Issue(s): Namor #1
But to make Namor effective in that status quo, John Byrne has to solve his mood swing problems. This something that Byrne has a solution for, and that he'd begun hinting at early in his latest Avengers run, circa Avengers #310. According to the lettercol in issue #5, it's actually an idea that originated from Roger Stern but he wasn't able to put it in print.
This issue is a bit oddly structured, beginning "six months ago" and being comprised of two epilogues and then two prologues. Namor is supposedly thought dead during this series (with no explanation provided), but a father-daughter team of marine biologists spot him flying to an island and follow him there.
Before the biologists catch up with him, Namor comes across a tribe of natives that are worshiping a totem that is in the shape of an airplane.
Namor, clearly not in his right mind, attacks the natives, smashing up their ceremony and destroying their totem. And that is the story of how the Sub-Mariner unwittingly brought the Phantom Eagle into modern times.
Namor then hallucinates about his dead wives as the biologists approach. Probably the last time Byrne will draw Marrina.
Namor wakes up in the biologists' ship, where the daughter - Carrie Alexander - tells her father - Caleb - that his blood imbalance theory was correct and the recycling device has corrected things for now. According to Caleb, the fact that Namor is a hybrid causes a blood imbalance that makes Namor insane if he is out of either of his parents' environments for too long.
I love Namor calmly saying that the fact that i haven't murdered you means that you're probably right.
Caleb's interest in Namor began when Namor rescued him after he biked off a pier after a ceremony in New York celebrating Namor, Captain America, and the Golden Age Human Torch.
Byrne's explanation for Namor is one that i've always liked. Namor has spent almost as much time as a villain as a hero. Which, by itself, isn't necessarily a problem. A lot of Namor's "villainy" has been due to his war of the surface people, and at least some of the time he and his people have had legitimate grievances. Often, though, the grievances were based on misunderstandings aggravated by Namor impulsively leaping to the wrong conclusion. That makes him an interesting character, but a difficult protagonist. One thing we'll have to watch for now, though, is the degree to which he retains the impulsive personality that makes him interesting. The description of the blood balancing effect as being "moderating" makes it sound like he's on paroxetine or something.
Later, Namor shows up and dumps the contents of a sunken treasure chest in front of Carrie.
He explains that he plans on using this lost wealth to fight a battle for ecology.
And he'd like the Alexanders to help him, in part because he's smitten with Carrie.
The final part of the book, which takes place "today" instead of "six months ago", shows a high powered business exec named Phoebe Marrs returning from a business trip to Hong Kong.
She finds her brother Desmond about to kill himself.
Desmond is suffering from the world's worst case of ennui. So Phoebe gets him interested in a new company called Oracle that has recently arrived on the scene.
Oracle was the name of the Alexanders' boat. No relation to the database software company, which did exist at this time (it went public in 1986).
Kind of a slow start; which was deliberate, based on the fact that the chapter titles are all epilogues and prologues. But i think it's an interesting start.
A Sub-Mariner comic was a hard sell at this time. His last series floundered and was cancelled, and even (essentially) relaunching it as a team-up book with Dr. Doom didn't help for long. Trial balloons in the form of a Marvel Spotlight issue and the 1984 mini-series didn't seem to result in interest in a revival of his ongoing series. But Namor did have a strong legacy prior to that, going all the way back to the Golden Age, and his profile was perhaps raised a bit when he joined the Avengers. Beginning next issue, on the cover, Marvel will also begin touting Namor as "Marvel's first and mightiest mutant" (despite the fact that the series hinges on him being a hybrid, not that it's necessarily mutually exclusive). And, probably most notable, this series has writing and art by John Byrne. And the series does last 5+ years, up to issue #62, about half of that with Byrne's involvement in some capacity. But this was during Marvel's "flood the market" period, so the series' longevity isn't necessarily an indication of sales. And John Byrne's star was beginning to wane in the face of 'hot new' artists like the proto-Image group. In Sean Howe's Untold Tales of Marvel Comics, explaining why Byrne agreed to a pretty pedestrian assignment of scripting the X-Men title after Claremont left, one of the factors is said to be that "Byrne had been surprised by the low sales on his Sub-Mariner relaunch".
I actually like Byrne here, moreso than i did on his West Coast Avengers run. He doesn't have an "agenda" the way he did with the Vision and the Scarlet Witch (unless you count the explanation for Namor's mood swings, but that's more a one time switch than a long developing storyline). The book has a classic/current feel - the fact that it's about Namor and drawn in Byrne's style makes it feel a little bit like a throwback at this point (which is fine with me) but the idea of Namor as a corporate exec certainly fit in with the Wall Street era of the early 90s.
Quality Rating: B
Chronological Placement Considerations: All of this issue except "Prolog Two", introducing the Marrs twins, takes place "Six months ago". Due to the references to Namor being thought dead, i was tempted to place this issue soon after Atlantis Attacks, before he's seen fighting Freedom Force in New York with the Avengers during Acts of Vengeance. But the next two issues will continue the idea that Namor is thought dead, and they feature a mutated Griffin that has to take place after his appearance in Deathtrap: The Vault. So i'm just placing this at publication date, with the "six months" being something we'll let the compressed timeline shrink down into some random period after Namor's Punisher appearance, and we'll use the explanation that Namor gives next issue - that he flies too fast and that there are so many flying heroes in New York - to explain why people still think he's dead.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showCaleb Alexander, Carrie Alexander, Desmond Marrs, Phoebe Marrs, Sub-Mariner
I snatched this up at the time more for Byrne than for Namor. I actually got JB to sign the cover for me years later and still have it to this day. I think I stayed with this title for ten issues or so before dropping it.
Posted by: Robert | May 19, 2015 3:10 PM
As we'll see later, Namor will be affected by an anti-mutant virus, so he is indeed a mutant.
Posted by: Michael | May 19, 2015 7:57 PM
This isn't even the first time Namor impulsively wrecked a tribe's idol. Remember when he met Captain America in the Arctic?
I assume he wrecked the airplane, right?
Posted by: Max_Spider | May 19, 2015 8:02 PM
I think this is supposed to be an intentional reference to that, and that's the reason for fnord's cheeky Phantom Eagle reference.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 19, 2015 8:50 PM
First issue was boring even with Byrne's art, but it's a good set up and I really liked this title when Byrne was on it (even if I think a lot of its premise and promise went unfulfilled).
Byrne's theory of the oxygen imbalance was a nice explanation that justified Namor's erratic behavior over the years.
Posted by: Chris | May 19, 2015 10:00 PM
It's an excruciatingly boring series while Byrne is drawing it, which is a sad verdict on the greatest art talent of a decade before. There's some special inking process on this, DuoTone or something, but Byrne's inks are getting heavier and smudgier as he gets older anyway. He also decides as a writer to be more realistic, but this only produces dull (mostly) unpowered villains like the Marrs twins, the albino Headhunter, and, worst of all, Kearson DeWitt over in Iron Man, where fans assumed there must be more go this mastermind than the uninspired corporate background Byrne gave him. (There wasn't.)
We do get some rather great Jae Lee art in two years' time, though.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | May 19, 2015 10:41 PM
I think part of the motivation for giving Namor another go at a solo book was due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill bringing new "relevance" to water-based heroes. There is a fake ad in the 'Marvel Year In Review' mag depicting a similar event caused by Roxxon.
Posted by: cullen | May 19, 2015 10:45 PM
Fnord, wouldn't the explanation for Namor being thought dead here be his presumed death in Atlantis Attacks? The Avengers and Fantastic Four learned he was alive at the end of the crossover, but as far as the public was aware he was killed in action.
Posted by: Dermie | May 20, 2015 12:31 AM
Fnord brings that up in the entry and the Considerations, and mentions that the following issue outright states it in the References, and explains why intervening appearances of Namor make that hard to buy into.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 20, 2015 3:27 AM
On his forum, http://www.byrnerobotics.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=15327&KW=JBF+Reading+Club%3A+Namor&TPN=2 John Byrne mentions that he was asked to do this series by Marvel editor Terry Kavanagh and to include the corporate focus in the series. Byrne mentions that he felt the request fit with how Namor was presented in the past, as fnord mentions in his commentary.
Byrne also notes that the Marrs siblings were inspired by the characters of Mel and Susan Profitt, from the "Wiseguy" TV series.
Posted by: Aaron Malchow | June 30, 2015 7:38 AM
In the lettercol for issue #8, they try to downplay the similarities to the Proffitts a bit (although definitely acknowledging that they were an inspiration):
"While John is perfectly willing to admit Phoebe and Desmond owe a lot to Mel and Susan (who were not twins, by the way) he resists your suggestion that the Marrs and Proffitt siblings 'resemble (each other) tremendously.' By now, with seven issues behind us, you'll agree Desmond and Phoebe are evolving into characters quite different from the TV creations which inspired them."
I've never seen Wiseguy, personally.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 30, 2015 7:44 AM
You should - the first season was addictively good, and, while never as good afterwards, never sank to bad.
Posted by: BU | June 30, 2015 7:55 AM
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