Marvel Masterworks: Sub-Mariner - Volume 3 Hardcover – Aug 5 2009
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Fortunately, Lee had brought aboard Roy Thomas to do the writing on some of the "lesser" Marvel titles, like Avengers, Dr. Strange, Sgt. Fury, X-Men, and Sub-Mariner. These titles helped keep Marvel afloat creatively when comic book sales started a precipitous decline in the late '60s.
The Sub-Mariner was never one of my favorite Marvel characters. His problems always seemed largely self-inflicted due to his arrogance and temper making him difficult to sympathize with. I always thought he worked best as the "noble villain" rather than as a "flawed hero". I didn't really think he could carry a title.
The comics in this volume, Sub-Mariner #2-#13 from 1968 and 1969, largely proved me wrong. Thomas sets up an interesting story arc involving a mysterious helmet. But we have plenty of diversions along the way as Namor runs into the inhuman Triton, meets an old enemy Attuma and a new enemy Tiger Shark, picks up some more supporting cast in Diane Arliss and old friend Betty Dean Prentiss, and finally finishes up with Lemuria, Karthon, and Naga.
There are a few missteps along the way. Thomas offers up the obligatory heroes fight each other (Namor and Triton) before combining against the villain (Plant Man). Namor has his usual counter productive and self defeating outbursts of temper. The main plot thread (the helmet) does show signs of being made up as it goes along.
But all in all this is a fast paced 12 issue romp that keeps the reader involved. John Buscema's art is terrific and Gene Colan and Marie Severin do not disappoint either. There is even a bonus parody story from Marvel's humor title Not Brand Echh. Finally, the reproduction is superb.
In short, this is as good a title as Marvel had in the late '60s, with the possible exception of the Avengers. Highly recommended.
Namor is one of the more under-appreciated characters under the Marvel banner and always has been. I have two guesses to this; one is probably because many people never really grew a liking to his underwater fantasy adventures, because his rogues gallery was kind of lacking when compared to many other characters. Plus, like Dr. Strange his world does feel quite different from the city roaming heroes. The second is more than likely due to his attitude. Namor feels more like an anti-hero, and to a certain degree a villain when looking at some of the company he kept; but Namor's attitude was definitely an issue because his temper either caused his problems or made them worse. He wasn't the goody-goody Cap or Spidey type, and that put people I know off. In any case, he was a character that I felt much later on, but coming back to some of these older stories helps me appreciate his earlier run. This TPB collects Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner issues 2 - 13, and continues his own running series, in which he earlier shared the Tales to Astonish title with the Hulk.
Namor's character is either a like or don't like for the most part. He seems more driven by personal pride and issues, and sometimes even hesitates to bother helping mankind because he simply cannot stand humans; his inner musings are some times hilarious as he goes off about things concerning his enemies, and even how mankind gets on his nerves with polluting their own waters. I really couldn't turn too many pages without being thoroughly entertained in some way. The plot follows Namor as he begins his search for Destiny, which lands him in encounters with Plant-Man, as well as one of the Inhumans named Triton. These first issues are fun with a pretty good fight between Namor and Triton that begins underwater then makes it to shore.
The story arc concerning the Helmet of Power takes up the entire book which finds Namor in a slugfest with the Thing. Then later one of his future nemesis' makes his debut in the form of Tiger Shark, and this is some really good slugfesting fun.
While the story is fairly well paced with plenty of things happening, it gives off a rather madcap like feel, as if writer Roy Thomas is just making up things as he goes along. At times it feels unfocused even though there's a path leading somewhere; but I really can't knock it much since it was rarely boring for me.
John Buscema, Marie Sullivan, and Gene Colan deliver some entertaining pencils with nice underwater backgrounds, fairly decent character designs, and some good hard hitting action. While the battle with the Thing has gone down as a classic, and one of the greatest slugfests to many. I lean towards the fight with Tiger Shark as being my favorite of the two. The art displays him as being quite powerful and I found it to be better written as a good confrontation.
This is a TPB that I can definitely recommend and it's a pretty good starting point. However, unlike let's say the early Thor (especially), Iron Man, and Fantastic Four volumes. I would recommend going back to the earlier volumes at some point, especially to see Namor's memorable clash with the Hulk in the last volume, which took place in Tales to Astonish issue 100. If one still has no interest in Sub-Mariner but wishes to read that fight, it can also be found in Marvel Masterworks: The Incredible Hulk Vol. 3.
Pros: Some really good artwork, action
Cons: Storytelling has rough spots, some people may not care for Namor
The way John Busema draws Namor, you can believe he's one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe (while under water). Namor wrecks havoc on machinery in the first panel. Buscema also excels at the underwater scenes and creatures. Page 3 panel 2 has Namor knifing into the ocean with a trail of bubbles following his plunge. Admittedly, Plantman is not a worthy foe for Namor, but Plantman tricks Triton into battling the exiled Prince of the Depths. As Namor explodes out of the water on page 10, I had the impression of an orca erupting out of the ocean. Frank Giacoia does an excellent job inking Big John in the first four issues.
Buscema turns in some iconic covers in this volume: Triton vs Namor in 2, Namor vs Attuma in 4, Namor vs Barracuda in 5 and 6, and Namor vs Thing in 8.
The Attuma and Gorgul story is a highlight in this volume, in my opinion. I would've liked if the crazy seer role of Saru-san was explored in more depth, but the story doesn't suffer for it. The battle with Attuma is one of Namor's better matches with his long-time nemesis.
Issues 5 and 6 have the first appearance of Diane Arliss, her tragic brother Todd, Dr Dorcas and the marauding Tiger Shark, another one of Sub-mariner's best adversaries. I love the powerful sequence from page 90-91. If Sub-mariner had more of that in his long run, the title might have ranked near the top and still be going!
In 7, the Man Called Destiny, started in Tales to Astonish 101 finally concludes.
In 8, Subby goes toe-to-toe with the Thing. Torch and the Avengers make brief appearances (as well as an old friend!) This issue ends Big John's brief run. These issues and their covers are well worth the price of the Masterworks, but, as they say on the TV ads, there's more…
You also get the Serpent Crown Saga. Karthon, the first appearance of Naga, and Barracuda.
Marie Severin and Dan Adkins do a good job filling in on #9. Issues 10-11 are done masterfully by Gene Colan. personally, I like John better for Sub-mariner, but Gene adds a murkiness and moodiness to the story while still maintaining much of the potency in action. I'm awe-struck by the shear fury of page 200, with Namor shooting out of a cresting wave to strike a ship. This full-pager was made to be a wall-sized poster!
Issue 12 has the weakest art, with Marie Severin handling all the chores. Possibly they encountered the dread deadline of doom and she was a last-minute fill-in. This was the start of regular pencilling on the title for her, but this issue looked rushed.
Issue 13 was solid with Joe Sinnott providing strong inks to Marie's pencils. Gargantos the giant octopus provided Namor a tough battle to conclude the Serpent Crown Saga.
There's still more… as a bonus, we have Bulk vs Prince No-More battling in the pages of Not Brand Ecch #9.
As always Roy Thomas' writing is strong throughout and his introduction adds perspective to the collection.
One question I have is who did the coloring for this volume? The coloring was first-rate (for 1968) and the Masterworks restoration is, again, top notch.
This is a volume essential to any collection, especially fans of Namor. The price has been creeping up and stocks appear to be dwindling. Do yourself a favor a pick this one up from a reseller while the price is still low.