankind and thus was born The Fantastic Four.

Throughout the 1960s the FF was the indisputable central title and most consistently groundbreaking series of Marvel’s ever-unfolding web of cosmic creation: a forge for new concepts and characters at a time when Kirby was in his creative prime and continually unleashing his vast imagination on plot after spectacular plot, whilst Lee scripted some of the most passionate superhero sagas ever seen.

Both were on an unstoppable roll, at the height of their creative powers, and full of the confidence that only success brings, with The King particularly eager to see how far the genre and the medium could be pushed… which is rather ironic since it was the company’s reticence to give the artist creative freedom which led to Kirby’s jumping ship to National/DC in the first place…

And then, he was gone…

Without preamble the magical wonderment resumes with Joe Sinnott inking Fantastic Four #88 which focuses on the five champions (Johnny’s Inhuman girlfriend Crystal had been standing in for Sue who was until recently enjoying a hard-earned maternity leave) back in the USA after defeating Doctor Doom. They are soon looking at an unconventional new house found by determinedly domesticated Mrs. Richards in her perpetual quest to carve out a relatively normal life for her new – and still unnamed – son.

Regrettably the trendy, extremely isolated detached dwelling in ‘A House There Was!’ has been designed by the team’s oldest enemy. No sooner do they all move in than ‘The Madness of the Mole Man!’ turns the deadly domicile against them even as the maniac’s goal of rendering the entire world blind and wiping out the extended heroic family comes within inches of succeeding…

The Thing then takes centre-stage in an extended epic as he is stalked and pressganged to another world when ‘The Skrull Takes a Slave!’ in #90. Abducted to fight in gladiatorial games on a colony world patterned after Earth’s 1920s gangster era, ‘The Thing… Enslaved!’ introduces rival Skrull mobs vying for planetary supremacy and a noble slave destined to slaughter our shanghaied champion. ‘Ben Grimm, Killer!’ efficiently ramps up the tension as Ben Grimm and mechanoid marvel Torgo discover their home-worlds are hostage to their fortunes and ferocity in the arena…

Elsewhere, Reed, Johnny and Crystal have not been idle. While Ben is at ‘The Mercy of Torgo!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia) his Earthly comrades are enacting a desperate plan to swoop in, save him and destroy the Skrulls doom-weapon… a task undertaken and accomplished with great speed and in stunning style…

Fantastic Four #94, began a string of single-issue stories with the doom-laden debut of eldritch babysitter/governess Agatha Harkness in ‘The Return of the Frightful Four!’. The eponymous recalcitrant rogues make a major mistake believing they can catch the FF off-guard by attacking while the heroes are interviewing a new nanny for the latest addition to the Fantastic Family…

At a time when superhero sales were in a slump and magical mystery themes resurgently returned, this rollercoaster ride of action, battle and suspense is most significant for finally giving Sue and Reed’s baby a name – Franklin Benjamin Richards – after literally years of shilly-shallying…

Technological super-assassin The Monocle is resolved to trigger global nuclear Armageddon in #95’s ‘Tomorrow… World War Three!’ – in the middle of which Crystal is astoundingly abducted by her own family – before ‘The Mad Thinker and his Androids of Death!’ (Giacoia inks) once again ambush the team and still prove to be no match for the fab foursome…

A tense and moody episode further cashing in on the growing trend for creepy creatures and supernatural shenanigans manifests as ‘The Monster from the Lost Lagoon!’ in #97, offering a decidedly different take on the horror-movies it gloriously homages as the First Family try to combine a quick tropical vacation with a little rumour-busting sea-beastie hunt…

Both Sinnott and the robotic Sentry Sinister return in #98’s turbulently then-topical ‘Mystery on the Moon!’ as global fervour over the first lunar landing in 1969 (conveniently forgetting, of course, the FF’s own numerous visits to our satellite, beginning with issue #13) results in a cracking yarn wherein the team stop the extra-galactic Kree Empire sabotaging mankind’s first steps into space.

In FF #99 heartsick Johnny Storm at last snaps, invading the hidden home of the Inhumans. His intent is to reunite with his lost love at all costs, but of course, tempers fray, everything escalates and ‘The Torch Goes Wild!’

With Crystal happily in tow, the 100th anniversary adventure features a daft, extremely rushed but nonetheless spectacular all-out battle against robotic replicas of their greatest enemies in ‘The Long Journey Home!’ Nuff Said!

With the anniversary cataclysmically concluded, issue #101 provides a far more intriguing imbroglio when dastardly criminal combine the Maggia buy the team’s skyscraper HQ in a cunning, quasi-legal ploy to appropriate Reed’s scientific secrets, resulting in total ‘Bedlam in the Baxter Building!’

Fantastic Four #102 sported the first cover not drawn by The King as John Romita (senior) prepared to jump into the artistic hot-seat following Kirby’s abrupt move to the home of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.

After an incomprehensibly vast catalogue of creativity an unthinkable Changing of the Guard occurred when the increasingly discontented King of Comics left the House of (mostly his) Ideas for arch-rival National/DC to craft his Fourth World Magnum Opus plus a host of other game-changing comic book classics…

An era ended at Marvel when the King abdicated his seemingly divinely-ordained position. Left to pacify and win back the stunned fans were Lee and a couple of budding talents named Romita and Buscema…

Kirby was not quite gone, however, as he and Sinnott opened an impressive extended epic wherein mutant menace Magneto uses guile and subterfuge to turn ‘The Strength of the Sub-Mariner’ and his undersea armies against the FF and entire surface world…

Romita and inker John Verpoorten took over the story in mid-flow, depicting an embattled America ‘At War with Atlantis!’ before malign Magneto inevitably turns on Namor, inspiring the Prince to ally with the Fantastic Four to prevent the mutant’s dream of ‘Our World… Enslaved!’

That was more or less the end. Romita drew a couple more issues and eventually John Buscema took up the challenge, although a later issue baffled us fans by inexplicably pairing the new artist with a somehow returned Kirby…

Before that, the cover of all-reprint Fantastic Four Annual #7 brightens our day, as does its contemporary photo-feature, revealing each and every member of the burgeoning Marvel Bullpen.

Fantastic Four #108 contained ‘The Monstrous Mystery of the Nega-Man!’ which “reintroduced” a character never before seen by recycling portions of a near-complete but rejected Kirby tale. This was modified with new sequences illustrated by John Buscema and Romita. In the published story (not included in this volume) the mysterious Janus tapped into the anti-matter power of the Negative Zone once and now “returned” to steal more via the portal in Reed’s lab.

Unfortunately, this attracts the attention of extinction-event predator Annihilus, who had long sought entry into our life-rich universe…

The origins of that yarn are convoluted and circuitous but are eruditely explained by archivist John Morrow in his article ‘Fantastic Four #108: Kirby’s Way’, supplemented by (almost) the entire original story reproduced from photostats of Kirby’s pencils and published pages from #108.

In 2007 those fragments and Kirby’s story notes were used by Lee, Joe Sinnott and Ron Frenz to reconstruct the tales as the King drafted it. The result was ‘Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure’ which here offers a gloriously tantalising slice of times past as the team (circa 1970) tackle a seemingly schizophrenic super-villain in ‘The Menace of the Mega-Men!’

It doesn’t really fit anywhere into continuity but it is a superbly nostalgic rush for devotees of the classics…

Rounding out the Kirby Kommemorations are a selection of original art pages and covers from issues #88-90, unused cover art, house ads, portfolio and poster art and more: a graphic bonanza no fan could resist.

Epic, revolutionary and unutterably unmissable, these are the stories which made Marvel the unassailable leaders in fantasy entertainment. They remain some of the most important superhero comics ever crafted. Verve, conceptual scope and sheer enthusiasm shine through on every page and the wonder is there for you to share. If you’ve never thrilled to these spectacular sagas then this book of marvels is the perfect key to another – far brighter – world and time.
© 2020 MARVEL.

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.

Daredevil Epic Collection volume 4 1970-1972: A Woman Called Widow


By Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Gary Friedrich, Gene Colan, Don Heck, Alan Weiss, Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Everett & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2034-0 (TPB)

Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer whose remaining senses hyper-compensate, making him capable of astonishing acrobatic feats, a formidable fighter and a living lie-detector.

Very much a second-string hero for most of his early years, Daredevil was nonetheless a striking and popular one, due in large part to the roster of brilliant artists who had illustrated the strip. He only really came into his own, however, after artist Gene Colan signed up for the long haul…

The natal DD battled thugs, gangsters, an eclectic mix of established and new super-villains and even the occasional monster or alien invasion. He quipped and wise-cracked his way through life and life-threatening combat, utterly unlike the grim, moody quasi-religious metaphor he became under modern authorial regimes…

In these tales from the pivotal era of relevancy, social awareness and increasing political polarisation, the Man Without Fear was also growing into the judicial conscience of a generation turning its back on old values…

Covering May 1970 -April 1972, this trade paperback and digital compilation chronologically re-presents Daredevil #64-86 plus a crossover with Iron Man #35-36 and sees the once-staid and so-very Establishment Murdock move with the shifting cultural mores as scripter Roy Thomas hands over the reins to newcomer Gerry Conway in an increasingly determined move to make the Man Without Fear cutting edge and relevant… …

The action opens here with Horn-Head prowling the rooftops of Los Angeles. He’s there to find the love-of-his-life, who quit New York when the pressure of sharing DD’s secrets proved too much…

After trailing the star-struck Karen Page to Hollywood, DD gets to take out his bad mood on a handy hood in ‘Suddenly… The Stunt-Master!’ (Thomas, Gene Colan & Syd Shores) before eventually helping his old enemy (a petty criminal biker) get a TV show of his own…

Murdock remains in LA to oversee Karen’s first acting gig – a pastiche of then-hot spooky TV phenomenon Dark Shadows – and prevents her becoming part of a murder spree in ‘The Killing of Brother Brimstone’: a classy whodunit which cataclysmically climaxes one month later in ‘…And One Cried Murder!’

Still stuck on the West Coast, DD tackles another grudge-bearing villain as ‘Stilt-Man Stalks the Soundstage’ (Gary Friedrich, Thomas, Colan & Shores) with now-respectably reformed Stunt-Master ably assisting our hero. Matt eventually leaves Karen to the vicissitudes of Tinseltown, landing back in the Big Apple just in time to become embroiled in a plot blending radical politics and the shady world of Boxing – ‘The Phoenix and the Fighter!’

The Black Panther returns seeking a favour in ‘A Life on the Line’ as kid gangs and the birth of the “Black Power” movement leap from news headlines to comic pages. The same consideration of youth in protest also inspired the seditious menace of ‘The Tribune’ (written by Friedrich) as youthful ideologues, cynical demagogues and political bombers tear a terrified and outraged city apart.

The unrest peaks in Daredevil #71 as Thomas contributes his swansong script and concludes the right-wing manufactured anarchy in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee…!’

New find Gerry Conway assumed the scripting with #72, easing himself in with an interdimensional fantasy frolic wherein the Scarlet Swashbuckler encounters a strange rash of crimes and a mirror-dwelling mystery man named Tagak in ‘Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!’ before plunging readers into an ambitious cosmic crossover yarn which begins in Iron Man #35.

Here the Armoured Avenger, seductive, morally-ambivalent free agent Madame Masque and S.H.I.E.L.D. supremo Nick Fury all seek‘Revenge!’ (illustrated by Don Heck & Mike Esposito) for various vile acts, and specifically the near-fatal wounding of valiant young American agent Jasper Sitwell at the hand of the mercenary Spymaster.

Their efforts – and those of their assembled enemies – are somehow fuelling an alien artefact called the Zodiac Key and, when its creators suck Daredevil into the mix to battle Spymaster and a bunch of super-villains affiliated to the cosmic device, everybody is ultimately shanghaied to another universe for more pointless fighting in ‘Behold… the Brotherhood!’(Daredevil #73, illustrated by Colan & Shores with plot input from Allyn Brodsky) before the epic concludes with extreme briskness in Iron Man #36.

So brisk, in fact, that only the first 8 pages of ‘Among Us Stalks the Ramrod!’ (Conway, Heck & Esposito) are reprinted here, leaving this potent brew of action and suspense to wrap up with Daredevil #74: an impressive and mercifully complete conundrum with DD trapped ‘In the Country of the Blind!’ (art by Colan & Shores) and calling on a group of sight-impaired volunteers to help him thwart a criminal plot to cripple New York…

The social upheaval of the period produced a lot of impressively earnest material that only hinted at the true potential of Daredevil. These beautifully illustrated yarns may occasionally jar with their heartfelt stridency but the honesty and desire to be a part of a solution rather than blithely carry on as if nothing was happening affords them a potency that no historian, let alone comics fan, can dare to ignore.

The Sightless Swashbuckler makes a politically-charged appearance in Daredevil #75 (April 1971) in a drama of devious intrigue and kidnapping that begins as Murdock travels to the banana republic of Delvadia where ‘Now Rides the Ghost of El Condor!’ (Conway, Colan & Shores) offers a canny yarn of revolutionary fervour, self-serving greed and the power of modern mythology.

The saga concludes in ‘The Deathmarch of El Condor!’ – wherein inker Tom Palmer (perhaps Colan’s most effective inker) starts his long association with the penciller.

Guest stars abound in ‘…And So Enters the Amazing Spider-Man!’ when an uncanny artefact appears in Central Park, inviting DD, the webspinner and the Sub-Mariner to participate in a fantastic battle in a far-flung, lost world. The adventure concludes in the Atlantean’s own comic (#40) but as our hero didn’t join the quest, that sequel isn’t included in this tome.

Issue #78 returns to more traditional territory as ‘The Horns of the Bull!’ traces the downfall of petty thug Bull Taurusafter enigmatic mastermind Mr. Kline has him transformed into a savage beast and sets him upon the Scarlet Swashbuckler…

Friedrich scripted cataclysmic conclusion ‘Murder Cries the Man-Bull!’, but plotter Conway was back the following month to spectacularly reintroduce a vintage villain ‘In the Eyes… of the Owl!’: presaging a major format change for the series…

From issue #81’s ‘And Death is a Woman Called Widow’ (inked by Jack Abel), Soviet defector Natasha Romanoff bursts onto the scene as the ubiquitous Mr. Kline is finally unmasked and revealed to be behind most of DD’s recent woes and tribulations…

Sometimes called Natalia Romanova, she is a Soviet-era Russian spy who came in from the cold and stuck around to become one of Marvel’s earliest and most successful female stars. She started life as a svelte, sultry honey-trap during Marvel’s early “Commie-busting” days, battling Iron Man in her debut exploit (Tales of Suspense #52, April, 1964).

She was subsequently redesigned as a torrid tights-&-tech super-villain before defecting to the USA, falling for an assortment of Yankee superheroes – including Hawkeye and Daredevil – before finally enlisting as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., freelance do-gooder and occasional leader of The Avengers.

Throughout her career she has always been considered ultra-efficient, coldly competent, deadly dangerous and yet somehow cursed to bring doom and disaster to her paramours. As her backstory evolved, it was revealed that Natasha had undergone experimental processes which enhanced her physical capabilities and lengthened her lifespan, as well as assorted psychological procedures which had messed up her mind and memories…

Following a stunning pin-up of the bodacious Black Widow by Bill Everett, the conspiracy crisis continues with ‘Now Send… the Scorpion’, as Kline – AKA the Assassin – sets a manic artificial arachnid against DD and the Widow, even as his Machiavellian master attempts to suborn Murdock’s greatest friend Foggy Nelson.

At the end of that issue the Scorpion is apparently dead and ‘The Widow Accused!’ by Nelson of the villain’s murder. A sham trial intended to railroad and pillory the Russian émigré ensues in #83, (rendered by Alan Weiss, Barry Smith & Everett), with the Assassin subsequently dispatching brutish Mr. Hyde to ensure his victory.

Against all odds, however, Murdock exonerates Natasha of the charges, prompting the hidden mastermind to take direct action in ‘Night of the Assassin!’ (Colan & Syd Shores). After attacking DD and the Widow in Switzerland – whence the jetsetting former spy had fled to nurse her wounded pride – Kline at last meets final defeat in a stunning and baroque climax to the extended saga.

In the aftermath of that cataclysmic clash, the odd couple are stranded in Switzerland before #85 sees them tentatively beginning a romantic alliance and returning to America on a ‘Night Flight!’ courtesy of Conway, Colan & Shores.

Typically, the plane is hijacked by the bloodthirsty Gladiator, after which another long-forgotten foe resurfaces – for the last time – in ‘Once Upon a Time… the Ox!’ (with stunning Tom Palmer inks) culminating in the broken romantic triangle of Matt, Karen Page and Natasha compelling a life changing relocation for our players from the Big Apple to San Francisco…

The next volume heads even further into uncharted territory…

Rounding out the comics experience are bonus pages including the covers to all-reprint Daredevil Annual #2 and 3, a selection of house ads, unused cover pencils by Colan and his contribution to the 1970 Marvel Artist Self-Portrait project.

Despite a few bumpy spots, during this period Daredevil blossomed into a truly magnificent example of Marvel’s compelling formula for success: smart, contemporarily astute stories, truly human and fallible characters and always magnificent illustration. These bombastic tales are pure Fights ‘n’ Tights magic no fan of stunning super-heroics can afford to ignore.

© 2019 MARVEL.

 

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.

Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up


By Roy Thomas, Larry Lieber, Tony Isabella, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Peter Gillis, John Buscema, George Tuska, Bill Everett, George Evans, Sal Buscema, Herb Trimpe, Keith Giffen, George Pérez, Bob Hall, Carmine Infantino, Arvell Jones & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9406-4

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner was the second super-star of the Timely Age of Comics – but only because he followed the cover-featured Human Torch in the running order of Marvel Mystery Comics #1 in 1939. He has had, however, the most impressive longevity of the company’s “Big Three”: Torch, Subby and Captain America…

The Marine Marvel was revived in 1962 in Fantastic Four#4; once again an anti-hero/noble villain, prominent in the company’s pantheon ever since.

The following FF issue introduced the first great villain of the Silver Age in the form of technologically armoured dark knight Doctor Doom, who shares star-billing in this eclectic yet excellent trade paperback and eBook compilation of dastardly double-dealings encompassing Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1-2, Super-Villain Team-Up #1-14, 16-17, as well as pertinent crossover appearances from Avengers #154-156 and Champions #16 and spanning March 1975 – May 1980.

Incidentally, Fantastic Four #6 featured the first Super-Villain Team-Up of the Marvel Age as Doom and Namor joined forces as ‘The Deadly Duo’: an epic regrettably omitted from this collection.

The Master of Latveria inevitably betrayed and tried to kill the Prince of Atlantis in that tale: an event which colours the relationship of the characters to this day…

So popular was the metal-shod maniac that during Marvel’s first big expansion, he helmed his own solo-series in Astonishing Tales #1-10. That feature vanished with no warning and Doom returned to his status as premier antagonist in the Fantastic Four and elsewhere until Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #1 was released (cover-dated March 1975); once more bathing the Deadly Despot in a starring spotlight.

In the intervening years the Sub-Mariner had also lost his own series, despite some very radical and attention-grabbing stunts. A nerve-gas dumping accident perpetrated by surface dwellers had catastrophically altered his hybrid body, forcing him to wear a hydrating-suit to breathe. The same toxin had plunged the entire nation of Atlantis into a perpetual coma…

For this new venture, Prince Namor – alone and pushed to the brink of desperation – rescues Doom from a deadly plunge to Earth after the Iron Dictator’s latest defeat (at the hands of the FF and Silver Surfer) in an impressive and effective framing sequence bracketing two classic reprint tales.

‘Encounter at Land’s End!’ (by Roy Thomas, John Buscema & Joe Sinnott) finds Doom plucked from the sea and the edge of death by a Sub-Mariner in dire need of scientific wizardry to cure his somnolent race. As such, he is prepared to offer an alliance against all mankind to get it…

Painfully aware of their unhappy past history, the outlaws recall a previous encounter (from Sub-Mariner #20 by Thomas, Buscema & Johnny Craig). ‘In the Darkness Dwells Doom!’ recounts how a fugitive Atlantean monarch was offered sanctuary in New York’s Latverian embassy before inevitably being blackmailed and betrayed (again) by the Devil Doctor…

Back in the present, initially reluctant Doom reconsiders the partnership deal after recalling a past battle against the diabolical Diablo…

‘This Man… This Demon!’ (Larry Lieber, Thomas, Frank Giacoia & Vince Colletta) was a solo try-out from Marvel Super-Heroes #20 in 1969, which restated the Doctor’s origins and revealed his tragic, doomed relationship with a gypsy girl named Valeria. That relationship was than exploited by demon alchemist Diablo who claimed he need an ally but instead wanted a new slave. Doom dealt with the charlatan in typically effective style…

The regal debate descends into another cataclysmic clash of egos and raw destructive power with both parties more bitterly opposed than ever, but the follow-up ‘To Bestride the World!’ (Thomas, Mike Sekowsky & Sam Grainger) in the all-original Giant-Sized Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (June 1975), sees Doom compelled to change his mind after his own android army rebels when the tyrant’s long-lost Doomsman (in its new guise of Andro) returns and co-opted them for a war against all organic life.

As a result of blistering battle and extensive carnage-wreaking, Namor and Doom triumph together and part as uneasy allies, only to regroup in the pages of Super-Villain Team-Up #1 (August 1975) in a chaotic ongoing series that began with ‘Slayers from the Sea!’ by Tony Isabella, George Tuska, Bill Everett & Fred Kida.

Doom actually contemplates treating an ally as an equal in the opening chapter ‘An Alliance Asunder?’, whilst in the second part ‘Frenzy on a Floating Fortress’ (illustrated by George Evans & Frank Springer) Namor is ambushed by old foes Attuma, Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark

This compels Doom to rush to his rescue in #2 as ‘In the Midst of Life…!’ (with art from Sal Buscema & Kida), the Sub-Mariner’s truest friend is murdered by his assembled enemies, leading to a brutal climax in ‘If Vengeance Fails!’ by Jim Shooter, Evans & Jack Abel.

Super-Villain Team-Up was an intriguing concept cursed with a revolving-door creative team crisis: nobody seemed able to stay with the series for more than a couple of issues. Somehow, the standards remained high but with no long-term planning the plots and characterisation jumped all over the place.

Bill Mantlo, Herb Trimpe & Jim Mooney produced ‘A Time of Titans!’ in #4 as Doom and Sub-Mariner battle each other and encountered a prototype Deathlok the Demolisher before splitting up yet again, after which Steve Englehart stepped in for ‘…And Be a Villain!’ (illustrated by Trimpe & Don Perlin).

Here the Lord of Latveria artificially exacerbates Namor’s breathing affliction and threatens to annihilate dormant Atlantis. Despite all the efforts of the Fantastic Four, Sub-Mariner is forced to swear fealty to Doom or see his people and himself perish forever…

This tumultuous issue also introduced mystic Batman knock-off the Shroud whose avowed mission was to free the world from the curse of Doom at any and all costs…

Jack Abel inked ‘Prisoner!’ in #6 as the FF invade Latveria to rescue the oath-bound Sub-Mariner, only to be sent packing by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who has just signed a non-aggression pact with Doom.

Another American observed no such legal or diplomatic niceties in ‘Who is… The Shroud?’ (Pablo Marcos inks) and, after revealing his origins to Namor, the Master of Darkness frees him from his vow by executing Dr. Doom.

As Shroud and Namor flee for the border chaos breaks out in Latveria, but in actuality Doom was not dead. Rescued and imprisoned by Namor’s cousin Namorita and girlfriend Tamara in ‘Escape!’ (illustrated by Keith Giffen & Owen McCarron) he bides his time, exploiting their misguided apprehension that they can make the Metal-shod Monarch help Atlantis and their Prince.

The international crisis escalates as it segued into an ongoing Avengers storyline, beginning ‘When Strikes Attuma?’ (Avengers #154 by Conway, George Perez & Marcos) as the Sub-sea slayer enslaves the World’s Mightiest Heroes and commands them to kill Namor…

The saga continued in Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (scripted by Mantlo, drawn by Jim Shooter & Sal Trapani) as the ‘Pawns of Attuma!’ attack, only to discover Doom in charge and easily able to thwart their half-hearted assault.

In Avengers #155 the beaten heroes are helpless captives, leaving only the confused, battle-crazed Namor and a substitute team comprising The Beast and aging WWII speedster The Whizzer to hunt down the barbarian sea lord, before the epic conclusion ‘The Private War of Doctor Doom!’ (#156, written by Shooter, drawn by Sal Buscema & Marcos) wherein the liberated and resurgent heroes unite to crush Attuma and prevent Doom from turning the situation to his own world-conquering advantage…

Meanwhile, behind the scenes in Latveria, Shroud has installed former ruler Prince Rudolfo as a faux Doctor Doom, but things go wrong very quickly in Super-Villain Team-Up #10 (Mantlo, Bob Hall & Perlin) when Captain America investigates ‘The Sign of the Skull!’

In the Latverian Embassy, the genuine despot learns from the Star-Spangled Avenger that Nazi overlord The Red Skull has once more invaded Doom’s homeland, even as the Sub-Mariner discovers greedy surface-men pillaging his comatose city of Atlantis.

As Doom and Captain America carve their way through Latveria’s formidable defences, the Skull proceeds in establishing his Fourth Reich, easily defeating the Shroud in ‘My Ally, My Enemy’ but when Namor rages in, tracking the ravagers of Atlantis to Doom’s castle, the tables are finally turned and the Iron Dictator swears to finally cure the Atlanteans in return for the Sub-Mariner’s aid against the Nazi invaders.

Firstly though, the Skull plans to enslave the Earth with a hypno-ray and must be crushed in ‘Death Duel!’, with the Iron Doctor pursuing the Fascist mastermind to his hidden moonbase, casually sacrificing the Shroud in the process…

Finally fulfilling his oath, Doom resurrects the comatose Atlanteans in SVTU #13, but only after a blistering sub-sea battle with amphibian arch-nemesis Krang and a Brobdingnagian sea beast in ‘When Walks the Warlord!’ (by Mantlo, Giffen & Perlin).

With Atlantis and Namor restored, a new era begins and ends with Super-Villain Team-Up #14 (October 1977).

‘A World for the Winning!’, by Mantlo, Hall, Perlin & Duffy Vohland, opens with mutant villain Magneto tricked into a duel with Doom who was at that moment de facto master of the world since he had seeded the planet’s atmosphere with a mind-control gas.

Ever the sportsman, the Lord of Latveria releases Magneto from his control, allowing him to liberate one other thrall and challenging them both to save the world from his ultimate dominance…

It was the troubled title’s last issue and the story concluded in Champions #16 (November 1977) as the Master of Magnetism and the Beast spectacularly overcome all odds and save the day in ‘A World Lost!’ (Mantlo, Hall & Mike Esposito).

A year later Super-Villain Team-Up #15 appeared from nowhere (dated November 1978 and presumably released to safeguard the copyright) with a reprint of the Red Skull story from Astonishing Tales #4-5. You’ll need to look elsewhere to see that yarn.

‘Shall I Call Thee Master?’ by Peter Gillis, Carmine Infantino & Bruce Patterson, was released a year after that (#16, May 1979, with one final issue 12 months after that) wherein the Red Skull, Hatemonger and radical geneticist Arnim Zola while away the days in a human atrocity lab conducting experiments on a camp full of human slaves.

This is a dark exploration of monstrous inhumanity where torture and degradation are simply a way of passing the time until the leftover Fascists can build a new Cosmic Cube and reshape all reality to their twisted whims…

In this instance they are thwarted by merely mortal secret agents in the long delayed but savagely effective conclusion ‘Dark Victory!’ (Gillis, Arvell Jones & Patterson), after which the concept and title were shelved for decades.

This eccentric and thoroughly fan-only compendium includes a full cover gallery by Ron Wilson, Gil Kane, Ed Hannigan, Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Marie Severin, Jack Kirby, Dave Cockrum, Giffen, John Byrne, Hall, Al Milgrom & Keith Pollard plus Roy Thomas’ editorial text feature ‘The Road to Land’s End’.

For all its flaws Super-Villain Team-Up was a bold experiment and a genuinely enjoyable dalliance with the different during the 1970s – as long as the reader had a solid knowledge of the company’s complex continuity. I truly wish more people would sample the delights of this offbeat saga, but I doubt any new reader could cope with the terrifying torrent of unexplained backstory.

Still, I’d be delighted if you prove me wrong…
© 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 2015 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 2


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Raymond Marais, Archie Goodwin, Bill Everett, Dan Adkins, Werner Roth, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, John Buscema, & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2688-1 (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 fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics) sharing honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but he had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated black and white version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 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 comic-books in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the all-but forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero. 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 Sue Storm.

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

This second subsea selection – available in hardback and eBook editions – collects Tales to Astonish #88-101, Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner #1 and The Sub-Mariner #1, circuitously spanning February 1967 to May 1968; opening with a florid and enthusiastic Introduction from sometime-scribe and passionate life-long fan Roy Thomas before the undersea action resumes.

Crafted by Stan Lee & Bill Everett, the Tales to Astonish #88 Sub-Mariner saga saw sub-sea barbarian Attuma attack once more, employing a lost extraterrestrial super-robot when ‘A Stranger Strikes from Space!’. The tale concluded in ‘The Prince and the Power!’ as the Marine Marvel turned the tables on his enemies through brains not brawn, after which Namor’s greatest rival returned in ‘To Be Beaten by Byrrah!’

Here the Prince’s ruthless cousin (last seen in the short-lived 1950s revival of Sub-Mariner Comics) employed gutter politics and subliminal hypnosis to oust the true ruler, only to receive his comeuppance in ‘Outside the Gates Waits Death!’: this latter seeing the inking debut of arch-stylist Dan Adkins.

Illustrating in a style that owed everything to Wally Wood, Adkins took over the pencilling in #92’s ‘It Walks Like a Man!’ This tale of atomic pollution and American naval intransigence is a terse foretaste of Sub-Mariner’s later role as eco-warrior, and the concluding part features Roy Thomas’ first script for the aquatic antihero in ‘The Monarch and the Monster!’ as Namor battles a nuclear golem and aggrieved US submarine commander to curtail imminent war…

Nevertheless, Namor was still dragged into a surface tyrant’s armed conflict in ‘Helpless, at the Hands of Dragorr!’ (Thomas & Everett), and incoming scripter Raymond Marais joined Thomas, Everett & Colletta on ‘The Power of the Plunderer!’ Here the piratical old Daredevil villain attacks an American civilian experimental undersea city.

Marais solo-scripted second chapter ‘Somewhere Stands Skull Island!’ as outraged Namor trails the Plunderer to the antediluvian Savage Land only to be captured and seemingly enslaved.

TtA #97’s ‘The Sovereign and the Savages’ came courtesy of Thomas and unsung art star Werner Roth – who had actually taken over the art halfway through the previous episode. Inked by Adkins, the Plunderer’s assault on Atlantis is finally foiled in ‘…To Destroy the Realm Eternal!’ but the vile events precipitated a similar attack on Namor’s homeland by a US atomic submarine in ‘When Falls the Holocaust!’ (by Archie Goodwin & Dan Adkins) in #99.

Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal which limited the number of titles they could release each month. In 1968 the company escaped this onerous commitment and thereby expanded exponentially.

In the months leading up to that virtual relaunch a number of bold experiments occurred: the most impressive of which was the first actual meeting of the monstrous stars of Marvel’s antihero title since they had won their own series.

Tales to Astonish #100, by Lee, Marie Severin & Adkins had Namor’s plan to recruit the Hulk as an ally go spectacularly awry after the Puppet Master fomented a near-disaster that almost levelled Miami in ‘Let There Be Battle!’, a tale that took 22 pages to unfold.

The final issue of Astonish then introduced a villain who would alter forever the history and perception of the Sub-Mariner. ‘…And Evil Shall Beckon!’ by Goodwin, Gene Colan & Adkins saw the aquatic antihero plagued by visions of a bestial foe who threatened his throne and people, drawing Namor to a confrontation in the Polar regions where the first Atlantis had been built…

For reasons never disclosed (and I shall charitably keep my assumptions private) the Golden Avenger and Prince of Atlantis both had to wait a month before getting their own first issues, necessitating one last split-book. Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968) carried the middle parts of two epics that each concluded in memorable debut issues, but the amphibian’s contribution ‘Call Him Destiny …or Call Him Death!’ – by Thomas, Colan & Frank Giacoia – did no more than whet the appetite by revealing half an origin before apparently killing the lead character.

Sub-Mariner #1 (May1968, by Thomas, John Buscema & Giacoia) more than made up for the confusion as Namor’s true origin and the reason for his bouts of amnesia were explained by malign super-telepath Destiny, as ‘Years of Glory… Day of Doom!’ recapped Sub-Mariner’s gloriously chequered past whilst setting up another epic quest that would prove amongst this venerable character’s very best. That, however, is the subject of another volume.

Before the end, though, there are bonus benefits 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 although a few of the stories no longer bear a critical scrutiny, 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.
© 1967, 1968, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner Marvel Masterworks volume 1


By Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Jack Kirby, Bill Everett, Jerry Grandenetti & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-0875-7(HB)                      978-0-7851-5068-8 (TPB)

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 fire vs. water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics) sharing honours and top billing with The Human Torch, but he had originally been seen (albeit in a truncated black and white version) in Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the company’s biggest draws Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 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 comic-books in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they revived the all-but forgotten awesome amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, and decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero. 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 Sue Storm.

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

Marvel’s “split-books” had been devised as a way to promote their burgeoning stable of stars whilst labouring under a highly restrictive distribution deal limiting the number of titles they could release each month. In 1968 the company ended this commitment and expanded exponentially.

This first celebratory volume – available as a hardback, trade paperback and eBook – collects Tales to Astonish #70-87, Daredevil #7 and a crossover chapter from Tales of Suspense #80, spanning April 1965-January 1967 and opens with the now traditional Stan Lee Introduction.

Prior to the Tales to Astonish serial the Sub-Mariner had appeared in numerous established titles as guest villain du jour. One last guest shot with Namor acting as a misunderstood bad-guy was Daredevil #7 (April 1965) which kicks off proceedings here in spectacular style.

The tale is a perfect comicbook and a true landmark: to my mind one of the Top Ten Marvel Tales of all Time. Lee and creative legend Wally Wood concocted a timeless masterpiece with ‘In Mortal Combat with… Sub-Mariner!’ as Prince Namor of Atlantis – recently reunited with the survivors of his decimated race – returns to the surface world to sue mankind for their crimes against his people.

To expedite his claim, the Prince engages the services of Matt Murdock’s law firm; little suspecting the blind lawyer is also the acrobatic Man without Fear.

Whilst impatiently awaiting a hearing at the UN, Namor is informed by his lover Lady Dorma that his warlord, Krang, has usurped the throne in his absence. The tempestuous monarch cannot languish in a cell when the kingdom is threatened, so he fights his way to freedom through the streets of New York, smashing battalions of National Guard and the dauntless Daredevil with supreme ease.

The hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows the dauntless courage of DD and the innate nobility of a “villain” far more complex than most of the industry’s usual fare at the time.

Augmented by a rejected Wood cover repurposed as ‘A Marvel Masterwork pin-up: Namor and D.D.’ this yarn is the perfect prequel and a few months later Tales to Astonish #70 heralded ‘The Start of the Quest!’ as Lee, Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) & Vince Colletta set the Sub-Mariner to storming an Atlantis under martial law. The effort is for naught and the returning hero is rejected by his own people. Callously imprisoned, the troubled Prince is freed by the oft-neglected and ignored Lady Dorma…

As the pompous hero begins a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune – which only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold – he is unaware that the treacherous Krang allowed him to escape, the better to destroy him with no witnesses…

The serialised search carries Namor through a procession of fantastic adventures and pits him against a spectacular array of sub-sea horrors: a giant octopus in ‘Escape… to Nowhere’; a colossal seaweed man in ‘A Prince There Was’ and a demented wizard and energy-sapping diamonds in ‘By Force of Arms!’

However, as the end approaches in ‘When Fails the Quest!’, revolution breaks out in Atlantis, and Namor seemingly sacrifices his kingdom to save Dorma from troglodytic demons the Faceless Ones.

In issue #75 ‘The End of the Quest’ finds the Prince battling his way back into Atlantis with a gravely-injured Dorma, before the saga concludes in ‘Uneasy Hangs the Head…!’ as the status quo is restored and Namor finally regains his stolen throne. Back in charge, the Prince once more turns his thoughts to peace with the surface world and resolves ‘To Walk Amongst Men!’, but his mission is derailed when he encounters a deep-sea drilling platform and promptly finds himself battling the US military and retired Avengers Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne.

That fracas was abruptly curtailed in #78’s ‘The Prince and the Puppet’ as an old adversary once again seizes control of the amphibian’s fragile mind…

Inked by the brilliant Bill Everett, ‘When Rises the Behemoth’ has Namor struggling against the Puppet Master’s psychic control and confronting the US Army in the streets of New York, before returning to clash with a cataclysmic doomsday monster in Atlantis. Dick Ayers stepped in to ink the tense conclusion in #80’s ‘To the Death!’, wherein Warlord Krang returns, blackmailing Dorma into betraying her beloved Prince…

Heartbroken and furious, Namor follows them to New York in ‘When a Monarch Goes Mad!’ (TTA#81): a violent melodrama that crossed over into the Iron Man feature in sister title Tales of Suspense #80.

‘When Fall the Mighty!’ (Lee, Colan & Jack Abel, using the pen-name Gary Michaels) offered a spectacular combat classic which only gets more incredible as it continues into Tales to Astonish #82.

Colan was a spectacular illustrator, but no one could ever match Jack Kirby for bombastic battle scenes, and when the former contracted flu after delivering two pages The King stepped in to produce some of the finest action-art of his entire Marvel career, fully displaying ‘The Power of Iron Man’, with neophyte scribe Roy Thomas supplying the fractious dialogue…

Kirby stayed on for #83’s ‘The Sub-Mariner Strikes!’ wherein the enraged prince finally catches Krang and Dorma, only to once again lose his memory and become the pawn of would-be world-conqueror Number 1 of the Secret Empire in ‘Like a Beast at Bay!’ (Colan & Ayers).

The embattled monarch regains his senses just in time to terrorise a New York already reeling from the Incredible Hulk’s mindless depredations in ‘…And One Shall Die!’ (inked again by Everett) before ‘The Wrath of Warlord Krang!’ (Lee, Jerry Grandenetti & Everett) results in the metropolis being inundated by an artificial tsunami.

Naturally blamed for the catastrophe, Namor faces a ‘Moment of Truth’ as he finally deals with Krang and reconciles with Dorma: a conclusion made doubly delightful as Wild Bill Everett at last took full artistic charge of his greatest creation…

Supplemented with House ads, a full cover gallery and creator biographies, this assemblage of tales feature some of Marvel’s very best artists at their visual peak, and although a few of the stories no longer bear a critical scrutiny, the verve and enthusiasm still shine through.

Perhaps more vicarious thrill than fan’s delight, 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 irresistible.
© 1965, 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Sub-Mariner volume 1


By Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Alan Mandel & others (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1617-2 (HC)                    978-0-7851-5789-2 (PB)

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

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the Fire vs. Water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939, before becoming Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue). His elementally apposite co-star was the Human Torch, but Namor had originally been seen – albeit in a truncated version – in the monochrome freebie Motion Picture Funnies: a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier that year.

Quickly becoming one of Timely’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 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 had become known) briefly revived its “Big Three” (the Torch and Captain America being the other two), Everett returned for an extended run of superb fantasy tales, but the time wasn’t right and the title sunk again. Once more Subby was the last revived character to be cancelled, as rumours of a possible TV series deal kept the book afloat…

When Stan Lee & Jack Kirby began reinventing the superhero genre in 1961 with the Fantastic Four, they quickly revived the forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, yet decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero, understandably embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom (seemingly destroyed by American atomic testing).

He also became a dangerous bad-boy romantic interest: besotted with the FF’s golden-haired Sue Storm

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for few years, squabbling with assorted heroes such as Daredevil, the Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as part of “split-book” Tales to Astonish with fellow antisocial antihero the Incredible Hulk and went on to become a cornerstone of the modern Marvel Universe.

Following his dynamic relaunch/debut in the anthological Marvel Comics #1, the Sub-Mariner solo title began in Spring 1941, and the first four issues are gathered here (available as a sturdy hardcover, titanic trade paperback of electrifying eBook) with a reminiscence-packed, fact-filled Introduction from comics scribe and historian Roy Thomas to provide all the context and backstory any finny fun-fan would ever need, and also incorporates all the rousing in-situ ads seen in the original releases.

Sub-Mariner Comics #1 featured two complete strip-stories starring the conflicted overlord of Atlantis plus a chilling yarn featuring costumed detective and adventurer The Angel: the first of a long run of macabre thrillers…

In first tale ‘Deep-Sea Blitzkrieg’, Namor goes to war against the perfidious Nazis after a fleet of German U-Boats depth-charges the underwater city of Atlantis. The Avenging Prince immediately retaliates in a bombastic show of super-power that perfectly displays the unmatched graphic virtuosity of his creator Bill Everett.

The second story (by Everett and unknown assistants) concerns a deadly disease afflicting his aquatic subjects, necessitating the Sub-Mariner’s return to New York to obtain – by any means necessary – a supply of Radium. The dual Hero/Villain nature of the character was always a major factor in Namor’s popularity, so even a shared enemy couldn’t keep him on the good side of the American authorities for long…

For most of these stories Everett and other lead artists used a string of assistants culled from the comicbook “Shop” outfits. With no accurate records, best guesses for uncredited contributors include Charles Nicholas (née Wojtkoski), Witmer Williams, Ben Thompson, Sam Gilman, George Mandel, Mike Roy, Al Fagaly & Jimmy Thompson.

These deluxe collections also include those mandatory text features comics were compelled to run to maintain their postal status (an arcane system that allowed them to procure large postal discounts as “second class mail”) so you can also enjoy prose fable ‘Namor… His Boyhood’ by Roy Gill before moving on to Paul Gustavson’s caped and costumed detective in the 20-page gothic chiller ‘The Angel and the House of Horror’.

Although dressed like a superhero, this dashing do-gooder was actually a blend (knock-off would be perhaps a bit unkind) of Leslie Charteris’s The Saint and The Lone Wolf (Louis Vance’s urbane two-fisted hero who was the subject of 8 books and 24 B-movies between 1917 and 1949).

One marked difference was the quality of the Angel’s enemies: his foes tended towards the arcane, the ghoulish and the just plain demented…

The globe-trotting paladin also seemed able to cast a giant shadow in the shape of an angel. Not the greatest aid to cleaning up the scum of the Earth but he seemed to manage…

Sub-Mariner Comics #2 (Summer 1941) starts off with another (untitled) Nazi-busting tale – even though America was officially neutral until December 8th of that year – as Namor foils a scheme to spring thousands of German POW’s from internment in Canada.

Everett’s hand is still in evidence but by this time an increasing number of those aforementioned assistants were slowly diluting his work as he struggled to produce a monthly strip in Marvel Mystery and his other commitments.

‘Steaming Statistics of Fire and Water’ – illustrated by Harry Sahle – offers a package of fun facts before the second adventure finds Namor in a Pennsylvania town hunting fifth-columnists and spies who have fomented a strike amongst the miners producing coal for ships fuel. Cartoonist Lewis Glanzman provided a ‘Bum Jokes’ gag-page and young Stan Lee wrote a text feature entitled ‘The Story behind the Cover: Namor “Blitzes” a Nazi Sub’ before The Angel (illustrated by Alan Mandel) quashes a sinister plot in New England to free ‘The Slaves of the Python’.

The Fall 1941 issue then opens with ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Island’: a strikingly topical two-part tale that mixes Winston Churchill, the thorny question of Irish neutrality and a submerged city of druids invaded by Nazis as a staging post for future bomber raids on Britain.

This exotic fight-heavy romp, tinged with immediacy by political issues, was an extra-long one (40 pages) followed by a mediocre and uncredited prose tale ‘Dispatch from Africa’ before culminating with a rather incestuous murder mystery wherein the Angel hunts for a killer when ‘Death Draws a Comic Strip!’

Sub-Mariner Comics #4 begins with ‘Murders by Ghost Light’ and Namor investigating a haunted hospital hiding all manner of non-Hippocratic shenanigans. The spooky themes continue when he then encounters a giant madman-made monster in ‘The Horror That Walked.’

‘Fresh Meat for a Raider’ is a prose naval adventure written by a promising young writer named Mickey Spillane, whilst ‘Pop’s Whoppers’ (by Art Gates) is a jolly comedy feature starring an inveterate tall-tale teller, followed by another sinister horror puzzler for the Angel: ‘Death’s Merry-Go-Round!’.

The vintage voyages then conclude with a lost gem from the legendary Basil Wolverton who wraps things up with a comically surreal Dr. Dimwit page.

Before we leave, however, a selection of Sub-Mariner Comics house ads and photo features of a contemporary comics newsstand and Everett himself further enhance the period experience…

Many early Marvel Comics are more exuberant than qualitative, but this volume, even if largely devoid of premiere league talent, is a wonderful exception. Offering high-octane, outrageously jingoistic tub-thumping and staggering action: a splendid, historically unvarnished read as well as forgotten treasure Fights ‘n’ Tights fans will find irresistible.
©1941, 2005, 2012, 2017 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sub-Mariner & the Original Human Torch


By Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Rich Buckler & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9048-6

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

He first caught the public’s attention as part of the elementally electrifying Fire vs. Water headlining team in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939 and soon to become Marvel Mystery Comics) alongside the Human Torch, but had originally been seen in a truncated version in the monochrome Motion Picture Funnies, a weekly promotional giveaway handed out to moviegoers earlier in the year.

Quickly becoming one of the new company’s biggest draws, Namor gained his own title at the end of 1940 (cover-dated 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), 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 began reinventing comic-books in 1961 with Fantastic Four, they revived the forgotten amphibian as a troubled, semi-amnesiac, yet decidedly more regal and grandiose anti-hero, understandably embittered at the loss of his sub-sea kingdom which had seemingly been destroyed by American atomic testing.

He also became a dangerous bad-boy romantic interest: besotted with the FF’s golden-haired Sue Storm

Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for few years, squabbling with assorted heroes such as Daredevil, the Avengers and X-Men, before securing his own series as part of “split-book” Tales to Astonish with fellow antisocial antihero the Incredible Hulk,

In 1988, as part of Marvel’s 50th Anniversary celebrations, that phenomenal half-century of comicbook history was abridged, amended, updated and generally précised by avowed fan and self-appointed keeper of the chronology Roy Thomas and his writing partner Dann Thomas who collaboratively commemorated the Avenging Son’s contribution in 12-part Limited Series miniseries The Saga of the Sub-Mariner. The saga was rapturously drawn by Rich Buckler.

Roy and Rich did the same with The Saga of the Original Human Torch – a 4-part series which ran from April to July 1990 – and both sides of the tempestuous coin are triumphantly tossed together in this splendidly all-encompassing, no-nonsense textbook of historic Fights ‘n’ Tights mythology…

It all begins thousands of years ago with ‘A Legend a-Borning’ from The Saga of the Sub-Mariner #1 (November 1988) with Buckler inked by Bob McLeod. A short history of the sinking of antediluvian Atlantis and its eventual reoccupation by nomadic tribes of water-breathing Homo Mermanus follows. The water-breathing wanderers splendidly flourish deep in the icy waters, and their story leads to a certain American research vessel which sails into icy waters in 1920…

Its depth-charging and icebreaking has horrendous consequences for the citizens of the depths and in response Emperor Thakorr organises a possibly punitive expedition. Instead his daughter Princess Fen uses experimental air-breathing serums to infiltrate the ship and forms a brief liaison with Captain Leonard McKenzie. They even marry but neither is aware that the voyage has been arranged by unscrupulous telepath Paul Destine who is drawn to the area by an uncanny device of ancient power and origins…

Whilst Destine is being buried under a catastrophic avalanche trying to excavate the artefact, a raiding party from Atlantis boards the ship and drags Fen back home. She believes her husband is killed in the attack…

Nine months later a strange, pink-skinned baby is born beneath the deep blue sea…

The story resumes years later with teenaged Namor experiencing prejudice firsthand as he plays with his blue-skinned chums and royal cousin Prince Byrrah. The passing of his callow years are interspersed with his grandfather’s disdain, his mother’s tales of the fabled “Americans” and the annoying girl Dorma who is always hanging around…

Every day seems to point out another way in which he differs from his people, such as his ever increasing strength, ability to live unaided on the surface and the wings on his ankles which give him the power of flight.

Life changes forever when the youngster is salvaging a sunken ship and shockingly encounters a brace of clunky mechanical men from the surface world doing the same.

In panic he attacks, severing the control cables which connect to a ship far above and proudly hauling them to Atlantis as a prize. For once grandfather is delighted: especially when the face plates are pried open and he sees dead surface-men within.

He’s ever more gleeful when Byrrah suggests Namor should go beard the Surfacers in their own realm to pay them back for the past destruction of Atlantis. Young, feisty and gullible, Namor sets off, ready to live up to his name which means ‘Avenging Son’

‘A Prince in New York’ spectacularly depicts the fantastic reign of terror and destruction Sub-Mariner wrought upon the city until distracted and talked down by plucky blonde policewoman Betty Dean. It then reveals how he learns to despise Nazi Germany’s maritime depredations before ‘A Fire on the Water’ details how New York Special Policeman the (original) Human Torch is deputised to stop him at all costs…

He never quite succeeds but the ongoing clash resulted in some of the most astonishing scraps in comics history. With the city almost wrecked by their battles Betty Dean again steps in to calm the boiling waters and the next chapter – inked by Richardson & Company – introduced the ‘Invaders!’ as Hitler incomprehensibly decides to eradicate Atlantis with depth charges and U-boats. The act of wanton hatred merely secures the Sub-Mariner’s fanatical aid for the Allied Powers.

With Thakorr wounded, the people elect Namor Emperor by popular acclaim before watching him swim off to crush the Axis and their super-powered servants. He fights with and beside the Torch, Captain America, Bucky, Spitfire and Union Jack. By the time the war is won and Namor returns to his realm, Byrrah and his crony Commander Krang have turned recuperating Thakorr against his interim emperor and Sub-Mariner finds himself banished. Only Lady Dorma’s impassioned intervention prevents the homecoming becoming a bloodbath…

With nowhere else to go Namor rejoins his surface superhero friends to create the post-war All-Winners Squad, before eventually being summoned home by his cousin Namora. Atlantis has been ravaged by air-breathing gangsters…

Seeking vengeance they team up with Betty for a short-lived crusade against criminals, madmen and monsters until again recalled to the rebuilt underwater kingdom.

Namor’s years away had gradually diminished his mighty hybrid abilities, but now-recovered Thakorr orders Atlantis’ greatest scientists to restore them so the Sub-Mariner can renew the Realm’s war against all surface-men…

Instead, Namor attempts diplomacy but his State Visit to the United Nations resulted in violent protests and the death of a bystander. He returns to his grandfather a bitter man, but still argues against war, no matter how hard General Krang and Byrrah urge it…

When Atlantis is wracked by seaquakes Namor leads a patrol to the polar cap above and discovers freshly-exhumed Paul Destine is responsible. The psychic had found a fantastic Helmet of Power which magnified his gifts exponentially and decided to test his new abilities on the closest population centre…

Enraged Namor’s physical might is useless against the tele-potent madman and in an instant Destine wipes his fishy foe’s memories and sends him to live as an amnesiac amongst the dregs of New York, blindly awaiting his future ‘Dark Destiny’ (McLeod inks)…

The epic history lesson reaches the dawn of the Marvel Age decades later as ‘Rage and Remembrance’ recaps the epochal events after new Human Torch Johnny Storm restores the memory of a weary derelict and unleashes the rage of the Sub-Mariner once again. With his mind and most of his memories back Namor instantly heads home to find Atlantis razed and his people scattered. Blaming the humans, he launches a series of blistering attacks on the Fantastic Four whilst attempting to win the heart of the clearly conflicted Invisible Girl

As months pass he discovers his people had relocated and rebuilt Atlantis. Namor is re-elected Emperor over the protests of Byrrah and betrothed to Lady Dorma, unknowingly earning the eternal enmity of Warlord Krang who has always wanted her…

His war against the surface-men continues, escalating into a brief invasion of New York, a turbulent alliance with the Hulk and clash with the ‘Avengers!’ (Mike Gustovich inks) which results in the revival of his now-forgotten Invaders comrade Captain America

Sub-Mariner’s pointless sorties against mankind continue as he forcefully adds the X-Men and Magneto to his roster of enemies whilst still trying to take Sue Storm away from Reed Richards.

After repelling an invasion by sub-sea barbarian Attuma he softens and again attempts to gain official recognition for Atlantis. Whilst he is making his embassage, however, Krang seizes control of Atlantis. After battling Daredevil, Namor returns too his kingdom, deals with the usurper and more-or-less dials back his campaign against the surface. Sadly this peace is interrupted as Destine again strikes inviting the new monarch to a ‘Rendezvous with Destiny!’ (McLeod inks).

Time and events telescope from now on as ‘Losses in Battle’ rapidly traces Namor’s showdown with the mental maniac, alliance with the Inhuman Triton and battles with Plantman, Dr. Dorcas, Tiger Shark, the Thing and a host of others, as well a reunion with Betty Prentiss (nee Dean) and rise of the sinister antediluvian Serpent Cult of Lemuria which first devised the formidable Helmet of Power in eons past.

Also revealed is how Namor’s marriage to Dorma is thwarted by murderous Lemurian LLyra and his subsequent agonising first and last meetings with his father…

‘Blood Ties’ then details his meeting with and adoption of Namora’s teenaged daughter Namorita, clashes with Doctor Doom and MODOK, an alliance of Byrrah and Llyra and origins of the Defenders before ‘Triumphs… and Tragedy!’ (inked by McLeod & Co) brings us to a cameo-packed conclusion, relating Namor’s enforced alliance with Doom, admission into the Mighty Avengers and loss of two of his greatest loves…

Although appearing a tad rushed, the writing is strong: offering fresh insights for those familiar with the original material whilst presenting the chronicles in an engaging and appetising manner for those coming to the stories for the first time. Moreover Buckler’s solidly dependable illustration capably handles a wide, wild and capacious cast with great style and verve.

Balancing the watery wonderment is the later and far shorter comics chronology of Sub-Mariner’s arch ally and favourite enemy as first seen in The Saga of the Original Human Torch.

It starts with ‘The Lighted Torch’ by Thomas, Buckler & Danny Bulanadi, which shows how the Flaming Fury burst into life as a malfunctioning humanoid devised by troubled and acquisitive Professor Phineas Horton. Instantly igniting into an uncontrollable fireball whenever exposed to air, the artificial innocent was consigned to entombment in concrete but escaped to accidentally imperil the metropolis until it/he fell into the hands of a malign mobster named Sardo.

When the crook’s attempts to use the android as a terror weapon dramatically backfired the hapless newborn was left a misunderstood fugitive – like a modern day Frankenstein’s monster. Even his creator only saw the fiery Prometheus as a means of making money.

Gradually gaining control of his flammability, the angry, perpetually rejected android decides to make his own way in the world…

Instinctively honest, the creature saw crime and wickedness everywhere and resolved to do something about it. Indistinguishable from human when not afire, he joined the police as Jim Hammond, tackling ordinary thugs even as his volcanic alter ego battled such outlandish bandits as Asbestos Lady. Before long the Torch met Betty Dean when New York City Chief of Police John C. Wilson asked him to stop the savage Sub-Mariner from destroying everything. The battles are spectacular but inconclusive but only end after Betty intervenes and brokers a tenuous ceasefire.

Later, a brusque reunion with Horton sets the Torch of the trail of his creator’s former assistant Fred Raymond. Hammond is too late to stop Asbestos Lady murdering the Raymonds in a train wreck but adopts their little boy Toro who gains the power to become a human torch as soon as he meets the artificial avenger. The partners in peril become a team who set ‘The World on Fire!’; battling beside Namor in the Invaders for the duration of WWII.

They even play a major role in ending the conflict in 1945 when they storm a Berlin bunker and incinerate Hitler, before rising ‘Out of the Ashes…’ (inked by Alfredo Alcala) by battling Homefront hostiles, exposing Machiavellian android mastermind Adam-II who, with knowledge of the future, attempts to assassinate a group of strangers who would all eventually be Presidents of the USA. The Fiery Furies formed the backbone of the All-Winners Squad, battling maniacs and conquerors from tomorrow, continuing their campaign against crime long after their comrades retired…

When a family crisis benches Toro, the Torch soldiers on with new sidekick Sun Girl until he returns. The reunion is destined to short and far from sweet…

The hot history lesson concludes in ‘The Flaming Fifties!’ (inked by Romeo Tanghal) as Jim Hammond bursts from a desert grave during a nuclear test explosion, revived from a chemically-induced coma mimicking death. His last memory was of being ambushed by gangsters and sprayed with a chemical which inhibited his flame and knocked him out. Blazing back to the ambush site he attacks his assailants and discovers four years have passed…

When they try the same solution again the compound no longer works on his atomically charged form and after a band of G-Men burst in the truth comes out. The Torch and Toro vanished in 1949 and when pressed the crooks admit to having got their chemical cosh from the Russians. More chillingly, they paid for it by handing Toro over to the Reds…

After spectacularly rescuing and deprogramming the Soviets’ flaming secret weapon, the Torch brings Toro home and they continue their anti-crime campaign against weird villains, Red menaces and an assortment of crooks and gangsters but before long tragedy again strikes as the atomic infusion finally reaches critical mass in Jim’s android body.

Realising he is about to flame out in a colossal nova, the Human Torch soars into the desert skies and detonates like a supernova…

The pre-Marvel Age adventures of the Torch end here but devotees already know Jim Hammond was resurrected a number of times in the convoluted continuity that underpinned the modern House of Ideas…

This substantial primer into the prehistory of the Marvel Universe also includes a quartet of original art covers plus a brace of full-colour, textless covers.

Fast, furious and fabulously action-packed, this is a lovely slice of authentic Marvel mastery to delight all lovers of Costumed dramas.
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