Sub-Mariner: Marvels Snapshots #1
Written by Alan Brennert
Art by Jerry Ordway and Espen Grundetjean
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The horrors of war return home with the Sub-Mariner in Sub-Mariner: Marvels Snapshots #1. Standing as the debut of the expanded Marvels line, author Alan Brennert and iconic artist Jerry Ordway return readers to the post-World War II Marvel era, focusing on Namor, his allies in the All-Winners Squad, and his relationship with intrepid civilian ally Betty Dean.
Using Betty as an audience surrogate, Brennert details an effecting and surprisingly layered reunion between the two, as they are confronted with reminders of the Nazi war machine during what is meant to be a relaxing day home. The resulting battle is a rousing display of old-school superheroics, while at the same time narratively a brutal exploration of PTSD and the atrocities of WWII. Committing to the line’s thesis of human perspectives on superhuman drama, Brennert, Ordway, and the textured colors of Espen Grundetjean set a high bar for the Marvels Snapshots spin-off.
Betty Dean, an unsung hero of the Marvel Silver Age, is counting her blessings as the Second World War draws to a close. It's 1946, and all her brothers are now returned home - but everyone has come back with scars, some physical and some emotional. Through this introduction at the Dean home, author Alan Brennert lays out his themes with rawness and respect, as Betty’s brother Lloyd grapples with PTSD, leading to a tense conversation on how each of them have coped with the horrors of war.
While that conversation isn’t exactly subtle, it provides a street-level foundation for problems a superhuman nature - namely, Namor the Submariner’s own shell-shock, first triggered by the noises of a New Jersey carnival, and then dangerously amplified later once the Shark crashes the proceedings with a stolen suit of Nazi mech armor. But it speaks to the theatricality and broad emotions of old-school comics like this, both of which Ordway and the script fully commit to once Namor is introduced into the narrative.
On paper, it sounds rather silly. But quickly the creative team makes it apparent they take this all deadly seriously. Take, for example, the sequence featuring Namor’s first brush with his anxiety - reacting to the rapid rat-a-tat of a shooting gallery, Ordway gives us a full-on hero portrait of the Invader, whirling his head around in terror. The very next panel is what the Submariner thinks he’s reacting to: a harrowing single shot of Namor clutching a fallen soldier on an occupied beach, the usual sepia-toned flashback consumed instead by an urgent, fearful red from Grundetjean and peppered with alarming, war-time SFX from Travis Lanham.
Later on the issue delivers another example, as Namor defeats the Shark and is ready to execute him with supreme prejudice. When his fellow All-Winners Squad-mate the Human Torch defends the fallen criminal, Namor shouts at his ally, asking how he could defend a collaborator like Shark “after Bitburg.” Jim blanches momentarily, the flames of his body transitioning back to the angry red and yellow flashbacks to the war, to the day Namor and his squad discovered a concentration camp outside the city. It’s a gut-wrenching, almost uncomfortable sequence of panels, but one masterfully laid out by Ordway and Grundetjean, both of whom lean into the heartbreaking sadness of the scene. Brennert also shows a real awareness as well, dropping the narration persistent throughout the issue and just allowing the images and emoting character models speak for themselves.
Delivering both human drama and rousing old-school superhero action, Sub-Mariner: Marvels Snapshots #1 is a real blast from the past. Unafraid to face the reality and personal cost of the Second World War and written with a boisterously vintage voice, this debut issue melds the earnest charm of the Silver Age with the rich thematics of the Modern Age of comics. We will have to wait to see if the rest of the line can run with this particular baton, but for now, Marvels Snapshots is off to a great start.