Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Sub-Mariner - Volume 2 Hardcover – Sep 5 2007
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We also get a photo of underrated artist Carl Pfeufer, house ad from All-Winners #5 for Human Torch #8 and Sub-mariner #6, and a series of sketches, most likely from Carl Pfeufer. We get a terrific sketch of Namor for an unused house ad, another with Namor punching an enemy soldier through the page, four unused and layout sketches from Sub-mariner comics #5 page 1 splash, two unused layouts from Sub-mariner #6 page 1, two unused layouts for #6, page 22 splash, and four more unused layout sketches for splashes. These really show off the dynamic layout skills of Pfeufer. Many look finished and ink-ready.
These are fantastic reproductions with house ads included, such as "Remember Pearl Harbor" and a house ad for Captain America's Sentinels of Liberty.
I'm a huge fan of Bill Everett and consider him one of the transcendental geniuses of comic history, maybe just a few steps below Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. He was named after his relative, William Blake the poet. If he hadn't died at 55, who knows what other masterpieces we might have seen. As it is, he suffered from alcoholism since 16 years old and still turned out such beautiful work as a writer, penciler and inker. Officially, Sub-mariner was created before the original Human Torch and preceded Captain America by two years to be Marvel's first hero, first anti-hero, and first mutant in 1939. Bill Everett worked on the lead Namor story for each of the first two issues, with Carl Pfeufer and Allen Simon providing the other 6 stories.
All four Angel stories are drawn by Gustav Schrotter, who took over for series creator Paul Gustavson after he had done 20 Angel stories through Marvel Mystery Comics and one in the first issue of Sub-mariner Comics. Schrotter was a big step up in artistic quality and the stories remained bizarre: "The House of Evil Dreams", "Death Sees a Doctor", "The Firing Squad", and "Genius for Murder?".
Sub-mariner comics had two Namor features (18-20 pages each), an Angel feature (usually 18-20 pages), a two-page text story (to qualify for lower postage rate), and a two page humor feature. The first two text stories are written by Mickey Spillane.
We also get two gorgeous covers by all-time great Alex Schomberg, another Golden Age genius. I love his depictions of Namor giant-sized swamping a Japanese aircraft carrier.
Make no mistake, these comics in this collection are probably at the height of anti-Japanese sentiment and the Japanese portrayal is reduced to racial caricature, culminating in the "Sub-mariner Fights the Periscope Peril" where Namor disguises himself as a sailor on a Japanese battleship by pushing his jaw back and sticking his teeth out. At times, these aspects can make Golden Age comics difficult to read. For those passionate about history and pop cultural influences, I find it interesting how dramaticly different society is portrayed.
Pfeufer was an excellent choice to replace Bill Everett when he went into service. Not only did Pfeufer draw a powerful looking Namor, but he also drew great naval battles, ships, sea creatures, and water and in a somewhat similar style to Everett.
I enjoyed the war time stories included in here (even a rare Angel war story), but my favorite story was Sub-Mariner's "The Missing Finger Mystery".
When I first read Marvel Mystery Comics #1 or Sub-Mariner #1, the art style does take some getting used to. However, once I read a dozen or so of these Golden Age stories, I really grew to appreciate them and could immerse myself into the stories. Camera angles, depth and perspective, and story pacing were items I struggled with upon first viewing the art. It seems that Namor is strong enough to rip through a battleship hull but constantly gets knocked out with a wrench or pistol whip. This was a formula that seems to be repeated through many Golden Age super-hero stories. Once you overcome those idiosyncrasies, these stories showcase the early imagination and craft of the comics field as well as giving us time capsules into parts of America Society during the war years.
Recommended for any fan of the Golden Age! Even if you've never read any of the Sub-mariner books before, this is a great jumping-on point. Each story is self-contained.
First, the physicals. I don't like the spine of the dust jacket. That's it. Other than that, the physicals are top rate. The paper hearkens back to that used in the earliest printings of the DC archives. While my personal preference remains that of later printings (though not the latest printings, such as Superman's GF Lois Lane), this stock looks fantastic. I read a review (of another volume) complaining about the reproductions. Whatever problems might be there, they aren't here - the reproductions are top-notch. This is a beautiful volume, and restores my faith in Marvel after a plethora of expensive purchases with utterly pathetic physicals (Miracleman, e.g.).
Now, onto the comics. Let's face it - they're pretty mediocre. There's always a lot of hemming and hawing about "This is how Golden Age comics were written!" and "This reflects the spirit of the times!" with a good dose of "These were written for children!" None of these apologetics defends some of the trash found within. Having read a good dose of "Heroes go to war!" in other media, this is really bad, even by the lowest of Golden Age standards. Roy Thomas (who writes an excellent introduction to this volume) states bluntly that "Don't judge if you weren't there", and I can agree with this...to an extent.
But the authors of the comics here really go the extra mile in terms of race baiting and generally playing up to hatred. The Sub-Mariner is, quite frankly, disgusting in the first story of this volume. Forget, for a moment, the fact that the Sub-Mariner looks like a freak-show reject himself with his triangular head and narrow face (although visually, this makes him very interesting to the reader). In one strange moment (in a later story), he apologizes for his slanted eyes, claiming that it was a "mistake of nature".
The biggest problem is that he is a psychopath who generally makes Americans look far worse than the Japanese. One theme throughout the story is criticism of the "cowardly" tactics of the Japanese (presumably in reference to their ability and success in ambushing American targets early in the war). On the other hand, the Americans fight "nobly". Whatever...standard flag waving which, while not to this degree in other comics, was certainly the norm of the age. However, the Sub-Mariner himself is far more "cowardly" and "ignoble" than any of the Japanese he fights. In the first tale, the Sub-Mariner destroys a Japanese ship. However, unsatisfied with the carnage, he then attacks a lifeboat (which has no means of defense and, at best, is drifting aimlessly in the Pacific), literally drowning its occupants, two at a time. Namor takes no prisoners, killing each and every "Jap" he finds.
It's pretty offensive stuff, even by 40s standards, and no amount of "It's for kids!" or "That's how people thought!" saves it. I've read plenty of "Heroes go to war!" stuff, and it's not like this. Even Blackhawk (who weren't superheroes at all, but rather, soldiers in the field) wasn't like this. And speaking of offensive, who wrote these stories? I mean, I've never really liked the "rah rah" patriotism of DC (and, apparently, Marvel) war comics, preferring instead the nuanced view found in EC (if you don't believe me, read some of the excellent counters to this patriotism found in volumes like "Shock Suspenstories" or "Two-Fisted Tales"). But at least the main plotline made a modicum of sense.
Here? Not so much. For example, in probably the most atrocious comic I've read since Orson Welle's and Superman teamed up to defeat the Martian Hitler, Martler (you only think I'm joking), Americans are getting outflanked by the Japanese, wasting ammo and time in the pacific. Of course, AMERICA GOOD!, so there must be a reason why they are losing. And here? It's because the Japanese are fooling them with...fake periscopes that don't have subs attached. That's right - American high command is being fooled by bath toys. Forget the fact that this makes the American military effort look far stupider than any rational reason. This is just another example of "cowardly Jap tactics". And the counter? Namor uses ship models and other bath toys to fool the Japanese into destroying their own ships. I wish I were joking about this. (Also, as if to further the "AMERICA GOOD!" mythos, any newspaper critical to the American war effort is labeled the "Sixth Column", a play off of the famously overblown "Fifth Column" that dominates much of American war comics). I never thought I would read stories that were worse than the ridiculous Justice Society tales of The Atom infiltrating a college to stop Germans from talking to students, etc. These tales make those look as if they were written by Alan Moore.
However, intermingled with these affronts to basic comic decency are some solid Golden Age fare, For example, in the second volume here, Sub-Mariner stumbles on a sabotage effort run by evil lumberjacks. This story reads well (except for the fact that everyone accepts that Namor can easily disguise himself, despite the fact that his head is a triangle). And, as if to remind us that Namor means business, someone is getting thrown into a wood chipper. Seriously. Great violent fun. There are other tales as well having nothing to do with the war in the Pacific, including a mad scientist yarn that's great fun. And while anyone would get sick of Namor's interjections like "Sufferin' shad!" and "Gallopin' guppies!" (for some reason, he always leaves off his final "g", showing that even a prince is prone to poor English), these stories read well.
In addition to Namor, this volume has someone called the Angel. I don't know if it's because there are so many bad Namor stories here, but the Angel offends me far less than he should. He's a totally stock hero. I have no idea of anything about him; although he does seem to move between a secret persona and a superhero one, both are so bland as to be forgettable. Basically, he's a blond, mustachioed Superman without an interesting Clark Kent beside him. But the stories are readable enough.
Finally, one of the great bonuses of the volume are the extra short stories by Mickey Spillane, together with the 2-page comics often seen in these old volumes. I know that the Spillane stories were included in other volumes, so I was stoked to see them reproduced here. The two-page comics are great fun, as they usually are.
In short, find that this volume is very difficult to review on content. However, I can say easily that no one should spend full cover (sixty dollars!) in obtaining this volume. It's not that good, except as an oddity. It's OK for what it is (as a forgettable slice of Marvel history at a discount rate), but there are far better archives out there for the same price.
The main thing was that the comic was a way for kids and adults to release their anger at the axis. So when the submariner says " I will go slappy on a jappy" you get the point. This is vintage stuff though and obviously you must be in the mood for this era comics. But you can't get upset about the stereotypes because it's wartime and different era. Today we'd have the japanese look normal of course and not like monsters etc but when this was made the goal wasn't reality but release! So sit back and read comics from one of the most brutal times in earths history and that's sayin' something. The axis doesn't have a chance the sub mariner is now with the u.s. (instead of fighting with it!) and he's mad and he's going to smash the axis for you. Strangely the angel character rarely fights the axis in this or any of his stories and that would be like most of the wartime issues of d.c comics! Which always had great war covers but few war stories!