Issue(s): Namor #21, Namor #22, Namor #23, Namor #24, Namor #25
Issue #21 is kind of a transition issue. It begins with Namor having the Atlanteans destroy all of the Lady Dorma clones (telling Namorita not to think about the implications that they, like she, are clones and that they therefore may have - or develop - souls). Namor then refuses Vyrra's final wish to be buried in Atlantis, which Namorita thinks is an unfeeling decision, but we then cut away to Namor returning the remains of Dorma, mutilated by Vyrra, to her grave.
We then jump ahead a "few days" to see Spitfire overseeing an Oracle takeover of Ward-Meachum, to the displeasure of Joy Meachum (who was operating under hypnosis when working for the Super-Skrull). And then a reunification of Ka-Zar and Shanna. Then Namorita recovering from her injuries from New Warriors #14. Then Phoebe Marrs telling Namor that Marrs Corp is broke, and Namor promising to do something about that (and although Phoebe is shown slyly smiling to herself, she'll find out that it's not as altruistic as it seems). And then finally we get to our main plot, which begins with Namor agreeing with Misty Knight (who has had her missing arm restored) that it is worth investigating the fact that the Super-Skrull seemed to know more about Iron Fist than he should have if Fist was already dead. So Danny takes Misty and Colleen Wing to Dr. Strange. Strange confirms that the plant matter found in Iron Fist's coffin was H'ylthri.
Dr. Strange notes that any hippie-dippie attempt by later Iron Fist writers to say that the H'ylthri plant people were really good guys to be used in an environmental themed story obviously never had a garden.
Strange agrees to transport them to K'un-Lun (the cover shows that Namorita was originally intended to be included on this trip as well, but that's because Byrne apparently draws his covers six months in advance; in the lettercol it's explained that when he found out about the fact that Namorita was going to be injured in New Warriors, he wrote her out of the story and told his editor to erase her from the cover, but that got neglected). In K'un-Lun, they find an obviously possessed Lei Kung the Thunderer (although it's not obvious to Namor, who never met him before).
Meanwhile, Plantman's mansion has attracted the attention of Wolverine, but Wolvie gets captured.
Issue #22 opens up with a development for Tyrone King, who resurfaced at the end of the last arc. A police officer is telling police captain Rafael Scarfe that there are actually no records of King, despite him being a twelve year veteran on the police force. The officer then notes that the name Tyrone actually means King.
In a lettercol, it's noted that it was Roger Stern that originally told John Byrne that Tyrone means king. But this may not be entirely true. The most common explanation for the name is that it's Gaelic in origin, coming from Tir Eoghain meaning "land of Eoghain". Of course the name also looks like the word "tyrant", and some name origin websites will say that's an alternative source of the name. But if you think about how the name came to America, the Irish explanation probably makes more sense than the Greek/Latin one. I'd also say this whole thing is a little silly. The idea is that Tyrone's name translates to King King, and so (roughly) does the name Master Khan, and so that's a clue that Tyrone King is really Master Khan. But that means Khan was being too cute by half. Why would he allow such a clue at the same time that he's making sure that no records of him exist and while he's trying to disguise himself? On the other hand, Christopher Priest never got to finish his story for Tyrone King, so at least this wraps up that loose end.
King himself shows up. The fact that he identifies himself as human struck me as odd, but the people of K'un-Lun are indeed meant to be humans.
King then transforms into Khan (or at least his hand transforms) and does something to Scarfe's mind (although Scarfe will be needed to provide exposition for all of this, so Khan's manipulations will turn out to not be all that effective).
Another thing that kind of annoys me about this revelation is that the big deal about Tyrone King was that he didn't cast a shadow. A lot of effort was made to ensure that he never had a shadow, which resulted in some erasing sessions when the inker tried to "correct" M.D. Bright's pencils. But here the scene with Tyrone transforming is deliberately shown as shadow (and he has a shadow even before he transforms). I understand that we're tying up loose ends so Byrne's mission here isn't to deliver fully on the unfulfilled original story, but the basic choice of using shadow to depict this scene is actively contradictory, and it seems like that could have been avoided.
Let's jump back to the fight with Lei Kung. Colleen Wing gets to get in on the action, although she has to (mentally) apologize to her former teacher for drawing her blade without the intention of drawing blood, and then she has to get into a long winded defense of feminism that looks less like an affirmation and more like she has a chip on her shoulder...
...but finally she uses her blade to cut all the vines off Lei Kung, freeing him from the control of the H'ylthri.
Misty's clothes weirdly get torn up during the fight (shades of Byrne's She-Hulk stories)...
...so she's given some K'un-Lun clothing that don't seem to address the fact that she needed new clothes because she was cold. Granted they go immediately to a warm jungle next.
Lei Kung leads them to where he was possessed. Everyone except Namor gets captured by the H'ylthri. Namor locates the H'ylthri base, and finds that all the missing people of K'un-Lun have been put in pods to be used as fertilizer.
And that includes Iron Fist.
Namor fights the H'ylthri.
Namor is defeated, but Misty Knight breaks free long enough to make an appeal to Iron Fist.
And then Fist recovers and breaks free.
Last arc, when the Super-Skrull was impersonating him, the fact that Fist repeatedly used his iron fist power was a clue that he wasn't the real deal. But in this fight, i guess because of that "pent-up fury", he is able to use it multiple times.
Danny passes out after defeating the H'ylthri. We next see Namor, Colleen, Misty, and Iron Fist getting teleported home by Dr. Strange. They are nearly pulled back by some H'ylthri-controlled plants, and the impression you get is that they're fleeing a world overrun by the H'ylthri.
So of course my first thought was, "And they just left the people of K'un-Lun there to rot?!". But it turns out that some time has passed since Iron Fist's fight, and all of the surviving people of K'un-Lun have been freed and they've elected to stay behind under the leadership of Lei Kung. It seems a little contradictory - our heroes are barely escaping K'un-Lun with their lives but the people of K'un-Lun are staying behind to rebuild their kingdom. I guess the real issue is that it's another truncated storyline, an oddly compressed way of dealing with K'un-Lun in a story that is otherwise stretched out quite a bit.
The immediate concern is that there are H'ylthri on Earth, and that they may take over here the way that have on K'un-Lun. Dr. Strange notes that there are three connections between Earth and K'un-Lun. The first is in Tibet, and it's the one that brought Danny Rand to K'un-Lun in his origin story (in Marvel Premiere #15). The second i am not sure about, and might have deserved a footnote. It might be referring to a specific Iron Fist story, maybe the sphere from Power Man & Iron Fist #100. Or it might be a reference to Tyrone King/Master Khan, since he's currently on Earth. But the third is the most immediately relevant, since it's pointing to the mansion where Plantman is lurking with Sssesthugar, one of the H'ylthri.
Plantman also has some human henchmen. Or at least i assume they are human.
Two of them are killed by Sssesthugar for being disloyal. The third, who is given the nickname Weed (which makes me wonder if she's really a plant construct), is shown having sex with Plantman, but that's the last we see of her. Another weird, seemingly dropped element.
Misty and Colleen stay behind with the recovering Iron Fist (who is said to have stayed alive by remembering his undying love for Misty), so Namor goes to New Jersey to investigate the third K'un-Lun portal. He's attacked by Wolverine, who we previously saw was captured by Plantman.
Wolverine's savagery almost wins the day, but we're reminded that Namor's comic was once titled "The Savage Sub-Mariner" (and it will become the "The Savage Namor" after this arc), so Namor is able to defeat Wolverine. Namor will later say that it was only because Wolverine was mind controlled, so adjust your Battleboard arguments accordingly (in my opinion, Namor beats Wolverine 9 fights out of 10, although i will admit that he's not fighting at full power since he can't fly at the moment, which probably affects his fighting style as well).
Anyway, after Wolverine is defeated, Plantman reveals himself.
Plantman says that the H'ylthri have always secretly been behind his origin and powers. Plantman's experiments with controlling plants attracted the attention of the H'ylthri. But as soon as Plantman is finished explaining this, Sssesthugar shows up and kicks him to the side.
Namor is then captured by Sssesthugar.
The art in issue #25 looks a little different. It's still definitely Byrne, but it looks like he's trying something new, especially with faces.
We are definitely looking at bigger panels with more close-ups, and then there's the full page trifurcated splash. Byrne jokingly admitted in She-Hulk #31 that he was mimicking Todd McFarlane to an extent, and although that was about layouting specifically, maybe this is another example of that. There is definitely a shake-up coming next issue, with Byrne getting replaced by Jae Lee on art, and this may all be due to sales concerns. More on that below.
Anyway, Namorita has come looking for Namor, drawn by the mysterious connection between them that has always been there since her earliest appearances. Meanwhile, Misty Knight and Colleen Wing find Rafael Scarfe, and as i mentioned earlier, despite the fact that King King King King was shown messing with his mind, Scarfe is able to explain what's going on. It turns out that Master Khan pulled the Super-Skrull out of the radiation belts that he was trapped in while he was dying of super-leukemia, and cured him. And helped him transform into young Bobby Wright, the kid that appeared in Power Man & Iron Fist and could change into Captain Hero.
This is all a bit over-complicated. As a Skrull, Super-Skrull is a shapeshifter, so that was probably meant to be all there was behind the idea that he was posing as Bobby Wright. But someone probably pointed out to Byrne that Iron Fist did a mind-meld with Bobby, and would have learned that he was a Skrull. So that's why it's said that the Skrull was transformed via Khan's magic. I also have to assume that the original idea was that Bobby's transformations into Captain Hero were meant to be related to the Super-Skrull's shapeshifting powers. But Bobby Wright's appearances also (partially) overlap with the period where the Skrulls had lost their shape-shifting ability, so the magic explanation helps with that as well (although it isn't mentioned).
The idea is that Khan wanted Iron Fist to take on a fatherly role with Bobby. And of course Khan was lurking around as Tyrone King at this time (and also as Bobby's guardian).
And that means that Misty slept with Master Khan.
But Khan's plan was thwarted, because Iron Fist was replaced by a H'ylthri imposter.
So when Bobby transformed into Captain Hero and killed "Iron Fist", he was really killing the H'ylthri. Khan then betrayed the Super-Skrull by putting him back in the radiation belt, neatly making him available to be revived again in Silver Surfer annual #1 (based on responses in the lettercols, Byrne apparently really did not like what he calls the "I got better" explanation to the Super-Skrull's revival in that story).
So, as i've noted before, this retcon results in the fact that three imposters were running around in the Power Man & Iron Fist series. Tyrone King was really Master Khan, Bobby Wright was really Super-Skrull, and Iron Fist was really a H'ylthri. You would think that Christopher Priest's Power Man & Iron Fist run was one of the most hated runs ever for it to merit so many retcons. I think it's actually a really good run, and it's generally well liked except for the brutal ending. Priest says that he did have a way to bring Iron Fist back, and since the end of the series involved Fist transferring all of his Chi into a shapeshifter, it's not too hard to think of what that may have been. That story might have happened in Avengers, since Roger Stern was planning to have Luke Cage's fugitive status addressed and then have Cage join the Avengers. Stern was also going to do the same Master Khan/Tyrone King reveal that happened here, but since he got fired from the Avengers, he gave the idea to Byrne.
For what it's worth, according to Priest's website, the Master Khan retcon was done with Priest's blessing (i would assume they discussed the other elements as well). It's nice that Byrne reached out to discuss it with him at a time that Priest wasn't even at Marvel.
But as nice as it is to have all this stuff dropped in here, it's worth noting that we're being provided an explanation for an old story without really getting a new one. With this arc and the last one, John Byrne is rivaling Mark Gruenwald with stories that are more about providing explanations and retcons (Namorita's origin and everything relating to the Super-Skrull, Iron Fist, and Master Khan) than stories that have dramatic purpose in their own right. This isn't necessarily new for Byrne (his first solo writing assignment, after all, was Marvel Two-In-One #50, which was as much about setting the rules for time travel in the universe and acknowledging the art evolution of the Thing as it was an actual story), but it feels more overt in this series, again possibly relating to the fact that the stories seem simultaneously rushed through and decompressed.
To illustrate that, let me get back to the main plot. We saw that Namorita was captured by the H'ylthri. She briefly gets a reprieve when Plantman gives her his plant-controlling gun since the H'ylthri betrayed him (i'll observe that Namorita only recognizes Plantman from Namor's stories, not from having fought a plant-construct duplicate of him in New Warriors #7-9; it's especially odd to not see a reference to that if, as i've speculated, the character in the New Warriors was made a duplicate because Byrne was reserving the use of the real Plantman for this story, since it would mean that Byrne knew about that one).
But of course the H'ylthri have made sure that the gun doesn't work on them. Wolverine then gets free and briefly hacks away at the plants, but then Master Khan shows up...
...teleports Wolverine away...
...and then destroys all the H'ylthri as vengeance for them messing up his old plan to kill Iron Fist.
He then zaps away Namor's memory simply because Namor allied himself with Iron Fist recently.
And that's the end of the arc except for a next issue preview showing us that Namor will go missing for six months and previewing new artist Jae Lee's art.
So Plantman is quickly discarded, Wolverine is basically a prop, and the H'ylthri plot is thwarted by a random appearance of Master Khan, all while the hero of the book is wrapped up in vines.
Let me just quickly cover a subplot about Phoebe Marrs. She gets into a physical fight with Spitfire when she finds out that Oracle is buying up the remnants of her company.
After that, she wonders if she is being punished for laughing over her brother's dead body. She briefly thinks she sees Desmond...
...but when she goes to look, no one is there. There's no discussion of her meeting with the Punisher from last arc. Phoebe will continue to appear in this series, but obviously things have gone in very different directions than you'd think.
And of course that's true generally, as well. I noted that the resolution to the K'un-Lun story happens largely off panel, and then the H'ylthri plot ends with a Khan Ex Machina. And in the last entry, i noted that the Super-Skrull and Marrs Corp plots also felt truncated. And now Master Khan is, out of nowhere, facilitating a major change in direction for the book, which also comes with a new artist. And i wonder if this is all sales related. A combination of coincidence and the fact that these story arcs are so stretched out means that both this entry and last entry include Statement of Ownership numbers. In the previous entry, the average sales number was 208,975 but the most recent issue was 167,200. And the average number in this Statement is 139,002. Those aren't cancellation numbers, but they do seem to be dropping fast, and it's a major contrast between once-superstar John Byrne and the record breaking sales of the new Spider-Man, X-Force, and X-Men books. To be clear, the numbers on this title were probably more sustainable and could very well have leveled off. The sales on those "hot" titles were based as much on speculation as legitimate interest, and the creative teams there were on track towards implosion. But Marvel might not have been looking at it that way at the time (and i am sure Byrne's page rate came with certain sales expectations). So that may explain the appearances of the Punisher and Wolverine, which can only be described as gratuitous (for what it's worth, the Punisher's appearance was never advertised on the cover like Wolverine's was, but i'm sure he was mentioned in the solicitations). And it may also explain why a lot of storylines seem to be getting cut short, with Byrne perhaps being forced to wrap things up to go in the very 1990s "Savage" direction starting next issue. Which is too bad, because despite its faults, the part of Namor's run that was drawn by John Byrne provided a nice alternative; a sweet spot for 1980s fans somewhere between the Silver Age pastiche of Ron Frenz's Thor and the proto-Image artists.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 139,002. Single issue closest to filing date = 136,825.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: I am treating issue #21 as mostly flashback. It presumably begins soon after #20, with Namorita still hale, and then later shows her recovering from injuries inflicted by Sea Urchin in New Warriors #14. Then a "few days" pass, then it's later said that it's been "two weeks" since the Savage Land adventure. Later in this arc Namorita is shown doing physical therapy but in much better shape, so we can assume that it takes place a while later, and then she is active during the final fight with Plantman. This arc ends with a mind-wiped Namor disappearing, and (with an exception for some annuals) he won't be seen again for six months, so a fair amount of space should go between issues #25-26 and generic Sub-Mariner appearances shouldn't occur in between.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (9): show
Umm, the second connection between Earth and K'un Lun was obviously when H'ylthri sent the "bolt of lightning" that hit Plantman's original gun, mentioned a few scans down.
Posted by: Andrew | November 11, 2015 8:50 PM
Well obviously i didn't think it was obvious, but thanks Andrew.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 11, 2015 9:03 PM
Fnord, I'd blame Priest for any Tyrone King issues, not Stern or Byrne. Tyrone DOES mean King according to some dictionaries, we were told than Khan was absent from Kun Lun and in any case, it's Priest's fault for not revealing what King's secret was in Power Man and Iron Fist 125.
Posted by: Michael | November 11, 2015 9:56 PM
Added Llyra, thanks.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 11, 2015 10:20 PM
#24 was inked by Bob Wiacek.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | November 11, 2015 10:21 PM
Vincent, the credits, the UHBMCC, and the GCD all list Byrne as the sole artist.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 11, 2015 10:42 PM
Whoops, my bad - I meant #s 22 and 23. You can see the change in inking style up top where Namor discovers the real Iron Fist. GCD has him listed as well.
Posted by: Vincent Valenti | November 12, 2015 1:20 AM
Thanks Vincent. I've updated the credits.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 12, 2015 7:20 AM
If Priest gave his blessings as far as bringing back Iron Fist from K'un Lun, why not explain why King cast no shadow?
I've read Priest's commentary at his site, but besides mentioning it, the reason is never explained, so when Byrne uses the aforementioned shadow to tell the story, as a PM/IF reader, it draws one out of the story.
No problem at all with the Super-Skrull/Captain Hero setup.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | January 25, 2016 7:54 PM
Ah, one retcon I can definitely get behind since Iron Fist's "death" was so stupid.
Posted by: Erik Beck | February 4, 2016 11:35 AM
Byrne's art style really slipped over the course of this series. I loved his work in the 70s and 80s, but his technique on Namor morphs into the sloppier latter period work of his here.
Compare his pencils here to what he was doing on AWC just a year and half prior.
Posted by: Bob | February 4, 2016 12:16 PM
I really enjoyed Byrne's run on Submariner and didn't like the Jae Lee art at all, but I'm not surprised to see the sales numbers drop as they did. There's a lot of good stuff in here, but one thing that title has lacked in two years are some very compelling antagonists. The Marrs twins just weren't interesting enough, but I did feel they had potential - just not as any kind of archnemesis.
#1 - Origin story. No villain.
I think Byrne's run really needed some stronger/more interesting opponents here. The Sub-Mariner's rogue gallery is actually subpar especially if you want to stay away from his classic Atlantean foes, so I understand why Byrne didn't want to go there - at least not initially. But he did very little in two years to establish a new rogues gallery, which is something I consider essential.
Posted by: Chris | May 20, 2017 4:59 PM
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