Thursday, September 24, 2009

Great Moments in Comics!


A full week of comics from both the big super-hero companies, but sometimes it's fun just to concentrate on the little moments writers and artists work into the bigger stories! I've been reading comics for a long, long time, and I can honestly say most of my best memories of them are scattered shots of just such moments, rather than the bigger stories and crossovers and what-nots I'm supposed to be remembering.

I'll do a few longer postings collecting some of those classic moments from across the decades, but for now I thought I'd start with a Great Moment from this very week, featuring Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.

The long background: Namor is one of Marvel Comics' oldest, most storied characters (the Human Torch and then later Captain America being the other two marquee-caliber names), the son of a human fisherman and a princess of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. As this description might hint, Namor is also - quite accidentally - Marvel's very first mutant: he's a hybrid with the pale skin of his father (Atlanteans are deep blue in hue, don't you know) and the water-breathing ability of his mother, but he has traits neither one possesses - mainly, he's got little wing-thingees on his ankles that allow him to fly, and he's preternaturally strong. But Namor has a claim to the affection of Marvelites everywhere that goes beyond his superhero stats: he's a great character, and, miraculously, he always has been. Namor is headstrong, irritable, proud, stubborn, prone to snap-judgements but not always wrong, and he's never been changed from that winning template, the perfect middle-ground between your standard hero and villain. And since his Atlantean physiology gives him a much longer lifespan than that of a normal human, no gimmickry is needed to have him right here, slapping around whoever's pissed him off in 2009. He doesn't currently have his own ongoing monthly title at Marvel, but that's as often as not a good thing - it allows writers to handle him exquisitely and consistently give him great lines, and that's certainly been the case in 2009 during the whole "Dark Reign" story-arc.

(That arc, for those of you joining us en medias res: psychopathic killer Norman Osborn has cleaned himself up and managed to worm his way into control of Marvel's amped-up equivalent of the C.I.A.; he's drafted other psychopathic killers to masquerade as his "Avengers" while hunting the real heroes into hiding; he's conducted clandestine deals with other Marvel super-baddies like Loki and Doctor Doom - and Namor, who just recently turned on Osborn, thereby earning his ire, which is not a good ire to have)

The short background: twenty years ago, a writer took Marinna, one of the dumbass-useless characters John Byrne invented for his dumbass Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight, and made her attractive to Prince Namor (Marinna was a yellow-skinned, fish-eyed amphibious slip of a thing, a uselessly derivative character as was everyone else on Alpha Flight), who, in a decision well-known to other fictional characters (such as Larry King), decided to marry the much, much, much younger girl, even though she had a tendency to turn into a mindless, rampaging sea-monster when stressed.

Cut to the present: Namor has enraged Norman Osborn with his perceived betrayal, and Osborn, it turns out, was prepared for just such an eventuality. He has stressed poor little Marinna (and pumped her full of shark-hormones), and she's now a gigantic rampaging mindless sea-monster - which Osborn sets loose on Namor's undersea people with instructions straight out of the U.S. Army: take all you want, but eat all you take. When Marinna begins consuming Atlanteans, Namor goes to the X-Men for help (only he's too proud to admit that, and he's too proud to ask for it when he gets there, and he's too proud to accept it when it's offered - this one-shot of "X-Men/Dark Reign/The List" is a great little snapshot of what a royal pain in the ass Namor can be, even to his friends). The plan: lure monster-Marinna in and take her down.

Which brings us to our Great Moment! Namor and the X-Men are gathered on the shore of the X-Men island sanctuary, and they can all see the monster approaching. One of the crowd of young mutants there scans the beast and sadly reports, "There's nothing to her but hunger and rage and ... and hate. There's nothing there but hate."

To which Namor - with the deadpan perfection only an 80-year-old warrior king might muster - replies: "Ex-wives. What can you do?"

Hee.

So hat's off to writer Matt Fraction (and the always-gorgeous artwork of Alan Davis, of course) for providing us with our inaugural Great Moment!

8 comments:

Kevin said...

You're so right! Except when you turn your nose at Alpha Flight. Then you're so wrong! Alpha Flight is the first de-constructed superhero team (and boy, does Byrne seem to enjoy being the surgeon on this deconstruction!).

Alpha Flight 1-12 is a bloody brilliant run, and don't you forget it, cape-zombie!

Kevin said...
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Kevin said...
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Kevin said...
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steve said...

Brilliant? a scientist who transforms into a giant (one might even say hulking) super-strong behemoth? a mutant brother and sister who are by turns distant and arrogant? a true-blue flyboy who dresses in his country's flag? An eight-page fight scene consisting entirely of all-white panels and sound effects? You got a low threshold for 'brilliant' there, buckaroo!

Kevin said...

Okay, admittedly, the character cocepts themselves are pretty uninspired (what's Canadian? Hockey! Yeti! Snow! The Northern Lights! Native Americans! A Maple Leaf!) - and perhaps Byrne's disdain for his own dashed-off afterthought team (created to be the baddies of the week in an X-men issue) is what made their book so interesting - he clearly had no qualms about tearing them all up, issue by issue. Or perhaps the lengths he went to to try and make them interesting...

And I liked the all-white fight scene. If nothing else, it highlights the craft of lettering...

Anonymous said...

Namor's crack is out of character, period. There's nothing funny about this nihillistic piece of crap Faction churned out. It makes me sad that Alan Davis wasted his talents on this.

Kevin said...

That might be a good point - if it weren't coming from an anonymous poster! How do you REALLY feel, Mr. Didio?