Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Saga Of The Sub-Mariner!

In 1988 Roy Thomas, returned now to Marvel from his sojourn to DC Comics, got to fulfill a dream, a project which allowed him to indulge to the fullest extent his love of the superhero lore. In a twelve-issue maxi-series, he told the accurately named "saga" of Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner. The Saga of the Sub-Mariner begins with his mother Princess Fen bravely investigating the arrival of surface men to Arctic seas of beneath which lay Atlantis. There she met and fell in love with Captain Leonard McKenzie. Their brief romance yielded a single child, Namor whose name mean "Avenging Son". From the very beginning his pink skin isolated him from the people he'd one day have to lead, and almost as quickly his great strength became apparent.

The saga details the earliest days of Namor as he slowly grows and matures and learns more about the human side of his heritage. He even gains the power of flight by dint of tiny wings which sprout on his ankles. Often he proves to be a quixotic character possessed by rage which results in death and destruction. Soon he finds that Atlantis is under threat from the race he knows only as "Americans".

Rising to the surface world he attacks New York City, the first of many such campaigns, but soon meets Betty Dean, a surface woman he comes to have great affection for and trust in. She is able to turn Namor's lust for retaliation against the surface people against the great threat of the time, the Axis powers rampaging through Europe and the Pacific.

But not before he engages in many duels with another deadly superheroic figure, the Human Torch. The two face off time and again with neither gaining a lasting victory until eventually both become wary allies in the great war. Also the complexities of a kingdom like Atlantis become ever more apparent as King Thakkor is influenced by less than reliable types like the soldier Krang and the noble-born Byrrah. Namor swims back and forth, trying with limited success to balance his his responsibilities to the two worlds to which he feels a part.

He even joins forces with others such as the aforementioned Human Torch and his sidekick Toro and Captain America and his partner Bucky. The heroes form The Invaders, a team dedicated to routing out the forces of the Axis in Fortress Europa. For a long time this alliance holds, even following the death of the first Captain America when Namor agrees to fight as a member of the All-Winners Squad.

Eventually though the surface world loses its claim on him and he attempts to focus on his people in Atlantis. But it's a difficult scenario since fate seems often to cause him to spend more and more time away from his people. Then he meets Paul Destine, a former colleague of his father who found the Helmet of Power which he used to cause great earthquakes to rumble through Atlantis, killing Namor's mother and grandfather. Namor is struck by the Helmet and his memory is wiped away causing him to return to the surface world and lose himself among the bums and vagrants of New York's poorest districts.

He is ultimately found by Johnny Storm, another Human Torch and for all practical purposes Namor becomes once again a menace to the surface world, especially when he discovers anew that Atlantis is destroyed. Eventually he finds his people and leads an invasion on New York City, one of many he will conduct. He is rebuffed, and despite his affection for Sue Richards finds himself always scheming to attack the surface world time and again.

Eventually he comes into conflict not only with the Fantastic Four but other heroes such as The Hulk and The Mighty Avengers. He even is responsible following one of these conflicts for finding the frozen Captain America and accidentally freeing his former ally to become leader of the Avengers himself.

Now follows a time when he battles many such as the X-Men when he learns he is not only a hybrid but also a mutant and so for a time allies himself with Magneto's Brother of Evil. Following an attempt to broker peace with the surface world he finds himself in battle with Daredevil. Then begins "The Quest" as he seeks to find the Trident of Neptune to prove once and for all his fitness to rule Atlantis which has to some extent turned its back on him after his long disappearances.

Battle follows battle but eventually he encounters Paul Destine one more time and defeats the man who murdered his mother. He meets Betty Dean once again and finds allies such as Triton of the Inhumans, Dr.Walter Newell known as Stingray and others such as the sister of Todd Arliss the man who became the viscous Tiger Shark. The Helmet of Power is revealed to be the Serpent Crown and takes him to Lemuria in the Pacific Ocean where he runs afoul the first time of Lyra who eventually murders his lifelong love Dorma.

Eventually Namor learns that his father is still alive but not long thereafter Leonard McKenzie does die. Namor learns that his cousin Namora, once his ally and friend has seemingly passed, but that her daughter Namorita proves to be a worthy comrade in arms. Betty Dean returns but weirdly changed by nerve gas into an amphibian who has to live beneath the sea like Namor and his people.

The saga (as of 1988) wraps up with Namor allying himself with the Avengers and meeting another woman named Marrina, a member of Alpha Flight. But Marinna is actually an alien with a brutish heritage which ultimately claims her life. Nonetheless Namore loved her deeply if briefly. So we see that over the long years Namor finds and loses many woman, but rarely and for only the shortest of times does he find happiness. Torn between two worlds, above and beneath the sea, he is a true mariner looking always for what comes next.

Roy Thomas told a great tale here since Namor's life story as revealed through decades of comics was rich and often in conflict. Thomas tries to make all makes some sense, explaining to some degree why Namor's personality often changes. Despite his great will he seems to have a fragile psyche which leads him astray often.

The steady beam in this saga is the sturdy and reliable artwork of Rich Buckler who does a magnificent job of relating a detailed and complicated story clearly and efficiently. Buckler's gift for mimicking the styles of other artists is ideal for a project like this which allows him to evoke (without aping in any fashion) the art of luminaries like Bill Everett, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Byrne and others. The inking is mostly handled by soft hand of Bob McCleod though othes doe pinch hit once in a while.

More about heroic sagas when the Human Torch gets the treatment.

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