13th Mar2020

‘Marvel Snapshots: Sub-Mariner #1’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Alan Brennert | Art by Jerry Ordway | Published by Marvel Comics


Us old fan boys do tend to do a lot of moaning about some of the comics put out these days, (what those fanboys actually mean is those comics aren’t the same as the ones they used to read decades ago, so clearly no good), but now and again a little nugget is thrown up that seemingly all fans, young and old, can enjoy. I’ve been so excited waiting for the Marvels Snapshots launch. The original Marvels series, by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross, enjoys something of a well deserved legendary status these days, and took the simple idea of using a normal person to document the Marvel Universe. That time round it was a photographer, Phil Sheldon, witness to some of the iconic moments in Marvel history. Marvels: Eye of the Camera followed a few years later, not as good but still a fun return to the concept. Now we have a similar return, but this time looking at different eras and characters every issue. Let’s take a look.

The Sub-Mariner was an obvious choice to start with, being one of Marvel’s original heroes, debuting in the very first comic from Timely, Marvel Comics #1, in 1939. I’d just like to add here that kudos must go to both Curator Kurt Busiek and Editor Tom Brevoort for getting Alan Brennert in as writer and Jerry Ordway as artist. Brennert wrote some amazing comics back in the early 1980’s before becoming a top writer for television and then an acclaimed novelist (spotting a pattern here), and nobody draws classic superhero stuff better than Jerry Ordway, one of my favourite artists. If you are going to do a project like this, you do it right, and all the pieces look perfect to me.

It’s 1946, and the war is over. Betty Dean, Namor’s ‘sort of’ girlfriend, has been reunited with her brothers back from the war, something of a bitter sweet thing. Brother Jimmy has lost a leg, brother Lloyd suffers from a permanent case of bad nerves and heavy drinking, though third brother Frank Ray seems more well adjusted. Like I said, bittersweet. Betty heads off for her date with the newly returned Namor. This is a slightly less brooding Namor than we see running around the Marvel Universe these days. This younger Namor is a member of The All-Winners Squad, happy enough on the surface world it seems, and happy enough to go on a day out with Betty Dean. Off to Palisades Park it is, a famous fairground theme park in New York, for a relaxing day out.

Or not. Clearly the time apart, where Namor has been fighting the Nazis in Europe and seeing the death and destruction there, has left a slight rift between the two. Though Namor won’t admit it, his experiences in the war have left him with a lot in common with Betty’s brothers. Luckily for him, villain Verrill Shark has shown up to rob the Park, and Namor can use his fists to feel better. Betty calls in the All-Winners Squad to help evacuate the Park. The Whizzer, Human Torch and Toro, Miss America, and of course Captain America and Bucky all arrive to help, which is just as well as Namor starts to go a bit off the deep end literally. He doesn’t just want to defeat The Shark, he wants to kill him. After damaging a lot of the park, Namor finally stops, and we learn why he has returned from Europe a different man.

In Bitburg, Germany, Namor and the All-Winners liberated a concentration camp, and Namor was the first to see it. He was shaken to his core, horrified that anyone could do that. Being Namor, he won’t talk about it, won’t confide in anyone, not even Betty. Betty starts to realise that Namor will always be this way. Fiery, uncontrollable, angry. She’ll always be the one who has to talk reason, to excuse his actions, to rationalise it all. She needs to talk about things as much as anyone. Betty Dean was always Namor’s conscience, she always made him see reason, calmed him at the right times, but no one did that for her. So, ultimately, this is both a story about regret, for those who both died in the war and those who returned a little bit different, and about the almost unnoticed hero’s like Betty Dean. Namor’s name is on the front of the book, but this is her story.

Alan Brennert packs a lot into the page count, and tells both a thought provoking story and a conventional ‘fight the villain with guest stars’ one. It works well, and gives us an idea of why Namor is just so angry at humanity all the time. The inner monologue of Betty Dean is pitch perfect too. Ordway’s art is absolutely perfect for the book, suiting the 40’s aesthetic very nicely. Beautiful clean lines, realistically drawn characters (no over-muscled Lobo clones here) and art that really draws us in to that time and place.

A love letter to the Golden Age, beautifully written and drawn.

****½  4.5/5

Marvel Snapshots: Sub-Mariner #1 is out now from Marvel Comics.


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