Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A few Sub-Mariner previews

Whenever I complete a full set of Essential volumes for any particular series and character I intend to take a look at any later issues reprinted in other volumes. Other than the Spider-Man and Daredevil titles, Sub-Mariner is the first such series that qualifies, as there is just one solitary volume out so far.

Sub-Mariner #20 written by Roy Thomas and drawn by John Buscema, reprinted slightly abridged in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1, reprinted in turn in Essential Super-Villain Team-Up volume 1

It's my understanding that the abridgement consists of panels in adjacent pages amounting to the equivalent of one whole page. It doesn't seem to have affected readability. This is a fairly straightforward tale in which Namor, who has lost both his power of flight and the ability to breathe underwater, flees though New York until he stumbles upon the Latverian embassy where Dr. Doom tries to recruit him as an ally, first by persuasion and then by coercion. It's easy to forget that there was a time when Namor rivalled Doom as the Fantastic Four's greatest foe and the two briefly allied. However they have each gone a long way since and this issue shows how far apart they now are, with a renewed alliance well and truly off the cards. The issue is very much a character piece as it shows the different outlooks and approaches of the two. Ironically it was reprinted at the start of Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up despite being a strong indicator as to why a permanent teaming of the two can never work. Doom attempted to overcome the problems, but the story wound up as a premature obituary for that series.

Sub-Mariner #22 written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Marie Severin, reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange volume 2 and also in Essential Defenders volume 1

This was the middle part of a storyline run across Doctor Strange, Sub-Mariner and the Incredible Hulk, wrapping up the leftover threads from Doctor Strange's series. Namor returns to Atlantis where his ability to breathe is restored but then he gets summoned to Boston by Doctor Strange to help in the struggle against the Undying Ones. The crossover is structured reasonably well so that it's possible to just read this issue by itself, but other than the opening scenes in Atlantis this does feel much more like a Doctor Strange issue than a Sub-Mariner one. As a key issue in restoring the title hero's abilities it probably shouldn't have been combined with a wider crossover; an approach that was unfortunately used all too often in later years. There's the start of a strong understanding between Namor and Doctor Strange that would come to the forefront in the Defenders, but as yet no hint of any regular teaming between them.

Sub-Mariner #34-35 written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Sal Buscema, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 1

These two issues see Namor in search of allies to neutralise a human device that accidentally  threatens the world. In recruiting the Hulk they come into conflict with the military forces of San Pablo, yet another Latin American military dictatorship. Their battle devastates the military forces such that rebels are able to overthrow El General. Then the group, dubbed "Titans Three", head to the island where the device is along with Dorma and the Atlantean scientist Ikthon. Titans Three clash with both the army guarding the device and a squad of Avengers sent in, until Ikthon repairs a flaw and everyone realises the danger that has been averted. These two issues were clearly testing the water for the concept that became the Defenders and show how Namor can assemble some allies when needs be but his confrontational approach isn't always the ideal solution. I find Latin American military dictatorships an excessively used cliché in Marvel comics from this era, especially when they come with rebels seeking to overthrow them. Titans Three is an interesting idea for a team made out of hot-headed loners often at odds with the human world, but such character types are inevitably not team players and some additional unifying element is needed if the group is to work on a regular basis.

By coincidence these issues between them show Namor interacting with nearly all the characters he's best known for teaming up with; the main exception is Captain America. (His interaction with the Fantastic Four over the years is rather more complicated.) There are signs of just how prickly he can be but also how well he works with those he respects and/or needs. Otherwise the issues show glimpses of wider developments in the series such as his temporary power restriction or steps towards marriage to Dorma, and wet the appetite for another Essential Sub-Mariner volume.

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