Wednesday 14 April 2010

Sub-Mariner #68. A Man Called Force

Sub-Mariner #68, A Man Called Force, John Romita
The Savage Sub-Mariner #68.
Was there ever a hero more frustrating than the Sub-Mariner? Here you had a character who, when he was in water, could go toe-to-toe with the Hulk, but, take him out of water for more than a few minutes and suddenly he was struggling to beat a stick of celery.

On top of that, he couldn't decide if he was mankind's saviour or its enemy.

And then there was his constant inability to save his kingdom from disaster. Had any nation ever befallen more misfortune than Atlantis under his reign? It seemed like every time he turned up, Atlantis was facing doom and destruction.

In The Savage Sub-Mariner #68, it was at it again. This time, during a fight with Orka, Subbie'd collided with a shipwreck that'd promptly released a nerve gas that'd put everyone in Atlantis into a coma. Needless to say Namor responds to this latest catastrophe with his usual calm by declaring he's going to destroy the surface world. Then a bunch of amphibious scientists tell him a surface-dwelling professor may be able to furnish a cure, and Subbie sets off to find him. On the way, he encounters Force a gloating imbecile in a power-packed suit who our hero soon flattens.

If the Sub-Mariner was frustrating he had the most appropriate artist possible in this issue because it's drawn by Don Heck and was there ever a more frustrating artist than Don? There were times when his artwork could be appealing. I've always had a fondness for his work on the early Iron Man, especially his last few issues before Gene Colan took over, and I like his early work on The Avengers too. On the other hand, at other times he could make a strip almost impossible to read. His last few issues of The Avengers before John Buscema took charge literally make my eyes hurt, with their jagged edges, scratchy lines, awkward angles and random blocks of dead black. Somehow black never seemed deader than when Don Heck used it. Happily, here, he's in his best mode. The art in this tale's never going to be accused of being a work of genius but has the simplicity and elegance that his work at its best possessed.

Of course the thing that leaps out at you about this tale is the Sub-Mariner's wearing clothes. Presumably the costume change wasn't too popular, as it was dumped fairly quickly but I've always liked it. After years of dressing like a Baywatch refugee, at last he was dressing like you'd think a ruler of Atlantis would dress. Admittedly they rationalised it as him having lost his power to breathe out of water and needing the suit to survive on land but, in the stories I've read where he's wearing it, there's never any dramatic use made at all of the the fact he can no longer breathe out of water, meaning the explanation's not really necessary and becomes just another addition to his failings out of water. Then again, a needless addition was only to be expected. After all, he was never nothing less than frustrating.

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