Story Title: “Here Is the Sub-Mariner!” (or possibly just “The Sub-Mariner”)
Published: April 1939
Writer and Artist: Bill Everett
The brainchild of writer/artist Bill Everett and billed as Marvel’s first Mutant, Prince Namor McKenzie/The Sub-Mariner owes his creation to Carl Bugos’s Jim Hammond/The Human Torch. Since the Human Torch could manipulate fire, and given Everett’s keen interest in anything nautical, the writer/artist desired to create an antithesis to the flaming android who could live on land and in the sea and possessed incredible superhuman strength. Initially slated to appear in this giveaway comic, only a handful of copies of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly were produced and, when the deal fell through, Everett took the character and his story to Timely Comics, the predecessor to what we now know as Marvel Comics. Over the years, Namor has made quite the splash (pun intended) in Marvel; he’s been both a defender of and aggressor towards humanity, serving on teams such as the Invaders and the Illuminati, and had run-ins and dealings with some of Marvel’s biggest heavy-hitters, such as the Fantastic Four, with whom he has a longstanding contentious relationship with. Namor has also made appearances in Marvel’s animated ventures, generally being involved with the Fantastic Four, and, while development of a solo movie for the character has often been fraught with issues, he’s due to make his Marvel Cinematic Universe debut in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Coogler, 2022).
The story of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, the “ultra-man of the deep” begins with a salvage ship, the aptly named S.S. Recovery, out at sea and investigating a wrecked ship under the ocean. Deepsea diver Rod nelson comes up from the depths and, after recovering in the decompression chamber, relates that the safe he was sent down to recover had been opened, and recently, too. As they’ve been out there for a week and seen no signs of any other ships, and there’s been no reports of any other ships in the area for three weeks, the captain has Nelson and Carley head back down there to try and figure out what, exactly, has happened, Carley goes on ahead and notices that the ship’s side hatch has been opened and, when he’s joined by Nelson, the two are stunned to spot slim, youthful swimmer in short-shorts mingling through the wreckage, apparently unfazed by the incredible pressure of the need for oxygen! The swimmer, the titular Sub-Mariner, is confused by the divers’ appearances; since they’re clad in heavy diving suits and equipment, he doesn’t recognise them as men or fish and assumes them to be some kind of hostile robot due to their vaguely mechanical appearance, the “control wires” running to their suits, and the “fire-weapon” (actually an acetylene torch to allow them to se in the murky depths) they hold. Consequently, the Sub-Mariner severs the wires, cutting Nelson and Carley off from their communications and oxygen supply, and then attacks them mercilessly, stabbing on with his knife and crushing the other’s head with his bare hands! Worried for the safety of his men, the captain sends another diver, Anderson, down to investigate but, when he gets down there, he frantically rushes to the surface upon seeing his crew mates’ bodies, unaware that he’s drawn the Sub-Mariner right to the S.S. Recovery!
When Anderson relates his story, the ship makes a hasty exit but the Sub-Mariner effortlessly twists its rudder and stops its propeller with his incredible strength (said to be that of “a thousand men”). Panicked, the captain desperately tries to steer the out of control ship but, unfortunately for the lives left aboard the S.S. Recovery, the Sub-Mariner forces it to crash and split in two on some rocks. Pleased with himself, the Sub-Mariner grabs Nelson and Carley’s dead bodies and speeds away to a secluded grotto by way of his winged feet. He brings his victims to a vast, chapel-like chamber where he’s met by a curious, robed, fish-like priest and boasts of his great victory over the mechanical, alien lifeforms. However, the Sub-Mariner (identified by the holy fish-thing as “Namor”) is shocked to find that his prey weren’t alien invaders or robots, but actually “Earth-men”. His mother, however, is more than pleased by his efforts; she commends him for striking a blow in the war against humans and even demands that the bodies at strewn up as an example. When Namor questions why she hates humans so much, especially as his father was an Earth-man, she relates that, while his father was a “fine man”, human beings are cruel and dangerous and almost drove their entire race to extinction. Back in 1920, Namor’s father, Commander Leonard McKenzie, led a scientific expedition out at sea and ended up unknowingly obliterating their society with depth charges and explosives. With the death toll climbing faster and faster, the elders sent Namor’s mother, Fen, to infiltrate the “white monsters” and bring an end to their actions since she most closely resembled a human. Leonard took pity on her, tried to feed and clothe her, without realising he was making her sick or that she couldn’t understand him. In time, though, she learned the language of men, and the two fell in love, all without the humans ever suspecting that she was returning to the water to stay alive and ferry back information to her people. Despite her warnings, her fellow Sub-Mariners tried to strike back and were no match for man’s weaponry, and Fen has spent the last twenty years preparing Namor, a being born of both worlds, to avenge his race on the world of man using his superhuman strength and in the name of his unduly oppressed people.
Jeez, well, okay…I can’t say I was expecting that! I’ve had some limited experience with Namor before; I know he’s a proud man and that he walks the line between hero and villain, someone who’s just as likely to sink half a continent as he is to save the world, but I never expected his debut story to involve him brutally murdering people and smiling about it! I have to address right off the bat that I couldn’t really find any decent scans of this issue, so the image quality probably isn’t all that great, but the artwork is actually pretty good for the time. It’s a bit crude and simple in places but it reminds me of pulp novels and comic books in its dark, subdued aesthetic; panels showing Namor underwater are really well done, with lots of blues and greens and murkiness to cast him as a frightening figure, and I really like the way Bill Everett conveys Namor’s hair when underwater and the simple, but effective, depictions of his incredible strength and speed.
As for Namor himself…well, we don’t really learn too much about him in terms o his character, but there’s quite a bit related to us and that we can intuit. Interestingly, the opening dialogue box describes him as “a youth of dynamic personality…quick thought and fast action” and that’s certainly true as he doesn’t even stop to consider that the divers might be men rather than robots and just murders them without a second’s thought. We’re also told, by the narrator and by Fen, that he’s able to live on land and under the sea, fly through the air and swim rapidly through the water, and we see some pretty fantastic and startling examples of how powerful he is. He can crush a man’s skull with ease and it’s nothing for him to manhandle an entire ship and cause it to explode in spectacular fashion, to say nothing of how nimble he is underwater. At first, he seems aghast and confused as to why men are deemed his enemy, but he seems perfectly willing to carry out his mother’s wishes by the final panel after hearing how destructive humans were towards his race. It’s a bit odd, though; Fen claims Leonard was a kind man and it seems she really loved him, yet at no point did she try to get him to stop his destructive bombardment of her people. I guess having it be so that Leonard captured, tortured, and raped her would be a little too dark for this already pretty damn dark story but it definitely feels like something’s off about Fen’s story, and the narrative ends with Namor apparently ready and able to strike swift and unrelenting vengeance upon humanity, which is a daunting prospect given the glimpse we’ve seen of his power.
What did you think to Namor’s debut story? Were you impressed with his brutality and power? What did you think to the backstory presented here and do you think there’s more to Fen’s tale? What are some of your favourite Sub-Mariner moments and stories from the comics? Are you excited for his live-action debut? Whatever you think about the Sub-Mariner, feel free to share it in the comments or on my social media.