Monday, January 18, 2016

The Atlanteans Are Coming! The Atlanteans Are Coming!

There's probably little argument that the concept of the Sub-Mariner invading the surface world has become a hackneyed plot that has long since had its day. Seen in a "next issue" caption, the words are likely to produce more of an eye-roll than anticipation. Granted that the land masses of most major cities are bordered by water, making them vulnerable to the incursions of the Atlanteans--but there's more to waging war than being able to emerge on the doorstep of your enemy, particularly when your soldiers are dependent on their water-filled helmets for survival. Atlantis might well be able to make precision strikes against key designated targets--but conquering territory and holding onto it? Namor's forces would be stretched to the limit, and that limit would likely be reached in fairly short order against retaliatory forces.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why an Atlantean invasion has received so little cover attention over the decades: it's a story that must eventually circle back to Namor, and whether or not he's in it for the long haul or if he simply wants to make a show of force. More often than not, the invasion simply folds its collective tent and goes home.

Yet we still have those few dazzling covers that show Atlantis on the march to war, and most are impressive, indeed. "The Final Defeat of the Human Race!" one boldly proclaims--not true by half, but still an attention-grabber.

It's hard to go wrong with artist John Romita, who drew this cover for a reprint of the story originally appearing in Fantastic Four Annual #1. Namor's goal is at first to deny the surfacemen access to transit by the seas; but by the time his forces take New York City (and thereby hold its residents hostage against retaliation), he means to extend his dominion over the surface of the entire planet. Fortunately, Reed Richards develops a device to force the Atlantean forces back to the sea; and the invasion sputters entirely when Namor intervenes to save Sue Storm's life.

Romita's image of the invasion is focused more on the occupation of New York; but in another cover image which offers a second take on this story, artist John Byrne shifts the focus to the invasion itself.

An equally effective invasion occurs in the pages of issues 103-104. Within those stories, the Atlanteans again secure a strong foothold on the city; but the issues' covers, also by Romita, instead spotlight the FF's struggles with both Namor and Magneto.

It's one of the stranger Atlantean invasion stories, with Magneto usurping command of the Atlantean forces when Namor's back is turned, and then Namor regaining the loyalties of his men simply by proclaiming that they follow his lead again. Apparently the Atlanteans don't really care who issues their orders to fight in a war, which is simply preposterous.

The cover that, for me, hits it out of the park as far as conveying the power we want to see in an Atlantean invasion of the surface world is this one from early 1970 by long-time Sub-Mariner artist Marie Severin.

In this invasion, the lady Dorma has mobilized the Atlantean armies to invade New York in order to rescue Namor, who can no longer breathe underwater and who is being hounded by the authorities; so while it appears that Namor is leading this invasion, he's instead doing all he can to avert a war. Severin strikes the perfect balance.

Artist Rich Buckler gives his own take on an Atlantean invasion when the United Nations takes custody of Namor's alien guest, Tamara, and Namor is rebuffed in attempting to extricate her. The Atlanteans lend Namor their support, and the invasion is on--though their mission is to simply make a show of force in order to rescue Tamara and make it clear that the actions of the surfacemen in such treatment of an Atlantean citizen will not be tolerated. The invasion, however, escalates due to one of Namor's more outspoken warlords having his own agenda.

Finally, Namor and practically everyone in Atlantis are prodded to war with the surface world by a woman who appears to be Dorma, brought back to life (though in reality it's Nebulon, the Celestial Man, in disguise). The invasion takes place in London (for, it seems, no particular reason--maybe because Atlantis hasn't had the best of luck in New York). It only takes Namor an hour to conquer the city, which is probably why the issue's cover by Ron Wilson and Al Milgrom doesn't present much in the way of Atlantean military might.

It does, however, present the Hellcat battling with the Defenders, even though it's the Son of Satan who instead stands with the team this time around. We can assume that Wilson either got the two mixed up--or Patsy, after hearing reports of another Atlantean invasion, responded with an eye-roll.


B Smith said...

On a slight tangent, one style of cover that I always liked was typified by the Fantastic Four #104 you've shown: group of protagonists down the front with their backs to the reader, facing a situation that will make up the story.

It's a layout Marvel used only occasionally (don't recall anyone else doing it) but it was most effective tableau sort of image - other examples would be Avengers #91 and Spider-Man pinch Captain America #137 and FF#109 would also fit the bill; I daresay there'd be other examples, but those are a couple off the top of my head.

It's probably a style that disappeared with every other later Silver/early bronze age tic, but it certainly sold the book in my opinion.

Comicsfan said...

B, I haven't always been on board with those types of covers, since they don't take into account a new reader who may not be familiar with the characters. The cover of Avengers #91 that you point out is a good example, with a virtual shower of word balloons being needed to make it clear that the characters whose backs are turned to us are the heroes of the mag. I might also say the same for Fantastic Four #102, though the FF's uniforms help in that regard. (And to be fair, in both cases we can always glance at the corner box to clear things up; there's also the fact that the bad guys are almost always going to be the ones facing down the heroes in a threatening posture.) All of that said, I certainly agree that it's an impressive layout style that would catch the eye of the comics browser.

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