I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
As a wise crab once noted, “The human world, it’s a mess.” With a kindred waterlogged spirit, that was a fair summation of the recurring motif in the pages of the various comic book adventures of Namor, the Atlantean royal better known to surface-dwellers as the Sub-Mariner. Introduced during World War II, the character was revived for modern Marvel first as a regular antagonist of the Fantastic Four and eventually grew to fill a more complicated role in the sprawling saga that generally divided figures into clearly drawn categories of good guys and bad guys. As the nineteen-seventies dawned, Sub-Mariner had his own title, which, by virtue of its setting under the sea, handily served as a platform for the publisher to address the growing national concerns about ecology.
The Sub-Mariner #25, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Sal Buscema, is a prime example of Namor as a warrior for the environment, mostly because he makes a home in the vast body of water that often serves as a dumping ground for careless humans. Namor has just fought off a challenge to his leadership of the underwater city of Atlantis, but the peace is immediately unsettled by trouble splashing in from above.
A Namor’s metal-crunching anger suggests, humans tossing dangerous material overboard isn’t a new problem. In this instance, Namor decides he’s going to respond by asserting his authority over this stretch of the ocean. Of course, blowhards bleating about their freedom when challenged isn’t a novel phenomenon either.
That captain’s ability to do whatever he wants whenever he wants wherever he wants is far more important than the public health of others, especially if their skin colors are different. This comic book is a work of fiction depicting highly unlikely scenarios, you understand.
Attempts to foster change through instruction and clearly set expectation prove fruitless, so Namor decides to escalate. Although he has in his own physical form the options of swimming through the water at blinding speeds and flying great distances, his position of power also provides access to a fleet of righteous ships. Namor signs one out and heads straight to New York City.
The startled passer-by is incorrect. Despite plentiful indications of the futility of diplomacy, Namor is still committed to that course of action. He goes to the United Nations and demands to speak to the assembly, a request that is granted, albeit with great anger and resistance. Clearly and accurately, Namor recounts the crimes against the planet perpetrated by mankind.
The Sub-Mariner #25 has a cover date of May 1970, which means it was first shoved into spinner racks over fifty years ago. Every complaint Namor registered then is applicable now, with additional evidence such as floating islands of discarded plastic and climate change ravaging coral reefs. Despite demonstrated capacity for ingenious innovation and jaw-dropping scientific advances, obstinance and close-mindedness have prevailed to keep the planet stuck in a place of great peril. If anything, the situation is growing dire, all so rich companies can grow a little richer at the expense of the environment and the people living in it.
Five decades ago, those charged with telling the stories of Marvel’s mightiest knew that we could do better, that we must do better. They tried to teach us. All this time gone by and we, collectively, haven’t learned a thing.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.