Thursday, May 26, 2016

Landward, Ho!

The first Sub-Mariner solo series was scripted from its beginning by writer Roy Thomas, who continued to write the character's adventures until the book's fortieth issue--opting at that point to leave the mag to focus on new projects like Conan the Barbarian and the short-lived Kull the Conqueror (among other ventures like Man-Thing and Marvel Team-Up) while still writing Incredible Hulk and The Avengers, though leaving Hulk within a few months and The Avengers in just over a year's time. Needless to say, his plate was full, and his departure from Sub-Mariner seemed well-planned, laying the groundwork to hand off Namor to a new writer with a virtually blank slate. By the time Thomas left, he'd severed Namor's ties with Atlantis as well as with his long-time love, the lady Dorma, in a penultimate issue that seemed to bring the character full-circle; and now, in that issue's follow-up, Thomas sets Namor on a course away from the sea to explore the human side of his heritage.

But from the looks of it, we now seem to have another Hulk book on our hands.

With Earth's oceans covering three-quarters of the globe, and considering Namor's feelings toward the surface world, it's an unusual move for the Sub-Mariner to choose to head for the world of land-dwellers--especially given the fact that it was on the surface where he only recently lost Dorma in a conflict with his hated enemy, Llyra. There must have been any number of locations beneath the waves where he could find solace while deciding what to do with the rest of his life after abdicating the throne of Atlantis; yet perhaps Thomas felt that Namor plunging deeper into the ocean wouldn't sufficiently engage readers of Sub-Mariner to the degree where sales of the book would benefit. I suppose it would depend on how the next writer would have explored those ocean depths with the character, and what worlds could be created there for Namor to become involved in. On the surface, Namor would seem to be (you'll excuse the expression) a fish out of water.

The other unusual element in this story is that Namor would make so public a spectacle of his arrival, mired in grief as he still must be. There are easier channels for him to expatriate himself to the surface world, which at the very least would allow him to clear his head and consider exactly what he wishes to do in an existence among surface men. What draws him to the world of land dwellers--and why? We'll discover what form the answer will eventually take--but for now, Namor's decision is difficult to come to terms with.

Yet first, there's the need to face the aftermath of the encounter which took everything from Namor--the Florida oceanarium where Dorma died, and where her murderer barely escaped from. It's a powerful scene of rage, from one accustomed to making his foes pay for their transgressions--a scene that doesn't bode well for the evil Llyra and the day of reckoning she may one day face at Namor's hand.

From there, we arrive at this story's dramatic splash page, which appropriately returns Namor to a historic city he's well familiar with from decades past--a place where he decides to make his presence and new status known at dawn's light.

I don't often sing artist Ross Andru's praises--yet this page remains one of my favorite Sub-Mariner displays, and serves as a fine send-off for Thomas's departure. (With no small thanks to letterer Sam Rosen, whose title banner here boldly "stands" out and takes the baton handoff from the story's prelude quite well.) I'd come to enjoy Andru's work on Sub-Mariner--his angles, attention to detail, and overall approach to the Atlanteans appearing to be more at home in the depths than his predecessor, Sal Buscema. Thomas would take Andru with him when he segued to Kull, which makes this story Andru's last issue, also; but with Namor now presumably looking at a land-based existence, perhaps that's just as well.

We'll hear others throughout this story remark to Namor that he's gone about this affair in the wrong way--i.e., provocatively (albeit non-belligerently)--by laying claim to an abandoned facility off of Manhattan known as Prison Island, while he gets his bearings. Again, even intent as he is on exploring his human heritage, he had the oceans of the world in which to seclude himself until he was ready with definite plans; instead, he makes this island his own, and only then asks the law's indulgence. Imagine how many land-dwellers would like to have the latitude to handle things that way.

Namor settles things with our trigger-happy looney tune--but in so doing, escalates this situation in the eyes of the police as well as the assembled press. Fortunately, Namor's friend, Diane Arliss, calms things down for everyone, while the police update their superiors.

Again, the contradiction is almost glaring: What person asks to be left alone, only to then virtually announce himself by claiming and reshaping an island within sight of New York City?

Here's another question as if in answer: Since most people seeking privacy usually do it without establishing a base off the coast of a vast metropolitan city, what are the chances that the military is going to leave well enough alone here?

The shelling of the island begins, and Namor's response is immediate--and in kind.

Granted, the military's actions appear to be rash and without just cause--there's been no invasion here, no line in the sand, no threatening actions from an aggressor... nothing which demanded an immediate response, and certainly nothing of this magnitude. Yet we also have to look at the wheels that Thomas has put in motion to get us here. Not many sea-born dwellers abandon their heritage only to bring it with them and make a show of it when emigrating to the surface world; also, such is Namor's access to wealth that he could have established residence in the most posh hotel that Manhattan has to offer, and still drawn unwanted (?) attention to himself but without ruffling any feathers of the military or other officials. It's a strange set of circumstances all around.

With only two pages left in the story, it's time for Thomas to set Namor on the course that he'll end up following for the next seven issues, this time under writer Gerry Conway--and thanks to Namor's little announcement to the press corps, Diane has done a little digging and provided him with the perfect way to begin exploring his land-based heritage. It's an intriguing lead-in, to be sure, since Namor has operated for so long without any ties to his family, human or otherwise--and the prospect of meeting someone of such significance to him is an excellent pivot for a character who has broken so completely with the world in which his series was launched.

Namor would make a short detour to the pages of Daredevil before returning to his next issue (with Spider-Man tagging along). You can jump ahead to the end of Namor's quest, if you're curious--though you may have already guessed who else is waiting in the wings.

Dig out your old black light and have a look at the Third Eye poster of Namor's dramatic flight.

Sub-Mariner #39

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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