Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner #1-4
Issue(s): Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner #1, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner #2, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner #3, Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner #4
There has always been some inconsistency in how Atlantis has been depicted. On the one hand, it's been a high-tech, futuristic civilization. From his earliest Golden Age appearances, Namor has had fantastical equipment, like his Aerial-Sub. That continued into the Silver Age as we saw the Kirby-tech devices that his troops used to invade the surface world in the Fantastic Four. At the same time, the system of government is a royal monarchy and militaristic warlords rule the armies. It's often depicted as a primitive, barbarian-like environment.
Now, for a character and environment that were created for throwaway stories in the Golden Age, it's not surprising that there are contradictions. Golden Age comics didn't really have any continuity. Lee & Kirby clearly were going to re-invent things when the setting was brought back in the Silver Age. And in the 70s, the series tried to capitalize on the popularity of Conan by going down a swords-and-sorcery path.
You could argue it's all a matter of emphasis. They're a scientifically advanced race whose form of government happens to be a hereditary monarchy (there's also a council of Elders who seem to have a check-point against the monarchy), and they're also a hot tempered people who like to settle their disputes in the arena.
The contradictions have also taken a toll on the Sub-Mariner's character, at least as he relates to his people. Namor is extremely short-fused, and while that's great for putting him in the quasi-villain role when he's encountering other Marvel super-characters, it is difficult to see how that temperament allows him to rule a civilization. In theory, his level-headed advisor Vashti corrects for this.
The other factor is that he is at a demi-god power level. Past writers have very poorly created drama by basically having his kingdom trashed every time he left to go for a swim. On occasion after occasion, whenever Namor leaves home, his army proves itself absolutely unable to defend itself or the kingdom. Namor always has to come back, find his kingdom in shambles, and then avenge them.
A cool idea might be to reveal that this was a deliberate choice. With Namor's might being what it is, maybe he reduced the military budget to figurehead status and devoted all of the economy to scientific research (I'm playing Civilization in my head, here).
Anyway, as i've said, these problems have existed for some time now. But the Jim Shooter period had lots of elements of clean-up. Good writers, with continuity-minded editors, took a look at past messiness, and reasoned it out a bit. But that's definitely not what happened in this series. In fact, DeMatteis & Budiansky perpetuate every one of the above problems and in the process create a story that is frustratingly unbelievable.
This series definitely has some long term impact. Atlantis is accepted as a member of the United Nations, and Prince Namor is dethroned. Those are worthy and interesting goals, and it could have been achieved via a good story with a little political intrigue and a character study for Namor while still leaving plenty of room to satisfy the action requirements.
We start the ridiculousness early, with Namor proving his right to the throne in an arena battle. He's got to fight a horde of soldiers and then a giant sea monster.
Now of course this is no problem for a guy that has held his own against Thor and the Hulk, but how is that the basis for a system of government? And how could any Atlantean besides Namor be expected to survive that?
Later, he gets bored with the remaining superficial ceremonies of the day, and he decides to bench a diplomat and go to the UN himself to deal with the negotiations on Atlantis becoming a member.
At the UN, in addition to the US and UN diplomats, Namor is attended by French marine biologist Jacqueline Trufaut (it's said she's the world's foremost expert on sub-sea cultures). That's kind of insulting, right? Like, if the UN was working to induce a new African nation and they brought in an anthropologist? I don't know, maybe i'm over-thinking it.
Namor becomes attracted to her. He reminds himself that Lady Dorma, now dead, was his one true love ("Dorma -- who was, is, and shall always be the only woman in your heart!"). Even ignoring his obvious attraction (or possibly relationship!) with Sue Storm, what about Marrina? She's not in this series at all, but you'd think she'd at least get a mention.
Anyway, while he's away, of course, Atlantis is attacked. Namor runs into the giant sea dragon on the way home (and defeats it, of course).
But when he arrives home, they act like it's his fault the kingdom was destroyed.
Ridiculous! Atlantis has a standing army! How is it Namor's fault that they can't defend themselves? He has to be there 24/7 just in case some creature of the deep (and i assume there are many) shows up?
Then things really get bad!
It turns out that economic conditions in the outlying colonies aren't so great. Namor's Warlord Jakka takes him to see. And, yes, it's pretty bad. People apparently can't even stand up straight. (Shouldn't they be swimming? And why are they so malnourished? Can't they catch fish?)
It also turns out that it's a set-up. The real Jakka has been replaced by a shapeshifter called Proteus (not the same Proteus enemy of Captain America that's also a shapeshifter; that's the problem with naming characters after mythological creatures), with a group of disgruntled soldiers, he tries to defeat Namor.
But the implication is that the situation in the colony is somehow Namor's fault. Why? Did Namor refuse to send aid to the colony? No. It's said that Namor failed to read reports on the matter sent by Jakka and Vashti. Reports?!? First, Namor is no mid-level bureaucrat, and i don't think anyone expects a monarch to read reports. Second, we've always seen that Vashti handles the administrative side of things. I'm sure Vashti didn't need approval from Namor to put together a stimulus package for the outer colonies. Third... reports?!? If you've got a problem as serious as this is depicted to be, how about Vashti says, "Excuse me, Your Highness. I have something important to tell you." Vashti and the other advisers had no problem henpecking Namor about the proper procedure for Neptune Day ceremonies. It's unbelievable that they'd just bite their tongues while a stack of reports piled up in Namor's inbox.
And, to make matters worse, while Namor is off inspecting the colony, Jacqueline Trufaut gets kidnapped. Trufaut had called him before he left for the colony to talk about a conspiracy at the UN; she was fingering the US diplomat. So previously, while he was off negotiating with the UN, Atlantis gets attacked. When he's paying attention to matters of state, people are getting kidnapped. The man cannot be everywhere at once, and he can't seem to catch a break. Maybe this is meant to illustrate the idea that he can't be both monarch and super-hero so one has to give, but it's just poorly set up and frustrating. It's framed as if Namor isn't making the right choices, but the reality is that the writers are setting up a situation where whatever he does is wrong.
Namor's reaction to the news of Trufaut's kidnapping is hilarious.
Let's just get the rest of this over with. It turns out that Trufaut is actually the bad guy here. Her father was killed accidentally when Namor first tried to join the UN back in the 1950s. A rabid right-winger shot at Namor and the bullet bounced off of him and killed her father. So she's out for vengeance. I'm not making this up.
She somehow found a magical artifact of Neptune, and used it to turn herself into a mermaid. She also created Proteus and the dragon that attacked Atlantis earlier and two giants mer-men called Otus and Ephialtes. They're all based on myths about Neptune.
And that's the other thing. You may be thinking that by hoping for Altantean politics to make sense i'm asking too much of a comic book whose audience was still, in theory, primarily composed of children (although a mini-series like this would have been geared more towards the direct market). But here we have references to extremely minor characters in Greek myth. And there actually is a political intrigue plot here, with Namor being tricked into suspecting the US diplomat instead of Trufaut. But it's all just a muddled mess. So it fails at being an entertaining lowbrow action story and as a more intelligent plot.
Anyway, Trufaut did it all for hate's sake.
Well, Namor wraps that up and returns home to find out that he's been voted out of the monarchy, or whatever.
And really, the one good scene in the book is here at the end. When Namor finds out he's been kicked out, his reaction is pretty realistic. It's probably the lack of dialogue that i like.
Facial expressions are a little wonky, but whatever.
So yeah. Terrible.
As for the art, it's ok. The faces are pretty bad throughout. Sometimes the line-work gets a bit sketchy. The layout and storytelling is just fine. But the one thing that bugs me, and this is nothing new, is the way the underwater civilization is depicted.
Architecture aside, that's basically what a surface world city would look like. People walking on the ground, planes in the air. Entrances to buildings on ground level. Some swirly lines indicate that we're underwater. Is that really what an underwater city, full of people who can swim, would look like?
It's a minor point, and it's in line with earlier depictions. But it just shows the lack of imagination going on in this series.
I don't know what the process was for determining which characters get a mini-series, or who the creative teams should have been. Clearly, this story resulted in some changes to Namor's status quo, so there's a purpose to the series. But for what was still a new and prestigious format, it's surprising that the quality was so low.
There's a scene where we get the reaction to current events from a random assortment of heroes. I always appreciate those.
And it's interesting to note that Namor's formal wear looks a lot like the outfit he worse in super-villain team-up. I assume that wasn't a coincidence, although i don't think the intention is to suggest that Namor is villainous in this scene.
Also, it looks pretty funny from behind the podium, like he's wearing a suit jacket and tie, but no pants.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The key string of events here is that the Sub-Mariner is still Lord of Atlantis in his appearance in Alpha Flight #14-16. And that's the story where Wolverine shows up to be with Heather after Guardian's death, which Wolverine doesn't learn about until the Wolverine and Kitty Pryde mini-series, which takes place during the Casket of Ancient Winter saga. So this story has to take place after the Casket saga. But then we have that "random assortment of heroes" page. Peter Parker has a "conceptual" Spidey head floating above him, and it's the black costume Spidey, but since this is after Casket, that's not possible. I'm willing to ignore that (or we can push this after Black Cat gives Peter a non-symbiote black costume, but so far i don't think that's necessary). The other concern is the Defenders. Luckily, Gargoyle's hands aren't visible, so we can't see if he's got two claw hands, a missing hand, or a regenerating five-fingered hand. So that leaves Moondragon's headband. Moondragon loses that in Defenders #139. But Odin appears in that issue, placing it before his disappearance in the Casket saga. One option is to place this appearance in the first 6 pages of Defenders #139, before a "several days" gap. Odin appears in those initial 6 pages. Or we can decide that Moondragon's headband in that panel isn't the Asgardian ring that restricts her powers. It was the 80s! My understanding is that lots of people wore headbands! But more seriously, since this is all in a tight convergence period, we can assume that a lot of the issues between the Defenders arc and this series are occurring concurrently, and this series takes place during Defenders #139. (If so, there's pretty much no way you're getting Spider-Man back in his black costume, though.)
Thanks to Michael in the comments for pointing me to the MCP's deliberations on this placement.
Continuity Implant? N
Reprinted In: N/A
Inbound References (1): show
Angel, Beast, Dr. Strange, Gargoyle, Human Torch, Iceman, Invisible Woman, Moondragon, Mr. Fantastic, She-Hulk, Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, Thakos, Valkyrie, Vashti
This is a very tricky placement. We discussed it at the Marvel Chronology Project in two threads:
@!#!@! And now i don't like those "random assortment of heroes react to current events" scenes anymore! OK, i'll adjust this when i get to those Alpha Flight issues.
The whole headband thing became an entertainment media cliche very fast; I don't recall people wearing them outside a gym or aerobics classes.
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