Thursday, August 18, 2016

When Wakes The Sub-Mariner!

Aside from the tales we've seen in the What If titles, there are a number of alternate versions of stories involving the Fantastic Four and their adventures as we've come to know them, with many involving a different take on their origin as well as the characters they've met and fought. One extended example which quickly comes to mind is Ultimate Fantastic Four, part of the Ultimate "universe" which spawned a series of titles from 2002-09 and sought to give more of an edge to their stories while burdening their characters with far fewer scruples as far as ethical dilemmas or the use of deadly force. Several of these titles lost steam as the first decade of the 21st century drew to its close--perhaps due to the body count that accumulated across the board growing tiresome, or its characters leaving behind the interesting aspects they'd started out with (the exception to both probably being Ultimate Spider-Man, which had a long successful run and distinguished itself among the others). The Ultimates books didn't hold the monopoly on such failings, with X-Force, Cable, and other trigger-happy titles in "our" universe also blending together as far as their modus operandi.

For awhile, though, Ultimate Fantastic Four was at least noteworthy, and fairly interesting--its team much younger than their counterparts and part of a think tank organization headed by the Storms' father which operated out of the Baxter Building. Naturally, their classic foes had a considerable twist to their own origins and history--with one such antagonist, the Sub-Mariner, literally unearthed after being entombed in the depths of the Atlantic for nine thousand years.

This three-part story has its genesis in a fifteen-year project headed by Sue's and Johnny's estranged mother, Mary, who believes she has discovered the location of the lost continent of Atlantis and enlists the Fantastic Four's help in reaching the ruins, since their unique abilities would allow them to function at such a depth (with Johnny, out of necessity, remaining aboard a surface vessel). This revision to FF lore has the advantage of giving Namor a fresh refit, his history in Marvel comics having become so well documented that almost any reader could recite all or some portion of it and be fairly accurate in the details. Even so, when the submersible carrying the three-quarter FF team reaches the site, ruins with a strong Egyptian influence are probably the last thing we would expect to see.

There appears no purpose for the Egyptian similitude other than as a way to signify an ancient civilization.  Given that prehistoric Egypt only dates back roughly 5,000 years and wasn't around at the time Atlantis sank into the ocean (assuming the story's representation of the age of that event is correct), the suggestion that Atlantis had Egyptian parallels (or vice versa) isn't supportable.

Leaving the submersible (with Sue's force field compensating for the pressure extremes), the three explore the ruins and come across a sarcophagus--a discovery which gets this story moving quickly, since it appears the tomb has a single, and aware, occupant.

All that the personnel on the surface ships are aware of is that something at the site has caused a great deal of violent wave activity, something now headed toward the surface. (And you've no doubt guessed what that "something" is.) It's unclear why the Sub-Mariner (who in this revision isn't known as the Sub-Mariner) would make breaking the surface a priority--but his arrival causes Johnny to assume the worst for his friends below, and the first Sub-Mariner/Human Torch battle of the Ultimate universe is off and running.

In this universe or any other in Marvel's purview, however the Torch chooses to utilize his flame against a living being makes little difference in the target's ability to survive an attack by flame, since everyone seems to survive regardless of the flame blast's temperature or duration. Namor is not Wolverine, of course, with no healing factor to speak of--but despite Johnny not holding back to any *ahem* degree, Namor is able to retaliate almost instantly and is on his way to ending the Torch's life by drowning him, until the rest of the FF approach the surface and gang up on their foe.

Round One goes to the FF for now--but in this universe, Namor is impossibly strong (to say nothing of resilient), as well as able to shrug off a 9,000-year dormancy as if he'd awakened from a short nap. We have no details as to why Namor is the only survivor of what by all appearances was a disaster for the Atlanteans, or why he'd been entombed--but it will take awhile for those details to come to light, since these preliminaries between himself and the FF have each side taking the other's temperature, so to speak.  It's a scene that effectively (and at times delightfully) helps to establish Namor's character--such as it is.

We'll find in this story arc that, with the exception of his noble bearing, Namor is nothing like the Namor we know; in fact, there seems to be very little to him at all, aside from alternating cockiness and arrogance. On the bright side, this Namor isn't weighed down with the rule of Atlantis or the character's antagonism toward the surface world for its infractions vis-à-vis Atlantis or the ocean in general; on the other hand, there is as yet no heroic aspect to this Namor, which makes him rather two-dimensional and almost predictable in regard to the posturing and actions we can eventually expect from him.

Sue agrees to accompany Namor on his "outing" in return for more detailed information on his past--an agreement which Namor has no intention of honoring, though he holds Sue's interest as they tour parts of Manhattan and Central Park. For awhile, the story, in its own way, mimics very well the connection between Sue and Namor that we recall from the original story, with Sue's intrigue and Namor's romantic overtures apparent throughout their interaction. Unfortunately, this Namor has no patience for rejection, no matter his feelings--and while he makes his anger known to Sue, Reed's progress at translating the Egyptian Atlantean inscriptions found in the ruins has him realizing the shocking truth of Namor's status in Atlantis.

As the rest of the FF arrive on the scene in force, they find that Namor in Round Two is far more difficult to subdue than their prior encounter with him. The battle that unfolds is a fair display of this Fantastic Four's tactics and capabilities; yet we can say the same for Namor, when, on the ropes at the battle's climax, he displays a new and nearly overwhelming aspect of his power that turns the tide (and literally, at that) against the Fantastic Four as well as the entire city.

Holding such a card, we might expect Namor to demand unconditional surrender of the FF, as it would be consistent with what we've seen of his character thus far. But as was the case with the original tale, Namor will withdraw--but for very different reasons. Then, Namor also held all the cards, demanding that Sue become his bride--but it was a last-ditch effort by the Torch which dealt with his threat and made him abandon the battle. Here, it's again his desire for Sue which drives him to put the entire city in danger--but in this case, Namor chooses instead to twist the knife in his victory by making a demand of Sue that allows him to humiliate the other members of the FF while agreeing to withdraw with his pride intact.

It's not a half-bad FF/Namor story, all things considered--though arguably there's little depth to Namor beyond his status as a dangerous, immature menace whose power is to be reckoned with. Yet that shouldn't necessarily have you drawing the conclusion of these three issues having little to show for them, as the book continues to build on the characters of the individual FF members and establish a solid continuity. That said, this team lacks the spark of the original, as everyone often seems on the same page and their near-equal levels of youth have them all speaking the same language and offering little diversity of thought or maturity. It all makes for little more than a very "cool" Fantastic Four, who seem to handle their crises in stride.

Just how did this version of the Fantastic Four take shape?

Ultimate Fantastic Four #s 24-26

Script: Mark Millar
Pencils: Greg Land
Inks: Matt Ryan
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos


Anonymous said...

Those ancient Atlantean monuments aren't just similar to Egypt's - they look identical, the tallest pyramid has even retained a limestone cap like the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza. I wonder if Namor (the proper one) knows about his illustrious predecessor, King Kull ? Marvel should have done a time-travel story where Namor meets Kull - they had Conan meet Kull so why not a meeting between the two most famous monarchs of Atlantis ?

Comicsfan said...

That would probably be a better fit for the "ultimate" Namor, Colin, since both he and Kull hail from the continent of Atlantis, whereas our Namor rules a city of the same name. (Though we've had this conversation before, eh?) On the other hand, it's been revealed that the ultimate Namor wasn't a monarch--quite the contrary, as he seems to have been a guest of the Atlantean penal system, and likely someone that Kull would pass on meeting.

Jon H said...

Maybe Greg Land found a porn magazine with Egyptian monuments, and traced those, too.

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