The Namor, The Sub-Mariner Silver Age Omnibus, Vol. 1 is the #56 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus of 2017 on Tigereyes’s Secret Ballot.
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What Is It? The Sub-Mariner (1968) was Namor’s first solo ongoing title after almost thirty years of starring in anthology series. It ran for 72 issues from May 1968 to September 1974.
Before that, Sub-Mariner split Tales to Astonish (1959) with the Incredibly Hulk for 32 issues from #70-101 from August 1965 to March 1968.
Past Ranking: This year is the book’s debut placement in the ballot results.
Creators: Written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas (with Archie Goodwin and Raymond Marais) with pencils by Gene Colan and John Buscema (with Werner Roth, Marie Severin, & Dan Adkins), inks by Vince Colletta, Dick Ayers, and Frank Giacoia (with Dan Adkins & Jerry Grandenetti), and letters by Art ‘Artie’ Simek.
Probable Contents: Most Silver Age omnibuses collect the contents of three Marvel Masterworks volumes, so this volume would almost certainly contain Marvel Comics #1, Daredevil #7, and Tales To Astonish (1959) #70-101, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner #1, and The Sub-Mariner (1968) #1-13.
However, Marvel has recently shown a little bit of adventurousness when it comes to expanding the contents of their Silver Age omnibuses in Daredevil, Thor, Amazing Spider-Man, so it’s not a stretch to think this would include another 10-14 issues.
The question is – which 10-14 issues! Click to expand a discussion of further content for this volume.
On one hand, adding a 4th Masterworks to this one would mean this omnibus line could be done in two books – a great idea! In that case, the added issues would be The Sub-Mariner (1968) #14-25.
On the other hand, Namor has an extremely interesting, deliberate progression of guest appearances leading up to him gaining his own features in Tales to Astonish. These stories reintroduce him to the Marvel Universe and play with the line between his heroism and villainy. Then, the added content would be Fantastic Four #4, 6, & 9, Strange Tales #107, Fantastic Four #14 & Annual 1, Avengers #3-4, Fantastic Four #27, X-Men #6, Strange Tales #125, Fantastic Four #33, and material from Avengers #16, and then the already-included Daredevil #7.
Except… why not get us an omnibus that can do both? If we don’t really need the full dozen issues leading up to Namor’s starring turn in Daredevil #7 to lead to Tales to Astonish. We could make do with Fantastic Four #4, 6, 14 (excerpts), & Annual 1, Avengers #4 (excerpts), X-Men #6, Fantastic Four #33, Avengers #16 (excerpt), and then the already-included Daredevil #7. That’s just five extra issues, so maybe we could do this and add the fourth Sub-Mariner Masterworks!
Want to know why I chose some issues but not others? I cover them all, below!
The detraction of stuffing those issues into a first omnibus is that it means we would probably need two more omnibuses to collect the remaining five Masterworks. On the plus side, since they would easily fit, we could probably get all of Super-Villain Team-Up into the third omnibus! For a full mapping, check out my Marvel series still awaiting an omnibus from the Masterworks Era (1961 – 1980).
Can you read it right now? Yes! This run is entirely covered by the Sub-Mariner Masterworks volumes, which are out-of-print but not terribly expensive – Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3. For more details, see the Guide to Namor, The Sub-Mariner.
Namor, The Sub-Mariner was Marvel’s original anti-hero – the tempestuous prince of an undersea kingdom long past its halcyon days who takes out his unending aggression on the above-the-waves world of the surface dwellers.
You may not know this, but he was also the first major hero that Marvel unthawed in the Silver Age, although this unthawing was metaphorical rather than him being relieved from an actual block of ice like Captain America.
And, actually, it was Namor who was partially responsible for freeing Cap!
But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Namor had been unseen for seven years after his final Atlas Era appearance in his anthology title Sub-Mariner Comics (1941) #42 in October 1955. However, in early 1962 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were searching for a foe for their new hit superhero title, The Fantastic Four. They came up with a doozy – reviving Namor, the historic foe (and sometimes ally) of the original Human Torch back in the Golden Age of Marvel!
As written by Lee and Kirby, it turns out that Namor had become an amnesiac drifter in New York, unaware of his princely past. After being uncovered (and shaved!) by the Human Torch and taking a dip in the ocean, Namor was back to his typically ornery self.
Lee added new dimensions to the Sub-Mariner’s thorny relationship with the human world. First, he was desperately alone, seeking the remains of his lost nation of Atlantis. Second, he was desperately infatuated with Susan Storm – The Invisible Woman! – and she was unsure of if she returned his affections.
Lee followed that narrative arc through a dozen guest-starring turns from Namor in the first few years of the Marvel Universe, introducing him to nearly all of Marvel’s cast of heroes save for Spider-Man and garnering invitations to join Doctor Doom, The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and even The Avengers before he graduated to splitting Tales to Astonish (1959) with The Incredible Hulk starting with issue #70 in August 1965.
After being tricked by the Atlantis usurper Krang in Daredevil (1968) #7, Namor begins his solo adventures wrestling through a Herculean series of tasks to reclaim the powerful trident of Atlantis’s rightful ruler in Tales to Astonish #70-76, all while Krang terrorizes the Atlantean populace in his despotic rule.
Initial artist Adam Austin is vastly different than the Jack Kirby house style of the day. To my eye, it seemed his art was much closer to later artists like Neal Adams and Gene Colan with his style of painting Namor’s shaded musculature with a swatch of tiny pencil hatches … and then I learned that “Adam Austin” was actually a pen-name of Colan’s! (Here’s a little background info on that.)
Gene Colan is among my favorites of Marvel’s Silver Age artists. He turns in some truly magnificent panels of the prince swimming through the water. I was stopped cold in my review several times to just stare at the artwork. He pencils the series through #85.
After the initial arc, Namor returns to the surface world, comes into conflict with the Secret Empire, and ends his Tales To Astonish run trying to enlist the aid of The Hulk but instead coming to blows with the jade giant. He then splits the one-shot Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (1968), which is actually just a pair of stories to set up the two heroes solo series – and ends in Namor’s seeming demise!
The solo series is gorgeous, drawn by John Buscema in his prime and starting with an impressive origin retelling from Roy Thomas (including Buscema’s take on Kirby’s somewhat rudimentary FF #4 panels). Afterwards, the title settles into the typical Marvel Silver Age rhythm of battling guest villains for an issue or two at a time before returning to status quo.
In terms of memorable epics, that initial run of Colan Tales to Astonish stories might be the pinnacle of this run, but honestly the art throughout both series is some of the best that Marvel has to offer in the mid- and late-60s.
Will we see this omnibus in 2018? No.
As much as we’d all love to see one of Marvel’s first heroes merit his own omnibus, Namor has never been a strong collected editions seller. If he’s going to move some units, they will be collections of his 1990 John Byrne series … which we’ll see a little later in the results.
Would I recommend buying it? Maybe.
I think a lot of this art truly merits oversize treatment, and on the whole Sub-Mariner’s adventures are more thrilling than Daredevil and Hulk in the Silver Age.
Really, this material is hamstrung by the fact that Namor wasn’t given the chance to continue his solo series into the mid-70s, which saw relegated him to Marvel’s B-list. That long absence meant he didn’t get modernizing development in the more grounded Marvel of the late 70s and 80s, and resulted in him being unable to sustain a series in the present day
If Namor was as popular as Daredevil, or even if he was experiencing a resurgence like Luke Cage, fans would be willing to swim for miles to get to an omnibus of this gorgeous artwork and solid early stories.
The Return of the Sub-Mariner!
Let’s take a closer look at the issue that lead to Namor gaining his own co-starring role in Tales to Astonish – which are essential and ought to be collected in this potential omnibus?
Fantastic Four (1968) #4 – Status: Essential!
While this issue has a lot of FF-focused plot between Human Torch and Thing, it explains where Sub-Mariner has been since the Atlas Era! He has been living life as a homeless drifter with amnesia while Atlantis lay in ruins beneath the waves. Johnny Storm discovers him and helps Namor regain his memory, but that also unleashes his rage against mankind!
This both echoes the epic battles between Namor and Golden Age Torch, but begins his decades-long flirtation with Susan Storm – The Invisible Woman.
Fantastic Four (1968) #6 – Status: Essential!
This issue opens with a cheerful Namor frolicking amongst dolphins, but that’s not why it’s essential – it’s also the first meeting of The Sub-Mariner and Doctor Doom! Doom goads Namor into renewing his campaign against man’s world due to the destruction of Atlantis (with a helping of his obsession with Sue Storm).
After a brief battle with the Four, Namor turns on Doctor Doom and they battle… IN SPACE! It’s pretty epic.
Fantastic Four (1968) #9 – Status: Skippable
This is a sillier sort of one-off Silver Age issue. The Fantastic Four are faced with a sudden bankruptcy, so Namor cashes in some of his undersea treasure to finance a movie starring the team so they can earn the dollars to pay off their debts.
While the movie is better than the 2015 version, this doesn’t add much to Namor’s story. He just dives back beneath the waves at the end.
Strange Tales #107 – Status: Skippable
At this point Strange Tales was a title split between Human Torch and other anthology stories. In this issue, Johnny Storm has a long weekend from college and the rest of the team don’t want to be bothered with him, so he decides to fly out to sea to deliver a “decisive defeat” to their foe Namor! It’s a silly non-event of a fight, and it includes Namor’s spuriously canonical ability to manifest the powers of various sea life.
Fantastic Four (1968) #14 – Status: Optional
Namor finds some traces of Atlantean civilization, but he’s interrupted in his mission by the commands of the Puppet Master! The Puppet Master plot doesn’t add much to his story, but there are one or two interesting pages about his hunt for his lost nation which lead right into the next story.
Fantastic Four (1968) Annual 1 – Status: Essential!
I think it’s crazy that this issue and Fantastic Four #4 have not been included in past Sub-Mariner Silver Age Collections! This sees Namor reunited with his people and re-coronated as their rightful ruler and introduces Lady Dorma and Krang. Then, with Namor once again the sovereign ruler of his nation, he immediately moves to consolidate his power by summoning the team to inform them that all of the oceans (and the airspace above them!) are now his domain – and he doesn’t plan to suffer any further intrusions from the world of surface-dwellers! In the end his gives up on his plot, causing his people to abandon him as a traitor!
Avengers #3-4 (1963) – Status: Skippable
Namor is used as a generic villain in #3, when he clashes with The Hulk and then with the full team after encountering Hulk undersea. This continues to the top of #4, where Namor is part of uncovering the frozen Captain America! The assembled Avengers fight him again, but the few significant panels for Namor find him reconnecting with a lost troop of Atlantean elite guards. I would consider excerpting a page or two from issue #4 just for the historic value of Namor’s involvement in Cap’s return, but otherwise this doesn’t add much to his narrative.
Fantastic Four (1968) #27 – Status: Optional
This issue works perfectly to continue Namor’s arc from the FF Annual, although it shows him at his most rape-y as he gasses and kidnaps Sue Storm to “plead his case” for her to marry him. Otherwise it’s a pretty typical clash, so not necessarily essential for a Namor tale.
X-Men #6 – Status: Essential!
Much as with Namor’s initial Doctor Doom team-up, this issue is historic purely for pairing him with the X-Men and Magneto for the first time. It also makes explicit that he’s ruling over a deserted country, aided by just a few remaining royal guards.
Strange Tales #125 – Status: Skippable
This issue is a brief Torch and Thing battle against Namor that’s as much about recapping the Fantastic Four Annual as it is about any unique story elements.
Fantastic Four (1968) #33 – Status: Essential!
This issue show Namor reunited with his nation, and has Dorma pleading with the F4 to aid him against Attuma! While this is largely a Fantastic Four story, Namor has a few significant passages – plus, this works as a prologue to his actions in Daredevil #7 and his subsequent solo stories.
Avengers #16 – Status: Skippable (but could use an except!)
This critical Avengers issue adds Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver to the team. Namor’s participation is on just 2/3rds of a page, where he turns down their offer to join the team – a fine excerpt.
Daredevil #7 – Status: Essential!
The Warlord Krang persuades Namor to pursue his people’s right to live above sea in the sun again, but he tries to take a peaceful remedy by approaching Matt Murdock to sue the human race for their oppression! When Murdock responsibly informs him that his case would have no legal standing in the court of law, Namor goes on a rampage – thinking he’ll get his day in court if he can force the armies of man to arrest him. Daredevil fights him to a stand still in his new red suit, and nearly kills himself in the process. Namor finally withdraws from battle in respect of his foe, returning to Atlantis (unaware of Krang’s treachery while he was away).
The 2017 Most-Wanted Marvel Omnibus Secret Ballot Results