Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blinded By Rage

By the time the Sub-Mariner series ended in September, 1974 (though as The Savage Sub-Mariner for the past year), the book was arguably on its last legs. The spike in readership which Namor's dramatic costume change had been meant to usher in hadn't materialized, and the book went to bi-monthly publication directly afterward. Also, artist/writer Bill Everett, who had come back aboard and given the series something of a new lease on life in 1972, had passed away in early 1973, resulting in the book shifting in writers and artists as it tried to find stability. Even Atlantis, which Namor had finally returned to, had for all intents and purposes been removed from the book, its population victims of exposure to nerve gas (or of the editorial change in direction, take your pick); and from then on, Namor spent much of his time following leads that would hopefully result in a cure and restore his people.

But time had run out for Namor, and Marvel pulled the plug on The Savage Sub-Mariner with issue #72. Not unexpectedly, the cover of its final issue was as sensationalized as prior issues which sought to coax readers:

For instance, the creature attacking Namor wasn't called the "Slime-Thing"; in fact, it never spoke a word, much less gave itself a name (and a self-degrading one at that). Nor were the men at the waterfront armed. And as for the fate of the "two worlds" of Atlantis and the surface world being at stake--or even relevant--nothing could be further from the truth, as the fights taking place in the issue were strictly personal.

Yet the irony here is that this issue came much closer to being the kind of issue that would have given an indication of stability in the series. Although it only touched lightly on continuity, its story was interesting and paced well from page to page, while the artwork--pencilled by the late Dan Adkins--calmed the waters (so to speak) of past issues' efforts by George Tuska and Don Heck and made Namor distinctive and striking again. Just look at the issue's impressive splash page alone:

The story itself, written by Steve Skeates, is somewhat isolated in nature, given that Namor has as much on his plate as he ever did, but the interlude is understandable since it seeks to provide a decent plot while also attempting to cap the series without jarring the reader to a sudden halt on its final page. It also provides a bit of closure for Skeates, which we'll get to in a minute.

Our creature is something of a misshapen life form that's passing through our solar system, when it latches onto a satellite which subsequently explodes and sends it descending to Earth and into the ocean. Right near a dock where the Sub-Mariner has paused to reflect on recent events and, more to the point, his dour mood. Naturally, all roads in that respect usually lead back to surface dwellers, in one way or another:

And speaking of surface dwellers, Skeates and Adkins give a considerable amount of story time to two in particular, who seem to be present for only one reason: to inflame Namor enough to lead to his battle with the creature:

The creature, meanwhile, has merged with part of the satellite as well as the slime in the sea bottom to make itself into a biped:

Which, if you remember Adkins' work on Tales To Astonish, might remind you of another creature which formed from the depths to battle Namor:

But Namor's fists at present are interested in doling out blows exclusively to the surface men who have provoked him:

Which leads to the guy's friend rushing Namor, and plunging the them all into the water--including the creature, who had shambled up onto the dock but which now charges Namor:

The story really gives no solid reason for the creature lashing out as it does, as the narrative seems to imply that it realizes it was just in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Skeates' focus, instead, turns to Namor, who now sees the creature as every frustration and setback that has dogged his every step for so long:

And if Skeates didn't make clear of the reasons for the creature's anger before, being on the receiving end of a vicious attack by the Sub-Mariner is certainly enough of a reason for the creature to now show justifiable anger toward Namor. And that anger is delivered in an unexpected way:

Yet Namor renews the attack, once again with Atlantis' situation driving his rage--and the creature finally sees the futility of further conflict, and departs for outer space. It's only then that, afflicted as he now is with a debilitating handicap, Namor allows reason to rule his thoughts. And as the copy points out, hindsight is now the only kind of sight he possesses:

But from its position in space, the creature senses Namor's grief, and returns his sight to him--in near-full-page panels that almost give the impression of filler, as does the entire diversion of Namor's blindness itself. In any event, with Namor once again resolved to save his homeland, the final issue of Sub-Mariner draws to its close.

In the issue's letters page, editor Roy Thomas, along with conspicuous responses to readers' letters, hints at a "Grand Plan" that Marvel has put in motion for the Sub-Mariner which will bear fruit in just a few months' time--which more than likely was Namor's reappearance in the Super-Villain Team-Up giant-size issues and subsequent series. Not quite so "grand," and certainly nothing to spotlight Namor exclusively--yet it did at least resolve the Atlantis situation.

As for how Skeates figures into this last issue (aside from writing it), a tip of the hat to this entry from "Dial B for Blog," which makes a connection between the final issue of Aquaman and this final issue of The Savage Sub-Mariner, both of which were written by Skeates. In the former book, written three years before, one of the story's characters creates a satellite that puts the city of Detroit into 24-hour daylight--yet the satellite creates an ecological menace on the sea bed that threatens to devour the city. To save the city, Aquaman breaks into the command center of the satellite and hits its destruct button. That same destruct button is hit in the Sub-Mariner story, destroying the same satellite which the creature has boarded. Skeates may have the dubious distinction of scripting the final issues of books with poor sales, but he also provides a very clever crossover right under our radar.


ZoltarSpeaks said...

It's a shame that the Bronze Age version of the Sub-Mariner fizzled out like this. I thought this title had great art and stories early in it's run, but this particular issue clearly proved it was time to pull the plug.

Doc Savage said...

I think the story implied by the cover sounds like more fun than the actual story inside.

Gecho said...

This was the first of only two comics published which had Marvel Value Stamp #100 - Galactus - and the only reason I bought this comic, way back when.

Comicsfan said...

Matt, you may have a point! :)

HumanDrillBit, I think the turning point for Sub-Mariner may have been when Namor abdicated his throne and he was made more or less a wanderer (as well as coming full circle and returning to be an amnesiac). Everett was just beginning to reverse that; but the character needed clear direction beyond that, under a writer/art team that could really bring some solid stories his way and make him striking again. I think Roy Thomas was making some clear headway in that respect, in those early days.

Gecho, I think while I was scanning this issue I ran across a "bulletins" supplement that explained how those value stamps could be put to use when one had a full set. As it turned out, I think just having the full collection may have been the best part!