4. The Coming of the Sub-Mariner

Issue Four, May 1962

Destroyed!! It’s all destroyed!! That glow in the water — it’s radioactivity!! The humans did it, unthinkingly, with their accursed atomic tests!”

A still angry Human Torch evades the Fantastic Four’s efforts to try to find him, eventually staying over at a flophouse where he picks up a comic from the 1940s. One of his roommates draws the comparison between the character featured and one of the other derelicts in the room, both of whom are Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor has amnesia however, and so Johnny throws him into the ocean to restore his memory, which it does. Shocked to discover his kingdom destroyed, he plans to wreak vengeance on the surface world by inducing Giganto, a monstrous whale-like creature, to attack New York. Ben Grimm is able to defeat it by strapping an enormous bomb to his back and exploding it in the creature’s stomach. Susan manages to waylay Namor and tries to convince him to end his vendetta against humanity. He refuses and Johnny is able to whip up a tornado that carries him and the dead corpse of Giganto back into the ocean.

The elements of the previous four issues are all still here — a brief recounting and showcase of the FF’s powers, the desirability of Susan, the growing popularity of the group (oddly, many of the people they encounter doubted their existence — another step away from their ubiquitous fame in issue 2), and lastly, a battle with a monster, but there are nuances of sophistication as well.

Reed Richards, smartest man on the planet and New York City resident, battling those odds

It is interesting to note that monsters have dominated the FFs’ storylines so far, rather than the sci-fi/space elements which their origin established. Even the Skrulls took on decidedly monstrous forms at one point in the story. Early Marvel has introduced many innovations already, but they are clearly edgy at the thought of abandoning what had until then been the bread and butter of comicdom — the monster feature. Which leads to the great visuals of the issue. Giganto’s rampage is still delightful, even in an age where the destruction of New York is fairly commonplace. The image of Ben Grimm’s excursion into the beast’s belly  with an atomic bomb strapped to his back is an eerie, tense moment, and one of the eeriest panels so far.

But where the writing surpasses the art is with the character of the Sub-Mariner.  Upon regaining his memory and returning to his undersea kingdom, he finds it destroyed by toxic waste and becomes wrathful and obsessed with revenge.

I don’t think it’s overstating it too much to say that this is nearly a Shakespearian reversal of character expectations. To take a previously known hero and recast him in the form of a villain with completely sympathetic motivations has set ‘Marvel’s First Mutant’ on a path that he has rarely strayed from in the past fifty years. Perhaps not a very nuanced course, but certainly ambiguous. Why shouldn’t Namor treat the surface world like the surface world has carelessly treated his?

This actually worked

Ultimately, Namor is halted by the face of the Invisible Woman, and it is up to the reader to decide whether that is just a tad too cheesy or not. Sue agrees to marry him in order to stop any further retribution, but luckily ‘her boys’ are there to push the Sub-Mariner back into the water. It’s no great bounds for feminism, certainly.


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