Investigating the Sub-Mariner’s Soviet Connections
Americans of 1963 lived in a very threatening atmosphere. I’ve alluded to this before in a former article about the xenophobia of the Cold War and its effect on the construction of comic books, especially in the issues of the Fantastic Four. Though this fear is prevalent in other contemporary comic book lines, no Marvel superhero issue, before the first Fantastic Four Annual, depicted a full invasion of the American homeland. Not to mention, a comprehensive backstory that fully explains the origin and grievances of a villain. This is a very special issue. Special, because it is an allegorical illustration that depicts how much the threat of thermo-nuclear war penetrated every facet of the Sixties’ American society.
As far as the Sub-Mariner is concerned, the question has always been: is Namor actually a villain or is he legitimate in his vendetta against humanity? Surely, he has a lot of valid complaints. In his backstory, for whom five pages of this very special thirty-six page issue are devoted, we learn that Namor is the child of star crossed lovers; an Atlantean princess and a Human fisherman. The actions of this fisherman destroyed the first underwater city and caused the war between Atlantis and the land. This callous disregard for the underwater civilization continues to the point where the Atlanteans are relegated to under water nomadism. No wonder the first act of the new king, Namor is crowned at the outset of the story, is to declare war on Humanity.
True to Fantastic Four form, as things get heated under the water, the Four go on vacation. As always, they seem to live in a bottled up selfish world. While on vacation, Namor drags the Four down into the pits of the Atlantic and extorts them to become heralds for the coming invasion. The Sub-Mariner Prince then bans all humans from the oceans creating a standoff with the world powers. This sea blockade is very timely, as it had only been a year since the Cuban Missile crisis and the power of a blockade is fresh in the minds of the readers: though nuclear weapons are replaced by aquatic monsters and Soviets are replaced by Atlantean water breathing hordes.
Naturally, an international stalemate like this, leads to a discussion at the UN. However short sighted it is for Namor to release the Fantastic Four back to North
America, the United Nations debate is the most inspired writing I have experienced in Marvel, thus far. At one point during the call to war, led by Richards, Kruschev bangs his shoe upon his desk. This actually happened in 1960, although nobody really knows why. This ‘call to war’ by Mr. Fantastic comes from a more selfish place then an logical plan. Reed is doing this out of his selfish need to destroy Namor, who’s obsession with Sue Storm is well known, because just a few panels earlier, Reed, admitted that the Atlanteans had vastly superior technology; meaning he is knowingly raising an army to be slaughtered.
That superior technology is ably shown when the Atlantean forces take New York with out a single casualty. The Atlanteans easily repel the meagre defense organized by the Four and enforce under water law on the air breathing New Yorkers. This is the ultimate fear for the Americans of the time: an invading force with a provisional government that changes how civilians live. Of course, it’s unknown if this is what would happen if the Soviets ever hypothetically did invade, but it would safe to bet that this scene aligns with what they thought would happen.
Reed easily repels the invasion with his own advances in technology but this invasion is not the main battle of the issue. The later skirmish between the Four and Sub-Mariner over the Atlantic is the meat of the issue. As the superhero fireworks ensue over the Atlantic, Sue Storm deals with incarceration deep beneath the waves. When she escapes she doesn’t quite make it to the surface and is on the brink of death. This stops the fireworks above and both sides immediately turn to rescuing Sue. This rescue is the best part of the issue. When Reed and Namor put their issues aside in an effort to help Sue, they are laying down their selfish ideologies to save the innocents that got caught in the middle. This war pretends to be about an ancient grudge, but it is actually driven by the love of a woman making it irrational. By extrapolation, if this comic is read as an allegory for Sixties issues, perhaps the creatives are suggesting that the ‘Red Scare’ is irrational. Irrationality does nothing but hurt both sides. The Fantastic Four nearly looses Sue Storm and Namor looses his kingdom (and also Sue, as well.)
The most frightening part of this whole thing is how the cycle of irrationality continues. When Namor leaves the hospital after rescuing Sue, the newly liberated New Yorkers attack him. Because of this, the prince vows to fight another day. The cycle of hate is infinite. Even though Namor has lost everything for his people’s revenge and his need to be loved by the Invisible Woman, he is willing to loose even more to save face.
Hate begets hate. Namor is no villain. He is the victim of hate. A hero without a home makes a villain.
A powerful and important issue.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Pros: The allegorical nature of the story. The fully fleshed and honest depiction of the characters. Namor’s and Atlantis’ back story.
Cons: Jack Kirby’s lackadaisical regard for background.
- Giant Size Super Villain team-up #1 (jasonkretten.wordpress.com)
- Interview: Stan Lee! (mancave.cbslocal.com)
- The Killray Casts: Fantastic Four (thekillray.com)
- Aquaman vs Namor (sliceofscifi.com)
Posted on November 19, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged Atlantis, Cold War, Fantastic Four, Invisible Woman, Jack Kirby, Marvel, Marvel Universe, Namor. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.