MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #26: PRINCE NAMOR, THE SUB-MARINER

They say we like people for their good qualities and love them for their flaws. There may be no Marvel character who better exemplifies this principle than Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Appearing in the very first Marvel comic, MARVEL COMICS #1, in a story written and drawn by a young Bill Everett. (Namor’s title, the Sub-Mariner, is pronounced mr-nr, as in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” as opposed to as in submarine.)

From the beginning, Namor was a contradictory, angry mess. The offspring  of a human sailor and an Atlantean mother, Namor was amphibious, with Caucasian skin tones (as opposed to his mother’s blue skin), pointed ears and elven eyebrows. He possessed superhuman strength and endurance, which made sense since he lived deep underwater and wore only tiny swim trunks, but he also had a feature unrelated to his human or Atlantean heritage: tiny wings on his ankles which allowed him to fly. It’s an entirely whimsical, Golden Age idea which makes no logical sense, even in a world where radioactive accidents grant more superpowers than they do cancer. But the strange detail made him master of land, sea, and air.

But there was no place Namor was truly at home. Although a prince by birthright, Atlantis considered him a half-breed, and the surface world wanted no part of him, either. So he was a belligerent brat, attacking Manhattan with tidal waves and monsters from the deep over perceived slights. When the US entered World War II in real life, Namor decided he hated the Axis most of all the airbreathers.

In the 1960s, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the Sub-Mariner, initially as a villain, when the Human Torch found Namor living as an amnesiac vagrant in a flophouse. Although he hadn’t aged, years on dry land had erased his memory, but one good dip in the ocean set him back to his petulant, pompous self.

Constantly vacillating between mankind’s defender and its greatest foe, Namor is somehow nonetheless an engaging character.  Like a beloved drunk who gets violent when he’s had too much, Namor’s friends in the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, all embrace him when he calms back down.

I depicted Namor with gills, which John Byrne introduced in his Namor series of the 1990s. He also eliminated the wings and suggested too long in either environment triggers Namor’s mood swings, which struck me as over-explanation. The Hulk is the repressed, raging id of  a bookworm scientist, unleashed with the force of an atomic bomb. Namor? He’s just moody.

I hope you’ll swing by for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY!

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MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #25: WOLVERINE

The short, hirsute, surly Canadian Wolverine is one of Marvel’s best-loved characters (and, sadly, their most over-exposed). He first appeared in THE INCREDIBLE HULK #180 in a cameo and fully in #181 in 1974, supposedly the result of a bet that writer Len Wein couldn’t write a phonetic Canadian accent in a comic book. Luckily for everyone, he didn’t try. Artist Herb Trimpe drew the issue, but John Romita designed the character’s distinctive costume and signature claws; three, foot-long blades that protrude from the back of Wolverine’s hands.

A few years later, the character was dusted off and added to The X-Men’s roster where his job for several years was to launch himself head-first into battle and be knocked unconscious. It was during writer Chris Claremont’s tenure on the book that Wolverine changed and became a richer, more interesting character. He took years to add details here and there: Wolverine’s vague backstory as a soldier and woodsman; his history with the Weapon X program which gave him his metal-laced bones and claws; his love of Japan and its culture. He was intriguing because, unlike most superheroes, we didn’t know his origin. If Claremont did, he kept it to himself. We encountered Wolverine as his friends did: a dangerous fighter and loyal friend, but otherwise, we knew next to nothing.

Of course comics are too thuddingly obvious to leave anything about any character a mystery, so eventually all the unspoiled wilderness of Wolverine’s past was filled with garbage. He went from an interesting enigma to someone whose every moment of existence has been chronicled and cross-referenced. Until nothing of interest is left.

Here’s what you need to know about Wolverine: he comes from Canada. He is a mutant whose superhuman healing and heightened senses attracted unknown parties (the Weapon X Program) to experiment upon him, lined his bones with metal and gave him claws. He spent time in Japan, a place he feels very at home. He’s a member of the X-Men who frequently travels the world on his own adventures, usually out of a sense of obligation to others.

He’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does isn’t very nice.

I depicted Wolverine, in civilian clothes, looking tired. Because I think he would be, don’t you?

Don’t miss tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY- it’s sure to make a big splash!

MIGHTY MARVEL MAY #24: THE HULK

Doc Bruce Banner,
Belted by gamma rays,
Turned into the Hulk…

Stan Lee has said that the Hulk, co-created with artist Jack Kirby, is based on Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, the good man who becomes a monster, and also on Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein’s monster, the misbegotten, persecuted creature. Those influences are fairly evident. What is absent from all but the original versions of the Hulk are his Cold War origins. Doctor Bruce Banner was a meek, bookish man who used his genius to build weapons of mass destruction and, caught in the blast of one of his bombs, became one himself.

The Hulk is Banner’s alter-ego. When angered, Banner becomes a seven-foot, thousand-pound, musclebound, lime-green, simple-minded version of himself (in most versions: he originally changed at nightfall, was gray-skinned, and merely terse, not simple). As he grows angrier, he gets stronger,often proclaiming “Hulk is strongest one there is!” After the anger has faded, he reverts back to a scrawny Bruce Banner by the side of the road somewhere, his clothes in tatters, barely able to remember what he’s done.

In the 1980s, writer/artist Barry Windsor-Smith proposed a story which would reveal that Bruce Banner had been physically abused as a child. The revelation would suggest that the Hulk was not merely Banner’s repressed anger, but a physical manifestation of the anger of an abused child, to some degree explicating the Hulk’s childlike demeanor. Marvel ran a version of  the story, but without Windsor-Smith (and interesting account of the behind-the-scenes story of how Marvel passed and then ended up using the story anyway can be found here).

The Hulk’s adventures both permit us to worry for Dr. Banner, the victim of violence who perpetuates violence without meaning to, and vicariously enjoy the demolition when he transforms and bellows “HULK SMASH!”

I hope you’ll return for tomorrow’s installment of MIGHTY MARVEL MAY even if tomorrow’s installment isn’t very nice.