The Avocado vs. the Sub-Mariner: Fantastic Four #4

Hello, true believers! I’ve decided to start up my article series about Silver Age Marvel Comics again, this time with a different format that only features one or two comics per article. That should make it easier for me to get it out on a regular basis, along with my long-suffering Steven Universe Rewind articles.

Anyway, where were we…

He’s already reached the water, Johnny, you’re a little too late. Also, Reed could easily just catch him with his stretchy arms. He’s not trying very hard. [Observation courtesy of Glowbug.]

So here we have another major character introduction: Namor, the Sub-Mariner, prince of Atlantis and all-around drama queen. He’s actually a legacy character from Marvel’s Golden Age that they brought back to be a sometimes-enemy, sometimes-ally of the Fantastic Four.

I didn’t know much about this character, because he is not part of the MCU and I hadn’t read any modern comics that feature him. He turned out to be a fairly delightful part of these early comics, though. Silver Age dialogue and plots mesh well with a character who runs around perpetually shirtless, declaring a one-man war on the human race.

In the opening of the comic, the Fantastic Four are currently the Fantastic Three. At the end of #3, Johnny and Ben had an argument, and Johnny ditched the Four to go off on his own. Now, Reed and Ben are tensely arguing over whose fault it was, before the Four split up to go look for him.

Today on Reed Richards is a Jerk, we have him suddenly yanking an innocent man off his motorcycle, which appears to be traveling at full speed and which Reed makes no attempt to stop.

Meanwhile, Johnny is working on cars with his friends. Only a teenage boy would think it’s a great idea to play “look how close I can put my fire next to this giant barrel of gasoline without exploding it.” This is why we shouldn’t let teenagers have superpowers.

Ben finds him, and they fight, mostly because Ben is angry that Johnny mocks his appearance. The fight ends when Ben suddenly changes back into a human. This happens almost once per comic in these early issues, and usually it has some explanation, but it really doesn’t here. It’s mostly just a pointless interlude, especially because Ben immediately changes back.

Johnny flies off to the Bowery, where he checks into a seedy “Men’s Hotel” in order to lay low. He just coincidentally finds a 40s comic book about the Sub-Mariner.

For the record, this is what an actual Sub-Mariner comic from the 40s looked like:

The weird cropping is unfortunately how the comic was uploaded to Marvel Unlimited, but you get the idea.

In these early comics, most of the characters exist both in the “real world” and as comic-book characters. The explanation is that comics writers in the Marvel Universe are writing about real-world events, sometimes embellished. So Namor the Sub-Mariner was an actual, legendary person who I’m sure we’re not going to coincidentally meet within a page.

Anyway, the guys in the “hotel” start talking about how one of the bums is incredibly strong but doesn’t like talking to anyone. When the other guys bother him, he easily takes them all out. Who could this mysterious stranger be? Johnny gives him a shave with fire, which I imagine has to be uncomfortable no matter how well he can control his flame…

Oh my gosh, it’s the Sub-Mariner!

The comic offers no explanation why he lost his memory and became a homeless guy in New York City, by the way.

As the rest of the Four search fruitlessly for Johnny, he decides to revive the Sub-Mariner’s memory by dumping him into the ocean.

I’m sure this action will have no unintended consequences whatsoever.

Upon regaining his memory, Namor’s first action is to rip his shirt off.

He swims to Atlantis, to find it destroyed and radioactive (which he can tell for some reason). He deduces that it was destroyed by an atomic test and swears revenge on the human race.

No good deed goes unpunished, huh?

Johnny raises the flare to call the rest of the Four. He explains that the Sub-Mariner is alive and “more dangerous than ever,” which kind of implies that Johnny knew he was dangerous to begin with, which perhaps makes it a poor decision to have restored his memory.

Namor uses a magic horn unleashes a giant whale with arms on New York City. The city gets evacuated in minutes, somehow, so we don’t have to feel bad that Johnny inadvertently caused thousands of deaths.

The Four’s very sane and sensible plan to stop the whale is to strap a nuclear bomb to the Thing and have him go inside. I love the logic of old comics.

Ben has to fight a number of monsters inside the monster, but the plan otherwise goes off without a hitch. It seems like it might be bad to have a nuclear bomb explode right in the middle of NYC, even if it is shielded by a giant whale, but I’m not a kaiju warfare expert or anything.

Namor crows that as long as he has his magic horn he can summon even more monsters. They remember they need to give Sue a thing to do and have her turn invisible, sneak up on him, and snatch the horn, leading to this:

Namor’s lust for Sue is going to be a major plot point in the comics going forward. The fact that Sue sometimes reciprocates despite the whole “kidnapping her” and “declaring war on the human race” problems is, I suppose, a consequence of being a female character written by a male team in the 60s. Namor offers to show mercy on the human race if Sue will be his bride, and out of fear, she actually agrees to this.

Johnny uses his power of flight to somehow whip up an enormous water tornado, sweeping up Namor and the corpse of the whale and depositing them in the ocean. Namor is separated from his horn but still swears revenge. Ben points out that maybe Johnny should have dropped Namor on land and not the sea. Eh, that’s tomorrow’s problem.

There’s also a bonus pin-up page of Reed.

Please don’t look at me that way.

This whole run of FF has proven to be pretty great. This book has everything you could want from a Silver Age comic: a bombastic villain declaring war on the human race, giant monsters attacking New York, bizarre leaps in logic. Namor is such a hilariously over-the-top asshole that he’s a joy when he shows up in these early comics. Lee and Kirby clearly liked him, too, because he appears a lot.