(JUNE 1971)



"Namor Agonistes!"
(19 pages)

Story - Roy Thomas
Art - Ross Andru
Inks - John Severin
Colours - Marie Severin*
Lettering - Artie Simek
Editor - Stan Lee

Cover pencils - Marie Severin*, Ross Andru*
Cover inks -
John Severin*
* uncredited

On sale 2 March 1971




In the previous issue of Sub-Mariner, Namor is forced to choose whether to first free the captive Lady Dorma or fend off an attack on Atlantis by Attuma's forces. He feels obligated to do the latter first and then finds he is too late to save Dorma being killed by her captor Llyra. Now all that Namor can do is mourn her, and in doing so, his mind turns back to the days of his youth, and he remembers events from that time. His brooding and self-torment is only interrupted by the Lady Dorma's funeral, following which Namor publicly announces his abdication of the throne of Atlantis. He then leaves, vowing to never to return.

"The last rites of the lady Dorma! A soul-wrenching decision for a tormented Namor! Plus - the untold truth about the Sub-Mariner's awesome origin! This is the one!" (The Mighty Marvel Checklist, June 1971)

The events featured as memories in Sub-Mariner #38 all refer to stories originally written and drawn by the character's creator Bill Everett, and writer Roy Thomas thus added an acknowledgement and dedication accordingly.

But this nod of appreciation came naturally to Thomas, being a self-confessed and long-standing fan of Marvel's Sub-Mariner and his creator Everett.

Roy Thomas (*1940) in the early 1970s

  Thomas may also have felt inclined to insert it because he was well aware that the important place occupied by the Sub-Mariner and his creator in the history of the Marvel Universe was not reflected at all in their general popularity.

"When somebody asks me [Roy Thomas] in interviews or at conventions about the many comics titles I've written (...) it's rarely about The Sub-Mariner. (...) I find that odd, because Sub-Mariner (...) was one of my favorite heroes even back in the late 1940s (...) and he became even more of an icon to me when his creator Bill Everett wrote and drew some of the finest Sub-Mariner stories ever, in the mid-'50s." (Thomas, 2009)

But then the Sub-Mariner had always swam against the current.


Bill Everett

Right from the get-go back in early 1939, the character constantly swayed between rage and compassion, between being a hero and a villain - a trait that is therefore also very present in Sub-Mariner #38, due to the many memory flashbacks.

Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971)

Reprint of 1939 origin story in Invaders #20 (September 1977)

  Ross Andru (born Rostislav Androuchkevitch) is probably best known for his work on Spider-Man, although not unlike the Sub-Mariner he never quite got the appreciation he deserved for his work in the historical shadows of the likes of Steve Ditko, John Romita and Gil Kane (Avila, 2020).
Andru had worked mostly for DC since 1953 but left for Marvel in 1970, where his first published pencils featured in a six-page story in Western Gunfighters #4 (February 1971) before being handed his first full-issue superhero title assignment for Sub-Mariner #37 (May 1971).

Following that Andru became the artist for the new Kull the Conqueror title. Sub-Mariner #38 was only his third full-issue work for Marvel, just as the House of Ideas was going through one of its bouts of "creative talent musical chairs".


Ross Andru

Marvel was putting out more and more titles, and quite often editors found themselves in dire need of writers and artists, leading to a substantial amount of moving around of established creative talent or the introduction of new names as a result.

Newcomer Ross Andru thus replaced Sal Buscema on Sub-Mariner as of issue #37, but only stayed on for two issues (he would be back for one issue, Sub-Mariner #43).

"Sal Buscema left Sub-Mariner (...) but he had an able replacement in Ross Andru. Andru was an under-valued artist, at least by many readers, and Stan himself was only lukewarm about him. We younger writers, though, loved to work with him. He told a good story, and he constructed real three-dimensional scenes you could walk into. It was admittedly difficult for anyone to ink his loose pencils without losing an ineffable something - but to us, Ross Andru was a godsend." (Thomas, 2014)

To Roy Thomas, Namor was the Marvel solo hero he was most interested in writing (Thomas, 2014), but he too would become involved in the creative talent shuffle and be moved to other writing responsibilities - after having authored no less than issues #1-40 of Sub-Mariner.

Ross Andru continued with Kull and did a few issues of Rawhide Kid before being assigned to pencil the debut of the Defenders in Marvel Feature #1 (December 1971) - soon to be followed by his first Spider-Man assignment, in Marvel Team-Up #1 (March 1972).


Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971) - the squiggly-rounded panel corners indicate that this is a memory

Thomas' work on Namor with Andru was thus only a brief interlude, but he rated it highly.

"[In] Sub-Mariner #38 (...) I think Ross (...) pulled out all the stops [and] also did a terrific job of retelling Namor's first, fateful and fatal encounter with two deep-sea divers (conceived originally by Bill Everett in 1939) which I wanted to re-tell for new readers." (Thomas, 2014)



There is a distinct disconnect between the Sub-Mariner arguably being the first Marvel hero (Thomas, 1988) and his standing as a B-list character at best in the Marvel Universe of the 1960s and 1970s and, indeed, ever since. Namor has always been a difficult character to relate to, given his strong ambivalence in personality - although this in itself makes him an even more important figure for the nascent new world of comic book heroes of the early 1960s in the eyes of Roy Thomas.

"In the anti-heroic, almost villainous mode which was part and parcel of Namor from the start, and which made him unique among comics heroes at the time, he was the ancestor of (and doubtless an influence on) Stan Lee's more human approach to super-hero scripting which began with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961." (Thomas, 1988)

Reprint of Marvel Comics #1 as suuplement to The Folio Society's Marvel: The Golden Age 1939–1949 (2019)

  If it were just down to the Sub-Mariner's well-known first appearance and origin story from Marvel Comics #1 (which had an October 1939 cover date but went on sale on August 31st), however, the Scourge of the Seven Seas would not be able to lay claim to being Marvel's first hero, since the Human Torch not only featured on the cover but also on the first 16 pages of Marvel Comics #1 (Namor was only the third feature). And then there was Ka-Zar in that very same comic book too.

The Sub-Mariner's tag of "first Marvel hero" is due to the fact that his origin story had already appeared before Marvel Comics #1, in a comic book magazine called Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1. Only rediscovered in 1974, it was designed to be a promotional giveaway in movie theatres, but the idea was aborted prior to distribution and only a handful of sample copies were actually printed (Weist, 2004).

Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 featured the first eight pages of Everett's Sub-Mariner story in black and white, and information that surfaced with the few printed copies dates it to April 1939 - making Namor the very first Marvel Comics character.

Since the 1990s, the Sub-Mariner's origin tale from Marvel Comics #1 has been reprinted numerous times, but prior to that time it was something of a rare gem - if indeed Marvelites even knew about it.

Invaders #20
(September 1977)

  One rare occasion to get acquainted with the Prince of Atlantis' beginnings happened when the "Deadline Doom" caught up with Marvel for the production of the September 1977 cover date publication run.

Several titles missed their deadlines, and in the case of Invaders #20, only half of the planned pages made it into that issue. In true Marvel style, Roy Thomas (who was the title's editor and writer) turned an embarrassing situation into a high-flying event by using the first eight pages of Namor's origin story from Marvel Comics #1 as a filler. Except the reprint wasn't from that issue, but rather from Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1.

Readers were given a comprehensive explanation of the reasons and the background story by Thomas, and possibly many felt the way I remember I did: at first I was disappointed that the Invaders story was abruptly cut short, but ultimately felt I got a good deal with that Sub-Mariner reprint and the anecdotal insight into the history of Marvel Comics.

However, if (like me) you knew Namor from the Roy Thomas and Gene Colan yarns from the very early 1970s period, you were in for something of a shock, as this 1939 version of the Sub-Mariner wasn't the tragic yet noble hero, fighting for the good cause and recognizing that evil dwells everywhere. On the contrary - this guy essentially hated everyone who walked the earth.


It would all be tempered down within a few months, as Marvel Comics became Marvel Mystery Comics and the Sub-Mariner began to fight the Nazis just as the Human Torch and other Marvel heroes did (but of course readers of Invaders #20 most likely knew nothing about that).
The character nevertheless remained something of an enigma - as well as a bomb that could go off at almost any given moment.

"Namor was a freak in the service of chaos. Although the Sub-Mariner acted like a villain, his cause had some justice, and readers revelled in his assaults on civilization. His enthusiastic fans weren’t offended by the carnage he created as he wrecked everything from ships to skyscrapers." (Daniels, 1991)

Roy Thomas took him on a decidedly more refinded path and imbued him with the best of humanity as of 1969, but in some ways he was even lucky the character was around and a part of the marvel Universe. When superheroes started to make a comeback in the very early 1960s, Stan Lee was reticent to bring back the old characters such as Sub-Mariner, Captain America and Human Torch, since he really wanted to create something new (Cooke, 1998).


Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971)

But as often, publisher Martin Goodman knew like no other how to make new money with old publications, and so Lee had to bring the three back into the fold. The fact that the Human Torch was no longer an android (and thus had a completely different origin story) and Captain America was thawed from decades long suspended animation without his side-kick, and that both characters immediately started out as members of a team (the Fantastic Four and the Avengers respectively) was Stan Lee's way of putting at least some new spin on them, and since they were successful, Goodman couldn't care less.

Fantastic Four #4
(May 1962)

  Like many others, Stan Lee must have felt rather ambivalent about Namor, so when he brought him back into the fold in 1962, it was not as a hero but as a villain.

And so Johnny Storm a.k.a The Human Torch reading a copy of an old Sub-Mariner comic book and then stumbling across Namor only moments later sets up "The Coming of the Sub-Mariner!" in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962).

Namor is depicted as having suffered from amnesia, but contact with sea water has him regain his memory of who he is and what he is all about. But when he finds his undersea home in ruins, and once again he vows that he will have his revenge on the human race. Of course it's up to the Fantastic Four to stop him now, especially since he joins forces with Dr Doom in Fantastic Four #6 (July 1962), although he soon finds out he is being played by the mad doctor from Latveria.

Disillusioned, he retreats to his marine haunts, although popping up now and then in issues of Fantastic Four and Avengers, where he would continue to have issues and thus team up with e.g. the Hulk (suffering from a similarly ambivalent character). For quite some time, the Sub-Mariner remained in this state of being a belligerent villain-hero.



The letters page "Send it to Subby" (actually two of them, sharing the space with an in-house ad for Thor #188) is, as was the case quite often in those days, revealing in terms not only of how readers reacted to past issues but also as to their thoughts regarding future treatment of the title and its character.
It is especially interesting to see that readers were concerned with ecological topics and felt that these should be given more prominent standing in Sub-Mariner, while other readers brought up the issue of protests and standing up for what is right in a democracy.

Clearly, a segment of readers of Sub-Mariner (and other Marvel titles as well) in the very early 1970s were very much concerned with social, political and environmental issues, and were writing in to voice opinions and thoughts which went far beyond the classic evaluation of plots, artwork and character treatment.

This was of course encouraged to quite some degree by Stan Lee's musings in his regular Soap Box column - featured on the classic Marvel Bullpen Bulletin pages - which famously would touch on questions of morality and ethics and denounce bigotry and hatred. The message was simple but effective: you follow Marvel's good guys in the comic books, so be a good guy in real life.


Letters page from Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971)

This time around (i.e. for the May 1971 cover date production run) Stan Lee was pondering the relevance of comic books and sharing his (typically high-flying) thoughts on the subject matter.

Bullpen Bulketins page from Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971)

  The actual Bullpen Bulletins with their famous ITEM! bulletin point markers was, as usual, mostly concerned with ins and outs of creative talent on specific titles as well as with the increasingly common "show-biz name-dropping", recounting media appearances of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas.
And then, of course, there was the MIGHTY MARVEL CHECKLIST, featuring a run-down of titles from the House of Ideas on sale at that point in time. As always, it included a number of enticingly worded plugs for several titles, as well as letting readers know that Marvel still put out titles such as Our Love Story or Western Gunfighters in early 1971.  

Sub-Mariner #38 (June 1971)

  • Everett got the inspiration for the name Sub-Mariner from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1834 poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Thomas, 1989);

  • Roy Thomas' title "Namor Agonistes!"is an allusion to John Milton's 1671 drama Samson Agonistes, the Greek agonistes referring to a person engaged in an inner struggle;

  • Sub-Mariner was published monthly in 1971, but the indicia wrongly states that it is "published monthly except January, semi-monthly".

  • Despite his interest in and love for the Sub-Mariner, Roy Thomas would not get to write his adventures again after leaving the character with Sub-Mariner #40, although he would of course include Namor in the WW2 Invaders.




AVILA Mike (2020) "Remembering Ross Andru, the most under-appreciated Spider-Man artist", Syfy Wire, published online

COOKE Jon B. (1998) "Stan the Man & Roy the Boy: A Conversation Between Stan Lee and Roy Thomas", in Comic Book Artist #2, Summer 1998

DANIELS, Les (1991) Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

THOMAS Roy (1988) "Subby, Bill and Me - A Personal View by Roy Thomas", Saga of the Sub-Mariner #1, November 1988

THOMAS Roy (1989) "Subby, Bill and Me - A Personal View by Roy Thomas, Part VII", Saga of the Sub-Mariner #8, February 1989

THOMAS Roy (2009) "Introduction", in Marvel Masterworks The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 3, Marvel

THOMAS Roy (2014) "Introduction", in Marvel Masterworks The Sub-Mariner, Vol. 5, Marvel

WEIST Jerry (2004) 100 Greatest Comic Books, Whitman Publishing


The illustrations presented here are copyright material.
Their reproduction for the review and research purposes of this website is considered fair use
as set out by the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. par. 107.

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uploaded to the web 23 April 2023