Review by Win Wiacek
Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner is the offspring of a water-breathing Atlantean princess and an American polar explorer, a hybrid being of immense strength, highly resistant to physical harm, able to fly and exist above and below the waves. Created by young, talented Bill Everett in 1939 Namor gained his own title in 1940, and was one of the last super-characters to go at the end of the first heroic age. He was briefly revived by Everett in 1954, but his spotlight shone again when revived as an enemy for the Fantastic Four in 1962.
Namor knocked around the budding Marvel universe for a few years, before securing his own series of shorter than usual strips in paired anthology Tales to Astonish.
This first celebratory volume spans his appearances from 1965 to 1967 beginning with his final guest shot in a landmark encounter with Daredevil. Stan Lee and creative legend Wally Wood (sample art) concocted a timeless masterpiece as Prince Namor of Atlantis – recently reunited with the survivors of his decimated race – returns to the surface world to sue mankind for their crimes against his people. To expedite his claim, the Prince engages the services of Matt Murdock’s law firm not suspecting the blind lawyer is also the acrobatic Man without Fear.
Daredevil’s hopelessly one-sided battle with one of the strongest beings on the planet shows his dauntless courage and the innate nobility of a “villain” far more complex than most of the industry’s usual fare at the time.
When launched in his own series, it’s Lee and Gene Colan (in the pseudonymous guise of Adam Austin) as the creative team who have Namor rejected by his own people and beginning a mystical quest to find the lost Trident of King Neptune. As well as providing the basis for a procession of fantastic adventures pitting him against a spectacular array of sub-sea horrors, this has the greater purpose of proving his claim to the throne, as only the rightful ruler of Atlantis can hold the trident.
The serial introduces the treacherous warlord Krang, and Lady Dorma as Namor’s love interest. It’s stirring adventure, but no great surprise when Namor regains his stolen throne. Back in charge, the Prince turns his thoughts to peace with the surface world, but his mission is derailed when he encounters a deep-sea drilling platform and promptly finds himself battling the US military and retired Avengers Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne.
With the reduced page count, serials provide the best format for action and drama, and Lee escalates the threat by Namor being mind-controlled and confronting the US Army in the streets of New York while Krang’s machinations have Dorma betraying her beloved Prince. That leads to a spectacular combat classic involving Iron Man for which Jack Kirby produces some of the finest action-art of his entire Marvel career, with neophyte scribe Roy Thomas beginning his association with the Sub-Mariner by supplying the fractious dialogue.
That’s only the mid-section of a story involving the Hulk in New York and the metropolis being inundated by an artificial tsunami. The conclusion is doubly delightful for Everett at last taking full artistic charge of his greatest creation.
This assemblage of tales features some of Marvel’s best artists at their visual peak, and although a few stories no longer bear critical scrutiny, the verve and enthusiasm still shine through. They’re also available combined with the content of Volume 2, but in black and white on pulp paper as Essential Sub-Mariner.