Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Issue number four is one of the most famous comics of all time, bringing back the Sub-Mariner, a classic villain from the 1940s, and making him a major player in the Marvel universe.
The story begins in “a secret skyscraper hideout in the caverns of New York.” Isn’t “caverns of New York” some kind of oxymoron? Ben, Sue and Reed fret over where Johnny might have gone after quitting the team at the end of the last issue. Using the individual sections of the Fantasticar, they search the city for Johnny. This is this issue’s excuse for the “the characters show off their powers for several pages at the beginning of the story” thing. Reed questions a motorcyclist, checks out a baseball game, and peeks into a passing train. Doesn’t he have high-tech scanning equipment he could be using? Sue stops searching and takes a break, enjoying a soda. Not much urgency here. Ben smartly goes to a garage where Johnny likes to hang out. He and Johnny have a brief fight, but Johnny escapes after Ben has another “turns human for a few seconds only to turn right back” moment.
Johnny takes up residence in a crappy men’s shelter in the Bowery, where he chuckles over an old 1940s comic book about the Sub-Mariner, and Johnny remarks that there really was a Sub-Mariner, before his time. One of the bums there has a resemblance to the character, and then shows superhuman strength after a brawl breaks out. Johnny carefully uses his flame to burn off the man’s beard and, sure enough, it’s the Sub-Mariner. Amazing coincidence, right? Perhaps not, as Stan Lee writes in this issue, “Thus does destiny toy with the lives of humans.”
Johnny makes the questionable decision of returning the Sub-Mariner to the ocean. Being undersea again causes Subby’s memory to come back. We learn that his real name is Namor. He swims down to Atlantis, only to find it destroyed by the surface world’s nuclear testing and its people long since fled. Namor returns to Johnny and announces his intent to unleash revenge on the human race. Johnny signals his teammates, and, just like that, they’re a team again.
Namor returns to the ocean, recovers a magic horn, and uses to summon Giganto, a massive whale-like monster. We get a couple of pages of Godzilla-style action as Giganto rises from the ocean and trashes part of the city. Ben comes up with a plan. Get this: In the space of two panels, Ben hurries over the nearest military depot, and returns with a nuclear bomb strapped to his back. A soldier is seen helping Ben with the huge bomb, so Ben didn’t steal it. What, does the army just hand out nukes to any superhero who knocks on its door? No matter how it’s possible, Ben now has a nuke. When Giganto stops for a rest, Ben walks right into its mouth, so small from the monster’s point of view that the monster doesn’t notice him. The Thing has a Baron Munchausen moment where he finds a bunch of shipwrecks in Giganto’s belly, as well a whole other sea monster running around in there. Ben fights it, which has got to be a strange experience – fighting a sea monster inside another sea monster. The nuke goes off, brutally killing Giganto as Ben barely escapes. Insert comments about ridiculous nuclear physics here.
Sue swipes the horn from Namor, but he catches her. He immediately gets the hots for Sue, calling her the loveliest human he’s ever seen. She tries to appeal to his better nature, but Namor, in his arrogance, refuses and says he will summon so many sea monsters that the surface world will fall back into a second stone age. Johnny has heard enough, so he flies upward so hard and fast that he creates a “man-made tornado” which sweeps both Namor and the dead monster back into the ocean. Why didn’t he just do that to start with? Namor swears vengeance, and Reed swears that the FF will be ready for him when he returns. We’ll see how ready in a mere two issues.
From here on, Namor becomes one of the biggest names in the Marvel universe, battling most of the classic marvel heroes. He’s been both a bad guy and a good guy, joining the Defenders, and, most recently, the X-Men. He’s been an exile from Atlantis, a leader of Atlantis, and even spent some time a corporate CEO. Despite his importance, Namor has never been a favorite character of mine, as I always felt the combo of swim trunks, pointy ears, and those little wings on his ankles made him look more goofy than intimidating, but there’s no denying his place in comics history. We’re going to be seeing a lot of Namor during this re-read, so better get used to him.
Unstable Molecule: Reed does hardly anything in this issue, aside from pestering motorcyclists and commuters while searching for Johnny.
Fade Out: Sue steals the magic trumpet horn from Namor, but it’s only after she turns visible that she gets him talking.
Clobberin’ Time: Ben, walking into a giant monster’s mouth with a nuclear bomb strapped to his back? Hardcore.
Flame On: Johnny makes the questionable choice of returning Namor to the ocean, considering that doing so endangers mankind, but at the end he saves the day by tossing Namor back into the ocean a second time. His reunion with the team is something of a non-event, considering how dramatic the breakup was at the end of the last issue.
Trivia Time: Namor really does have a long pre-history at Marvel going back to the ‘40s, where he was as an enemy to the 1940s Human Torch, an android. This makes it fitting that so much of the issue is based on interaction between Namor and the FF’s Torch.
Fantastic or Frightful: This is the issue where things really start to gel. There are plot holes, sure, but it has that high adventure, anything goes feeling of the best FF tales. Kirby’s artwork really shines, especially with all the undersea monster action. It gets even better next issue.
Next week: Doom!
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