For Those Who Came In Late: When we left off our discussion of Marvel’s original anti-hero the Sub-Mariner, he had just come back in a big, big way during the Silver Age:
For one final example of Lee’s use of Namor as the anti-hero, check out this appearance in INCREDIBLE HULK #118 (August 1969), in “A Clash of Titans!” by Lee and iconic Hulk artist Herb Trimpe.
Here a foundering Bruce Banner is discovered floating in the ocean by Namor’s betrothed Lady Dorma, who takes it upon herself to take him to Atlantis and provide medical attention (thanks to an Atlantean drug that will allow him to breathe underwater for 24 hours), in the hopes of fostering goodwill between their warring races.
When Namor is alerted to Dorma’s actions by a scheming Atlantean babe looking to replace her in Namor’s affections, the hotheaded Sub-Mariner busts into Dorma’s chambers, making the just-awakening Bruce Banner very nervous and anxious, which as we all know is never a good idea.
The Hulk and Namor are soon busting it up, with Namor even trying the same whirlpool trick he used to defeat the Hulk way back in AVENGERS #3. This time, however, it’s less than successful.
When an attempt on Dorma’s life results in her nearly being killed, Namor realizes he’s at fault and promises to try and make peace with the Hulk. Too bad the Hulk’s not having any. Hulk and Sub-Mariner engage in a titanic clash felt for hundreds of miles, with Namor ultimately getting the better of his green-skinned opponent.
Sub-Mariner has had several attempts at solo series over the years since his Silver Age revival, usually with limited success. A 1968 series lasted a respectable 72 issues, and is probably best remembered for the introduction of Namor’s rather unfashionable body suit, complete with big ol’ disco-style underarm wings.
The work of writer Steve Gerber and artist Don Heck, SUB-MARINER #67 saw Namor gravely injured in a nerve-gas explosion, resulting in his losing the ability to naturally breathe air. Reed Richards devised his new costume to allow him to breathe air again and remain active on the surface. Namor’s new look only lasted a short while, and he was soon back to the green scaly speedos he’s been wearing since the 1940s.
Namor had much of his 1970s exposure as a member of the Defenders, Marvel’s second-string “non-team” that united many of their misfit and less popular characters in a loose affiliation, usually facing mystic or otherdimensional foes.
A founding member of the team along with Doctor Strange, the Hulk and the Silver Surfer, Namor’s general disdain for humanity and usual inability to get along well with others worked out perfectly for the dysfunctional team, which often spent as much time squabbling among itself as it did doing any actual defending.
In the mid-1980s, Namor even joined the Avengers, the gold standard for superhero teams in the Marvel Universe, signing up in issue #262. Namor’s stint with the team was marked by much controversy, as he often was either being pilloried by the press and hauled into court for his various attacks on humanity, or else abandoning the team at the worst possible times to deal with Atlantean matters of state. It was during Namor’s Avengers tenure that another of his doomed romances went down in flames, this time with the alien aquatic being Marrina, best known from her membership in the Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight (Namor’s first wife, the aforementioned Lady Dorma, was murdered on their wedding day by Llyra, an Atlantean enemy of his). Namor and Marrina married, but Marrina’s alien body reacted, well, rather poorly to becoming pregnant, mutating into an enormous sea serpent that ravaged ships at sea and inflicted massive damage upon Atlantis.
Left with no other choice, Namor slew Marrina with the Black Knight’s Ebony Blade, after which she returned to her human form, and not long after, Namor left the team.
John Byrne gave Namor a fresh start in a new solo series in 1990 entitled NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER, which, like much of Byrne’s 1990s work, deftly folds much of the character’s past into a new and intriguing direction, while somehow managing to change a few things that never needed to be changed.
In Byrne’s first issue, we see Namor once more in one of his rages, busting up a tribe of South Pacific natives worshipping a familiar effigy. It’s a clever echo of Namor’s attack on the Eskimos from AVENGERS #4.
Namor is found by marine biologist Caleb Alexander and his daughter Carrie, who hook Namor up to a device of Caleb’s design, which somehow recycles Namor’s blood. It turns out, according to Caleb, that the reason for Namor’s periodic rages was actually oxygen starvation stemming from his hybrid human/Atlantean physiology.
When he spends either too much time on the surface or beneath the waves, his system reacts adversely, setting off one of Namor’s trademark paths of destruction. This is a clever enough premise, but again, ultimately unnecessary, and I thought it took away a little of Namor’s unpredictable edge, making him a victim of biology instead of a genuinely flawed and confused character, which is, for me anyway, more interesting.
Byrne also displayed Namor’s traditional weakness, as he’s known Carrie Alexander for all of a day before he starts putting the moves on her. That pointy-eared smoothie…
The larger story arc in Byrne’s NAMOR run was that of environmentalism, as Namor creates a corporation called Oracle (the name of his father’s boat from his very first appearance in MARVEL COMICS #1, in a nice touch) and uses treasure from shipwrecks to fund it, with the overall goal of using the corporation to aid environmental and ecological causes. Byrne even hits us over the head with the point by having Namor himself crippled by pollution, when exposure to toxic waste costs Namor his ankle wings, and along with it his ability to fly. Byrne also brought in longtime supporting character Namorita, Namor’s cousin, but again managed to overcomplicate her story, revealing her to be a clone of her mother Namora, Namor’s sister. Ehh. Anyway, NAMOR ran for a little over five years before being cancelled again, and since then Namor has returned to his perennial guest-star status, with occasional appearances in DEFENDERS revivals and issues of THE AVENGERS, NEW AVENGERS and X-MEN.
Like many of his fellow Marvel characters, Namor had his own cartoon series as part of the 1966 MARVEL SUPER HEROES (barely) animated series from Grantray-Lawrence, complete with his own bad theme song. Sing it if you know it:
Stronger than a whale
He can swim anywhere
He can breathe under water
and go flying through the air
The Noble Sub Mariner
Prince of the deep
So, beware you deadly demons
Lord Namor of Atlantis,
is the Prince of the Deep.
Namor also appeared as a guest-star in various Marvel cartoon series over the years, such as the 1990s FANTASTIC FOUR syndicated series. My favorite animated Sub-Mariner appearance had to be his guest-shot in the 1981 SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS Saturday-morning series. In the episode “Seven Little Superheroes,” Namor is one of a handful of super-types kidnapped by some villain in an Agatha Christie-style “pick them off one by one” mystery.
So follow me here: Namor knows the house they’re in is full of traps, right? So he opens a door and finds a nice indoor pool. “Ah, life-giving water!” he says as he dives right in. What’s the catch? “It’s not water! It’s …ALCOHOL!” Then he passes out. He couldn’t smell a pool full of alcohol? What a dope…
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