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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Undersea Heroes Part 1: The Sub-Mariner

Today's Part 1 of our "Undersea Heroes" theme week, where we'll take a look at The Sub-Mariner.

Picking the week's subjects was relatively arbitrary; I simply thought of the most famous of the water-based superheroes (it was a thin list, let me tell you) and gave each of them a slot. This is not intended to be a complete list of all the undersea superheroes that have ever existed; but these will be the ones most fun to talk about.

I decided to pick a random comic starring each of the heroes, and take a look at what one of their adventures read like. So, like I said, let's start with Marvel's answer to Aquaman--Namor, The Sub-Mariner!:
First Appearance: Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (1939)

Created by: Bill Everett

Powers: Flight, super-strength, communicate underwater

Group Affiliation: The Invaders, The Defenders

Likes: Being left alone, brawls, Sue Storm

Dislikes: Surface dwellers, pollution, the Hulk

Fun Facts: His first solo title, at 72 issues, ran longer than Aquaman's (63). Plus his final issue was also written by Steve Skeates!

Sample panel from the above issue of Sub-Mariner:
Since he debuted a full two years before Aquaman, one could argue Aquaman was DC's answer to the Sub-Mariner, not the other way around. Those people would be wrong.

In the Marvel Universe, Sub-Mariner is much more near the top-tier of characters, in terms of sheer power. While Aquaman is very, very strong, Namor has fought people like the Hulk, Thor, and Hercules--Aquaman's simply not in that class (which is why he had to cheat in the DC vs. Marvel mini-series).

Current status: Got a solo mini-series in 2007, is currently appearing (in flashback form) in various Marvel mini-series and issues of Captain America as a member of The Invaders.

Could he beat Aquaman?: Possibly. As I've said above, Aquaman's strength is simply no match for Namor's, but since Aquaman has taken some hits in his life (pretty much every day since around 1977), he has learned to use all his wits and abilities. Namor, used to getting his own way and being very sure of himself, can get way too cocky.

After all, in their first--and so far only--encounter, in DC vs. Marvel, Arthur actually beat Namor, thanks to his finny friends.

Tomorrow: Undersea Agent!


ktotheris10 said...

I am an enormous fan of Namor, and I'm glad to see him on the Shrine (again!).

No Abe Sapien this week?

Wings1295 said...

Never got into Namor, just wasn't cool to me, like Aquaman.

rob! said...

Sorry, no Abe Sapien...I had to whittle down the list to four spots, and I really wanted to make room for Pirana! :)

Luis said...

Namor is one of the few Marvel characters that I really like. He always had his own personality. He was a brooding tough as nails guy WAY before Wolverine.

Anonymous said...

Aquaman and Namor have something else in common; you mentioned that Skeates wrote the last issue of SUB-MARINER, #72(9/74). For a long time there was a controversy about page 3 of that issue, that it was an unauthorized Aquaman appearance in a Marvel comic.
The basic plot of that issue is that a satellite fell out of orbit and into the ocean two years earlier. In it was a bit of harmless alien protoplasm that latched onto it in space, but which horribly mutated into a Namor-punching monster due to pollution (bad pollution!). The controversy comes from a panel showing a bluish-green glove pressing a destruct-button on a control panel somewhere on Earth, which explains how the satellite fell out of orbit (somewhat). The next panels then try to brush off the obvious question, "Why did you just allude to what's obviously the plot to a completely different story?" Many claimed it was Skeates reciprocating for a clandestine Namor appearance in Aquaman, or concluding a story he had hoped to write before Aquaman was cancelled in 1971. Any hardcore Aquaman (or Justice League ) fans out there know of a c.1972 story where Aquaman foiled the villain by destroying a satellite by remote control? The date places it between the end of Aquaman's first series and the start of his regular feature in Adventure Comics, but he was a regular in JLA and made spotty guest appearances in World's Finest, Teen Titans, Adventure and Lois Lane, none of which I own. Any clues?

Diabolu Frank said...

I like Namor, and he's a much easier character to write than Aquaman, so you'd think he'd be the more popular of the two. The two major things I believe undercut Sub-Mariner is his abrasive personality (sometimes adopted by Aquaman) and his tendency toward avoiding surface-dwellers in favor of near exclusive underwater characters in his solo series (as happens in the worst Aquaman comics.)

Since Namor is pretty much never a pure villain, it makes him seem wishy-washy and posturing. Too often, his heel-turns are prompted by outside manipulation, making him look at gullible. His goals don't seem to very much: strike back at imagined wrongs, bang Sue Richards, and pretend to be noble. While in an impressive power class, his range of powers is pretty limited, leaving him something of a generic bruiser who can fly and swim. He's not the best at anything in the Marvel Universe, so there's always a list a varying lengths of guys who can job him at most any skill. He's always the Thing, never the Hulk. Despite being a prince, he's about the least inspiring leader anyone could ask for.Also, no matter how tough the avenging son of Atlantis may be, his fashion sense makes the straight world uncomfortable.

Despite the assertions of Entourage, Aquaman is a confirmed heterosexual, and he plays best as a smiling, mild mannered classic hero. He may seem simplistic in concept and vague in characterization to the uninitiated, but the public readily accepts him as the pure-hearted aquatic hero to beat. He's non-threatening and easily digestible for red and blue states alike. While he may be maligned as a fish out of water at times, it's recognized Aquaman regularly interacts with the surface world and his fellow heroes, making his adventures more "relevant" to readers. To more learned audience, Aquaman's complex, tragic continuity reveals a conflicted, unpredictable character. He can certainly assume a leadership role, and has strong supporting characters to aid him in his pursuits.

Finally, Namor would win in a straight fight, and Aquaman is sometimes lunk-headed enough to go that route. If he thinks it through though, the Sea King has too many powers and resources at his disposal for Sub-Mariner to prevail.

BentonGrey said...

This should be a fun week Rob! Good post Frank, and I'd agree with your conclusion that Aquaman could take Namor in a fight if he used more than his fists.

Here is a comic thread in which yours truly sets out a similar argument, complete with photographic documentation.;)


Anonymous said...

Aaargh! I should have gotten lost in your archives a long time ago; you already answered the Sub-mariner/Aquaman crossover question-- in a post for Feb 16, 2007. It was the last issue of AQUAMAN [#56(3-4/71)] that continues into the last issue of SUB-MARINER. After posting yesterday, I found it under 'Steve Skeates scripts'. It even reproduces the button-pushing panel. Thanks anyway.

Sphinx Magoo said...

Just to add some info...

When Namor first appeared, Jack Kirby added a few details to his powers to make him more interesting. The one power I do remember is his ability to generate electricity like an electric eel... I believe he had a few other abilities but I don't recall them right now. Plus writer like Roy Thomas seemed to forget them as well, which added to Namor's rep as a flying marine muscleman.

HollyH said...

Okay, here's what I don't get about the Aquaman vs. Namor comparison (and I've now read that "DC vs. Marvel" piece in which Aquaman wins)...

Why does everyone say that Aquaman only won that fight by "cheating"? I don't get that at all.

Here's why: okay, everyone knows that Namor, as outlined, counts "massive super-strength" amongst his default powers (i.e. near-Hulk-level strength). That's part of what defines the character. So, fine. In any fight, it's completely fair of him to use all powers available to him.

So why isn't it "fair" for Aquaman to use all the powers available to HIM? Unlike Namor, his powers include "getting nearly any sea creature to help him". That's an arrow in his quiver, to mix superhero metaphors. You fight Aquaman, esp. anywhere near a big body of water, and you would be a fool to think "all I have to do is contend with his physical level of strength and ability to breathe underwater". If you forget the fact that fighting Aquaman also means fighting ten-ton whales, then dude, that is your own fault. That's what makes Aquaman AWESOME, so long as you remember that one of his powers isn't just "talks to fish" but rather "has access to an army of powerful creatures".

If the terms of that fight had been laid out as "this must involve nothing but your own bare fists", well, that would have been one thing. But those fights weren't outlined that way.

So I don't see why everyone puts it as "Aquaman had to cheat", when nobody would say that, for example, Batman cheated in a fight because he pulled out something useful from his utility belt, or used the Batmobile. Pound for pound, literally, Aquaman's arsenal simply buries Namor.

Wings1295 said...

Holly - You rock!

Anonymous said...

what about Neptune Perkins ?Nobody respects the Neptune.