Fantastic Friday: The Ballad of Atlantis

Re-reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. I was debating on whether to include the annuals as part of this re-read, but this first one is just too good not to. Strap in for a whopping 72 pages of undersea Atlantis action in Fantastic Four annual #1.

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Since he first appeared in issue #4, Namor the Sub-Mariner’s whole thing has been his search for Atlantis, and his lost people. As the annual begins, he’s already found them and retaken his throne. This is told to us in three eye-popping splash pages in a row (a rarity in those days), in which Namor addresses throngs of loyal Atlanteans. He announces that his next step is to make the human race pay for its crimes against Atlantis. It’s here that we meet Namor’s long-lost beloved, Lady Dorma. We’re also introduced to Krang (No, the Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a different Krang), an Atlantis warlord who would’ve been heir to the throne if Namor hadn’t returned. He also has the hots for Dorma, which further complicates matters.

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Meanwhile, at FF headquarters, we get the requisite the-heroes-have-an-excuse-to-show-off-their-powers-for-a-few-pages thing. It’s the classic bit where Johnny pulls a prank on Ben, Ben chases Johnny through the building, only to have Reed and Sue calm them down. Reed says the team is due for a vacation. Because this is Reed we’re talking about, his idea of a vacation is to head out to sea and investigate reports of a giant sea monster. They’ll be investigating while on board a cruise ship, though, so it’s all good. After more horsing around on board the ship, the sea creature makes an appearance, so the FF move to confront it not in one of their cool vehicles, but in a rinky-dink little rowboat.

More sea monsters of various shapes and sizes appear, trapping the FF in a giant bubble made of a membranous substance. (I just successfully spelled “membranous” correctly on my first try!) At the ocean floor, our heroes are confronted by Namor, who is now flanked by a bunch of Atlantean soldiers. By controlling the “swift jet current,” Namor sends all boats in the world back to shore, essentially trapping humanity on the surface. This bubble the FF are trapped in is actually a transparent water rocket, which transports our heroes all the way back to their headquarters. Reed places a call to the United Nations (he gets the number by dialing information first), and arranges an audience.

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Next thing we know, Reed is addressing the U.N., telling them how dangerous Namor is. (There’s a funny bit where the Russian delegate smashes his shoe on the table, shouting “Nyet! Nyet! Nyet!”) The next person to take the stage is a Dr. Falton, who gives us a complete history of Atlantis. Homo Mermanus, he explains, went through a similar evolutionary process as Homo Sapiens, except with the ability to breathe underwater. The evolved, developed civilization, and so on. On one fateful day, a human, Captain McKenzie, encountered an Atlantean, Princess Fen. Romance blossomed, and along came Namor, described as “the first known mutant of our time.” Reed interrupts, saying that Namor must be stopped, and humanity must fight back. That’s when Dr. Falton reveals he’s actually Namor in disguise (shocker)!

Namor declares a full-on invasion on the surface, with Atlantean vessels popping up at New York’s docks, unloading hundreds of Atlantis soldiers onto the streets. They quickly take over, rounding up all the citizens and locking police up in their own cells. They launch an attack on FF headquarters covering the building in rubber cement (isn’t that the snot stuff that kids use in arts n’ crafts?). While Johnny breaks free and fights back, Reed reveals that these attacks are happening all over the world. Reed sends Ben outside to take some hostages, which he does by punching out the first few Atlanteans he sees. Reed figures out that the soldiers cannot breathe on the surface without their helmets.

Reed does his thing in the lab, inventing a device to take out the enemy, but there’s an accident, and, despite his stretchy powers, he’s nearly crushed under the heavy machinery. With him out of it, it’s up to Ben and Sue to operate the machine. They get it working. It evaporates the water inside the Atlantis warriors’ armor, sending them all back into the ocean.

Most issues of Fantastic Four would end right there, but this is an annual, and there’s a whole lot more action on the way. Namor is furious, and he goes straight for Reed. Despite his weakened condition, Reed fights back, and is soon joined by Johnny and Ben. They put up a good fight, but Namor manages to grab Sue and flee back the sea.

Namor keeps Sue hostage aboard Krang’s undersea craft, where Dorma is waiting for him. Both Krang and Dorma can tell Namor cares for Sue, and they don’t like it one bit. Namor leaves Sue with them, and flies off to fight Reed, Johnny and Ben. Our heroes pilot their new amphibious “U-Car” out the middle of the ocean, where Namor attacks them. It’s a long battle, with a lot of back and forth, and a lot of hard punches being thrown. Namor ultimately damages the U-Car, leaving the three heroes there to drown.

Aboard Krang’s ship, Dorma decides she’s had enough of Sue, and tries to drown her. Sue escapes from the ship, but gets tangled up a “clump of kelp,” and is running out of air. Ben and Namor work together to save her, but she’s in bad shape and in need of a hospital. Only Namor can fly her all the way back to the city fast enough. Reed and Ben do a quick repair job on the U-Car and head back to New York. There, they find Namor kept his word. Sue is in the hospital, feeling better.

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In the final scene, Namor returns to Atlantis, finding it deserted. Feeling betrayed, Krang and Dorma have taken over and led the Atlanteans off to a new home, far from Namor. “Am I to be a king without a kingdom – a man without a home?” Namor asks. “A sea creature – yet less than human? Is there never to be a place for me – on the surface or the sea?”

Unstable Molecule: Reed’s genius helps drive back the Atlantis army, and he puts up a good fight physically, too. Even when injured, he managed to coil up like spring, bounce around like a ball, and even land a punch or two right across Namor’s jaw.

Fade Out: Yeah, Sue gets taken hostage again, but it doesn’t seem so bad this time, because the love triangle between her, Reed and Namor has been building since issue #4. She tries to see the good in him, even after all he does in this issue.

Clobberin’ Time: I love how easily Ben mops up the Atlantis goons when Reed asks for a hostage. He gives Namor a real good pounding during the big fight at the end.

Flame On: Johnny gets in on a lot of action, putting up a good fight against Namor. He uses his flame to ignite an undersea volcano as a weapon against Namor. He later somehow uses his flame as a type of radar (???) to locate Krang’s ship.

Trivia Time: This is the first appearance of Lady Dorma, whose on-again off-again with Namor will go on for several years.

At the beginning, Reed says the team has never encountered a giant sea monster. I count at least two they’ve met before, Giganto in issue #4 and the huge octopus in issue #14.

Not only do we learn that the name “Namor” means “Avenging Son,” but this annual also establishes the long-running joke of how Namor’s last name is actually “McKenzie.”

This annual is the first time Atlantis is mentioned by name in relation to Namor. Up until now we’ve all understood it to be Atlantis, but previous issues merely described an undersea kingdom, without stating its name.

Fantastic or Frightful: I know I said before that Namor isn’t my favorite character, and he still isn’t, but this is one of the best Namor stories – if not the best. It’s a big, rip-roarin’ adventure yarn, with a lot of action and surprising twists and turns. Despite all world-spanning crisis with Atlantis soldiers marching on the streets of Manhattan, the real crisis is personal at the end, with the dueling love triangles of Reed-Sue-Namor and Namor-Sue-Dorma. These conflicts build to a head in the final few pages where Namor makes a choice to save Sue, which comes back to haunt him. This is top notch Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four action.

Next week: Don’t be a hater!

Want more? Check out my book, CINE HIGH, now available for the Kindle and the free Kindle app.

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About Mac McEntire

Author of CINE HIGH. amazon.com/dp/B00859NDJ8
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