Retro-Review: The Savage Namor The Sub-Mariner #26-40 By John Byrne, Bob Harras, Jae Lee & Others For Marvel Comics

Namor the Sub-Mariner #26-40 (May 1992 – July 1993)

Written by John Byrne (#26-27, 29-32), Bob Harras (#34-40)

Story by John Byrne (#28)

Scripted by Joe Cavalieri (#28), Bob Harras (#33)

Co-Scripted by Joey Cavalieri (#27)

Breakdowns by Jimmy Palmiotti (#39

Pencils by Jae Lee (#26-38), Howard Rourke (#39), Scott Kolins (#40)

Inks by Bob Wiacek (#26), Jeff Albrecht (#27-30), Jae Lee (#31-37), Bill Sienkiewicz (#38), Shawn McManus (#38), Chris Ivy (#38), Malcolm Jones (#38), Jimmy Palmiotti (#38), Howard Rourke (#39), Scott Kolins (#40)

Coloured by Glynis Oliver (#26-34, 36, 39-40), Pat Garrahy (#26), Dana Moreshead (#35, 37-39)

Spoilers (from twenty-five to twenty-six years ago)

I remember being annoyed when I heard that John Byrne wouldn’t be drawing Namor anymore, as he was and continues to be an all-time favourite artist of mine, but then I was very excited when I saw Jae Lee’s art.  This was right at the zenith of the extreme 90s art era, and I thought that Lee, who was only 19 at the time, was an incredibly original artist. I thought his use of shadow and silhouette was menacing (now I think it was a handy way to avoid drawing characters), and I loved the weird anatomy he employed.

At the same time, I remember being disappointed in the stories that Byrne and Lee told, as things spiralled into typical 90s bombast and pointlessness.  Truthfully, flipping through the covers of the issues I’m going to be talking about here, I remember very little beyond liking how Lee drew Doctor Doom, and thinking that gigantic tree-felling machines made no sense.  

I doubt very much that these comics stand up at all, but I’m curious to go back and see what seventeen-year-old me remembers as being noteworthy.

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Phoebe Marrs (#26, 30-31, 34)
  • Unnamed Oracle exec (#27-29)
  • Master Khan (occasionally spelled Kahn, because ‘90s editing; #27-28, 32-33)
  • Princess Fen/Artys-Gran (#28-40)
  • Doctor Doom (#30-33)
  • The Faceless Ones (#33-38, 40)
  • Socus (#34-40)
  • Suma-Ket (#36-40)
  • The Nereid (#36-39)
  • The Unforgiven Dead (#37-40)

Guest Stars

  • Captain America (#26)
  • Iron Fist (Danny Rand; #26, 28, 31-34)
  • Colleen Wing (#26, 28, 31-34)
  • Misty Knight (#26, 28, 31-34)
  • Tiger Shark (#34-40)
  • Neptune (#37)

Supporting Characters

  • Namorita (#26-29, 31-34)
  • Jim Hammond (Head of Oracle security/former Human Torch; #26, 31)
  • Sheriff Chance Walker (#26-27, 29)
  • Tess Walker (the Sheriff’s daughter; #26-29)
  • Carrie Alexander (#26, 28)
  • Caleb Alexander (#26)
  • Jacqueline Crichton (#27)
  • Kenneth Crichton (Jacqueline’s son; #27)
  • Warlord Seth (#33-40)
  • Tamara Rahn (#33-40)
  • Lord Vashti (#34-40)
  • Prince Byrrah (#34-36)
  • Dara (#35, 37-39)
  • Morel (#35-40)
  • Princess Fen (the real one; #39-40)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The story begins six months after the last issue, and Namor has been missing all that time.  Namorita is getting really worried, and has convened a meeting at Oracle with Captain America, Jim Hammond (who is now the head of security), Iron Fist, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing, although none of them know where he is.  Danny is sure that Namor is not dead, because that’s not how Master Khan operates. Namorita is sure he’s still alive because she would have sensed his death, but can’t sense his presence. Cap tries to comfort her, but also pushes her to accept that he might not be found.  Somewhere on the west coast, a bunch of loggers are clear cutting a forest using gigantic logging machines that only make sense in the context of 90s comics art. A logger, using a chainsaw (why, if those machines are there, would he be cutting down a tree using a chainsaw?), cuts into a tree that’s been spiked, and is killed.  The other loggers see a man in the woods (well, it’s all silhouettes) and chase him. It’s clear to us that this is Namor, shirtless and long-haired, and he fights back hard until one of them smashes him in the head with a chainsaw and knocks him out. Later, Namor is locked up in the local police station, and the doctor is surprised to see that he’s more or less fine.  No one knows who he is. The Sheriff’s daughter brings food to Namor and talks to him, establishing for us that he has no memory of who he is or how he came to be in the woods (to say nothing of what he’s been doing for six months). Phoebe Marrs comes to see Namorita, again to complain about the fact that Oracle has taken over Marrs Corp. Namorita reminds her that she’s an employee now, and dismisses her.  Angry, Phoebe bumps into an office worker and yells at her, not realizing it’s the same woman she once fired. As she rides the elevator, Phoebe is visited by a sallow complexioned vision of her brother, or maybe by her undead brother; it’s not clear. Namor is freed by the Sheriff, since there is no proof that he spiked the trees. As Namor leaves, another man is being locked up for the same crime. The Sheriff suggests that Namor leave town, but his daughter offers him the spare room in their house instead.  She gives Namor the name Rex. We learn that the Sheriff’s name is Walker, when the girl answers a phone call and confirms that “He’s here,” but we don’t learn who she’s talking to or even the girl’s name. She shows Namor the room, and makes a move on him, but just then one of the giant logging machines is seen attacking the station. The Sheriff shoots at it but gets hit by one of its appendages. Namor, declaring that the Sheriff was good to him, and calling him Chance, runs to help and stands between the massive machine and the Sheriff.  Namorita is visiting the Alexanders at Bellevue Hospital. Caleb is still in a coma from when Desmond gave him a beating months before, and they talk about how Namorita regrets that they ever met Namor. Suddenly, Namorita can feel Namor again and goes flying out the window.
  • We learn that the Sheriff’s daughter’s name is Tess, and she and a number of other people watch as Namor faces down the gigantic logging machine and lifts it, smashing it down.  A young man with a bandanna over his face speaks to Tess, asking if she is siding with “the freak” over him. Tess thanks “Rex” for saving her father, while the other townsfolk and loggers take off.  Later, the Sheriff questions “Rex”, who remembers nothing still, including how he got his powers. Tess gets a call from a guy in a suit, who wants her to meet with him. In England, we learn that someone named Malton is trying to take Falsworth Industries away from Jacqueline Crichton.  She speaks with her son about it, and he promises to help her. Namorita rides a commercial plane westward, and when she sense Namor in the mountains below her, she flies down to look for him. Namor, meanwhile, decides to follow Tess when she sneaks out at night and takes a secretive path through the woods.  She meets with the suit guy, who gives her the number of a Swiss bank account with a million dollars in it. The man is worried about how “Rex” might mess up his plans, but Tess claims that she is close to bringing him to her side. Tess blows off the guy’s advances. Namor continues to follow her as she walks home, but is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Namorita.  She embraces her cousin, but since he doesn’t know her, he reacts with anger and pushes her away, which upsets her. Master Khan is sitting on a throne somewhere watching this, and enjoying it.
  • Iron Fist is at Oracle Inc, where Namorita has built him a Danger Room-like training space.  Misty and Colleen are watching him work out, and then Misty goes to talk to him. Strangely, it’s like very little time has passed since Danny’s return, not six months, and they are a little distant still.  Carrie Alexander calls to let Misty know that Namorita has flown off looking for Namor. Namorita digs herself out from under the tree that collapsed on her when Namor shoved her last issue, and worries that Master Khan really messed with Namor’s head.  Somewhere, Khan laughs at this, and talks to himself about how he put a spell on Namor that makes him flee anything that might remind him of who he once was. Running, because of that spell, Namor catches up with Tess, whose hair is sometimes green in this issue.  He is testy with her, but then they make out a bit. They are watched by a silhouette in a helmeted suit of some sort, who notices a group of eco-warriors approaching them. These guys are upset that Tess is with Namor, until he convinces them that he wants to help protect the planet.  Tess makes it clear that he’s on their side, but later, she’s talking to the guy in the suit again. It turns out he works for Oracle, and as he finishes his conversation, he is joined by Namorita. She explains that Namor is in the area and that she wants help finding him; the guy connects that Namor is probably “Rex”.  Tess goes to visit the eco-warriors, who now have Namor with them. Their plan is to attack Oracle’s logging camp, which makes Namor feel odd. The camp, built on cliff overlooking the ocean and away from the forest, has a huge industrial plant in it, which doesn’t make a lot of sense considering they are cutting down trees, not processing ore or chemicals.  Namor breaks down the fence, and they prepare to wreck the place. It’s pointed out to Namor that there are big fuel bins around the perimeter that need to be avoided. Some loggers see them and they all begin to fight. Someone gains control of one of the giant logging machines, and starts killing people on both sides with it. Angry, Namor mounts the machinery and rips the driver’s mask off, revealing Tess.  His being in the cabin of the massive machine somehow unbalances it, and they end up driving into one of the fuel bins, setting off a massive explosion and dumping much of the camp into the ocean.
  • The story in issue twenty-nine is told almost entirely through lengthy narration, yet it tells us very little about some key moments in the book.  Namor and the logging machine are tossed into the ocean, where the heavy equipment quickly sinks. Tess Walker looks like she is going to drown, while Namor, not questioning why he can breathe underwater (and just now realizing he has gills, hidden under his long hair), works to free her.  He realizes he is not alone, and an Atlantean female (presumably the one we saw last issue in a helmet) zaps him and takes off with his unconscious body. Tess (who gets called Tess Parker at one point because 90s Marvel editing was terrible) continues to drown, while Namorita arrives and pulls her body from the wreckage.  They surface, and Namorita flies the girl to the scene of the explosion, where a large number of people mill around. Sheriff Walker is upset to see that his daughter is injured, and while the paramedics work on her, Namorita knows it is too late and she is dead. She remembers back to a few hours before, when she was with that unnamed Oracle executive.  They talked about Iron Fist joining the search for Namor, the fact that the logging operation was part of Rand Meachum before Namor bought that company, and when the exec figures out that “Rex” is Namor, he mumbles something to himself that makes Namorita realize what’s been going on – that the exec has been using Tess to manipulate the “eco-terrorists” as a way of discrediting them (which seems stupid to me).  Back at the scene, Namorita tries to comfort Sheriff Walker, but that doesn’t seem possible. Namorita decides to not reopen the logging camp, even though it will cost Oracle money, and will take away jobs from the community. She looks at the pristine forest around the camp (why wouldn’t they clear cut there before travelling to do it elsewhere?). The Atlantean woman takes Namor north at a rapid pace. She stops to take off her helmet and armor, revealing that she has red hair.  We don’t learn who she is, but the narration makes it sound like she might be Fen, Namor’s mother. Something nearby frightens her, so she grabs the jetpack she was using and takes off again. She is confused by something she senses, and ends up letting go of Namor, who is still unconscious. She realizes that all the fish around her are dead, and then they are caught up in a net, along with a lot of dead sea life, and lifted out of the water.
  • The net full of dead fish is dumped into the hold of a large, high-tech and imposing ship.  One of the sailors, who speaks an Eastern European language, spots Namor and the woman, so the crew pull them out of the hold.  They are surprised to see that they are alive, and that woman has blue skin. One sailor, recognizing that she is having trouble breathing, tries to give her mouth to mouth resuscitation, and she throws him overboard, where he is killed by the ship’s propellers.  The men are angry about this, but by this point, Namor has awoken, and is more angry than they are. Yelling in Atlantean, he begins to fight them, and does so for some pages, until he spots the woman and recognizes her, even in his amnesia, as his mother. He feels pain in his brain, which allows the sailors to net him and knock him out.  In New York, Phoebe Marrs gets mistaken for a man by a security guard when she sneaks into Oracle Inc. in the dead of night looking to acquire some things she needs. Back on the ship, Namor and the Atlantean woman are tied up, and the Atlantean is given just enough water to survive. The captain identifies the woman as Namorita, but says he didn’t know she was blue.  Namor yells in Atlantean some more, and then an armored figure appears, monologuing. It turns out he is Doctor Doom, and his appearance makes the angry Namor even more angry (in an extreme way?).
  • Doom is intrigued by Namor’s irrational anger, which seems to get worse when Doom says Namor’s name.  Namor breaks free of his bonds and starts to fight the rest of Doom’s sailors for a few pages. Doom speaks to the Atlantean woman, who kind of confirms that she is indeed Princess Fen, but doesn’t explain how she is alive.  Instead, she asks why Doom would be on a fishing trawler. In New York, Jim Hammond talks to Namorita on video screen. We learn that Iron Fist, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing are on their way to help Namorita continue her search for Namor.  Hammond is visited by someone he thinks is Desmond Marrs (who he never actually met), but turns out to be Phoebe, who starts to seduce him (while a series of blue-tinged narration bubbles make it sound like Phoebe actually is Desmond). Doom explains to Fen that the fishing vessel they are on is very powerful.  He explains that it contains a sonic weapon that kills fish in large numbers. Doom’s plan is to build a fleet of these vessels, so that landlocked Latveria might take over the world’s fishing industry. This worries Fen, who is concerned for already depleted fishing stocks, and the effect this plan would have on Atlantis.  Doom says he doesn’t care, just as Namor, who has still be fighting sailors, attacks him. Doom blasts him, sending him flying overboard, screaming.
  • Doom’s boat looks increasingly gothic, and with Namor believed dead, Doom stands over Fen, who he still does not believe is Fen (this is probably foreshadowing).  Doom talks about the regard with which he held Namor, and then he and Fen fight briefly before the sailors report a problem with the boat. It seems that Namor is still alive, and is ripping the main propeller off the boat.  The tipping of the boat creates some waves, which help to restore Fen’s strength. She frees herself of her chains, while Doom falls into the ocean. He seals his armor and ditches his cloak, and finds and starts punching Namor.  Namorita, Iron Fist, Colleen, and Misty, fly in a very Jae Lee jet towards the fight, relying on Namorita’s senses to find her cousin. At the same time, Iron Fist feels the evil of Master Khan (also foreshadowing). As Doom beats on Namor on the ocean floor, Fen joins the fight, which somehow breaks the spell Khan had on Namor.  Speaking for the first time in a few issues, he identifies himself and starts beating on Doom. He comes close to destroying Doom’s armor, and then punches him so hard he goes flying through his large boat. Namor pursues him, looking to end things between them. As Namor is about to crush Doom’s head, Master Khan appears in a vision above them, and some sort of cylindrical tube appears around the ship.  Namorita and her friends fly in right then, and their jet gets caught in the same structure. There is a blinding light, and then stillness. Namor throws one of the goth spires from the ship into the water (I don’t know why), and find that the water is solid. Hearing laughter, Namor looks up to see that Master Khan is gigantic, and holding a bottle that contains Doom’s big boat. The letters page announces that Jae Lee would be drawing a new Iron Fist series within a year, but that never happened.
  • Somewhere between issue thirty-two and thirty-three, John Byrne disappeared. Bob Harras is listed as the scripter for issue thirty-three, which implies that Byrne perhaps plotted it, but the letters page makes no mention of any of this.  In the boardroom at Oracle Inc., we see Namor preside over a meeting that has him selling off most of Oracle’s main assets (weirdly, they are holdings in Falsworth Enterprises), while the other shareholders argue with him. He also is selling land holdings in Alaska to Roxxon.  Near Namor sits the bottle with Doom’s ship in it, and we realize that this is really Master Khan. Inside the bottle, we learn that Doom and Namor are angry, and that Namorita, Misty, Iron Fist, and Colleen got trapped in the solidified water around the ship, with only Colleen being able to speak still.  Namor worries that the others are not dead, but that any action he takes may kill them. Fen encourages him to act, as she is dehydrated. When the board members are dismissed, it is revealed that the Namor in the outside world really is Master Khan, but because it’s the 90s, his name is spelled Kahn throughout this issue.  Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, a kelp farmer is surprised by the sudden appearance of the Faceless Ones, cratues of Atlantean myth. Khan/Kahn talks to himself as he goes over all the Atlantean books and objects that Namor has collected. He is surprised to realize that the thing he is looking to learn about has already begun, whatever that is.  Namor argues that Fen is not his mother, and he is tired of her manipulating him. He gets Doom to use his suit or his magic to set off the alarm in the Oracle building, thus clearing all the people out of it. Then Namor starts punching at the side of the bottle, eventually smashing through. This negates its magic, and Namor and the others are returned to full size, as is the boat and the water in the bottle.  The water goes pouring out of the Oracle building, and into downtown Manhattan. Outside Atlantis, a patrol searches for a possible spy. Instead they find the long lost Warlord Seth, who wants to warn Namor of something. Doom’s boat sticks out of the Oracle building, and we see that Iron Fist, Misty, and Colleen are all fine. Khan/Kahn threatens Iron Fist, but before they can fight, an angry Doom emerges from the water and starts blasting him.  Namor shows up behind Khan/Kahn, and charges at him, shrugging off the magician’s eye blasts. He grabs Khan/Kahn by the head, and rips it off. Namorita is surprised by this, while Doom approves. Khan/Kahn still speaks, and warns that his “cruel destiny awaits” in Atlantis. Somewhere under the ocean, we see a woman named Tamara Rahn, who knows she needs to search out her former lover, Namor.
  • Apparently, Byrne has just left the title, according to the letters page, and has been replaced by Bob Harras.  That it happens mid-story is suspect to me. Is this when Next Men was announced? Early in the morning, two Atlantean cruisers approach the Oracle building, where they are met by Namor, Namorita, Iron Fist, Misty, and Colleen.  Lord Vashti comes from one of the cruisers to tell Namor that Warlord Seth is still alive. Vashti is surprised to see Fen, and she acts pretty imperiously. Far from Atlantis, a tribe of nomads set up camp. One comes rushing towards a robed figure named Arlys, to tell him that in the area around them, all Atlanteans have vanished, their kelp crops left untended.  Arlys mentions that his wife, Mara, is close to giving birth, so they decide to stay and worry about “evil” later. Namor steps in when Fen gets on Vashti’s case, and says that he and Namorita will return to Atlantis with him. Just then Phoebe Marrs shows up to tell them that she has is now the owner of the Oracle building (it’s so weird how business works in the Marvel Universe) and that they must leave.  Namorita decides to stay and work with Iron Fist to figure out the business stuff, but she also feels like she may never see Namor again. Mara is about to give birth, and we learn that her husband, Arlys, is white-skinned and from the surface world. They are attacked by the Faceless Ones, and Mara is killed in front of Arlys, who rips off his robe and reveals himself to be the villain Tiger Shark, although much transformed at Jae Lee’s hands.  Eslewhere, a messenger tries to see the Atlantean Prince Byrrah but is turned away by his guard. Suddenly, the messenger is in Byrrah’s chambers, and is there to tell him that “the old ones are returning.” Namor travels in one of the Atlantean ships with Vashti, while Fen rides in the other. Namor and Vashti talk about their friendship, when Namor’s ship is suddenly attacked and starts to fall. In Atlantis, that same messenger shows up in front of Seth’s sickbed, to tell him that his escape from the messenger’s people was in vain, and that Namor has been dealt with.  We hear again that the old ones are returning, before he disappears. Namor’s vessel crashes (which would happen kind of slowly underwater) into a deep crevasse. The sound of a trumpet is heard, and then a massive and ancient creature rises and attacks the vessel. Namor leads the guards to the attack, but they are killed. Namor tries to fight the beast, but when Vashti emerges from the ship, it turns its attention on him. Tiger Shark keeps fighting the Faceless Ones, and is almost attacked from behind, but the sudden appearance of Tamara Rahn saves him. He sees that all of his people are dead, and agrees to go with Tamara to Atlantis to warn them of what is happening.  Namor snatches Vashti out of the beast’s jaw, and throws the prow of his vessel at it. Somehow that pierces the creature’s heart and severs its spine. Vashti spies a skeleton holding a giant horn.
  • Namor and Vashti have arrived at Atlantis, but are not allowed through the gates (I mean, anyone could swim over them, right?) under order of Fen, who has claimed the throne and declared Namor dead.  Namor is not happy about this, and when Fen arrives accompanied by Dara, she maintains that she is acting in Atlantis’s best interests, especially since receiving news that Byrrah has disappeared from his prison.  We see Byrrah travelling somewhere deep with the nameless old guy, who says he’s taking him to the Old Ones. Namor, now in Atlantis, heads to speak with Seth when he learns that Tiger Shark is outside the gates causing problems.  Tamara Rahn tries to calm him, but Tiger Shark is angry. Namor shows up and punches him and they fight for a little bit before Vashti comes and recognizes Tamara, and she stops the fight. Byrrah is taken to “the place of Dark Waters – the Forbidden Place.”  Vashti’s nephew Morel watches over the sick Seth, and reports to his uncle that Fen had visited him many times. Seth awakes and asks for Namor. Namor talks to Tamara, who tells him about the growing evil. Fen dismisses this, but Dara agrees that there are problems happening.  Seth comes to this grouping, and is surprised to see Fen. The nameless old guy shows Byrrah a number of the “old ones.” Seth makes reference to Fen having escaped like he did, which intrigues Namor, but just then Tiger Shark goes off, claiming that both Fen and Seth smell like the Faceless Ones.  The old guy praises Byrrah as a true prince of Atlantis, and then cuts his throat. At that moment, Fen feels pain across her own throat, and then smiles and orders that Tiger Shark be tossed in the dungeon. Namor notices that something is wrong, and Tamara agrees with him. Byrrah’s blood flows from his throat and towards a doorway that opens for the first time in millennia, freeing the old guy’s “dread lord.”
  • Issue thirty-six has only sixteen pages of story, followed by six pages from Vashti’s journals.  Suma-Ket, the “Lord of the Unforgiven Dead” arrives, and talks about spending a massive amount of time imprisoned.  He kills a bunch of Atlantean prisoners, reveals that the old guy we’ve seen popping up is called Socus, and then brings four women, the Neried (which should be spelled Nereid) through the same gate he just came through.  He also hears from Socus about how his love is sitting on the throne of Atlantis. In Atlantis, Fen tries to get Namor to ignore Seth, but the injured friend of the prince explains how when he thought he had died, he was captured by the Faceless Ones, and spent years chained up in deep water, with only Fen nearby.  Socus is revealed as his jailer. He doesn’t fully remember how he escaped, but he claims he went looking for Fen first and couldn’t find her. Fen says she doesn’t remember much of what happened, and when Namor pushes her to explain her youth, Tamara Rahn gets him to back off. Fen orders everyone out and sits on her throne, talking to herself about how she is having trouble staying in control.  Socus comes out of the shadows and they agree that Seth needs to die. Socus tells her that the Nereid (now spelled correctly) are around, and they decide to send them to kill Seth and Tiger Shark. Namor talks to Vashti, who is worried that the Old Ones of legend might be true. Seth is attacked by two of the Nereid in his sickbed, and Namor hears his cry. Tiger Shark is attacked by the other two, and he breaks his chains (he’s in the dungeon) to fight them.  Namor steps in to save Seth, but he perceives the Nereid as his deceased wives, Dorma and Marrina (ah, Marrina). He doesn’t fall for their trips and kills one of them. Tiger Shark and Tamara come to Namor and suggest they leave Atlantis immediately. Fen calls for Suma-Ket. The “archive” pages, in addition to showing off some nice Jae Lee pinups, reveal that Namor and his allies have gone looking for the cave where Seth was imprisoned, leaving Vashti and Dara to keep an eye on Fen.
  • The Statement of Ownership for 1992 reveals that Namor had an average press run of 115 000, with average newsstand returns of 800.
  • Issue thirty-seven comes with a shiny metallic foil 90s cover.  Namor, Tiger Shark, Tamara Rahn, Seth, and Morel travel to learn more of their enemies, which is done with the full knowledge of Suma-Ket.  Socus urges caution, but Suma-Ket wants only revenge on Atlantis for banishing him so long ago. Tiger Shark leads the heroes to the place where his senses tell him the Faceless Ones have come from, but it is blocked by tons of rock.  Namor and his companions start punching at the rock to remove it. In Atlantis, Fen orders Vashti and Dara to bring all the children of the land to her for a feast to celebrate her return. Namor and the others have entered the large cavern that the Faceless Ones came from, and are quickly surrounded by their enemies.  They all black out or get knocked out, and when they awake, they find they are chained up. Suma-Ket shows up, with Socus, and tells them that his destiny will be fulfilled once Namor has been sacrificed. His attempt to kill Namor with a giant sword is dashed by Namor’s speed, and, freed when the sword hit his chains, Namor begins to fight Suma-Ket.  Suma-Ket tosses Namor, and then moves to kill Tamara Rahn. Namor jumps in front of his sword, and is impaled. It looks like he’s dead. In Atlantis, Fen is given her wedding ring, and is confused. She finally reveals (in her thought bubbles) that she is actually Artys-Gran, Suma-Ket’s consort, but she is struggling to suppress Fen’s thoughts. She calls for Socus to help her.  Socus tells Suma-Ket that they need to leave. Tiger Shark and the others free themselves from their chains, and are surprised by the sudden appearance of Neptune, their god. He does not want Suma-Ket to win, and so he restores Namor’s life and ankle-wings, but is not able to completely heal his sword wound. Instead, he gives Namor the sacred armor of Atlantis, a big gold chestpiece.  Namor vows to destroy Suma-Ket. An archive page consolidates all we know of Suma-Ket so far.
  • Artys-Gran dreams of her execution five millennia before, and wakes screaming.  Dara checks on her, and lets her know that the children of Atlantis have been gathered for her.  When Artys-Gran/Fen asks after Vashti, Dara lies and says he is ill. In fact, he’s rushing through the ocean to find Namor and tell him what’s going on, but he is stopped by the Nereid (whose name is spelled wrong again).  At the gate to the grey waters, where Suma-Ket had been imprisoned, he, Socus, and their followers prepare to attack Atlantis. Tamara Rahn kills one of the Nereid, saving Vashti, and the others attack Namor and his group. He stops Tiger Shark from killing one of them, since he claims to need them to stop Suma-Ket.  It’s at this point that Vashti decides to tell the story of Suma-Ket, and how when Atlantis was still a new settlement, Suma-Ket, Artys-Gran, and their tribe protected the people from the Faceless Ones. In return, they asked to live in Atlantis, and then took over after building a temple to the Dark Gods, and slaughtering the priests who worshipped Neptune.  Suma-Ket declared himself a prophet, and his wife a priestess who practised blood rites. Their rule was challenged by Kalen, who had been away from the city. He went to war with Suma-Ket, leading a revolution and eventually managing to banish them to a living death in the grey waters, except for Artys-Gran, who was killed. His story done, the Nereid confirm what Vashti said, and reveal that Fen is actually Artys-Gran.  Suma-Ket’s followers blow trumpets that bring ancient sea creatures from deeper depths. Namor hears this and tells Tamara to take Tiger Shark and go to Atlantis to stop Fen/Artys-Gran, while he goes somewhere secret with the other Atlanteans with him. Tiger Shark objects to this plan, and they fight briefly, before Tamara promises to take Tiger Shark with her. Namor heads off with the last two Nereid. In Atlantis, a guard lets Fen and Dara know that Suma-Ket has returned.  Fen turns on Dara when he tries to calm the people, and then she declares that she has returned to protect the people. She picks up a child and takes her into a temple that changes shape to reflect the older style of her dark gods.
  • Like John Byrne before him, Jae Lee disappears without warning with issue thirty-nine, leaving Jimmy Palmiotti to handle breakdowns for a Howard Rourke, whose only other comics credits are a four-issue Johnny Blaze series.  Namor has taken his group (Vashti, Morel, Seth, and the two Nereid) to Fen’s tomb, at the site of the original Atlantis. The tomb is guarded by a talkative Unforgiven Dead, who is brother to the Nereid. He kills one (or maybe both, since the other isn’t seen again) of the Nereid as punishment for allowing Namor to come there.  When he goes to blast Namor with his eye beams, Morel jumps in the way, which gravely injures the youth, and enrages Namor. Outside Atlantis, Suma-Ket admires the modern city, and that his temple is growing in the middle of it. Inside the city, the people are fearful. Namor keeps fighting the guy, who blasts him and doesn’t hurt him (rendering useless Morel’s sacrifice).  Namor brings an ancient watchtower down on the guy, and then opens Fen’s tomb; a monstrous creature lives inside. In Atlantis, Dara tries to talk Fen/Artys-Gran out of sacrificing an infant, just as Artys-Gran feels that the tomb has been opened. Tamara Rahn, who is in the crowd with Tiger Shark snatches up the baby to protect it, but Artys-Gran, recovering herself, points out the monstrosity of Tiger Shark to the crowd.  The creature in the tomb turns out to be the real Fen, residing in Artys-Gran’s long-dead body. She explains to Namor how she was taken by Socus and used to house Artys-Gran’s consciousness, a process which took decades to complete. Fen has also learned some dark magick, so she uses the blood of the fallen Unforgiven Dead guy to open a portal to Atlantis. Outside Atlantis, Suma-Ket has to wait for Artys-Gran to shed blood before he can enter.  He has his people blow their trumpets, which scares the people inside Atlantis even more. Dara seizes his chance and holds a sword to Fen/Artys-Gran’s neck, but an ensorcelled citizen throws a spear at him, shedding the blood needed to permit Suma-Ket’s entry. Just then, the portal opens, and Namor arrives, swearing to kill Suma-Ket.
  • Scott Kolins showed up to draw that last issue of the Suma-Ket storyline, which also was the last of Bob Harras’s run.  The Faceless Ones approach Atlantis, summoned by the trumpets, but stop at the sight of Namor facing off against Suma-Ket.  The ancient wizard knocks him down, but says he is not going to kill him until Atlantis is destroyed. Artys-Gran, in Fen’s body, goes to her lover, and they praise Socus for his efforts on their behalf.  Fen, in Artys-Gran’s body, confronts her former body, and when Artys-Gran boasts of having slain Dara, Seth attacks her and kills her, more or less off-panel. Suma-Ket lashes out, and Namor gets in his face.  The rest of Namor’s squad gets surrounded by the Faceless Ones, or the Unforgiven Dead, it’s not clear, and begin to fight for their lives. Namor is still suffering from his injuries of a few issues ago, which gives Suma-Ket reason to gloat a little.  Within the city, the people are frightened by the trumpets that keep sounding. Vashti tries to inspire resistance among the people, but has no real luck. Fen then speaks to them, and they see past Artys-Gran’s body, and rush out of the gates to help Namor.  This restores his will, and gives Suma-Ket pause. He confides to Socus (even though I thought they were in the middle of a battle) that with Artys-Gran dead, he’s not so sure he’s enjoying his impending victory. Namor mocks him a little, and Suma-Ket manifests a “dark trident” to help him fight.  They discuss, while fighting, the value of props, like the trident, and Suma-Ket knocks Namor down. Someone passes Namor the “sacred trident of Neptune”, which makes him a little hypocritical, but also allows him to stab his foe. As Suma-Ket dies, so do the all of the Unforgiven Dead, except for Socus.  Socus throws a spear at Namor, and ends up killing Fen. Namor holds her as she dies, and then carries her body into Atlantis. Later, the Faceless Ones come and feast on the bodies of the Unforgiven Dead.

This was a strange run, as over the course of these fifteen issues, Namor went from being an amnesiac caught up in very byzantine environmental issues, to waging war against ancient evil in Atlantis.  

I’m curious about how the shift in writers affected the long-term plans for the book.  It was John Byrne that brought Fen back, and who returned Namor to the deep, but I’m not sure if having her really be an ancient priestess was part of his original intent, or was something that Bob Harras added when he came on the book.  When I write these columns, I focus only on the books and any information that might be in the letters column, but a quick internet search didn’t suggest much on why the book shifted in Harras’s hands, especially mid-arc.

I feel like, generally speaking, Byrne is a much better writer than Harras (he wrote the legendary Avengers story The Crossing, didn’t he?), but Harras ended up being a better fit for Jae Lee’s gothic approach to storytelling.

Byrne’s issues were kind of weird.  After issue twenty-five (see my last column), Namor was left without memory for six months, but when we meet him again, it’s like he’s just travelled through time to that point, save for his long hair.  We know that Namorita and her friends spent those months looking for him, but we are left with no clue as to where he was before he was found by loggers in the forest.

The logging storyline was way too complicated, as a nameless Oracle exec decided to encourage some ecologists to violently attack his own loggers, using the local sheriff’s daughter as his go-between.  I have no idea why he would do this – there is no clear benefit to him, or to Oracle. As well, the massive logging machines that we saw here make no sense at all.

After that, Byrne gave us his storyline about Doctor Doom’s plans to take over the world by controlling all access to fish, which also made very little sense.  I do like that Doom got involved in the final fight with Master Khan, but that’s mostly because of how cool Doom looked in these issues. Along the way, Namor’s company, which was such a focus of the series in its first two years, got completely jettisoned from the comic, as did the long-running plotline revolving around Namor’s relationship with Phoebe Marrs.

When Byrne left, we basically had to give up on storylines involving Phoebe Marrs (and whatever it was that the Punisher wanted to meet with her for, and the suggestion that her dead brother Desmond was haunting her or taking over her body), Caleb Alexander’s injuries, Carrie Alexander’s status as Namor’s love interest, Jacqueline Crichton’s efforts to protect her own company from hostile takeover, Jim Hammond’s role as Oracle security, or the place of Iron Fist, Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing in Namor’s life.  Namorita was more or less relegated to her role in the New Warriors. I’m fine with a lot of that going away, but some things still needed to be addressed. It was a jarring shift in tone for the book, which I guess matched the shift in artwork (more on that soon), but still, it felt kind of sloppy.

The return of Princess Fen, and the way in which Namor just kind of accepted it, and then also rejected her at the same time, was deeply weird.  There were numerous moments where he just seemed to respond to her as someone he didn’t trust or want to acknowledge, and that didn’t make a lot of sense to me.  

When Harras took over, he simplified things, and set about telling the larger story of Suma-Ket and his return.  Along the way, Harras brought back forgotten characters like Tamara Rahn and Lord Seth, and revitalized Tiger Shark with a new look and attitude (which I much prefer to his more recent appearances).  

Harras largely ignored character development during his run, preferring to let plot drive this story, but it did become a decent epic that didn’t suffer from any dangling plotlines, largely because it was such a self-contained story.

I think the biggest story here is that of Jae Lee, the nineteen year old wunderkind who was perhaps not entirely up to the job of a monthly book at the beginning of his run, but who really developed his own style while on Namor.  Lee immediately jumped out at me because of the shocking contrast between his art and John Byrne’s. His Namor had a beard and flowing hair when we first met him, and was big.

When you think of Jae Lee’s art, you probably think of his elegant and minimalist variant covers, that always appear highly polished.  Early Lee owed as much to Simon Bisley as he did Mike Mignola. His figures are veiny and muscular, but he also relied heavily on silhouettes and obscured panels to tell his story.  We really saw that develop as the action moved underwater, and Lee was given space to develop new takes on characters (his Tiger Shark, for example) and some wild monsters and creatures.  

I remember being very excited by Lee’s appearance back in the day, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that same excitement reading these books again.  He did make some weird 90s design choices (Namor has spikes coming out of the pants he paired with the tiniest Speedo ever, after he got the sacred armor from Neptune), but his Doctor Doom was fantastic, as was his Iron Fist.  

Lee, and the artists who came after his sudden departure, made the same mistakes that I always see in Namor and Aquaman comics, as everyone walks around the sea floor and acts as if they are in air even when underwater.  In Lee’s Atlantis, there are gates and city walls, which anyone would be able to swim over. When Atlanteans cry, tears still flow down their cheeks. I’ve never understood why more wasn’t done to show that this is a strange environment.

Beyond that, I did enjoy reading through these books again.  You can tell that it’s the 90s, as editing standards really started slipping, and as characters’ appearances started becoming more physically extreme, but there is a an energy about this book that made me like it a lot.  I don’t remember people talking about this comic much at the time, but I imagine that a lot of Goth kids really fell hard for this title.

After Lee’s sudden departure (I assume this is when he jumped to Image to write and draw Hellshock, which I can’t even remember if I read, and really, I would have loved to have seen the Iron Fist series that kept getting mentioned in the letters page), a couple of guest artists stepped in to finish this story.  They tried really hard to mimic Lee’s approach, to the extent that Scott Kolins, one of the usually most recognizable of superhero artists, looks nothing like himself in his one issue.

After that, this book quickly descended into 90s craptitude.  I stuck with it for a few more issues, which we will take a look at in my next column.  Don’t expect much in the way of praise…

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

It looks like none of these issues have ever been collected in trade, which kind of surprises me.  I’m sure they aren’t too hard to find in dollar boxes though…

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