Monday, July 22, 2019

By Order Of Atlantis--Keep Out!

Whenever the Sub-Mariner has been a topic for discussion in the PPC, oftentimes I've been known to remark that it seems as if Marvel has never known what to do with the character. Treatment of Namor tends to see-saw between efforts to make him a sympathetic figure, only to then turn around and have him lash out without warning. It's fair to say that the Atlanteans could have been guided by a wiser and more judicious ruler--retaining Namor as an asset, surely, but keeping him on a tight rein and creating a suitable position for him in, say, the Warlord's ranks or a position on a council (where his experiences with surface dwellers would prove invaluable). But Namor, son of the kingdom's princess, was in line for succession, so in a series of his own there was little to do but to produce stories for him that took place in or revolved around his role as that kingdom's Prince and, someday, its King. As we've seen over the decades, that's been a constant off and on relationship--either being embraced by his subjects for his undeniable power, or rejected for poor leadership.

Even Roy Thomas, who scripted the first Sub-Mariner series since its inception, seemed at odds with how to handle him--struggling to keep Namor's temper in check to the point where even Namor seemed to be rebelling against it, while making several attempts to shift his role and that of Atlantis to something other than adversaries for Attuma or the human race. Finally, as if admitting defeat, Thomas had the character at last hold himself accountable for his missteps and abdicate his throne--leaving Atlantis behind altogether, with Thomas's departure from the book almost immediately afterward leaving the character once again at loose ends and serving as a telling indication of the company's inability to find a successful formula for Sub-Mariner.

But let's go back a bit to a story that once more demonstrates why it's so difficult to root for Namor as a lead character in a series, as Thomas shifts gears from his undersea encounters and prepares to pivot the Sub-Mariner to taking a more active role in pro-environmental concerns--a course that would by definition lead him into conflict with humans. But as we'll see, Namor's presentation leaves much to be desired--while the issue's cover conveys the impression that the character is apparently back to square one in regard to his dealings with the human race.

Despite appearances, it's not Atlantis itself which has once more been devastated by some man-made disaster, but a distant outpost visited on an inspection tour conducted by Namor and the lady Dorma. It turns out that those killed at the outpost are dead due to an accident caused by their own hand--but it's the negligence of humans that is ultimately responsible, and Namor reacts accordingly.

Disposing of the toxic substances by burying them deep beneath the ocean floor, Namor's next move is to advise and consult with his Council of Elders. Atlantean protocol has played a significant role in checking Namor's temper and tendency to give a knee-jerk reaction to surface-men intrusions; even so, note how tactfully Lord Vashti must make it clear that the Council's support for Namor's response can only go so far.

Thomas then briefly hits the pause button on this story by dedicating a number of panels to narrative from Namor which offers an overview of Atlantis' rise, prompted by the perceived doubts of his loyalities vis-à-vis Atlantis and the surface world--an issue we've seen Namor confront throughout his rule due to his mixed heritage, concerns often fanned by his feelings toward surface women such as Sue Storm and Diane Arliss. It's a confusing segment by Thomas, since there appears to be no reason for the diversion other than to acclimate new readers to the book's format; after all, if Namor's loyalties were truly divided here, he would instead be trying to assure Vashti and the others that this was an unintentional, one-time incident that was the result of an accident and not aggression. Instead, Namor is clearly outraged by the needless deaths of his sentries and wanting to respond--hardly the posture of one who is sympathetic to humans.

And with the apparent sanction of the Council, respond he does--by taking the incredible step of establishing and enforcing virtual borders, a "No Trespassing" sign that some will no doubt take issue with.

(It's so rare that we see such sheer demonstrations of Namor's might that it's easy to forget just how powerful he is--something our more human submariners here won't soon forget.)

Yet while stopping short of war, Namor is nevertheless drawing a provocative line in the sand which may lead to the conflict he wishes to avert--something that Vashti and Dorma eventually bring to his attention. But they find he has anticipated their concern, and planned for it.

As you might expect, Namor's surprise arrival triggers a tense reception--first at the docks, and then at the U.N. itself, where he forces his way into the assembly chamber unannounced. Like Magneto, he faces the outrage of those in attendance, who aren't obliged to be receptive to his forceful words; and that's a pity, considering how they've come to ring true today.

No doubt Namor was well aware that there are channels to go through in addressing the United Nations, a point his Council was obviously remiss in stressing. It's not the first time his royal status has "gone to his head" and caused rash action on his part; in this case, a simple request for an emergency session would have led to a more civil reception, allowing Namor to make far more of an impression and providing a more open-minded audience for his words of warning. In an earlier story, also scripted by Thomas, we see that Namor might do well to follow the example of another bold leader who has addressed the assembly just as assertively, but with a measure of decorum that Namor is lacking:

As for Namor's steadfast wish to avoid war, Thomas closes the story with an odd way of demonstrating it. Namor returns to the docks to find an army task force surrounding the area; and while he avoids an incident by soaring overhead to enter his ship, he regards their presence as "treachery" and responds with a deadly missile strike--to the utter shock of Dorma, who, like the rest of us, were convinced up to this point that Namor was going another way on this. The episode will likely produce ripples of concern among Vashti and the Council--particularly when they learn Namor has acted without considering the ramifications of his rash order more carefully.

Successfully intercepting the missile and ditching it in the sea, it's a cold ride back to Atlantis for Namor in the company of the ship's crew and even Dorma--though due to more personal reasons in the case of the latter, and at a time when her counsel is needed the most. It bears wondering just how Namor expects his people to follow him, when he's uncertain of his own choices--while even his own writer appears unsure that this character is suited to guide Atlantis, and his series, into the future.

Sub-Mariner #25

Script: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Jim Mooney and Joe Gaudioso
Letterer: Artie Simek


Anonymous said...

At the end of the Black Panther movie T'Challa addresses the United Nations assembly - I didn't realise it had actually happened in the comics too.

Big Murr said...

I can only agree. Namor has always been a floundering flounder of a character. He constantly demands respect but never does a thing to earn respect. He's a tantrum in trunks. He's no fun Thor, Hercules, Hulk, Thing all have volatile tempers, but they also have many instances of enjoying life and performing legendary deeds of heroism. I'm sure in a thousand years, Altantean history will consider King Namor I the same way we consider Nero or Caligula when when looking at the Roman Empire.

Tiboldt said...

Ever noticed that the Atlanteans are blue-skinned with the occasional, prominent pink-skinned representative?

Kree interference perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Always complaining, Namor was basically the Silver Surfer with a bad temper.