Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Ally--My Enemy!

There was a time when writer Roy Thomas seemed insistent on pairing the most unlikely of allies together, even when those characters were practically screaming in his ear that a niche isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps he was only thinking of how grand and startling such groupings would appear on the cover of an issue, rather than looking down the road to plot their actual stories--though harmless enough, if you're floating a concept to see how many potential customers would bite at the sales rack. He began with the so-called "Titans Three," featuring the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer, their common denominator being that they were all outcasts who stood apart from the rest of humanity--though it would be more accurate to say that, rather than outcasts, they were shunned by the very people they often fought for. From there, he drafted two of those characters to appear in another informal team, the Defenders, joining Dr. Strange--a character who would normally have kept any notion of being included in a team lineup at arm's length, if not further.

Thomas's ideas along these lines were arguably better suited for one-shots, which is where the Titans Three ultimately remained, at least until they underwent a refit to emerge as part of the Defenders (give or take the Silver Surfer). Once the combination ran its course and the former Titans departed those ranks, Thomas would try his hand again with the Sub-Mariner in another attempt to pair him with a character who himself scoffed at the notion of an alliance with the Atlantean--Dr. Doom. As Thomas put it in an afterword:

"...suddenly my eyes happened to fall on the fourth entry [of the FF rogues' gallery] (Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner) directly opposite the fifth (Dr. Doom, no less). I recalled instantly, of course, that Namor had been re-introduced in F.F. #4, Doom in #5, and that they had temporarily joined forces in #6, though the alliance hadn't even lasted out the issue. And since then--hadn't the idea of a league been suggested virtually every time the two had met?"

And so Thomas would put together what turns out to be a believable (and readable) story in his next attempt to unite these two in alliance--in the pages of the debut of Super-Villain Team-Up (which almost sounds like an oxymoron), where Namor encounters Doom after a narrow escape from an exploding satellite. Though Thomas makes a bit of a reach in his statement above--"every time the two had met," in their case, amounting to only two meetings (which Thomas himself acknowledges, through Doom), both occurring in Sub-Mariner and one of them involving Namor having lost his memory. Be that as it may, that leaves only the circumstances of their next meeting taking place, which in this case involves some suspension of disbelief. Or, put another way: if there's anyone who would be waiting near just the right spot in the entire ocean on the off-chance that Dr. Doom would, at some point, plummet down into the waves and into his virtual lap, it's the Sub-Mariner.

We don't quite know at this point why Namor has need of Doom, though the title of this comic gives us an idea of the direction we're headed in. First things first, though--we won't find out anything if Namor isn't successful in reviving him.

And so the tone is set for this issue. Namor obviously didn't take the time and trouble to locate and revive Doom only so the two of them could clash in battle, so clearly he means for this meeting to be a productive one--on his terms, that is. Thanks to Thomas, Namor retains his fierce royal pride and, instead of approaching Doom diplomatically, faces him as no less than an equal, and argues his point from a position of strength.

Namor, as he says in so many words, has done quite a turnaround here--not simply in light of how their alliance fared against the FF, but also when Doom encountered Namor at his embassy and attempted to coerce him into joining him in a veiled attempt to take control of the Atlantean military forces. All factors which Doom carefully considers in gathering his thoughts for this decision.

Once all was said and done in that past encounter, and Doom showed his true colors, an alliance between he and Namor at that point was effectively (to use an apt phrase) dead in the water. Their meeting at Doom's embassy was certainly enough to convince Namor once and for all that Doom couldn't be trusted--so why does Namor seek out Doom now, proposing an alliance which he knows wouldn't be in his best interests?

Ah, there's the rub--perhaps it would be. As Doom forms his reply, we get a sense that Namor might be grasping at straws, in light of the nerve gas disaster which has recently befallen Atlantis. Namor has no real reason to renew warfare against the surface world, other than out of revenge--a campaign where Doom's assistance would indeed prove valuable. But it seems more likely that he would be seeking Doom's scientific resources in order to help save his people, and is using the prospect of a formal alliance to secure his cooperation.

This is all supposition, of course--Namor may simply be wanting to lash out at the human race he ultimately blames for the Atlantean disaster. But Doom has the luxury of pondering the pros and cons of Namor's proposal, and ponder he does.

In point of fact, Doom was able to successfully salvage his situation with Diablo, who was using Doom's past love, Valeria, as a hostage to force Doom's cooperation in the use of his time machine. But Doom's regret is likely due to the scene which occurred after he had disposed of Diablo, a scene which overshadowed his victory.

In essence, Doom knows the kind of man he is. And however shared the goals in an alliance, he realizes how any ally would fare in the face of his ambition--and he would be completely in his rights not to trust Namor, as well, given the Sub-Mariner's past aversion to Doom's overtures. And so he gives Namor his answer, in a way which drives home the point.

Yet while Namor battles at his peak, Doom faces him still recovering from his accident in space. And so this "clash" will be just that, and have no definitive ending other than a strategic withdrawal. One that Namor doesn't move to prevent.

Thomas obviously leaves the door open for these two to meet again, and perhaps pursue the "offer on the table." It remains to be seen who will blink first--that is, until three months later, when Thomas decides to publish another installment where, inexplicably, it's Doom who does the turnaround and approaches Namor with the same offer of alliance, though the issue reads as though the concept were being milked. Doom didn't appear to have reason to reconsider his strong words in this first issue--and he and Namor needed to first come to an understanding (as well as a reconciliation) before Doom would be expected to take such a step. Following that issue, however, the sales numbers were apparently favorable enough to go forward with establishing Super-Villain Team-Up as its own title two months later--which, as it happened, sundered this alliance once more in its opening pages.

But we shouldn't let that prevent Namor from having his moment at this story's end:

You may find, Namor, that the world may not be big enough for both of you.

Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek


George Chambers said...

I can't help wondering if Steve Englehart provided an uncredited scripting assist for this story. Some of the phrasing seems like his work, particularly Namor saying "MARK ME WELL".

Anonymous said...

I asked for more Hulk and Avengers and got Quinjets, pantless Hawkeye, Red Hulk, Future Hulk and and and I lost count. Now, to cleanse our palates, you give us the first Super-Villain Team-Up.

Since the scanner part of my multifunction thingie no longer scans, I've been reduced to *gasp* dun dun dunnnn READING MY COMICS comics comics......

And this issue, along with GS 2, is one of the ones I read. I also have some of the issues when it became a monthly but I'm not to that box yet.

It did seem to be a bit padded, story wise, but it did lay some foundation and motivation for some future stories.

The Prowler (really digging reading some of those old Bullpen Bulletins).

Anonymous said...

Bad tidings!
If these two boys can't play together nice, then maybe they shouldn't play together at all!
Seriously, this was one of my favorite Marvel mags as a lad! 70's Marvel Madness. It was a different kind of comic. I had to get the whole run of this drama-drenched diabolical duo.
Love the art

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, you know me--give me a suggestion and I'm liable to run with it!

I'm really overdue for digging into that short-lived series again--I don't think I've laid eyes on it since the '80s. I do think that battle between Doom and the Red Skull (on the moon, I think?) deserves a review--those two going at each other give villainy a good name.