A couple of historical notes for the uninitiated: Sub-Mariner Comics were 64 pages long. Secondly, Namor made his debut in Marvel Comics #1, not in Sub-Mariner Comics #1. He appeared in 18 issues of Marvel Mystery Comics before Sub-Mariner #1 hit the shelves. He was also the second feature in The Human Torch before these issues hit the newsstands. Afterwards, he appeared in All-Winners, All-Select, Namora, Blonde Phantom, Marvel Mystery Comics, The Human Torch, and even a couple of Captain America Comics.
Both The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner Comics were quarterly publications, coming out with seasonal editions. Usually, Sub-Mariner Comics had two Namor 20 page stories and a 20-page Angel, a two-page text story and a couple of 1 page illustrated fact pages or humor comics.
There’s a lot to like in this first Sub-Mariner Masterworks volume. First, Roy Thomas writes another brilliant introduction.
Secondly, Alex Schomburg delivers four amazing covers, some of his best work ever. Inside, there’s plenty of Bill Everett art, though several of the tales in this volume looks assisted by other artists. There’s also some truly twisted stories with the Angel. If that wasn’t all there’s Doctor Dimwit by Basil Wolverton, all the original house ads that appeared in the comic, and a slew of extras.
Extras include 9 house ads from other Marvel/Timely comics advertising for Sub-Mariner 1-4, a photo of a young Bill Everett over his drafting table, and a photo of a newsstand with Sub-Mariner #1 prominently pinned in the center (also Jumbo Comics, Superman and Target, among a host of periodicals from 1941.)
Sub-Mariner Comics #1, Spring 1941
What a gorgeous cover by Schomburg. A giant-sized Namor tips over a Nazi troop transport, spilling hapless soldiers overboard as a tank totters. The Angel is featured in an inset. Richard Isanove does a great recreation of the cover for the Softcover Masterworks.
First up in #1 is “Deep-Sea Blitzkrieg” with a great splash page by Bill Everett. In the opening scene, tragedy strikes the undersea kingdom. Namor rallies his people to attack the Nazi forces. For some reason, Golden Age heroes are often subdued by a blow to the head from behind. This episode trots out the meme with a sailor cracking Namor over the head with a shovel. The handle does break in two, but this is a guy who is bulletproof. Later in this adventure, Namor peels back the steel hull of a U-Boat and punches a hole in another steel plate wall. He also grabs onto the propellor and steers a U-Boat into the sea floor.
I love that one of Namor’s captains is called “Mel”.
In the second story, Namor wrestles a shark on the splash page by Bill Everett. A sickness plagues Namor’s people. The only cure is… radium! He meets up with Betty Dean who informs him that the city’s supply of radium was stolen yesterday.
The Angel story has him face the “House of Horror”. This story has great Paul Gustavson art, some of his best yet on the series he established. This one is definitely a horror story, with a creepy old house, a cemetary, fog, skulls galore, and a walking corpse murdering people.
Sub-Mariner #2, Summer 1941
This issue has another killer Alex Schomburg cover, with Namor ramming a torpedo down the conning tower of a U-Boat, while he kicks a sailor off his back. In the distance, a British heavy cruiser lists to port with a gash in the bow, flames and thick smoke billow from her. The ocean around her is littered with her crew. Dive bombers scream down on her foremast.
In the first unnamed story, Namor visits Niagara Falls where the American Bund plots to free Nazi prisoners from Canada! The American Bund was founded in Buffalo, NY in 1936 to replace (rebrand) from the former “Friends of New Germany”. The Bund quickly grew to be the largest organization in North America and a personal enemy of the folks down at Timely’s offices, where, after the printing of Captain America Comics #1 a few months prior, the Bund had taken offense to the cover depicting Cap socking Hitler in the jaw. After receiving numerous threats, Timely requested and received police protection for weeks afterward. The Bund quickly diminished after Germany declared war on the USA on December 11th, 1941.
The first named Nazi is Herr Schnapps.
Namor takes on striking coal miners in the next episode. He attributes the “accidents” to fifth columnists. J. Jonah Jameson, eat your heart out, the paper that Namor reads is called “Marvel News”!!
Stan Lee has one of his “story behind the cover” tales in “Namor Blitzes a Nazi Sub”. Harry Sahle does a one-page called “Steaming Statistics of Fire and Water” and a humor one-page called “Bum Jokes” by Louis Glanzman.
The Angel adventure is “Slaves of the Python” with the monstrous snakeman aptly named “Python” being one of the few recurring villains in early Marvel/Timely. This story features some very bizarre and awkward art. It’s tough to tell how much is intentional, how much is rushed or finished by a less-skilled staff artist, or how much is just Gustavson not being able to draw a lanky slinker like the Python.
Sub-Mariner Comics #3, Fall 1941
“Sub-Mariner attacked the figures of doom hovering over the Prime Minister as he prepared to launch the warship” reads the cover blurb. Namor swings a ball and hook from a crane at a cast of hooded saboteurs down on the docks. A cruiser gets set to cast off from dry dock.
In “The Mystery of the Disappearing Island”, a two-part 40-page story, Namor travels to England to fight agents of the enemy trying to take down the Prime Minister. At “Rockhenge”, Namor uncovers an altar for human sacrifice and a fiendish plot. Namor also tangles with German-speaking Druids, a crazed octopus, and, echoing his first adventure, a deep-sea diver who he quickly suffocates.
Between the Namor and Angel stories is a two-page text story and a house ad for Mystic #7 featuring the Destroyer. That cover looks great! Please Marvel, Masterwork these issues!
Angel embarks on one of the most bizarre and twisted stories I’ve ever read in a comic book with the mystery “Death Draws a Comic Strip”. You’ll have to see this one to believe it. I love the brilliant splash page, which mimics a comic page with a pair of skeletal hands gripping the edge while holding an ink quill. I resisted reading Angel for awhile after getting this collection because the art and character didn’t really appeal to me, but, my curiosity finally got the better of me and I loved it (in a morbid kind of way). I’ve since gone back and read all his adventures that have been masterworked. They are fairly decent. I wish they changed up his costume and gave him a darker looking outfit, but the contrast is fairly hilarious and the porn moustache is the topper. Or maybe it’s the fact that he projects a clothesline angel silhouette with wings, even though he doesn’t have anything on his cape that would cast that shadow. His adventures are very on the edge for the era. I can see the appeal to a pulp publisher like Martin Goodman.
Sub-Mariner Comics #4, Winter (1941-42)
This Schomburg cover is another winner. Namor swings a steel fish like a baseball bat, clearing the deck of a PT boat, while a high seas slugging match ensues on the horizon between a US cruiser and a Nazi vessel.
Inside the reader is greeted by “Murders By Ghost Light”.
What a creepy splash! Definitely Golden Age Horror in a superhero book. This story has excellent art that I think is primarily by Bill Everett, though the piece is unsigned. This is probably my favorite story in this volume.
Next, an equally creepy “The Horror That Walks” has a mad scientist create a huge artificial humanoid that has the brain of a convicted murderer.
The last feature is Angel’s “Death’s Merry-Go-Round” with crazy art and coloring. Finally, Basil Wolverton has a humor one-page Doctor Dimwit. It’s always a treat to catch Wolverton’s unique style, whether horror/sci-far, superhero, or his humor strips.
This is an excellent collection and one of the better volumes produced by Marvel/Timely. There are a few volumes I like better, but this is definitely up there. I especially liked how horror-themed this collection was.