FANTASTIC FOUR #4: Meet Namor, the Sub-Mariner – A Villain of Heroic Proportions!

Published: May, 1962

“The Coming of Sub-Mariner!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Jack Kirby
Inks: Sol Brodsky
Letters: Art Simek

Russ has been setting up the comics in the order I should review them, and I see that we are once again looking at The Fantastic Four. And this time, they have a formidable foe…the Sub-Mariner!! (Pardon me for using the double exclamation point, I guess I’ve been reading too many comics lately!!) Since I’ve already read ahead a bit, I’ve met with Sub-Mariner a few times now, and I’ve got to say I really enjoy his character. Now THIS is what a villian should be! (Not like those pitiful Skrulls, whining “We hate being Skrulls…”) But ironically, the thing I most like about Sub-Mariner is that he’so noble, and mostly, his intentions are good. Sure, he’s a powerful being who spends a good deal of time and energy threatening to obliterate humanity, but in some ways, you really can’t blame him. He’s a powerful leader who’s had some bad breaks. Any good king would do the same.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, and this story is a long one, 24 pages, with LOTS going on, so let’s get started. We find the group has been splintered by a disagreement. Johnny and Thing were fighting (as we will see they often do) and Johnny has gone off in a huff, saying he’s through with all of them. I thought it was touching that Sue, his sister, was concerned, hoping he might be hurt or in trouble. Hey! Sis! Your brother is The Human Torch! I don’t really think you need to be worried about his safety.

They decide to look for Torch, and I found it interesting that even though this is only the fourth issue of this title, so they could not have had many adventures yet, still everyone they meet seems to know who they are. Reed stretches out his arm to pick a guy off a motorcycle, and when the guy realizes who he’s talking to, he says “Wait till I tell the gang! Will I be a big man!” Later on, someone else says “Holy smoke! I read about you guys, but I never dreamt you really existed!”

The Fantastic Four are the first superheroes of the Silver Age. There were superheroes back in the 1940’s, during WWII, but since then, apparently, it’s been pretty quiet, and I guess the people in this comic book have gotten used to living in a world that is relatively void of “the fantastic.” But now, things are changing! I guess that kind of explains why while one person is thrilled to meet Mr. Fantastic, another says “I never dreamt you really existed!” For some people, there may be doubt that this could really be happening again, but others are ready to embrace the new world order.

I think it’s also especially important to note the phrase “I read about you guys.” Apparently the exploits of the Fantastic Four are making the newspapers. They are very PUBLIC superheroes. Later, when we get into Spider-Man, X-Men, the Avengers, we will find that every one of them has a SECRET identity, known to only a select few. But the FF are out there for all the world to see. This makes for a different kind of story. It’s pretty interesting to see how they interact with their world.

REHASH

But before we get into this story, Stan rehashes what happened in the previous issue, why Johnny has gone off in a huff. I guess in case some of the readers had not SEEN the previous issue, it would give them a chance to catch up. I’m thinking: here is a new title, only out a few months, word of mouth is just now getting around, the readership is building. I guess Stan had to assume that not everybody would be caught up on current events. Thus, the rehash.

I think that might also be part of the reason for something else that happens, when Thing finally finds Johnny. For no apparent reason, Thing begins to morph back into Ben Grimm. For a few panels we get to see who Thing “really” is. Personally, I think there are three things going on here: 1. When Thing/Ben is temporarily distracted by his morphing, this gives Johnny a chance to get away. 2. This lets the new readers see who Thing really is, that he wasn’t always a rockman, that deep down inside there is a human being, and 3. That this human being is absolutely distressed by having to live life as “A…thing!”

Johnny goes to “the Bowery” where he thinks nobody will be able to find him, and stays in a “Men’s Hotel” which is a sort of YMCA, with lots of derelict guys sleeping on cots. He reads an old beat-up “comic mag” from the 1940’s. It’s about Sub-Mariner. Johnny thinks “I remember Sis talking about him once! He used to be the world’s most unusual character!”

Now that’s all I personally would know about Sub-Mariner at this point, except that I happen to have a wonderful husband who knows lots about comics and is able to fill me in on his background. It seems that in the 1940’s the Sub-Mariner did indeed appear in Marvel Comics, but at that time, he was more of a hero, rather than a villain. He is the King of the underwater Atlanteans, has super-strength, can breathe air as well as water, and can fly. Also, his skin is somewhat impervious to things like bullets and knives. Well, we’ll learn more about him as we go on, but I thought it was most fascinating that originally he was not one of the bad guys. But now he will be. And we’ll see why. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.

There is a certain derelict guy at the “Men’s Hotel” that the others mention is really strong. They try to engage him, but he just gets annoyed and ends up punching everyone and throwing furniture. Johnny says “Hey wait! Let’s find out what’s going on here!” We see the irate bum lamenting that he has no idea who he is, but when Johnny gives him a shave and a haircut (with his flaming finger—I kid you not), who is revealed but…Sub-Mariner himself!!!

Johnny flies him out over the ocean and drops him in, figuring that if he really IS Sub-Mariner, being back in the ocean will return his memory, and return him to his former glory. And that’s exactly what happens. Ahh…but there’s a complication. When Sub-Mariner returns to his undersea kingdom, he discovers that it has been destroyed by “the HUMANS…with their accursed atomic tests!” Now he’s mad. And you don’t want someone like Sub-Mariner mad at you. He vows to take revenge on the entire human race.

I have to pause here for a moment to say…so! Everything that happens from this point on, in this story and in all the other stories where the Sub-Mariner poses a threat to humanity…it’s all Johnny’s fault! Right? He had to go and put him back in the ocean! Of course, he didn’t know when he did it that complications would ensue. But they do. And they will continue to ensue. But it just goes to show you how one innocent act of kindness can be turned on its head to create all sorts of trouble.

So, as Sub-Mariner vows his revenge on the human race, we begin to get a pretty good picture of his personality.

Humility is not one of Namor’s strong points. (Oh, I guess I should mention that Sub-Mariner’s actual name is “Namor.” And by the way, Russ explained to me that in an effort to create a name that sounded as regal as possible, “Namor” was chosen, because it’s actually “Roman,” spelled backwards.)

Anyway, Namor is rather full of himself, overflowing with self-confidence and bravado. He is the antithesis of “wishy-washy.” Everything he does is large and dramatic. He is, after all, a king. With superpowers. No room for “wishy-washy” here.

I guess Johnny figures this out, because he decides to come out of hiding and paints a huge fiery “4” in the sky to alert the others that there is trouble afoot. Stan describes this as “the most dramatic, most exciting secret symbol of all!!” I agree with dramatic and exciting, but I hardly think it’s secret. A huge fiery number in the sky? I think the general population is looking up at this and thinking…”Hmmm… just a stab in the dark here, but … I think SOMETHNG must be up…”

GIGANTOR!

Johnny meets with the others and fills them in on what’s happening. Meanwhile, Namor finds the “trumpet-horn” buried by his ancestors centuries ago which can wake the mighty sleeping Gigantor!! ( I don’t feel compelled to give a description, I think the name says it all.) This creature heads towards New York, and the order is given to evacuate the city, as the army brings their weapons into place.

But it’s not the army that saves the day. It’s…Thing! He gets the idea to strap a nuclear device on to his back, and walks right into the monster’s mouth, like Jonah going into the belly of the whale. (It’s amusing, by the way, that it appears he has strapped the nuclear device to his back with a couple of bed sheets.)

Thing escapes just before Gigantor is destroyed. Now Sub-Mariner is more pissed than ever!

It’s worth noting that this happens to be one of those times when the villain messes things up for himself by spending too much time talking and gloating. Because while he’s extolling the virtues of the horn, invisible Sue is nearby and says “Oh! It is the Horn that does it!! That’s what I was waiting to hear!” And she grabs the horn and begins to run off.

AT LAST, A LITTLE ROMANCE!

That could be the end of our story…but of course it’s not. Namor pursues, and grabs Sue, and she gets visible again. Immediately, Namor is struck by her beauty.

I happen to know, from having read ahead a bit in the Fantastic Four series, that the Sue/Namor issue is not going to live and die in this one issue. We will have many more meetings between these two, and their relationship is one of the things I really enjoy about the FF series. So I want to spend a few moments reviewing what happens here.

After Namor declares that Sue is a prize worth catching, he continues to compliment her, and makes an offer: if she agrees to become his bride, he might show mercy and not destroy the human race. Well, first of all, note that Namor says he MIGHT spare the human race. Even if she marries him, he still might destroy humanity. He’s holding tight to the power, as a King should, which puts Sue in an awful predicament. Decisions, decisions…right? And Sue rightly says, “How can I make such a choice?”

Russ thinks, and rightly so I’m sure, that her hesitation is based on the fact that she’s weighing her own happiness against the survival of the human race. “Well…this is an AWFUL predicament I’m in, but if I don’t agree to marry him, all of humanity will most certainly be destroyed!” Not to be taken lightly. But I think it’s that…AND something more. Remember, earlier, Johnny clued us in that Sue knows a bit about the Sub-Mariner. So she must know that he is a KING, and before he appears in this issue, he’s been a HERO. Not a bad guy, overall. If she’s read about him and talked about him….maybe there’s some attraction there on her part as well.

What does Sue mean when she says “How can I make such a choice?” is she actually considering marrying Namor? Is she attracted to him? Is she attracted to his power? Or perhaps she’s attracted by the ATTENTION he is showing her, the compliments. Yes, she’s Reed’s fiancée, but does Reed ever compliment her like this? Reed is so very no-nonsense and scientific, and in fact it will come out in future issues that Sue is not really sure how he feels about her. But with Namor there’s no doubt. He’s just told her: you’re gorgeous, I want to marry you and make you my princess!

It’s enough to make a girl think…

But before Sue has a chance to think for very long, the others arrive, saying “Sue, you don’t have to do anything he says!” But this makes Namor even MORE pissed off than before. “You fools! “ he declares. “Now I’ll have the girl AND my revenge!!”

Seeing how serious he is, Sue says “No, Prince Namor, you mustn’t! I’ll do anything—I’ll become your bride!” Namor is, of course, insulted that she agrees to marry him only so that she can save the human race. “Don’t you realize what an honor I offer you?”

Reed says “This has gone FAR ENOUGH!” (I was wondering when he was going to get around to that…) And they all begin to attack Namor. Torch creates a tornado, which sucks up Namor and deposits him in deepest part of the ocean. He loses the magic horn in the process, but vows, a la the Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator… “I’ll be back!”

In the last panel, Stan says…”Yes, perhaps he WILL be back.” And I’m thinking…What??? Perhaps?? Are you kidding me? Do you really expect me to believe for one second that a character as strong and dramatic as Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, is not going to be back for further adventures? Please…if that would be the case, then somebody has NO IDEA how to run a comic book.

But of course, Stan and crew do have some excellent ideas about how to run a comic book, so Sub-Mariner will be back. But before we go forward to those next adventures, there is one question I must ask: I’m trying to wrap my mind around how Sub-Mariner is both a real being in the real world, AND the topic of a “comic-mag” within that world. In our world, yes, we have fantastic and non-fantastic characters who inhabit our “comic-mags,” but they are just that, “characters,” not “real,” not flesh and blood. In general, we don’t have narrative “stories” about real people, either in comics, novels, movies, etc.

But in the Marvel Universe, it is accepted that Namor is a real being in the real world, and yet there are “comic mags” written about him. And later I believe we’ll find that the exploits of Spider-Man and others will be chronicled in “comic-mags” even as these individuals are roaming the city, fighting crime and pulling off heroic feats that are ALSO mentioned on the front page of the newspaper. That’s what I find so intriguing: this blending of fact and fiction that has less to do with superpowers than it has to do with storytelling!

Yes, in the Marvel Universe, there are flesh and blood individuals who have powers that do not exist in our world. I get that, I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I’m glad there are fantastical characters, or comic books would be very boring, wouldn’t they? I mean….if we were stuck with stories about characters who had superpowers like mine (“the uncanny aptitude to determine the exact size container for the dinner leftovers”) or Russ’ (“the unerring ability to turn a traffic light from red to green simply by staring at it”) I don’t think those books would sell very well.

I’m just amazed that that Stan and crew have elected to create a world where…no, wait, I take that back. I was about to write “create a world where comics and newspapers have equal importance” but then I thought about it…Nah. I’m not amazed at all. In fact, it makes perfect sense that the writer of comic books would elevate “comic-mags” to such a high position. It makes perfect sense, and what’s more, it’s a ton of fun.

VILLAIN VALUATION

I should go on to compare Namor to the villains I have met so far. I’ve already dismissed The Miracle Man as a mere magician in need of a good pair of sunglasses. But is Sub-mariner more fearsome than Mole Man? You betcha! Sure, they both command the monsters of their particular kingdom, but with the flying and the breathing both air and water, and the super strength, Namor wins this one hands down. And I hate to say it, but he is certainly a lot more attractive than Mole Man. Even with those eyebrows.

Which brings up another point. Namor remind me quite a lot of Spock on Star Trek. Of course Sub-Mariner existed for decades before the thought of Spock ever crossed Gene Roddenberry’s imaginative mind. But I wonder if in some way, Sub-Mariner was a consideration, either consciously or subconsciously, when Spock was dreamed into existence.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now! This has been a long one, but lots of fun. Join me next time when a Comic Novice looks at the origin of another classic Marvel character…The Incredible Hulk!!

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3 Responses to FANTASTIC FOUR #4: Meet Namor, the Sub-Mariner – A Villain of Heroic Proportions!

  1. Locust75 says:

    Such a great cover even with the Thing in his little booties!

    You would think that the biker would be upset at Reed for crashing his bike. Instead he’s happy to get accosted by him!

    I think that the Thing changed back into Ben because he got so excited about roughing up Johnny.

    You talk about the bed sheets being used to hold the bomb, but I think the jack being used is priceless also!

    Another King Kirby creation…..Giganto!!! To me the critter inside him just wanted help to get out, but the Thing clobbers it instead!

    If I was the Torch. I would use the ol’tornado trick more often.

    “Come on, ya mangy bum, tear this phone book in half! Tear it I said!”-A Bowery Derelict

  2. nick caputo says:

    Sub-Mariner was a perfect villain, and he and Kirby would make him a centerpiece of the early Marvel Super-Hero world, as you’ll see. I’m sure sales and reader feedback helped determine Namor’s appearances, but he was a great character and protagonist.

    Stan later made it clear that the FF had Marvel authorize a comic about their exploits. One can assume that the 1940′s Sub-Mariner comic was unauthorized (and Namor would probably be pissed about that!). Stan probably just liked the idea that in Marvel’s world super-heroes were attention getting, and thus comic books would feature them (I probably thought this out a lot more than Stan did at the time!)

    • Chrissy says:

      Actually, I think that any student of Marvel Comics today is thinking thinking things out way past whatever thought went into it originally. At the time of publication, it was probably like, “We have to have this by done by Tuesday!” Was it just a happy accident that so many of the decisions reflected strong literary themes, and work on so many levels? I’m often amazed at how well the stories are holding together down through the ages.

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