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Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

Sub-Mariner & The original Human Torch

Bill Everett created comic’s first major anti-hero in the form of Namor, kid of a human and a blue-skinned Atlantean. He never fit in either world and typically took out his anger on the surface dwellers, blaming them for being silly and warlike. As it happened, his mother Fen was a princess and in time, her kid grew to become King of Atlantis known to lots of as the Sub-Mariner.

While this was developing, Carl Burgos told of a Brooklyn laboratory which was the birthing place of an extraordinary example of human ingenuity. Prof. Phineas Horton called a press conference to show off the world’s first android, a human-looking mechanical man. The problem was, once exposed to oxygen, the android lit up, becoming a human torch. Public outcry led to his being encased in concrete. However, he escaped and followed his programming to do good.

Outcasts. Marvels. The creations arrived in marvel Comics #1 in 1939, the first comic book using from pulp schlockmeister Martin Goodman. (Conventional wisdom says Subby debuted first in motion picture Funnies weekly but recent scholarship has cast some doubt on that.) While rival publishers used clean-cut heroes and dastardly villains, Marvel’s assortment of characters was quite typically a mixed bunch with these two leading the way.

Among their fans was young Roy Thomas who discovered them years later but they verified influential, so when opportunity presented itself, he used them time and again as a writer for marvel Comics. He paired them, with Captain America and others, in his 1970s The Invaders, but never really explored their rich histories until the late 1980s/early 90s. In a pair of miniseries, Saga of the Sub-Mariner and Saga of the original Human Torch, Roy thoroughly worked his way through their convoluted, contradictory histories. Now, as part of the company’s 75th anniversary celebration, the two projects are collected together in Sub-Mariner & The original Human Torch.

Joining Thomas for the excursion through 392-pages of history is penciller rich Buckler and co-writer Dann Thomas (on Namor only). Buckler’s energetic undersea artwork is embellished by Bob McLeod, Roy Richardson (#5), and Mike Gustovich (#8) while Danny Bulanadi, Alfredo Alcala (#3), and Romeo Tanghal (#4) take on the flame-thrower.

The Saga of the Sub-Mariner #1

Sub-Mariner’s convoluted background is neatly divided in two, with the first six chapters covering the golden Age appearances starting with his youth and his first encounter with surface men; Namor’s first check out to new York (Marvel mystery #1-4); his first fight with the Human Torch (Marvel mystery #8-9); and, then his first partnership with the Torch (Marvel mystery #17 and Invaders #6). After a chapter covering the 1950s appearances, we step on to his rediscovery by the modern day Human Torch, Johnny storm from wonderful four #4, followed by his battle with the Hulk against the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (Avengers #3-4), his short tenure with Magneto’s Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (X-Men #6); and then his his countering the overthrow of Atlantis by both Attuma and Krang (Fantastic four annual #1, Tales to Astonish). His Silver Age exploits also include his trial by the humans of the surface world, his battle with Daredevil (Daredevil #7), and his initial encounter with Namorita (Sub-Mariner #47-70, Defenders #12). The final issue retells the events of Super-Villain Team-up #1, this time from his point of view. So, the chronological smoothing over of Namor’s story ended in the 1970s, and could sure use some sprucing up between then and now.

The Saga of the original Human Torch #1

Meantime, the far shorter Human Torch chronicle expands on the debut story and then recaps his 1940s exploits, including finding Toro, who inexplicably demonstrated the same powers (later retconned into being an early mutant) and their work with the Invaders, All-Winner’s Squad and young Allies. Roy devotes the third installment to the end of world war II and the fact that marvel actually well established that it was the Torch who killed Hitler in his bunker. The final issue covers the Torch’s 1950s occupation during the hero’s brief revival. It had been explained that he had been placed in suspended animation until an atomic bomb blast reactivated him. In one of the earliest examples of retconning, it was explained that the Torch met Toro after world war II, which is why he was still a teen in stories a decade later. In the end, though, he deemed himself a danger to society, went to the desert and wert nova. and there Roy ended his story. Of course, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived him in wonderful four annual #4 beginning a new cycle of complicated retcons and retcons to retcons that would make you dizzy.

These stories do a great job recounting their histories and feature some tight writing and solid art so this acts as a great primer (unless you want to spring for the Sub-Mariner and Human Torch Masterworks while they still are in print).


Sub-Mariner & The original Human Torch

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

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