Thursday, February 05, 2015

Marvels: Fantastic Four #27

"The Search for Sub-Mariner!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(June 1964)

It's been sometime since we've caught up with Namor's story; the last time we saw him was in the seminal Avengers #4, when he attempted to get revenge on Earth's Mightiest Heroes and was thwarted by Captain America. In that issue, Namor found a contingent of Atlantean troopers who were still loyal to him, and even now they remain by his side as he broods over his lost kingdom and his tragic loneliness, for which there can only be one cure: for Sue Storm to rule by his side as princess!

Yes, it's finally time to find out where Sue's loyalties lie: with the undersea prince, or with the leader of the Fantastic Four.

Namor's approach is sadly old-fashioned, even for 1964: he simply walks into the Baxter Building, fights Ben and Johnny (in a series of wonderful reminders of just how truly powerful the Sub-Mariner is), and kidnaps Sue, taking her back to his castle. The bitter irony here is that Reed Richards wasn't at headquarters because he had gone shopping for an engagement ring, finally intending to make his feelings clear and ask Sue to marry him. And when he gets back and hears Ben and Johnny's story, he flies into a rage, angrier than we've ever seen him, and planning on no less than tracking Namor down and murdering him,

In fact, the boys are so worried about it that they decide they have to get to Namor first so they can try and prevent the two from killing each other. And Johnny figures the best way to do that is to try and contact Dr. Strange and ask him to use his magic to locate Namor's castle under the sea and send them there.

This is Dr. Strange's first interaction with the larger Marvel Universe, having never crossed over with other characters before. I don't think his presence is necessarily integral to this story, but it doesn't feel like Stan Lee is forcing the character in here in order to get him exposure and more readers. Sure, he's selling the guy, but Strange has had a lot of time to develop and become a fascinating figure over in Strange Tales for several months now, so his appearance here is as a character and not an attempt to force you to accept a key part of the Marvel Universe. Basically, the opposite of any appearance in other comics we've had so far by the X-Men, whom Stan seems increasingly desperate to turn into a hit.

It's surprising how well Dr. Strange fits into the issue, considering that he's a magical character. No ambiguity, no dithering about physics that aren't understood yet: Dr. Strange is a character whose powers are rooted in magic. It seems like it would be an odder fit for a book that's very much science fiction than it actually turns out to be. Somehow, this irrational character slides right in.

Also, this is the first time we've ever seen anyone other than Steve Ditko draw Dr. Strange.

Kirby's Strange looks like Clark Gable.

Meanwhile, Namor is trying to plead his cause with Sue, begging for 24 hours together so she can make an informed decision. Despite his barbaric kidnap of her, he has shreds of decency and honor, asking for a chance and promising that, should she refuse him, he will return her to her home.

Even using his magic, Dr. Strange doesn't manage to find Namor in time. Reed finds the Atlantean first and attacks, and their fight is actually pretty brutal. Neither of them is holding back this time, and the battle allows Jack Kirby to really show off some of what Reed is capable of. I feel like Reed Richards gets written off as less threatening in modern comics, but here Kirby gives us the WWII veteran who knows how to hurt a man, and the scientific genius who can find new ways to adapt his powers to, well, cause maximum pain. There are a few occasions where the only thing that really saves Namor is his superhuman strength; the prince can take a lot of hits and still survive.

Seriously, in this fight, Reed makes dozens of sharp lances out of his skin. He. Is. Pissed.

Dr. Strange uses magic to teleport Ben and Johnny, who attack Namor's soldiers to try to even things up. Sue, sadly, is imprisoned in a glass case and relegated to the sidelines for most of the battle, but at least when Johnny frees her she's trying to use her force field to find a weakness and free herself. She's also the one who ends the fight altogether, throwing her field around her teammates so that Namor can't get at them.

Honestly, it's a relief when the fight's over, because Reed wasn't letting up, and Namor had just decided he was going to have no choice but to kill Reed, and frankly it's a little insulting that they're not letting Sue make her own decisions here.

And now it finally comes out, in no uncertain terms: Sue loves Reed. She felt sympathy and affection for Namor, but her heart has always belonged to Reed.

The answer so enrages Namor that... well, we never find out what, although he and his soldiers move in. Dr. Strange magically intervenes and puts the Fantastic Four on their sub, and as they head to the surface, Ben wonders if Sue only said what she did to stop the fighting. Reed says he doesn't want to know. Sue is shaken and doesn't want to discuss it, but thinks to herself that Reed is a blind fool for not seeing how much she loves him.

Little does she know... the ring's been bought. But Reed gets that now's not the time to bring it up and, full of uncertainty and anguish, resolves to give her her space. For now.

Other notes:

:: This issue opens on Reed's latest invention: a thought projector. So we get a big splash page of Reed imagining Sue in a bathing suit in a pin-up pose. Great art, but come on, Reed. No wonder Sue feels objectified rather than loved.

:: Namor to the Human Torch: "Only the fact that you are the brother of the one I love has kept me from making you pay the price for your insufferable insolence!" Also, I don't know if I've ever mentioned it (I probably have), but I always picture Namor with Michael Ansara's voice.

:: Namor's soldiers briefly abandon him because of his obsession with a surface woman, but decide to continue serving their lord and return.

:: Sue also uses her powers to save Johnny from being drowned when a couple of Atlantean soldiers try to flood a hallway.

This was prime soap and adventure stuff, with an intense, extended fight scene that actually came out of the characters rather than an appearance of the month's new villain. I really dug this one. This is still the flagship book for a reason. Great cameo by Dr. Strange. (And on a personal note, it's fun to be writing these again and I hope to get them out more regularly, as reading these old comics and talking about them is some of the most fun I had last year and the year before. The fog of antidepressants is over, so I'm alert and can do this again.)

Next time: two of Thor's biggest uninteresting villains team up against him.


bliss_infinte said...

I've missed your Marvel posts too. Glad the 'haze' is gone and you're feeling up to posting these again. BTW, have you bought your tickets to "Fid'y Shades of Grey" yet? I know you've been looking forward to this one with anticipation!

SamuraiFrog said...

Picture Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor when I say: "Heh, heh, heh... no."

Bob Rutledge said...

" I always picture Namor with Michael Ansara's voice."

Ooh, perfect!

I'm also glad you're feeling up to these Marvel-ous (see what I did there? ;) ) posts again.