Essential Sub-Mariner Vol. 1

sub_mariner_1First Published: September 2009

Contents: Daredevil #7 (April 1965); Sub-Mariner stories from Tales to Astonish #70 (August 1965) to #101 (March 1968); Iron Man story from Tales of Suspense #80 (August 1966); Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 (April 1968); and The Sub-Mariner #1 (May 1968)

Key Creator Credits: Stan Lee, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Bill Everett, and others

Key First Appearances: Vashti, Destiny, Walter Newell, Lord Seth

Overview: IMPERIOUS REX! Kneel before the prince of Atlantis, Namor the First, a.k.a. the Sub-Mariner! Having been a frequent foe in the pages of the Fantastic Four, Namor becomes the hero of his own feature in 1965.

The majority of this Essential collects the Sub-Mariner’s run of stories in the pages of Tales to Astonish, an anthology featuring two characters each month. So each story is roughly 10 pages, and Namor is featured on alternating covers. At this time, Namor has regained the throne of Atlantis, and must do everything in his power to protect his people from the likes of Krang, Attuma, and Byrrah, as well as the air-dwellers above the seas.

What makes this an interesting collection is we finally get to see him interacting with other heroes in the Marvel Universe. The first book in this collection, Daredevil #7, has Namor seeking counsel to represent him in a suit against mankind. Murdock & Nelson turn down the request, due to lack of evidence, and Daredevil is forced to stop the rampaging Namor. The art in this issue is done by the legendary Wally Wood.

During the TtA run, we get a team-up with Hank Pym and the Wasp, from the pages of the Avengers. A few issues later, we are treated to a team-up crossover with Iron Man, who was a co-feature in the Tales of Suspense book at that time.

Of course, when you are sharing a book with the Hulk, and both features are written by Stan Lee, it’s only natural that the two forces would cross paths multiple times. Who wins that battle? The readers of course. (It also serves as a pre-cursor for things to come, when the two become teammates in the non-team known as the Defenders.)

What makes this Essential?: Once again, this is a book that you pick up first for the art. Gene Colan’s art just leaps off the page. We get the noble Namor who is looking to protect Atlantis and the oceans from the surface-dwellers, which is just one of his many aspects. However, the stories just don’t stand out to me as memorable. Little bits of pieces of action strung together for ten pages, only to be continued in the next issue. It’s disappointing that the Essential line has ended, because I think a second volume of Sub-Mariner would have taken us into a more interesting era of the character, with a greater focus on the Atlanteans around him – not to mention the art by Buscema and Severin. Guess it’s time to hit the back issue bins!

In The Beginning….: While this collection focuses on Namor in the Silver Age of comics, the Sub-Mariner is one of the most important characters from the Golden Age of Marvel Comics. In fact, he made his first appearance in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). Then known as Timely Publications, the company that would someday become Marvel introduced in this first issue the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Vision, the Angel, Ka-Zar and more to an audience hungry for new characters and concepts. The initial press run of Marvel Comics #1 was 80,000 books, but the popularity of the book sent it back for a reprinting. That second print run was for 800,000 copies.

Footnotes: The Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man as the co-feature (along with the Hulk) in Tales to Astonish #70. Following issue #101, Tales to Astonish was given over to the Hulk, keeping the numbering but changing the name (The Incredible Hulk #102).

Daredevil #7 is also reprinted in Essential Daredevil Vol. 1.

Tales of Suspense #80, Tales to Astonish #82, and Iron Man & Sub-Mariner #1 are also reprinted in Essential Iron Man Vol. 2.

If you like this volume, try: the 1990s Namor series by John Byrne. Following numerous runs with many of Marvel’s top characters (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight), Byrne turned his attention to one of Marvel’s first characters. As with any new project, one gets the opportunity to re-invent the character to fit the story. (For example, just a few years ago, Namor was re-invented as “the first mutant”, giving him a good excuse to hang out with the X-Men.) In this situation, Namor becomes a shrewd businessman with his own corporation, going head-to-head with eco-terrorists and others looking to exploit the oceans. While generally depicted as the antihero in many comics, Namor is truly a hero in this title, albeit working towards his agenda, which is not necessarily the most right or fair course of action. With Byrne at the helm, you can expect lots of cameos from the Fantastic Four, Namorita, Captain America and others. The first 18 issues have been collected into two Marvel Visionaries trade paperbacks, which are still readily available.

Essential Defenders Vol. 1

Essential Defenders Vol. 1

First Published: September 2004

Contents: Doctor Strange #183 (November 1969); The Sub-Mariner #22 (February 1970), #34 (February 1971) and #35 (March 1971); The Incredible Hulk #126 (April 1970); Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) to #3 (June 1972); The Defenders #1 (August 1972) to #14 (July 1974); and The Avengers #115 (September 1973) to #118 (December 1973)

Key Creator Credits: Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Ross Andru, Steve Englehart, Bob Brown, Len Wein, and others

Key First Appearances: Valkyrie, Nebulon

Story Continues In: Essential Defenders Vol. 2

Overview: Doctor Strange! The Hulk! The Sub-Mariner! More than men, these beings border on being forces of nature. Brought together against their wishes, these heroes unite as one to form the first non-team in comics history, the Defenders!

A loose story line drifted across the three titles of the featured characters, all written by Roy Thomas, over a two year period before the trio of characters came together under the Defenders banner in Marvel Feature #1. Following three appearances in Marvel Feature, the Defenders graduated to their bi-monthly title. What made the team unique is that they didn’t necessarily consider themselves as an organized team. The Defenders did not have an organized charter and rules like the Avengers. They did not have matching uniforms like the Fantastic Four. Rather, they happened to be characters who hung out at Doctor Strange’s home and were pulled together at different times to fight foes (mainly magical characters) that threatened the Earth.

The Silver Surfer joined the “team” in issue #2 and is now considered to be one of the core members of the team. Longtime members Valkyrie and Nighthawk soon appear, and the regular cast of characters is set for the next few years.

The highlight of this volume is the Avengers/Defenders War, which ran for four months across both titles. This was one of the first major crossovers between two Marvel titles that last more than two or three issues. Hawkeye was hanging out with the Defenders at this time, so it made for a lot of interesting match-ups between the two teams (Captain America vs. Sub-Mariner, Swordsman vs. Valkyrie, Iron Man vs. Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch vs. Silver Surfer, etc.). The format for this storyline became the template for future crossover events for years to come.

What makes this Essential?: For a team that was not officially a team, the Defenders have a long history in the Marvel Universe. Primarily composed of characters best described as “anti-social” or “loners”, the members fought each other as much as they did their foes. There are a lot of times where this title feels more like an extension of the Doctor Strange book, as his villains are the team’s primary foes.

I think if you are a fan of the team or the main characters (especially Doctor Strange) then give this volume a read. If you are coming to this for the Avengers/Defenders crossover, then pick up Essential Avengers Vol. 5 or the Avengers/Defenders War collection.

Footnotes: Doctor Strange #183, The Sub-Mariner #22, The Incredible Hulk #126, and Marvel Feature #1 are also reprinted in Essential Doctor Strange Vol. 2.

The Incredible Hulk #126 is also reprinted in Essential Hulk Vol. 3.

The Avengers #115-#118 and The Defenders #8-#11 are also reprinted in Essential Avengers Vol. 5.

Tom Hagen and the Rutland, Vermont, Halloween parade make an appearance in Marvel Feature #2. For more information on Tom Fagan, see Essential Avengers Vol. 4.

If you like this volume, try: the Defenders series from 2001. Created by Kurt Busiek and Eric Larsen, this series once again reunited the core members of the team under a spell — Yandroth manipulated a spell so that Doctor Strange, the Hulk, the Sub-Mariner, and the Silver Surfer must reunite any time the world is in danger. This volume ran for 12 issues when it was then renamed The Order, which ran for six issues. These were numbered #1-#6, but they also continued the numbering from The Defenders with #13-#18. This story mixed a lot of humor into the action. Sadly, this volume has not been collected into any trade collections so you may need to dive into the back-issue bins to track this down.

For a look at the 2008 series The Order, please take a look at Essential Defenders Vol. 3.