Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Sixty-Year Swimsuit


I haven't checked in on Sub-Mariner for a long time. In all honesty, it's kind of hard to keep up with the guy. Is he still the ruler of Atlantis? Is there still an Atlantis? What's his current mood vis-à-vis the human race? Is he just being plugged into any series that needs some conflict? Or is he as directionless as ever?

Is Namor just a nomad?

From this picture, it looks like he's a card-carrying member of the X-Men, given that their insignia is all over his clothing:



That's another thing that's a little odd about Namor these days--the Sub-Mariner wearing clothing. We know why he started wearing clothing--his body chemistry altered by a deadly nerve gas, Reed Richards designed a life support suit for him to wear which would keep him hydrated whenever he left the water. Though I'm not sure why Reed felt Namor would need a glider membrane. In a race to save Namor's life, I'm not sure I'd be spending my time with fashion touches like glider wings and color matching:



But long after the need for the suit no longer existed, Namor at some point decided to wear some measure of clothing based on the original suit's design. And I must admit, the look "suits" him, heh heh. I can't say I'm sorry to see the green swim trunks consigned to the dust bin of comics history. I don't think there was ever an explanation for Namor being outfitted in a simple pair of swimming trunks, particularly a prince of Atlantis who would some day ascend to the throne. It wouldn't exactly do to receive dignitaries looking like you should have a towel hanging over your shoulder--and there were probably surface dwellers who thought this guy yelling in their streets was asking for a Mai Tai. Dressed thus, Namor wasn't going to win any awards for being the most dramatic looking figure Marvel presented on the printed page.

Yet that said, there were many artists who drew the Sub-Mariner at that time who still managed to convey an imposing figure. Among them, Bill Everett and Jack Kirby, respectively:



Everett's Namor, in the beginning, spent a great deal of his time in the sea, or otherwise had water dripping from him, so perhaps that's one reason the swim trunks remained a constant and even migrated to Namor's second life in the Silver Age. When Kirby and writer Stan Lee began portraying the character, Namor almost immediately abandoned his Golden Age innocence and became a more antagonistic (if misguided) figure--yet, curiously, he remained dressed in the same casual style, which the formality he now conveyed was at odds with. I would have expected some kind of change in Namor's garment, to be in line with his more aggressive posture.

Namor's next two artists of note were Gene Colan and Marie Severin:




Colan's Sub-Mariner took on a more broad-shouldered and muscled look than the slight build that Kirby had given him in the beginning. Kirby's later work would improve on Namor's build significantly by the time of his final art on the character in Fantastic Four #102; but while Kirby's Namor was more action-oriented, Colan seemed to focus more on the impression Namor's build would give in a panel (a difference in style which can be seen in a battle with Iron Man which both artists worked on). Severin's panels of Namor were also heavy on action, so I was really surprised at her portrayal of him here--though frankly, I can see much more of inker John Severin's work in this image than Marie's.

When Sub-Mariner was given his first solo series, interestingly it was artist John Buscema who was tapped to be his artist, signalling that the emphasis on action was going to be continued with Namor:



Buscema's work on the title would later alternate with Marie Severin, before his brother Sal would take over as regular artist. And where the Sub-Mariner book is concerned, I could write a half-dozen sentences just like that--with artists (and writers) coming and going, perhaps calling into question the suitability of Namor to helm a series of his own. Ross Andru also came aboard for a few key issues which would prove to be a turning point for the character:



I can't say I'm a fan of Andru's work, cringing as I did on a regular basis during his run on Amazing Spider-Man. But inked here by Jim Mooney, he turns in one of the finest portraits of Sub-Mariner that I've ever come across. In that regard, he's got some stiff competition from artist George Perez, who turned in a spectacular image of Namor from an Avengers story:



It's been awhile since Namor had a run in his own series, having more success in a string of limited series and of course appearances in other books. But it looks like his various handlers have decided to abandon the green swim trunks for good, after a run of about sixty years. Whether or not that signals an end to Namor's status as Marvel's resident nomad remains to be seen.


1 comment:

Supervisor194 said...

"cringing as I did on a regular basis during his run on Amazing Spider-Man. "


Gotta admit, I've never gotten the hate some people have for Ross Andru, and in particular, his Spider-
Man. I grew up with Andru's Spider-Man as my model. As did, evidently, Joss Whedon too. Oh well. To each his own, huh?

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