As I mentioned at the top of the week, one of the things that most excited me about finding an old copy of Jules Feiffer's Great Comic Book Heroes was that it contained stories featuring Golden Age heroes whose original exploits I've never had the opportunity to read much of.
Heroes like Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
I really like Namor, in part because he's just such a horrible superhero. His look is improbable—a mostly naked man with pointy ears and cute little wings on his ankle—and he's powerful, violent, arrogant and prone to shouting really funny things out loud, like "Imperius Rex!"
But at his core, he's basically an incredible asshole.
And that's probably why I like reading comics about him. I mean, yes, obviously, he's a fun and funny character, one with a great degree of camp about him and the potential to fight just about any other Marvel he shares a panel with, but unlike a lot of fictional characters, he's the sort one would loathe being around in real life. Which makes reading about him in pretend-life kind of attractive; you get to hang out this total asshole jerk guy without ever being on the receiving end of his pomposity. Or his punches.
In the modern Marvel Universe, Namor's anti-social as all hell, always trying to steal Reed Richards' wife or punching people out for touching him, but he's downright mild-mannered compared to how he used to be in the Golden Age. Which means as awesome as Namor is now, he used to be even awesomer (Awesome enough to be referred to as "awesomer" instead of "more awesome").
Feiffer's book includes a ten-page Namor story by Bill Everett which seems to be entitled "Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner," but might as well be called "Namor Just Totally Wrecks New York Until We Run Out of Pages."
Perhaps because Namor didn't get as much attention as Superman, Batman, Sheena and The Spirit during the essay portion of the book, or perhaps because the story doesn't exactly make Namor look at all like a superhero, there's an asterisk after the character's name, and a few sentences from Feiffer explaining the character.
"If Wonder Woman hated men, The Sub Mariner went her one better," Feiffer wrote. "He hated everybody...Luckily the war came along, and he switched from beating up Americans to Nazis. Untl then, he was well on his way to becoming the Black Muslim of the comic books."
I actually spent a few days thinking of exactly what Feiffer meant by that —remember, this is a 1965 book Feiffer's writing!—and I'm guessing it's a joke comparing Namor's Atlantean quest to conquer the surface world (or at least ocassionally beat it up) to the Nation of Islam's desire to form a country for black folks within the continental United States. I don't think their goals line-up very well though. In the first panel of this story, for example, a green-skinned fishman wearing a robe and crown is sitting on a throne underwater, and Namor tells him, "I shall return to New York City and destroy the entire continent, using the metropolis as my central base!" I'm not real up on the Nation, but I'm pretty confident that destroying North America is not one of their goals.
Anyway, enough politics—let's watch as Namor visits New York!
The fish king guy likes what he heard from Prince Namor, and offers him entire naval fleet. Namor thanks him but decides to pass; "This is a selfish grudge, and there's no reason yet to make an international situation of it." So he's just going to conquer New York by himself.
He surfaces in front of the Statue of Liberty, and starts talking to himself about what it symboizes: "Huh! They'll not know what liberty means when I'm through with them. I'll conquer this nation and enslave all it's people. I'll be emperor of America, and make these people pay for what they have done to me!"
I don't know what they've done to him, but it must be pretty bad, since she breaks the jaw of the first poor bastard he sees.
This establishes a pattern for the next eight pages; Namor just runs around going all King Kong on the city, and insulting the intelligence of the weaklings who try to stop him. He flies up to the statue, and "throws out terrified tourists, mercilessly," deciding that it will be his castle. (And that's "throws out" as in "picks up over his head and throws out the window into the sea," not merely "asks to leave" or whatever.)
When the "stupid policemen" of the harbor patrol head out after him, he rips the rudder off their boat, and then pushes their ship directly into the path of a giant ocean liner, which smashes it to bits.
When he makes it to land, New York's finest try gas, nets and fisticuffs:
In the mayor's office, hizzoner and an aide discuss asking the governor to call out the national guard, which leads to one of the most terrifying panels I've ever seen:
Gah! Can you imagine turning around and seeing that outside your window? Particularly a couple stories up? He looks like Peter Pan mixed with Satan there.
The mayor calls Namor a crook and a bum, and the scion of Atlantis responds thusly:
Then it's off to destroy a commuter train, probably full of commuters:
In the first panel, note the jaded New Yorker who walks right by Namor and doesn't even seem to notice that the guy who just passed him looks like a big elf with ankle-wings in a bathing suit: What a town!
Let's see, Statue of Liberty, the harbor patrol, the mayor, a train...what next? Ah, the Empire State Building!
He flies up, rips the top off it, and throws it. At a baby.
He's on his way back to his castle, the Statue of Liberty, when he spots pretty blonde Betty Dean, and is powerless to ignore her. Blondes are Namor's kryptonite. She asks him to stop tearing shit up, and let New York live in peace, warning him that The Human Torch (whose name Feiffer mentions in his essay is kind of ridiculous, since the Torch is a robot, not a human) is now a part of the police force. Namor laughs at the thought of the Torch's "little flame," and then dives in the water, because that's the end of the story.