Friday, October 17, 2014

The Golden Age, Today: Captain America Meets Sub-Mariner!

OR: "Allies In The Making"

Captain America #423 can't help but give a reader the impression of being a nod by writer Roy Thomas to those old Timely stories where the core heroes of the time--Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch--were all active in one way or another in the years before America entered World War II. Cap, of course, along with Bucky, was battling domestic threats from German saboteurs and the like--and the Torch, when not fighting crime, was defending New York City from the Sub-Mariner's attacks upon the human race as repayment for explosives being detonated above his Antarctic home. It would be awhile before these three joined forces in Europe as part of the Invaders in common cause.

Yet in those early days, Namor was a powerful, hostile force as far as humanity was concerned, attacking the streets without warning and delivering ultimatums with a raised fist. It would have been difficult to believe at the time that he would ever choose to fight for the human race rather than against it, as intent as he seemed on wreaking havoc and destruction whenever he was spotted descending from the sky. Fortunately for New Yorkers, Namor wasn't making war per se, but was mainly engaging in forceful strikes as a deterrent to further encroachment on his territory by the Americans (though arranging for a tidal wave to engulf the city was definitely going overboard); but humans also had in their corner a defender in the Torch, who was available to match Namor in a battle of the elements, where the Torch usually prevailed due to Namor's vulnerability to fire and his dependence on water for his strength and vigor. Otherwise, Namor was unstoppable, and would have felt emboldened to continue to terrorize not just New York but other American cities on a grander scale.

In fact, the foundation of this story has Namor escalating the already tense situation between himself and humans, after he's has been driven off by the Torch one too many times and is ready to take it up a notch. Only this time, Namor won't be met with fire, but with the fists of America's sentinel of liberty, Captain America, as these two characters meet for the first time.

But let's backtrack a bit, to when Namor and the Torch are battling above crowds of onlookers while the sea prince is on yet another rampage.

The name-dropping of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt is no coincidence on Thomas's part, of course; Roosevelt will play a crucial role in Namor's plans and in this story. As he's demonstrated in The Avengers and other titles, Thomas has a flair for establishing the mood and feel of stories set in World War II; and here, in wartime America, Thomas will give a generous amount of attention to America's "war President," as Americans are girding themselves for what they believe will be their eventual involvement in the war, a feeling of patriotism helped in part by Captain America beginning to make a name for himself. With that patriotism at an all-time high, Namor knows just where to strike next in order to finally achieve his ends:

(I was distracted by these conspicuous scenes of Namor carrying his sea/air craft, even in the skies above Washington, rather than actually flying the thing from the inside. Artist M.C. Wyman seems to draw these panels thus for a reason--but Thomas makes no reference to whatever's going on in either the narrative or in Namor's dialog. Anyone care to take a crack at it??)

As Namor approaches the White House--hoisting a few tons of ship above him, I might add--Roosevelt is in the middle of a brief ceremony honoring Captain America and Bucky. Perhaps we could make the argument that Roosevelt couldn't have a better bodyguard right now, given what we know is about to happen. But everyone in this room is about to get an education on just how formidable the Sub-Mariner is, and that includes Cap.

Namor follows his plan, and quickly makes off in his ship with Roosevelt. (Maybe while getting Roosevelt aboard, he finally figured out that the instrument panel inside actually flew the thing. ALRIGHT, I'M LETTING THIS GO NOW.) But Cap isn't down for the count yet, and hitches a ride--for all the good it does him:

The next scene makes for compelling reading, as these two leaders are finally face-to-face in a dialog. Namor obviously has grievances with America, and he now has the leader of the country at his mercy, to hold hostage as part of a plan to force America to establish a perimeter around his home in the Antarctic and to police it, preventing any ships (either American or foreign) from ever encroaching on Atlantean territory again. Roosevelt, for his part, has no intention of capitulating--but he takes the opportunity to not only lay the groundwork for mutual respect between the two of them, but to clear up a twenty-year-old misunderstanding:

Namor isn't so easily deterred; but in the meantime, Cap has commandeered a plane and followed Namor to the island. What follows is a valiant attempt by Cap to rescue the President; but, unlike Iron Man, who also slugged it out with Namor, Cap has no buffer against Namor's incredible show of strength:

Of course, no wartime story would be complete without German agents getting involved--and a U-boat has picked up on Namor's transmitted ultimatum to the U.S. and tracked him to the island, where they find the greatest prize they could hope for:

Cap and Namor are understandably too distracted with their battle to realize what's going on until it's too late. In this case, we get a pass in rooting for Namor and his inevitable victory against Cap, since it's the only chance there is of Namor catching the Germans in the act before they slip away with Roosevelt. And the way things work out, it sets up a temporary alliance between Namor and Cap that will hopefully grow into something more.

Forty-three crewman against the Sub-Mariner and Captain America in close quarters is a fight that doesn't last longer than a few seconds, and you don't need me to tell you who comes out on top--nor does a last-ditch attempt to hold Roosevelt's life against Cap and Namor's surrender meet with any success. At any rate, we see that Roosevelt's words, along with Cap's actions, have reached Namor on at least some level:

I had stopped collecting Captain America just a few issues before this one--and while this story by Thomas was only a one-shot for him, it would have been interesting to see him (as well as Wyman, whose art here is just excellent) stay on the series for about a year and see what direction he'd take the character in, now that this "flashback" was out of his system.  Regardless, the issue was a fun read, while giving a little closure to those old Timely stories and opening the door for Cap, Namor, and the Torch to step from the Golden Age of comics into the Silver.

Captain America #423

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: M.C. Wyman
Inks: Charles Barnett III
Letterer: Diana Albers


Blaxkleric said...

Definitely agree that this is surely a nod by Roy Thomas to those early days of superheroes. Absolutely love the way you've put this posting together and you really show off some of the top artwork from this issue. So much better than most of today's stuff - I can see what's going on for a start! Nice simple story too. Not a fan of some of the modern day multi-issue storylines.
Really glad I've found this blog (and the email link works very well thanks!). Top Stuff.

Comicsfan said...

Blaxkleric, thanks!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, and I'll admit I'm just winging it here (Namor = winging it), Namor carried the ship to Washington so that when he in turn flew the aircraft to the island, it would not be at it's lowest ebb, IT'S LOWEST EBB, during a crucial time in the story........

I ain't saying, I'm just saying....

The Prowler (what's your name, who's your daddy, is he rich like me).

Comicsfan said...

Prowler, as opposed to Namor's strength being at its lowest ebb when he storms the White House and attempts to kidnap the President? (Though if that era's Secret Service was as deficient as today's, Namor was probably still confident that he would succeed!)

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