A Hymn To Democracy: Fantastic Four vs. Sub-Mariner
By: Julian Munds
Sub-Mariner maybe the most politically important character of the early Marvel Silver Age. Every time I read one of his stories, I am astounded by the importance he holds in the Marvel Universe’s development and his affect on how comics, as a medium, work. This issue, which is his Silver Age debut, establishes him as the first super-villain in Earth-616 (the main Marvel continuity). His villainy, however, is tenuous at best.
As I have said before Sub-Mariner has many legitimate grievances. Humanity has destroyed his home world with a hydrogen bomb, they have killed off all the monsters that were his friends and they have begun to trespass through his ancestral home with their iron boats. These are all legitimate complaints, so, how does he end up being the villain?
The answer lies in his politics. Namor is first and foremost a tyrant, the natural enemy of the ‘freedom loving, gun-toting, apple eating American,” and here lies his advocatus diaboli.
Though many claim that democracy, as we know it, was born in the Athens of Pericles this is a false belief. The Athenian voting populace was a small collection of land owning rich men. I think it would be far fairer to claim that this great ancient bastion of hope was run by an oligarchy. The seeds of American democracy, however, owe their origins to the prevailing beliefs of individualism and reason that arose during the Enlightenment.
In the Enlightenment period, the 18th century, the Western World saw a decline of the autocratic institution called the church and a rise of revolutionary democracies. The Western World had spent the last millennia believing that the individual was inconsequential in the face of divinely propped up monarchies. Suddenly, these masses were being told that if they worked together they could found greater empires and achievements then anything created by one man. This belief became the backbone of American rhetoric for two centuries.
In the beginning of the Marvel Universe, the Fantastic Four capitalized on this most American of ideals and became poster boys (and woman) for the power of teamwork. What is exceptional about the teamwork of the Four is its realism. It is no easy thing for the FF to maintain.
In this story, the Human Torch, the vain glorious youth who’s ego would shape how teens would be treated by Marvel in the early 60s, has abandoned the team because he felt under appreciated. During the directly preceding issue, Johnny Storm saved all of New York from certain destruction when he melted a marauding enchanted wax statue. Torch felt like he wasn’t properly recognized for this brilliant feat. The other members of the team spent the first half of the issue scouring the city for the little flamer.
Relations within the Four have never been good. When they do find Johnny, sopping wet from having rejuvenated the amnesiac Namor, Thing immediately has a go at him. The team perpetually squabbles, but it is through their internal debates that they reach unique strategies. For instance, in this issue, they arrive at a brilliant plan to strap a nuclear device on Thing’s back and march him down the throat of the leviathan Giganto. This is a plan that is debated and arrived upon, one which is decided through the democratic process, and it is successful. This is just one example of the power in the democratic ‘think tank’ that is the Four.
On the other hand, lies Prince Namor. As I said before; Namor has no family, he has no kingdom and he has no friends.
Actually, that is not quite right. He does have Giganto.
However, Namor doesn’t treat him as a friend. He refers to the beast as a slave. This isn’t the only being that he needlessly subjugates.
When Namor first meets Sue Storm, while she is attempting to steal the horn that controls Giganto, he tells her that she would make a glorious queen serving him. In his world, he is the ‘be all and the end all.’ He is not attempting to destroy the human race for its past transgressions but to rule them. Namor wants to be the only one in charge. He unabashedly is a tyrant.
Sub-Mariner is not a Dictator. Dictators are humans who exercise absolute power. They, too, are products of the Enlightenment. Sub-Mariner is a product of right to rule by blood. He has no reason, beyond divine writ, to truly be in charge. Namor is a monarchist.
His villainy stems from the original American fear of monarchical authority. He represents everything Americans revolted against during the Enlightenment.
It doesn’t matter that Sub-Mariner has legitimate grievances. He is a villain because he represents the worst threat to the United States, absolute monarchism. The Fantastic Four represent the ideal American political system: the turbulent teamwork of democracy.
They are a hymn to Democracy.
Story I Read: “The Coming of the Sub-Mariner” (Fantastic Four #4 May 1962)
Rating: 5 out of 5
Pros: The depth of the Submariner, the heroism of Ben Grimm and the face off with Sub-Mariner.
Cons: Not enough back story for Namor (This is remedied in Fantastic Four Annual #1)
Upcoming Review: “Prisoners of Dr. Doom” (Fantastic Four #5 Jul. 1962)
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Posted on December 9, 2013, in Marvel, The Fantastic Four and tagged Fantastic Four, Giganto, Human Torch, Marvel, Marvel Universe, Namor, United States, Western World. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.