Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Ties That Bind

Sub-Mariner #56 remains one of my all-time favorite issues of Namor's first series, though with only 16 issues remaining until the title would be cancelled. It's a feast for the eyes in every way, from its beautiful opening splash page to its tragic ending--with Dan Adkins stepping aboard to do the full artwork, accompanying a surprisingly thoughtful and riveting story by Mike Friedrich. Since he abdicated his throne and effectively veered away from any course writer Roy Thomas might have been charting for him, the Sub-Mariner, like his former kingdom, has been at loose ends, with no real direction and certainly less involvement and influence as far as the surface world is concerned. We'll see in this issue that, despite the listless feeling his book conveys to readership, Namor relishes that freedom--but for such a man, turning his back on his responsibilities can come at a steep price.

For a writer new to the book, Friedrich shows a (I must use the word again) surprising grasp of the Sub-Mariner's character--not just his strength of mind and body, but his uniqueness among Marvel's other heroes, as well as where he currently stands in his book as far as his state of mind. No small credit must be given to Adkins, who plotted this story which has given Friedrich so much to work with; but the Namor in this story, as written by Friedrich, comes across as a very interesting comics character, one who seems more than capable of supporting a solo series. Namor has been absent from his kingdom for almost twenty issues at this point; yet, given how at ease he seems in his self-exile and isolation, he gives the impression of being quite ready to go another twenty, if not more. Once you've turned the last page in this issue, you'll probably find yourself wishing that Friedrich and Adkins had extended their stay, at least long enough to give the Sub-Mariner new direction.

In the spirit of full disclosure, though, Namor's indulgence in his self-sufficiency in this story's beginning is Friedrich's way of laying the foundation for what's to come. Atlantis has never been necessary for Namor's evolution as a character--but as we'll see, it can still work well with Namor under the right circumstances. It is, after all, part of his history and heritage--much as Namor would like to avoid admitting it, at least for awhile.

As the story begins, Namor is taking a well-deserved respite beneath the ocean's surface; but his rest under the waves is disturbed by a cry in distress, which turns out to be an Atlantean named Coral who is far indeed from her city's gates:

Coral has actually come in search of Namor, in order to seek his aid from a possible threat from an alien spacecraft which has landed in the vicinity of Atlantis:

With Atlantis in constant defense of its borders, Vashti's paranoia regarding the alien ship is perhaps understandable, to a point. Vashti, as we've grown to know him, has been mainly an advisor to Namor; but we see now how heavy the burden of his new responsibilities weighs on him, and it's easy to wonder how he might be counseling Namor in this situation if he were still present. That Vashti would probably be quick to suggest how unwise it would be to assume the aliens are enemies--and the folly of treating them as such, given how beset with enemies Atlantis already is. At any rate, with their options for defense limited, Vashti decides to send Coral in search of Namor--even though the regent has only his fears of the aliens being hostile, and nothing substantive. A fact which Namor is quick to bring to Coral's attention:

Reading between the lines, it would seem that Namor is bristling at being dragged back into the affairs of Atlantis, a city still involved in armed disputes with other sub-sea territories, as well as a place which still holds memories he's struggled to swim away from. What neither Coral nor Namor (or Vashti, for that matter) can know, however, is that the aliens in question are in no shape for an invasion, even if that were their purpose:

In truth, the aliens are simply in search of a haven from their dying world, with no hostile intent. But if we're looking for hostility, we can definitely find it in the form of the Haab--creatures of servitude to the aliens, who have escaped their captivity and are now making a beeline for the walls of Atlantis. It's an approach that Namor also decides to make, though with much more ambivalence:

When the Haab break through the walls of the city, Namor confronts them. But, rather than jump to conclusions based on Coral's story, this former king still has the presence of mind to sift through the facts:

In the meantime, the aliens have crossed paths with Coral, and explained their situation to her satisfaction. Her fears allayed, she promises Namor's aid, and the group heads off to locate the Haab before they enter Atlantis and attack. But the Haab have already run into one heck of a "No Trespassing" sign:

In another point in time, were Namor still ruler of Atlantis, his handling of this situation would have done much to serve as an example to his people--demonstrating that not every unknown quantity in their world beneath the waves need be faced with fear or a call to arms, but with cool resolve:

Knowing that Coral will make introductions for the aliens, Namor departs, once more feeling the joys of freedom from such strife and turmoil in his life. But it's not long before tragedy strikes, in the form of Atlantis' soldiers returning from the battlefield--men who have not seen the leadership of their king in a long time, and whose struggle against invaders has conditioned them to react without Namor's experience or deliberation.

As is usually the case with a bloodbath, these soldiers pause too late to consider their actions. Though it may be some small comfort that even the soldiers of Atlantis, conditioned to defend their homeland at all costs, are not beyond holding themselves accountable for what can only be called murder:

As for Namor, this bloody scene will serve to drive him away from Atlantis once again. But, despite his freedom from the throne, the responsibility he bears for the incident is something that he'll never be able to swim far enough away from.

The story by Friedrich and Adkins makes quite an impact on a Sub-Mariner reader who perhaps has grown used to seeing Namor pivot from one battle to another without any real direction for either his character or his book. Judging by the issue's cover, though, you'd think those particular editors were still at work. I've waited until now to show you the cover for this issue, because I didn't want it to either confuse you or color your impression of this otherwise fine story. But, curiously, it gives the person at the sales rack a much different picture of the kind of story they're expecting to read when they get it home:

In a way, it gives us at a glance the dilemma that the Sub-Mariner book faced in terms of attempting to know what its readers would like--in this case, contriving warlike action to tempt the buyer, in spite of the far better story within which had nothing whatsoever to do with Atlantis attacking Namor en masse. Perhaps the browser at the comics shop should be less subjected to bait-and-switch marketing and treated more honestly as a valued reader.

When we follow up with this story's sequel, we'll see Namor and Atlantis deal more fully with its repercussions, when a stowaway in the alien ship confronts the murderers of her people.

Sub-Mariner #56

Script: Mike Friedrich
Pencils and Inks: Dan Adkins
Letterer: John Costanza

1 comment:

George Chambers said...

Aquaman: asks shark politely to go away.

Namor: punches the shark!

Namor > Aquaman, QED.

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