Thursday, June 19, 2008

Namor vs. New York

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.

The end.

16 comments:

Mike Lorah said...

Man, I really wish I had a copy with the reprint comics in it now...

Shana Jean Hausman said...

Ha, that is kind of awesome. Namor can destroy New York while practically naked.

Superman, Batman, Shana and The Spirit

Who is this Shana?

MrCynical said...

Nicely done. And yes, Namor is an evil prick

Scott said...

Namor's slap to the mayor results in a pre-Aparo Aparo-explosion there. Even Batman wants to be the Submariner.

Also, Namor sitting at the Mayor's window reminds me of the cover to All-Star Superman #1, especially given all the Grant Morrison interviews about how Superman would be totally relaxed and would just sit around chilling out. I like this a LOT better than some "tough" looking arms-crossed pose.

Sea_of_Green said...

"None of your business, stupid!"

Namor always did have a way with words. :-)

This was AWESOME! Thanks for posting it!

SallyP said...

Oh Namor. SO obnoxious. SO arrogant. Usually right though, especially when dealing with those Literati bozos

SallyP said...

Wait...I mean Illuminati bozos. I think.

awb said...

Great article. Namor has been one of my favorite characters forever. It's almost amazing to me that an asshole like him has not only lasted this long as a character but most writers seem to be able to nail that characterization constistently. I stopped reading Marvel books after Civil War, but I do follow the coming and goings of the Sub Mariner. What a dick he is. Why hasn't Garth Ennis done a book with him?

Sallyp, I picked up one issue of the "Illuminati" (the first one I think)soley because he was in it and realized that it had one redeeming quality: the writer obviously liked the Namor. I don't remember who wrote it but everyone seemed to talk funny (like they were on "Friends" or something) except the Sub Mariner. They were talking about shooting the Hulk into outer space and Namor was totally against it. And he tried to drown Iron Man too. Honestly, if Marvel really wanted to have a reputation of being more "realistic" Sue Richards would have left Reed along time ago. She seems to like arrogant insufferable pricks and at least Namor would pay her some attention.

Caleb said...

Who is this Shana?

Oops, I meant Sheena. I fixed it. She's a jungle queen who was one of the characters Feiffer wrote about in the book, specifically how badass she was compared to Wonder Woman.

What a dick he is. Why hasn't Garth Ennis done a book with him?

It occurred to me while reading this short story how Namor really anticipated the badass, amoral superhero that does what he wants rather than what's legal or moral that The Authority and The Ultimates made cool by, like, decades.

I picked up one issue of the "Illuminati" (the first one I think)soley because he was in it and realized that it had one redeeming quality: the writer obviously liked the Namor. I don't remember who wrote it but everyone seemed to talk funny (like they were on "Friends" or something) except the Sub Mariner.

Brian Michael Bendis wrote the one-shot, and the miniseries that followed it was by Bendis and co-writer Brian Reed. Yeah, they all talked like Bendis characters always talked, which was pretty jarring when you have characters with unique voices like Dr. Strange in the mix.

In one of the issues--#4 maybe?--Namor's like, "Screw all you guys," and then almost drowns Iron Man. That part was good.

Scott said...

In one of the issues--#4 maybe?--Namor's like, "Screw all you guys," and then almost drowns Iron Man. That part was good.

What was even better was the Namor/Iron Man fight from the Submariner: Revolution miniseries. Iron Man put on his underwater armor and picked a fight with Namor at the bottom of the ocean, after Namor reminded Tony that nothing he had ever invented had ever stopped him.

Two huge jerks fightng, and one of them deserves an ass-whipping a little more than the other.

Anonymous said...

If DC and Marvel ever melded you just KNOW Namor would hang out with Black Adam.

awb said...

Anon,

Up until Black Atom murdered a whole country, it seemed that his characterization had evolved into a type of Namor like character. Had his own nation, was a badass, a jerk and his wife got killed...

Anonymous said...

re: 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:

That's cuz it's Bruce Willis - he may be only a mortal but he could show namor what for!

Bunche said...

You could not have nailed the appeal of Namor more concisely, and that story was the first exposure I'd had to what the character was originally like. My dad gave me THE GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES in 1972 when I was seven, and he knew I loved Namor — who at that point I only knew from the 1960's cartoons — so he wanted me to see what the character was like when he read him back in the days. Needless to say, that story was a real eye-opener, and I would love for Marvel to put out a Marvel Masterworks volume of nothing but Namor's pre-good guy conversion stories.

john said...

subby is my favorite marvel character...by a long shot. i really don't think he is a jerk. he just stands on the side of his underwater kingdom (later named atlantis). if america does something against atlantis, namor is against america and so forth. within the realm of american comic books, it seems which ever character takes a stand against america is usually seen as the bad guy...like this country is always right and always stands for truth and justice. also, to me namor just seems to be too complex a character for most of marvel's writers. they never really seem to know just what to do with him. they never can find a way to stay true to the character's nature and keep him in an ongoing title for very long. marvel doesn't seem to know how to promote the character either. it seems like his nature would make him a natural to appeal to the punk rock set. unlike other characters who often get upgrades in powers and abilities, marvel seems bent on reducing sub-mariner's abilities. in the golden age who could release water from his pores and put out the flames of the human torch. at various times he did not get weaker the longer he stayed out of water. marvel is very inconsistent with the character's abilities.

Ylem said...

"Go ahead -- blow your whistle!" Might as well read, "Go ahead, make my day!"