Wednesday, November 5, 2008
History of the Marvel Universe--May 1962
FANTASTIC FOUR #4
When Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, was created by artist/writer Bill Everett in 1939, he was definitely an anti-hero. The half-human prince of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, he waged a sometimes very violent war with the surface world.
World War II changed that, as Namor joined the Allies in fighting Nazi tyranny. Namor faded away after the war ended (there was a brief, unsuccessful attempt to revive the character in early '50s), but in 1962, he made his comeback.
Namor is the first of the classic WWII-era heroes to reappear in the modern Marvel universe. Suffering from amnesia, he's found by Johnny Storm in a Bowery flop house. (The Torch is still annoyed with the rest of the FF after the conclusion of the last issue and he's hiding out from them there.) Johnny recognizes him and drops him in the ocean, causing his memories to resurface.
Namor quickly returns to Atlantis, but finds the city deserted and in ruins--the Atlantians had been driven from their homes by underwater nuclear tests.
So Namor quickly returns to his anti-hero roots, calling up a giant undersea monster and ordering it to attack New York.
This is a fun and classic story, not just because of the re-introduction of Namor, but also because of a fast moving story with great Jack Kirby art. As I've mentioned before, Kirby is incapable of drawing an uninteresting monster and he really goes to town in this issue. Every single panel in this issue looks incredible.
Also, Ben Grimm finally gets a moment to really shine--he volunteers to strap a nuke to his back and carry it into the giant monster's mouth to plant the bomb in the creature's belly. That might very well be the coolest plan ever.
Namor is finally driven away, but not before he decides he's fallen in love with Sue Storm. That's a plot point that will return to bug the heck out of Reed Richards in later issues.
Namor works very well in this issue. He's technically the bad guy, but Stan Lee and Jack Kirby endow him with a sense of nobility. He'll return frequently, sometimes as an opponent to the FF and occassionally as an ally.
Bruce Banner, caught in a burst of gamma radiation, soon discovers that he turns into the grey-skinned monster known as the Hulk everytime the sun goes down. Only his companion, teen-aged Rick Jones, knows his terrible secret.
It's clear throughout the short six-issue run of Hulk's original series that Lee and Kirby didn't quite know what to do with this new character. The Jeykl/Hyde concept is classic and always worthwhile, but the devil is in the details. The idea of becoming the Hulk only at night would have been very limiting in terms of plot construction. Also, Banner would continue to hang out at the remote Army base at which he works, keeping his identity as the Hulk a secret. This was another unnecessary limit to the character's potential.
Also, it took awhile to come up with interesting villains for the Hulk to fight. In this first issue, he ends up battling some Commie spies. All well and good by itself, but hardly worth the Hulk's time.
Still, the story is pretty good. Perhaps most importantly, the plot depends on Banner using his intelligence as much as the Hulk using his strength.
It would take awhile for the Hulk to find his proper place in the Marvel Universe, but it would eventually happen.