Marvels Snapshots: Sub-Mariner #1

The Big One is over and the heroes of World War Two have come home. But they’ve paid the price for victory, cop Betty Dean’s brothers among them.

After a spat with Lloyd over his drinking, Betty takes her friend Namor, the Sub-Mariner, to Palisades Park. He’s just back from Europe and she’s determined to make him smile again after the rigours of war. Also, Betty’s in love with him and wants to deepen their relationship. In the course of wandering the amusement park, she asks how long Atlanteans live…

Later, the usually stoic Sub-Mariner is startled.

While the noise has an innocent source, there is outright action later in the day, as Namor encounters a very minor super-villain. The incident, though, threatens to turn out as disastrously for Palisades Park as it did for Coney Island when Namor passed through. Happily, Betty knows some people…

Yep, I’ve gone light on the details, there’s a lot more story in this comic than I’ve recapped, but this is a five-star recommended read that demands to be experienced as intended by two genuine comic legends.

The artwork by Jerry Ordway, the master behind such classics as Power of Shazam and All-Star Squadron, is unmistakable. The classic, clean lines, the beautiful compositions, the humanity in even the most super of people, the evocation of the Forties – few can touch Ordway in these areas. Namor in civvies is a delight, and, when he strips off to his trademark trunks, a god.

Then there’s the detail – the Palisades Park panels, of which there are many, are packed brimful with unique individuals having fun against deliciously detailed backgrounds. And not for Ordway a single figure and blurred lines when drawing a speedster; nope, he gives us dozens of mini-guys, zooming across the page.

Ordway has the perfect partner in Alan Brennert, novelist, teleplay writer and author of just a handful of comic stories, almost all of them stone-cold classics (the ‘lesser’ ones are merely ruddy marvellous). Marvels Snapshots is his first comic story in years and it’s up there with his best work, blending character and action in a genuinely fresh period piece.

(One of Brennert’s novels is centred on the people who lived and worked around Palisades Park around this time: I was constantly scanning this comic for a young woman stunt diver… if you enjoy Brennert’s comic work, check out his books. The wonderful Palisades Park is a great place to start. Fine writing is fine writing. And if they ever reissue it with an Ordway cover, I’m buying it again!)

This new series is inspired by Marvels, the rightly lauded Kurt Busiek/Alex Ross series looking at the Marvel Universe through the lens of news photographer Phil Sheldon. Starting with Namor makes perfect sense, the Prince of Atlantis having debuted in the first Marvel title – well, it was Timely then – Marvel Mystery Comics #1 (cover star the Angel is referenced in Snapshots, while fellow debutante the Human Torch stars next time). While Namor is the marquee name – just look at him on Ross’ bright and beautiful cover – it’s Betty Dean who is our focus, showing us Namor through her eyes while letting us into her own soul.

Busiek is also a presence – he’s listed as ‘curator’, which presumably means he worked with Brennert and Ordway, and editors Shannon Andrews Ballesteros and Alana Smith. Colouring the book, Espen Grundetjern leans towards naturalism, which makes sense for something that feels like a true slice of Americana, but doesn’t stint on the brights once the big action sequence arrives. And I do like the faint yellowing of the white around the panels, giving the comic a vintage vibe.

Travis Lanham’s letters complement the art, being unshowy but sympathetic, and certainly vital. Credit, too, to the Production Department, for the clever negative of the cover image on the credits page, which chimes nicely with that camera lens in the sharp logo.

A classic superhero tale, an empathetic character piece, a hard-hitting homecoming fable – Marvels Snapshots: Sub-Mariner #1 is essential reading.

7 thoughts on “Marvels Snapshots: Sub-Mariner #1

  1. Yeah, I teared up a few times. Brennert knows how to hit your feels and Ordway knows how to best portray that.

    My wish now? And I have to admit I’ve wanted it for ages. Marvel’s sliding timescale means the Modern Age’s start is always fifteen years ago. Betty is too old to have been in adventures within the last fifteen years. I want them to do a Peggy Carter and divorce her from modern comics, maybe even give her a whole life and death that means something, yet ended way before the Fantastic Four now debuted. Heck, my grandparents were all her age during WW2 and none made it to the 21st Century. This comic has me wishing Frank and Madeline aren’t tied to the Avengers either.

    Oh and how cool was it seeing Captain America call Miss America their heaviest hitter and sending her into battle? Cap might never hit a girl but he sure will use a female tank to beat on you!

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    1. I like your idea! Betty was, mind, seen post-World War Two, in the Subby book, looking after Namorita.

      Presumably this is substitute Captain America #1 – nice to know he’s not a sexist.

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  2. A wonderful issue — as good as I expected from hearing the excellent creative team. So glad to see Brennert back in comic books!

    I haven’t read Palisade Park, but I have read Moloka’i — about a quarantined leper community in Hawaii, which suddenly seems super timely — and it was phenomenal. (Also: it offers some more excellent reasons to cry.)

    One note from a superb craft standpoint: Ordway could draw the hell out of Betty’s new hairstyle, but no matter what, it’s going to look a little dated (and perhaps distancing) to modern eyes. But Brennert is aware of this, and cleverly plots the splash to soak Betty — which serves the character purpose of changing her mood, of course, but also gives Ordway the chance to let her hair down, making it easier for the audience to relate to her on a visceral level, rather than as someone from an old photograph.

    More from Brennert, please. More from Ordway. More, more, more.

    The other 7 installments in this series have a super tough act to follow.

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  3. I ordered Moloka’i after seeing your comment and it’s already arrived, can’t wait to read it!

    I like your idea on why Betty got you hair wet. I tell you, Betty needs to wash that Namor right out of her hair. I actually loved her new hairdo and was disappointed when it disappeared. But then, I’m old.

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  4. Ha, I liked it too! And I’m not old enough for a hairdo like that to ever be in style (aside from a retro way) — but given how many movies I watch on TCM,* I feel like I’m an honorary old fogey.

    *Turner Classic Movies — I’m not sure if you get that channel in Scotland, but it’s a treasure.

    Enjoy Moloka’i!

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