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1940-01-01 00:00:10
War is Hell #9
Box 1/Golden Age/WWII
Marvel Fanfare #16-17 (Sky-Wolves)

Marvel Mystery Comics #8-10

Issue(s): Marvel Mystery Comics #8, Marvel Mystery Comics #9, Marvel Mystery Comics #10 (Selections)
Published Date: Jun-Aug 1940
Title: The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner Meet / The Battle of the Comic Century
Bill Everett & Carl Burgos with John Compton - Writer/Illustrator

Review/plot: This surprisingly readable but totally crazy crossover fight between the original android Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner is the real beginning of the Marvel Universe. As the first Marvel crossover and therefore the first indication that the characters could be living in the same "universe" it works pretty well as the starting point of the Marvel "story". As far as Golden Age continuity goes, Marvel's semi-official policy was that Golden Age comics were in continuity unless they were contradicted by post-FF #1 books (here's a good summary of the policy at the Marvel Chronology Project). This story was referenced in Marvels, so it's definitely canon.

But wow, what a crazy story. It starts out with the premise that Namor, the Sub-Mariner, had promised to lend his power to the cause of humanity, but in return they attempted to electrocute him. Namor responds by wreaking havoc in New York city. And he really does wreak havoc. By the time this issue starts, he has already wrecked a ferry boat, destroyed an elevated train, and thrown the mooring mast off the top of the Empire State building, and then learned that the Human Torch is after him. "Imbeciles!," he says. "What shall I do next to impress them?" He then goes off to flood the Hudson tunnel, presumably killing hundreds. He's truly a brutal bad guy in this story. On the other hand, he'll take time to rescue a baby (abandoned by its mother) from the path of a herd of charging elephants that he released from the zoo. But when the people he delivers the baby to says that Namor can't be as bad as people say, he retorts "Bah! Stupid idiots! You'll see!" and then proceeds to destroy the George Washington bridge, where the Human Torch finally catches up with him and after a brief scuffle Namor retreats into the water.

The above story was written by Everett, the Sub-Mariner's writer, and stops there. We then take a few steps backwards and Carl Burgos has us follow the Human Torch around as he follows Namor's trail, fixing the damage he has done: repairing the "El", rescuing people from underneath the Empire State's mooring mast (yes, they're still alive), and putting animals back in the zoo. He's also beseeched by Betty the policewoman, the Sub-Mariner's only friend (who was first shown in issue #7, on the same policeforce as the Human Torch), to leave Namor alone.

The story ends with the same fight on the bridge and Namor fleeing. It's an interesting device to show the path of each character leading up to the fight.

The story picks up in issue #9 with an extended series of fights between the two characters. Some interesting aspects include:

  • Namor having an Aerial-Sub that he gets equipment from
  • Namor having the ability to shoot off water from his body (described as a sprinkler system)

  • The Human Torch being incredibly powerful, with the ability to cut through planes with his flame, and create all manner of flame constructs, including exploding firebombs.
  • A weird sequence where Namor has the Human Torch captured under water for a long time, but loses him when the android is caught in an air bubble that Namor simply can not penetrate

The story ends with Namor trapping the Human Torch in a two-ton "translite case" that he finds in a chemical warehouse. The case prevents the Torch from burning and can't be broken. When Namor tries to lift the case (which is open on the button), the Human Torch flames on and Namor has to quickly close it. The issue ends with a hilarious "Hey Kids!" message asking how this situation could be resolved.

Issue #10 only had a single page devoted to the crossover. The writers say that there really was no way out of the situation. Fortunately, Betty shows up and convinces Namor that if he'll go away no one will bother him. The story ends with the Human Torch's arm wrapped around Namor's shoulder, promising not to fight him anymore and saying he was a tough customer. Weird! But weird in an intriguing way. Namor's dialogue and treatment throughout this crossover was fantastic, really laying the groundwork for the odd hero/villain conflict that defines the character. And despite (or perhaps because of) the rough artwork and simple storytelling, it really is an enjoyable read.

Quality Rating: B+

Historical Significance Rating: 10. First evidence of a Marvel Universe, basically.

Chronological Placement Considerations: This is the first meeting of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. This is prior to the US' involvement in World War II.

References: N/A


Continuity Implant? N

Reprinted In: Marvel 65th Anniversary Special 1: Marvel Mystery Comics Commemorative Edition

Inbound References (5): show

Characters Appearing: Betty Dean, Human Torch (Golden Age), Sub-Mariner

War is Hell #9
Box 1/Golden Age/WWII
Marvel Fanfare #16-17 (Sky-Wolves)


i don't know what i've gotten myself into.

a) namor kills a bunch of people with all his stunts and then later saves a pilot he almost knocked out of a plane because killing people would be wrong and wouldn't help his cause. he also crushes the heads of 2 deep sea divers, thinking they're robots. when he finds out they're people, he's not in the least disturbed. his mother even congratulates him.

b) an aeriel sub?

c) the human torch was trapped in an AIR BUBBLE and namor just couldn't break it, even though he punched it with all his might

d) the human torch is a total jackass. instead of using doors, he flames on and melts/burns his way through walls, car roofs, ceilings, etc. he sets betty's car on fire one of these times, while she was still in it. and only came back to put the flames out cause she said, "um, hey, the car's on fire!"

e) the torch is throwing around jugs of sulphuric acid with complete abandon in an attempt to burn namor with the acid.

f) he burns through the mooring mast without any of the molten metal getting on any of the still living people crushed underneath the thing

g) betty keeps saying what a nice guy namor is, after he's killed all these people

h) in the end, after trying so hard to kill the sub-mariner, they just let bygones be bygones and call it a day

yeah, ok. if i were 7, i guess this story would be kewl. mostly, i suspect the authors were 7.

When Marvel reprinted this story in the mid-1960s, the author's names were whited out. The Comics Code also forced some dialogue changes.

That's what happens if you apply some kind of real-world logic to this shit. This is escapist entertainment and cheap thrills made for LITTLE KIDS from SEVENTY YEARS AGO. Kids who didn't have the attention-spanned thought processes of the tv addict generation. This stuff is ludicrous but it's GREAT.

"That's what happens if you apply some kind of real-world logic to this shit"

My biggest complaint when it comes to people trying to force excessive realism on comics is that they tend to want to see comics more as hard sci-fi, rather than the fantasy they've always essentially been.

So rather than just dismiss "Say, how does Superman grab a plane in flight without it instantly falling apart? And how does Hank Pym constantly violate Conservation of Mass? And why don't the laws of motion cause Cyclops' head to snap back every time he fires an eye beam?" with "Ehh, it's comic books, stop thinking so hard, we wind up with "Tactile Telekinesis", a parallel dimension that exists solely to absorb or provide extra mass, and "Eye Punches From the Punch Dimension."

Comics need an official equivalent to "A Wizard did it."

Well lately, I found myself reading FF Essentials #3 again, loving its breakneck pace and humor and potentially fascinating ideas...and then asking myself how does the Human Torch breathe at all, when fire consumes oxygen...and if he becomes a plasma body, where does his fleshly mass go? But I wonder if there isn't some place for wild, imagination-first stories...maybe when playing with kids :-D There is some little part of each of us who knows drawing whatever comes first to mind in a simple story is a degree of imagination our intellect tends to compromise over time...leaving many of us without the sense of play that exists in, and sustains, the creative person's mind.

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