Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Classics - The Sub-Mariner #1

After years of struggling under the restrictions of its distribution agreement, which only allowed a certain number of titles to ship each month, in 1968 Marvel burst its bonds.

In (virtually) a single month, the company expanded three of its "split" titles - Tales of Suspense (Iron Man / Captain America), Strange Tales (Nick Fury / Dr. Strange) and Tales to Astonish (Sub-Mariner / Hulk), giving each character his own monthly title.

Oddly enough, half of the characters continued the numbering from the "parent" title - so the first issue of Cap was #101, Hulk was #103 and Dr. Strange started with issue #169.

But the other three received "#1" issues, including the oldest character in the bunch - Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

Surely Namor is one of the most unusual characters in the history of comics. Costumed only in swimming trucks, he is a cross between humans (thus his flesh coloring) and Atlanteans (from whom he gets his ability to breath underwater and his pointy ears).

The origins vary - these days he's considered the "first" mutant - but he also has incredible strength and tiny wings on his ankles that (improbably) allow him to fly.

He's also not a hero.

While he has fought for humanity before (during World War II and after), his primary concern has always been Atlantis, and he's quick to battle to protect it. Thankfully, that often means he's fighting for the rest of the planet, too.

But the thing that really made Namor stand out was his temper. Where most characters are calm, intelligent and generally good scouts, Namor would regularly lose his cool, rant and rave, smash stuff and behave rudely.

That made his exploits a lot of fun to follow, and I was happy to see him get his own title.

He also scored some top creative talent, with writer Roy Thomas (who would happily handle the lion's share of the scripting on this series) and John Buscema (with Frank Giacoia inks), early in his Marvel career and already showing his amazing skill at character design, layout and sheer energy - an amazing artist and craftsman, although his run on this comic was relatively short.

Despite all that, the first issue was a bit of a letdown, because it was almost entirely devoted to recapping Subby's origin - but Thomas managed to throw in a terrific "Easter Egg."

When the Sub-Mariner reappeared in Marvel's Silver Age (five whole years before this issue), he was suffering from amnesia - and had apparently been out of action for quite some time. Thomas used that to create a new villain, a object of power that would have much greater significance in the future, and an explanation for what had happened to Namor!

It was the perfect jumping-on spot for new readers, and a fresh beginning for one of Marvel's most unusual characters. What's not to like?

Grade: A-


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