Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Start Spreadin' The News... Here Comes A Big Wave..."

Well, there's no getting around it: the Sub-Mariner destroyed New York City in 1941.

Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary tale! Although you could argue that a great deal of those Golden Age comics stories were so far-fetched that they could qualify as imaginary tales, assuming the thought of an "imaginary tale" ever occurred to any comics writer in the '40s. But no, Namor created a tidal wive that engulfed New York--and he did it because he wanted to be the next Napoleon.

The classic tale takes place in The Human Torch #5, the Fall 1941 issue. (There was another #5 issue published earlier that summer.) The catalyst for the story is when the Sub-Mariner surveys the vast damage caused to his undersea kingdom by the battles of the war with the Nazis--and, spurred on by Rathia, a "refugee princess" who's been displaced by the destruction, he forms a war council which plans to attack basically every surface country involved in the war until hostilities cease--the "war to end all wars." Rathia, however, has ambitions of her own, and fills Namor's head with delusions of grandeur, convincing him that he could come out of this as the ruler of everyone. And Namor swallows it hook, line, and sinker.

Helping Namor in his cause are two things: the advanced weaponry that all the undersea factions are bringing to the council, as well as the Human Torch, who's eaten drugged food served to him by Namor that has sapped his will. (No, I don't know why an android would be craving a seafood platter--this was well before even my time.) Aside from the Torch, one of Namor's main weapons is a giant turbine that can cause massive sea disturbances, such as whirlpools that can down fleets of ships:

He also constructs a massive fleet of whale and shark ships that manage to systematically surprise and disable every fleet they target. We've read so often of Namor and Atlantis declaring war, only to mainly target New York until a truce is called, that it's admittedly easy to dismiss this kind of thing. The first Fantastic Four annual perhaps comes as close to Namor launching a widespread campaign against the surface world as we've seen.  Yet, back in 1941, his undersea forces were actually on the verge of declaring victory. Something else to also consider is that he was attacking surface forces already armed and prepared for war, and still he managed to prevail in every engagement.

But Napoleon had his wake-up call, and Namor's good fortune doesn't last, either. Eventually, the Torch throws off his enslavement when the sight of an American flag makes him come to his senses and regain control of his actions. Unfortunately, Namor is already poised to attack America, beginning with their Atlantic fleet:

But Namor maliciously decides to go a step further, by using several turbines to send a tidal wave against New York City, without a thought to casualties:

Meanwhile, the Torch, flying above the devastation, takes action to create, well, "drain holes" to dispose of the flood waters, while using the resulting steam to disable Namor's fleet and drive the sea prince out into the open:

It's only then that Namor comes to his senses, claiming he was seduced by Rathia and went a little overboard. Afterward, the two join forces in a massive mop-up operation:

Please, don't ask me why Namor wasn't found as culpable as Rathia, if not more so. I have no idea why he gets a pass. Rathia was merely Namor's Delilah, except that she didn't even betray him; all she did, it seems, was appeal to his baser instincts. It was Namor who thundered ahead and planned these attacks--Namor who captured or destroyed whole fleets--Namor who destroyed a major U.S. city. Yet Rathia is taken prisoner; Namor's forces are taken prisoner; but Namor gets to walk because he's learned the error of his ways. The man is like Teflon.

This story was reprinted in a 1999 one-shot, "Timely Comics Presents The Human Torch," with a new cover painting by Ray Lago which mimics the original by Alex Schomburg:

It's a sixty-page giant that contains much more Golden Age goodness than what you're seeing here, and you can pick it up for a song from Amazon if you're interested in reading the entire story. Roy Thomas also contributes an informative three-page afterword.

Alex Ross presents a double-page spread of the famous tidal wave scene.


Anonymous said...
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Comicsfan said...

Colin, I loved some of the dialog here, too--especially that poor Commander's last words! They'll probably wind up on a plaque at the naval academy. :)

Iain said...

Bad bad Subbey didn't even try to turn back time and erase the destruction, he should be locked up for a 100 years for causing death and destruction on this level, thanks for showing this I may just check this out on Amazon too. ^^

Comicsfan said...

According to the narrative, Iain, the populace received adequate warning to evacuate to "water-tight shelters," which we can assume cut Namor some measure of slack in the incident, but I think your point is well-taken.