Comics: Namor Visionaries, Vol. 2
written & art by John Byrne
Marvel Comics, 2012
Back in 1939, Timely Comics published Marvel Comics #1, starring, among other characters, a pointy-eared almost-naked fellow named the Sub-Mariner, created by artist Bill Everett. The hybrid son of a human sea captain and a princess of the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner has been a major character in the roster of first Timely and then Marvel Comics for nearly a century – and in all that time, through countless artistic interpretations, Namor has consistently been the most fascinating comic book character in the entire genre. He’s massively physically powerful – super-strong, invulnerable, able to fly – and he’s the child of two worlds, the land and the sea, but unlike his immediate predecessor, Superman (also super-strong and invulnerable, also the child of two worlds, alien and Kansas), Prince Namor’s foremost attribute has always been his personality.He’s fought Nazis, yes, but he’s also led his Atlantean legions in assaults on the surface-world.
He’s Superman without manners. Put politely, the Sub-Mariner is – and always has been – a jerk.
The character has had his own comic book several times over the years, and every one of those creative runs is well worth any comics-reader’s attention, including the years in the early 1990s overseen by fan-favorite comics writer and artist John Byrne, famous for his sacrilegious re-vamping of the character of Superman half a decade before. His re-vamp of the Sub-Mariner, which reaches its pinnacle in the fascinating, entertaining issues collected here in this latest volume of Marvel’s “Visionaries” series, is entirely more successful than the ham-fisted slap-dashery he inflicted on the Man of Steel.
Byrne’s Namor is a 1980s-style businessman trying to live down all those ranting attempted invasions of New York. This Sub-Mariner wears the latest ’80s fashions (as do all Byrne’s other characters – readers should beware of padded jacket-shoulders and wrap-around skirts) and spends a great deal of time in the board rooms of his various land-held corporations. But Byrne was by this point an old pro, and he stirs in a great deal of action – and now-dated political worries. Prince Namor, remember, fought Nazis during the Second World War, so it’s natural that at the opening of this volume he’s disturbed at the idea of a re-united Germany. He flies there to allay his suspicions, but since this is the comic book world, those suspicions are abundantly justified – a group of Germans is every bit as disturbed, as one of them tells a recently-revived super-villain:
The time you slept, safe in your cocoon of suspended animation … that was a strange an difficult time for the Fatherland. Conquered … divided … hacked up and portioned out to the victorious allies like some tasty bit of knackwurst … But in the past months … a miracle! The virtual collapse of the communist monolith. The tearing down of the wall which once divided this city. Like a phoenix, Germany reborn, made whole. Still, the troubles are not done. The east is in a state of economic chaos like none seen in this country since the end of the second world war. That chaos threatens to disrupt, even destroy the strong financial base we in the west have struggled hard to build up since 1945.
1945 works its way into the best story of these collected issues, in which Byrne – always one of the most pleasingly nostalgic of comics writers – reunites the WWII super-team of the Invaders (itself a creation retroactively inserted into Marvel’s continuity by another nostalgia-obsessed comic book writer, Roy Thomas) in the contemporary era. Byrne also has a good time reviving the character of Iron Fist, the kung-fu superhero whose adventures Byrne drew in some of his earliest professional work in the field.
There’s high science fiction in these pages, rollicking action sequences, interesting takes on long-established characters, and – because it’s unavoidable when dealing with John Byrne – some truly atrocious dialogue. It was all a great deal of fun thirty years ago, and it’s every bit as much fun today. Marvel Comics is owed thanks for bringing them back to a new generation.
Prince Namor has no ongoing comic book series in 2012, but he’s everybody’s favorite guest-star in any number of other series – and for that same singular reason: you never can predict what this super-powered so-and-so is going to do next.