Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers, Joe Sinnott
Letters: Art Simek
I wrote a brief synopsis of this story. Very brief. 260 words. I was all ready to submit my employment application at Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, but then I decided this synopsis was SO brief that it sucked all the fun out of this story. And there’s so much fun in this story, if you cut it down to “Just the facts, ma’am,” you’re missing the best parts. So let’s just start at the top and work our way through.
We begin with the Invisible Girl making her way through a crowd that is looking up at a fiery display by her brother, the Human Torch. Some in the crowd are excited, but others skeptical. One fat man says “I could no more believe in the Fantastic Four than I could believe in flying saucers.” Well…hello, chubby! If I’m not mistaken, by this time, the FF have already battled the Skrulls, and other superheros have tangled with the Stone Men from Saturn, and the Toad Men. So, in this universe, beings from outer space are already yesterday’s new. I think anyone holding a skeptical view of flying saucers in this universe at this time is woefully out of touch.
When Sue gets back to the Baxter Building, she finds the others there, answering their mail. Reed says “our mail,” not “fan mail,” but that’s clearly what it is. One letter is from little Tommy in the hospital, so Reed decides to stretch himself over to the kid’s hospital window and pay a visit.
During this visit, by the way, we learn from Reed that his costume can stretch to any length because it is woven from chemical fibers containing “unstable molecules.” I doubt this “science” actually makes any sense, but it sounds good. I guess some of the actual fans were starting to ask the serious questions, so Stan decided to start addressing these issues right there in the story!
Another letter is not so much “fan” mail as it is a threat. The Yancy Street Gang issues Thing a physical challenge. Now, here I am speaking from my limited knowledge. In the stories I’ve read so far, I don’t recall if we ever actually meet anyone from the Yancy Street Gang, but I do know they are frequently mentioned as a point of irritation for Thing. I’m not sure where all this comes from. It’s hard to believe that Thing would have had any dealings with a “gang” in his former incarnation as Ben Grimm, test pilot. I think more than anything, the Yancy Street Gang distraction is just played for laughs, since it always gets Thing so aggravated.
I get such a kick out of these fictional characters answering their fan mail. The Fantastic Four are the only superheroes who are “out of the closet,” so to speak, and Stan takes full advantage of that by turning them into celebrities. Of course later other Marvel superheroes will have their own fan clubs, and we’ll see meetings of these clubs within the stories themselves, but the FF are the only superheroes who can fully enjoy their celebrity status.
These little scenes involving fan mail must have also been very exciting for the actual fans at the time. I’m sure many kids hoped to see a reference to their particular piece of fan mail in the actual comic. Maybe even little Tommy in the hospital….was he perhaps based on some kid in that same situation, who wrote in asking a question about Mr. Fantastic’s fantastic stretching suit? Even if he wasn’t, he could have been. Stan really knew how to involve his audience, make them feel a part of the process. Hats off to Stan!
And now, back to our story…
Torch had been out looking for Doctor Doom, but didn’t find him. Discussion ensues, in which Doom and Sub-Mariner are mentioned as worthy opponents. Now, if you’ll remember from our last run-in with Sub-Mariner, Sue kind of has a crush on the King of the Sea. When his name is mentioned, she defends him, coming up with a legitimate reason for him being a super-villain: he’s been “hurt.”
Boo hoo, poor Sub-Mariner!
But at the moment, Sub-Mariner (remember, he is also called Namor, and I’ll call him that from now on because it’s much easier to type than “Sub-Mariner”) is happily swimming with the porpoises in the sea. And I do mean happily! Just look at him:
He doesn’t look like a villain at all! Perhaps Sue is right about him after all, and he’s not the threat we supposed him to be.
You know, it occurred to me, looking at this picture of Namor swimming with the porpoises that here is a “villain” who can indeed take time to smell the roses (or the seaweed, if you will) and enjoy something in his life other than the formulating of his evil plans to destroy the FF and/or take over the world. Doctor Doom, on the other hand…not so much. I simply can’t imagine Doom ever looking happy, or smelling roses, or seaweed, or anything other than poisonous gases he plans to siphon into the living quarters of the Fantastic Four. That’s about the only thing that could make him happy, I think.
But Namor appears happy, at least for the moment. However, Doom has other plans for Namor. He finds him and reminds him of how the human race has wronged his people, and of course the first order of business should be getting rid of “Humanity’s Defenders,” the Fantastic Four! Namor is on board with this plan…as long as Sue is not harmed. You see, he’s got a crush on her, the same way she does on him. In fact, we see that he’s got a framed photo of her in his undersea bachelor pad!
Having no qualms about doing damage to the other three members of the FF, Namor agrees to assist Doom by sneaking a “grabber” into the Baxter Building. What, pray tell, is a “grabber”? Well, apparently it’s an invention from the evil genius mind of Dr. Doom (“MWAHHAAHAAHAAA!!!”) whereby incredibly strong magnetic force can be used to lift impossibly large and heavy objects. You’ve seen the Planet Fitness commercial? Well, it’s like that, only a million times more.
Did I mention that Namor has a framed photo of Sue Storm? Well, turns out she has a picture of Namor as well, though not as prominently displayed. She’s hiding it behind some books in the library. Really now, Sue, how old are we? What grade are we in? And what grade is Johnny in when he finds the photo? First he taunts her about her secret crush, then destroys the photo by fire. Reed and Thing rush in, and when they find out what’s going on, Reed demands, “I think you owe us an explanation, Sue!”
Owe US an explanation? Really, Reed? US? What about ME? How about “Hey, Sue, you and I are engaged to be married, I thought you loved me. But if you love me, why are you secretly nursing a crush on another man?” Never mind that the other man is their arch-enemy….he’s another man! You would think Reed would object on that basis.
And maybe he would have, if the scene had time to play out to its logical conclusion. But as soon as Sue mentions that she feels there is something “gentle” about Namor…he appears on the scene! (He flew through the window.) Thing wants to clobber Namor, and Johnny runs rings of fire around him, but Sue jumps to Namor’s defense and gets the others to listen to him. He tells them that his is “a lonely kingdom,” and he comes seeking “a lasting friendship…of more value than any fleeting taste of revenge.”
So! Was Sue right about Namor after all? Is he gentle? Is he kind? Is he just sad and misunderstood? Oh, poor Namor, how badly the humans have treated you!
But wait! What’s this? Before Namor can whisk away “this charming young lady on a tour of the city,” the Baxter Building begins to rise up into the air. Yes, you heard me right. The entire skyscraper becomes detached from its foundation and is pulled up into the air, even into the “ionosphere.” This, of course, is all due to the “grabber,” which Namor has planted in the basement (apparently just before he flew in the window). Doctor Doom is in a “rocket plane” above, pulling the building higher and higher above the Earth.
As they rise, eventually there are problems with lack of oxygen (Johnny can’t flame on) and lack of gravity. Even Thing is weightless! Reed attempts to reach Doom’s rocket plane and is burned by a burst of flames. (Don’t worry, folks, he’s okay, just out of commission for the rest of the story.)
Thing and Namor are going at it, weightlessly battling as Doctor Doom’s voice is heard:
I think it is right after this that Namor changes his alliance. Realizing he’s been double-crossed, he calls Doom a “jackal” and vows to deal with him. First, he dives into the building’s water tank to renew his strength, then does a quick hop, skip and a jump through the darkness of space, using meteorites as stepping stones, and lands on the back of Doom’s plane.
Okay now, this is not exactly the Fantastic Four battling the Deadly Duo, but instead we are about to see two super-villains battling each other. And in fact, these are the two super-villains that have been at the top of my Villian Valuation list. Number One battles Number Two! Who will win?
Well, we know for this story, at least, Namor must emerge victorious, because he is fighting not only to save his life, but the lives of the Fantastic Four (though I don’t think he is as concerned about Reed, Johnny and Thing, as he is about Sue). Still, he makes his attempts to thwart the bad Doctor, and very quickly Doom’s evil genius brain makes a major mistake. Seems Doom is not aware that among Namor’s numerous superpowers, he possesses the qualities of an electric eel. When Doom zaps Namor with a jolt of electricity, it doesn’t kill him. No, instead, Namor is able to absorb the electricity in his body, then shoot it back at Doom!
“OWWW!!” Yes, big bad Dr. Doom actually yells “OWWW!!” With two exclamation points. Namor has outdone Doctor Doom! Woo hoo! However, he doesn’t die. He isn’t even knocked out. He escapes the electrified cabin of the aircraft and hitches a ride on a passing meteorite, drifting off into space…never to be seen again?
Nah. Doubt that. He’ll be back. But for the time being, everyone is safe, and “the stray individuals who witness the return of the Baxter Building write it off as a bad dream. A hallucination resulting from the anxieties that plague our nuclear society.” (I have to admit, I had a little chuckle at that line.)
Once the “grabber” floats off and finds the mother ship (Doom’s rocket plane) Namor hurtles both to the bottom of the sea, “where they can do no further harm!” Namor himself returns to the sea, no doubt to relax up in his undersea bachelor pad, a large domed villa in a field of swaying underwater vegetation, complete with coral easy chair, sponge footstool and a jellyfish for a pet. Hear what he says as he departs:
“Perhaps someday, when I am no longer haunted by bitter memories of my lost people, I may return…but until then, this is where I belong! In the sea which is my home!”
There’s a certain poetry in the way he speaks, which I find very satisfying. However, I have to tell you, I feel a bit cheated by this story. The title page asks “Have the FF at last met their match when mighty Sub-Mariner and evil Doctor Doom team up??” The obvious answer to that question is a big fat resounding NO. Not yet. So in a way, this almost seems like a bait and switch.
But what’s more, overall I saw very little “teamwork” between our two villains. Namor comes out more of a hero than a villain by the end of this story. He saves not only himself, but also his beloved Sue (and almost despite himself, the other members of the FF). And not only that, in the end, he goes away. He just goes away. He doesn’t go away MAD (like any self-respecting super-villain would) but sort of sad and nostalgic, deciding he ought to lay low until he’s got all his personal issues sorted out.
Namor is much too nice, and much too sensitive for a super-villain. I never really felt like he was “teaming up” with Doom. Doom was just using him, because he needed someone to walk in and plant the “grabber” in the basement. That’s all. After that, Doom was perfectly ready to discard Namor. Doom never really showed any true signs that he valued Namor’s propensity to do evil and make trouble. He knew Namor had a grudge against the FF, and so he manipulated the Sea King to serve his OWN evil purposes. Namor was his pawn. There was no real “teamwork” involved.
But seeing these two in action, I would have to say Dr. Doom remains firmly entrenched on the top of my Villian Valuation chart. Namor, I’m afraid, is going to drop a couple of notches. Not because I don’t like him. I DO like him! That’s the problem! He’s much too likeable for a villain. At least at this point. Things may change in the future, but right now, with Namor returning to the sea to swim with porpoises and moon over his framed picture of Sue Storm until such time as he is “no longer haunted by bitter memories of my lost people,” I would have to say he is currently out of the villain game, and off my list.
In fact, if you think of it, the ONLY reason the FF survived this ordeal at the hands of Doctor Doom was because Namor was there to act heroically when they could not (due to lack of oxygen and gravity). If not for Namor, Doom may have been able to put an end to the FF! ::shudder:: Actually, that’s kind of a scary thought.
So we shall think about it no more. Instead, we shall say a few words about Sue and Namor before heading on to the next comic mag. This story was chock full of great Sue-Mariner stuff (see, I’m doing what they do in FanFiction, hyphenating the two names of the characters you like to see in a “ship”). The fact that they each have a picture of each other…how adorable, right? And Sue defends him to the others, even though, in her own words, “How can I explain something I don’t understand myself?” She’s confused, and torn, and this whole business is incredibly and deliciously angsty.
What is the attraction here? Could it merely be that she likes a man with superpowers? Well, she’s already got in her fiancé, Reed. So that’s probably not it. Instead, I go back to what I said in an earlier entry, about how Namor told her she was beautiful, and Reed probably never shows her this much attention. In fact, when Reed finds out his fiancé has been secretly crushing on another man, his first reaction is “you owe US an explanation.” No mention of you owe ME an explanation. What’s Sue supposed to think about that? How is she supposed to think Reed feels about their relationship if he is not jealous and wanting a PERSONAL explanation? If I’m Sue, at this point I’m thinking, “Hey, I might want to hold off ordering those wedding invitations.” Personally, I think this little incident tells us a lot more about Reed than it does about Sue. And it definitely tells us that all is not well in Paradise.
But now another idea occurs to me. Sue says she does not understand why she is attracted to Namor. May I propose that the very reason she is attracted to him is because she knows (or at least thinks) that this will make Reed notice her. Maybe subconsciously she’s TRYING to make him jealous. Yeah, well, if that’s the case, her subconscious needs to go back to the drawing board. Sure Reed is Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Flexible who can bend and stretch in every direction, but when it comes to romance, personally I find he has all the appeal of a cardboard box. And if something doesn’t change soon, Sue may begin to feel that way too.
I said I had one more thing to say about Sue-Mariner, but now one more additional point has occurred to me, and I want to briefly mention my feelings about the way Johnny behaved when he found his sister’s hidden photograph. Yes, of course I can understand that he was upset. I think he likes Reed and would like to see Sue marry Reed, and it’s obvious that he doesn’t like Namor, and probably understands Sue’s attraction to that overgrown fishman even less than she does. But burning the picture? Why?
Burning the picture isn’t going to make Sue like Namor any less, and in fact it’s probably going to magnify her “Us Against Them” mentality so that she feels she can’t trust or share her feelings about Namor with anyone. Johnny’s reaction was very much gut-level, emotional, immature. Like a hot-headed teenager. Which is what he is. But I just didn’t like that he burned his sister’s personal property, even as she’s proclaiming “You’ve got no right to do that!” Sorry, I side with Sue on this one. The others may not like what’s going on, but as far as I’m concerned, this situation did not call for the destruction of personal property. Bad, Johnny!
Okay, now I’m done! But before I go, let me suggest you check out the adjustments to my Villain Valuation page above.
Next up: We revisit a certain blonde Thunder God, who singlehandedly battles the Red Threat AND acquires his first groupie, all in one day! No one could ever accuse Marvel’s superheroes of not living life to the fullest!
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