Issue(s): Namor #34, Namor #35, Namor #36, Namor #37, Namor #38, Namor #39, Namor #40
With these issues, the Namor series makes a hard turn from the previous themes of the series to a swords and sorcery setting. The fantasy setting may have been thought of as a better match for Jae Lee's art. But what's also interesting is that i usually think of Bob Harras as a sort of hard nosed commercially driven editor, thanks to the way he handled the X-Men franchise and then the larger Marvel universe when he became EiC. But these issues (and really starting with #33) prove that he's also a big continuity geek as he brings in a lot of obscure elements from Namor's previous series. This isn't the first sign of that aspect of Harras, but it really is on display here. At the same time, though, a lot of stuff is reimagined for the 90s, with extreme redesigns for Tiger Shark and even Namor (who gets a bulky suit of armor). Of course, those redesigns are pretty much by necessity when you have Jae Lee on art; i don't know if it's even possible for him to be on model (i guess his much later Inhumans series proved that he more or less could).
Seemingly immediately after the destruction of the Oracle building during the fight with Master Khan (the top of the building is still smoking), Vashti shows up with news of a fear growing in Atlantis. He also says that Warlord Seth is alive.
Note Vashti talking like he's never been to the surface world before despite Namor annual #1. Granted he wasn't in very good shape at that point. I also think it's funny to see Vashti complaining about how bright it is; not exactly supported by the moody art and coloring.
Vashti also recognizes the woman claiming to be Fen. Fen doesn't recognize Vashti, however, which is correct from a continuity perspective. I could easily see a writer assuming that Vashti had been an elder advisor since forever, but in fact Namor found him on the outskirts of Atlantis and made him a vizier in Tales To Astonish #71-76.
Namor agrees to go back to Atlantis with Vashti. Phoebe Marrs shows up to say that his departure is a good thing, since she's managed to take control of Oracle (as seen in the last arc). Namorita stays behind to try to deal with that situation, and Iron Fist and the Daughters of the Dragon drop from the series at this point as well.
Meanwhile, we see a vaguely human (i.e., not blue, but shrouded) man with his pregnant Atlantean wife Mara, but they are attacked by the Faceless Ones and Mara is killed. We learn that the man is Tiger Shark.
Also meanwhile, we see Prince Byrrah visited by a dwarf named Socus claiming that the "Old Ones" (not to be confused with the Faceless Ones) are returning.
The dwarf later visits Seth as well, telling him that his escape was in vain and that Namor has been dealt with. Namor and Vashti are attacked by Faceless Ones and seemingly killed. And Tiger Shark is joined by Tamara (not to be confused with Mara) Rahn.
Namor of course was not killed, but when he returns to Atlantis he finds that Fen has taken over.
Namor does not believe that "Fen" is really his mother, with the fact that she was decades older at the time she seemingly died being one pretty big clue. He joins forces with Tamara and Tiger Shark (and amazingly recognizes the latter). It's an uneasy alliance, of course.
I don't know when Tamara swore that she'd never return to Atlantis. She just kind of disappeared in the late 70s.
The story has cool fantasy elements...
...but continues the trend in this title towards major decompression, to the point where the plot feels like it is meandering.
The main bad guy Suma-Ket, the Lord of the Unforgiven Dead.
Ket was an ancient Atlantean sorcerer that made a bargain with the Atlantean people, wiping out the Faceless Ones in the area in return for them killing their current ruler, King Harran, and putting him in his place. Prince Byrrah is lured to his death with promises of being returned to the throne of Atlantis (it's not said what has happened to Attuma), and his death is what allows Suma-Ket to return. "Fen" is really Suma-Ket's wife, Artys-Gran, but she is possessing Fen, and Fen's memories bubble up and plague her.
Ket also has four additional women, the "Neried", working for him.
Beginning in issue #36, the stories are shortened a bit and the books are padded out with profiles of some of the characters. Issue #38 is when Jae Lee needed major inking help and then he's gone after that, so i suspect the profiles (which do include art from Lee) were an attempt to ease deadline pressures. I guess they also serve to provide backgrounds for obscure characters like Tamara Rahn and Warlord Seth, especially since the book refuses to use footnotes. Issue #37 has a foil cover (and a 75 cent price bump to go with it), but that's hardly worth noting anymore.
Namor gets stabbed by Suma-Ket in issue #37.
But a prayer from Seth brings Neptune...
...who heals Namor and even finally restores his long missing ankle-wings.
Neptune also gives Namor a suit of armor.
The Palmiotti/Rourke art in issue #39 looks more like it's trying to match Bill Sienkiewicz than Jae Lee, but it generally keeps the experimental nature of the book. (For what it's worth, i wrote this before seeing from Walter and Brian in the comments that Rourke is likely a pseudonym for Sienkiewicz.)
In #39, Namor and his allies go to the grave of Fen and open it. Fen is "alive" but looking much worse than her imposter.
Namor's group then heads back to Atlantis for a final confrontation with Suma-Ket (and we are now into the Scott Kolins art).
The people of Atlantis were in kind of a thrall, but the voice of the real Fen breaks them out of it. And Namor is able to kill Suma-Ket using the trident of Neptune, which is said to be a symbol of a newer age compared the the Old Ones that Ket represents. Fen is killed again by Socus but the threat is ended.
In the days of Conan's popularity, the Sub-Mariner's book picked up some elements from that genre, and this story is a kind of callback to that. Of course, with (mostly) Lee's art, the story is inevitably much more abstract and the same "it's more pin-up than plot" problem that occurred when Lee was working with Byrne is still in effect. There are interesting elements, and it's nice to see characters like Tamara and Seth, but the story is devoid of things that might have given it more depth. There's little in the way of characterization, and since everything relating to Byrne's run has been jettisoned, there are no subplots at all, just a very straight adventure. The use of Tiger Shark as a reluctant ally of Namor's doesn't feel as momentous as it should, and i mean the character is pretty much unrecognizable, both in look and in the idea that he had been settling down with an Atlantean woman.
All while Jae Lee was on the book, the letters were very positive. Which doesn't surprise me in and of itself, in part because i think Marvel generally selects more positive letters plus there's a little bit of self-selection (i.e. people that don't like the book just drop it and don't write in). And Lee's art is very nice to look at on a page by page basis, even if the storytelling is non-existent and after a while the uniqueness of it starts to fade. But what's interesting is that as soon as Lee is off the book with issue #39, we suddenly start seeing critical letters ("Subby is now an ugly hippie covered with veins"). Sales have basically been halved over the past two years, which isn't surprising given the pacing (even going back to the latter half of Byrne's run) and unusual, niche art. I guess you could say that the decline correlates with Byrne coming off pencils. But the book does manage to hang in there for another two years.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 113,327. Single issue closest to filing date = 103,300.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: It's a little unclear if this is meant to start as a direct continuation from issue #33 or if the supporting characters (Iron Fist, Colleen & Misty, Namorita) have just returned to be with Namor again as Vashti is arriving. But the top of the Oracle building seems to still be smoking, so i guess it's a direct continuation. Which does mean a continued compression of the Namor series, putting these issues with cover dates of Jan-Jul 93 back in mid-1992. Namor has been wrapped up in the events of his own series since Namor #26 (and really even earlier than that, excepting a special case for the 1992 annuals). Among other things, this causes the 1993 annual to get pushed back in publication time.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showArtys-Gran, Byrrah, Colleen Wing, Dara, Iron Fist, Misty Knight, Namorita, Neptune, Phoebe Marrs, Princess Fen, Socus, Sub-Mariner, Tamara Rahn, Tiger Shark, Vashti, Warlord Seth
I think the Dara in this story is supposed to be the same Dara as in the 1984 Sub-Mariner series- if that's the case he should be listed as a Character Appearing.
Posted by: Michael | August 25, 2016 5:54 PM
Is Howard Rourke a pseudonym--a riff on "Howard Roark" in Ayn Rand's Fountainhead?
Posted by: Walter Lawson | August 25, 2016 8:03 PM
When this fantasy-horror theme first showed up, I was intrigued enough to pick up the title again. I liked the build up, but I was disappointed that there were no footnotes explaining any of these characters. However, the actual story and denoeument were disappointing. I think this should have been more of an ongoing subplot for a while, with Namor doing other things, and then a final revelation when the bad guys make their move.
A bigger mistake is to completely jettison what Byrne built instead of integrating other Namor/Atlantean mythos elements back into the title.
What this book has always needed was a good rogues gallery with ongoing villains who could return. Desmond Marrs doesn't count because he was more an ongoing story and villainous foil, a much more wicked JJJ, than a true villain. The failure to use Roxxon Oil effectively as a corporate villain was a big disappointment. Super Skrull was just a long term story. Namor needed villains who would show up once sometime in issues 1-10, then a second time somewhere in 12-18, and a third time during 24-30 for example. That is how you build engagement with the title.
Namor does have some good villains with interesting personalities and motivations (although rarely a variety of powers). Tiger Shark, Attuma, Krang, and Orka spring to mind. If you take those, add some other existing villains looking for a good home, plus some new ones then that would be a good start to an effective rogues gallery.
Posted by: Chris | August 25, 2016 9:26 PM
@Michael, thanks regarding Dara. I've added him and found a few more appearances as well thanks to the Marvel Appendix and Marvel's Wiki.
And since i didn't mention him in the entry: Lord Dara is Warlord Seth's twin brother and a member of the Atlantean court. Towards the end of this story, Dara attacks Artys-Gran, but he's killed by an enthralled Atlantean, and his death is actually what triggers the prophecy that would have brought back the Old Ones.
@Walter, i don't know if it's a pseudonym or not, but Howard Rourke also will get an inking credit on all four parts of the 1993-1994 Blaze miniseries.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 26, 2016 8:01 AM
I can't prove "Howard Rourke" is Bill Sienkiewicz, but there's a couple art sites selling a Blaze miniseries cover and a pin-up as being inked by Sienkiewicz under the name of Rourke. Take that for you will.
Posted by: Brian C. Saunders | August 26, 2016 11:33 AM
Am I the only one who thinks that Jae Lee's art here is indefensible? It has some superficial coolness factor, but it also has zero storytelling capability, the characters are nearly unrecognizable and the enviroments are non-existant. McFarlane has been bashed around here (and with good reason), but compared to this, his storytelling was crystal-clear!
Seriously, this is just awful.
Posted by: Piotr W | August 26, 2016 3:46 PM
Some full-face pages do bring to mind the work of French artist Philippe Druillet. Then again, Druillet had some storytelling problems of his own eventually...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 27, 2016 11:34 AM
Comments are now closed.
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