Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wrath of... Dorma!?

Based on the last time we saw a Defenders cover sporting a Hulk/Sub-Mariner clash, expectations for a rematch were high when, over forty issues later, these two powerhouses again meet in battle, as all hell breaks loose around them.

But you know what they say about appearances and deception, a combination often indulged in by comic book covers. In this 1981 story, there isn't even grappling between the pair, much less a punch thrown. But the Sub-Mariner is nevertheless waging war--against the surface world, and against the Defenders. It's an invasion story unlike any other we've seen featuring the forces of Atlantis and their raging prince--and its catalyst is both unexpected and... alive.

No one has more of a right to be shocked at the sight of the formerly deceased lady Dorma than Namor, who witnessed her death at the hands of the vengeful Llyra and, following a period of mourning, abdicated his throne out of grief and self-reproach. Once he accepts what his eyes are telling him, what might we expect his reaction to be? Denial? Rage? Or at the very least, curiosity? Does he have a thousand questions for Dorma? Does he coldly and methodically assess the insanity of this situation? Or does he vent his fury at what appears to be an elaborate deception?

Whatever happens at this point, writer J.M. DeMatteis doesn't divulge for now. Instead, when we next see this couple, there appear to have been significant developments--not the least of which is complete acceptance on Namor's part. As for the Atlanteans, Dorma's return spurs an altogether different development.

Dorma's story seems plausible enough on the surface, though obviously she wishes to leave the matter at that and set aside any scrutiny. For instance, the abandoned oceanarium that Llyra imprisoned her in wasn't adapted in any way for cloning technology--and Vashti has already broached the subject of how she would have survived for years, chained and unattended.

Regardless, Atlantis girds for war--and it isn't long before the Defenders learn of the swift fall of its first target.

But, to the Defenders' shock, the stern Namor isn't interested in any entreaties from his former friends, instead choosing to lash out and strike them down without warning. The response is proportional, and formidable--but Namor appears to have expected the Defenders, and prepared for their resistance accordingly.

"Perfidy" is probably a word that the Defenders would use in describing Namor's behavior, rather than vice versa--another odd piece of this puzzle.

Yet the oddest piece must surely be Dorma, who stands with Namor before the Defenders, now at his mercy. It was Dorma who gasped her last breath when Llyra shattered her water-filled containment tube--yet here she stands, unencumbered by any life-support gear that the other Atlanteans standing guard are forced to wear. And while the Dorma we knew had always deferred to Namor's presence and authority, she is both arrogant and hostile to the Defenders, whom she's presumably never met until now. Or has she?

With Nebulon now at Namor's mercy, we can imagine that, as violated as Namor must feel from this creature's manipulation, this alien isn't likely to find a shred of mercy in Namor. And as DeMatteis would make clear in the story's narrative, dispatching his foe is only the beginning of Namor's vengeance against Nebulon.

Yet Namor will be deprived of the fatal justice he intends to dispense, when a ship bearing Nebulon's people, who view interference in a planet's normal progression as criminal, reclaim the so-called Celestial Man and vow with their departure that he'll be appropriately punished. But before the ship fades with its captive, Nebulon reassumes the form of Dorma and pleads with Namor to prevent their actions--receiving only a hurled piece of wreckage from the enraged Sub-Mariner in response.

It's DeMatteis, however, who provides intriguing context to Nebulon's last-ditch plea for help: "Is the desperate Nebulon trying to pluck a buried chord of compassion... or simply seeking the last--vicious--word?" It's a fine closing thought to this story's resolution--and a bitter aside that isn't lost on the grim Sub-Mariner.

The Defenders #93

Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Don Perlin
Inks: Joe Sinnot et al.
Letterer: Diana Albers

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