Written by: Chip Zdarsky
Art by: Carlos Magno and Butch Guice
Colors by: Alex Guimaraes
Letters by: Travis Lanham
The world has got a Namor-sized problem. The Sub-Mariner possesses the Serpent Crown, is growing increasingly irrational and violent, and has also developed a chemical weapon that can change surface dwellers into water-breathers. Namor has problems too, though. His dead friend Tommy Machan keeps on appearing to him as a mental projection, and his influence seems to be putting further strain on Namor’s already fractured psyche rather than bringing the stability he clearly needs. There’s a lot at stake this issue. Let’s see how things pan out…
The issue opens with Namor and his army in the process of destroying some underwater Atlantean structures. When Roman, a recent ‘convert’ to water-breathing courtesy of Namor’s gas, wonders what the point of all this destruction is, and Namor replies, in a rare moment of authorial awkwardness, that this is “destruction for a cleanse”. Neither the awkward expression nor the intent behind it seems to bother Roman too much and he swims away, carrying out Namor’s orders to ready the Atlantean soldiers. This leaves Namor alone with Tommy who argues that Namor shouldn’t be preparing for an assault on Roxxon but instead should be pursuing the agreed-upon aim of world domination. The argument turns heated before Namor puts Tommy in his place (or does he?) by reminding him that he’s in charge.
We then get our first WW2 flashback, a clever bit of writing that focuses on Spitfire (always a favorite of mine) and her tensely-written rescue of a couple cowering in a nearby cottage while The Invaders take on some German infantry and tanks. Namor had rather carelessly thrown his tank away and it was about to land on the aforementioned cottage. The section highlights Spitfire’s bravery and – crucially here – altruism. While Namor is posturing and giving vent to his anger, she recognizes the potential for tragedy and does something about it. Her exasperation with our trunks-wearing anti-hero is beautifully rendered and, of course, it leads in perfectly to the next scene which features Cap, the Human Torch and Toro meeting Jacqueline Falsworth who, remarkably well-preserved, is now a high-up in British intelligence. It is in this meeting that they figure out that Namor is indeed gearing up to attack Roxxon.
There then follows the big fight of the issue – an attempt by Cap, the Human Torch, Toro and Spitfire to protect the Roxxon facility that Namor is attacking. And it’s pretty good, if inconclusive. It’s most notable for providing a powerful picture of how Namor is losing control of his grand vision. Orka and Tiger Shark start killing the Roxxon workers against Namor’s wishes – although perhaps not his orders. There is a horrible suspicion that Tommy is manipulating Namor without his knowledge. This suspicion becomes much stronger toward the end of the issue in a twist that is really rather shocking.
The issue as a whole, then, is highly enjoyable. The art is excellent and the flashbacks (by Guice?) stand out by virtue of their more conservative panel layout and the less clean (but no less effective) character work. On the other hand, the Magnos art is wonderfully dynamic and there are some great moments of drama and action. Zdarsky’s script provides just enough contrast between quieter scenes and high drama to avoid the issue being one-note, and he uses the flashbacks very skilfully as dramatic moments in their own right and commentaries on the action taking place in the present. All in all, this is…
A strong issue that sets up a confrontation that will be as dramatic and exciting as it will be inevitable. Zdarsky weaves a tightly-plotted but never confusing story, and there are moments of genuine tension and drama to be found here. The art is excellent throughout and the issue as a whole does a great job of presenting Namor’s tormented and twisted psyche. Very good stuff.