Among Marvel's Silver Age comicbooks it has become somewhat of a tradition to play host to the Sub-Mariner among the early issues. Namor the First, the Sub-Mariner, is one of a handful of Golden Age characters from the 40s - when Marvel was still named Timely. And so with the seventh issue of Daredevil we are welcomed to the majestic throneroom of Atlantis.
"Prince of Atlantis, Emperor of the Deep, Lord of the Seven Seas, and Supreme Commander of the Undersea Legions" - how's that for titles?
Before we delve into the very interesting details of this panel let us just note the change in the creative team with Sam Rosen departing and Artie Simek taking over the lettering chores. As I understand it, Simek and Rosen were pretty much the entire lettering contingent of Marvel Comics during this period.
And now to the panel: At the center is Namor. He is a Human-Atlantean mutant and the son of the late Princess Fen of Atlantis and thus the King of Atlantis. His hybrid origin explains his human coloring as opposed to the blue skin tone of his subjects. His Golden Age origins can be partly discerned from his eclectic mix of powers: Namor has superhuman strength and durability, both traits are just below the most powerful superhumans in the Marvel Universe (Namor ranks a '6' in the Power Grid for both Strength and Durability with 7 being the highest). A caveat for Namor is that he is dependent on water with his abilities depleting the more time he spends in the open air. For example, on land, Namor can lift 75 tons, slightly stronger than Luke Cage. In the water, Namor can lift 100 tons - equalling the hulk during his resting state. Perhaps his most curious power is flight. Namor has "ankle wings", presumably inspired by the Greek depictions of Hermes. Anyway, these small wings seem to be purely decorative with this ability to fly being attributed to a telekinetic trait. Incidentally, Namor is the creation of Bill Everett who illustrated Daredevil No. 1.
Looking back at the panel, I am enjoying the depiction of what seems to be an Atlantean submarine in the background together with some Atlanteans using sharks as underwater steeds.
Namor is holding audience with General Krang who is making a case for an Atlantean invasion of the surface world.
It is curious that the Atlanteans should crave to conquer a world in which they cannot naturally survive. Alone among Atlanteans Namor is amphibious - the blue Atlanteans have to wear water-filled helms to survive outside of the oceans.
What follows next, informs us about the state of Atlantean politics.
It is obvious that Namor does not want to start an unnecessary war with mankind. It is equally obvious that he cannot simply ignore Krang's request - a request that is shared by a substantial part of the Atlantean populace. The King owns his subjects, yes, but he is owned by them in turn; he ignores them at his peril. So here Namor treads very carefully, choosing a path that avoids outright war but at the same time a path that shows that he is not ignoring his people.
So off the to the surface world goes the Sub-Mariner - I particularly like the giant sea turtles he chooses as conveyance.
Since this is the Marvel Universe, "surface world" naturally translates to New York City. And here is Namor now walking the New York streets.
To New Yorkers Namor is a familiar figure. The Sub-Mariner has attempted to conquer the surface world through New York several times in the past. They also know him to be the heroic Invader fighting beside the Allied forces during World War II. So it is with mixed emotions that they greet this regal, half-naked, six-foot-two figure walking their city as if he owns it.
What follows next is quite hilarious.
First, Namor can't figure out a revolving door.
He has no patience with elevators too.
The comicbook doesn't show it but those people inside must have scrambled out and ran in a panic.
Then Namor destroys the door of Nelson and Murdock.
It's the second time that a superhuman has battered down the door of Nelson and Murdock. The first time was with the Thing back in issue No. 2.
Now what is Namor doing in the firm of Nelson and Murdock in the first place? Well, Namor has chosen to demand Atlantean rights of ascendancy from the surface world through legal means and so he's looking for lawyers.
Unfortunately, Matt Murdock informs the Atlantean that the legal approach simply will not work.
Having heard Matt's explanation the mercurial King of Atlantis chooses to add to Nelson and Murdock's repair bill.
Namor's reasoning here is simplistic: In order for him to get heard legally he must make it to court. If he can't go to court through lawyers he'll do it by getting arrested. And he'll get arrested by going through a rampage.
Namor was never known for his smarts.
Okay, let's forget the Sub-Mariner for a while. In fact, let's pause the whole tale. This is a very important moment: The introduction of Daredevil's red costume!
I like the yellow costume but this change is definitely a step in the right direction. As you'll soon see, this all-crimson garb just pops out of the panels. Wally Wood is the artist who first showed Daredevil in red.
Here's a familiar maneuver. First, this clever set of panels.
Then this beautiful panel.
This reminds me of the time in issue No. 2 when Daredevil did this with a helicopter on his way to a rematch with Electro.
I know it's not realistic but coloring the plane and the street teal and the rest of the city yellow makes for a very visually appealing panel. That, and the meticulous linework.
Spotting the Sub-Mariner, our hero lives up to his monicker as 'The Man Without Fear' by simply letting go of the chopper.
He keeps his cool during the descent and uses acrobatics to break his fall and get Namor's attention.
Remember that comparative Power Grid for Marvel characters? The scale is from 1 to 7. Namor is a '6' for Strength and Durability and a '3' for Speed. Daredevil rates a '3' for Strength, a '2' for Durability and another '2' for Speed. He's outclassed but not totally. Daredevil rates a '5' in Fighting Skills to Namor's '4'. Still, this is deeply lopsided. The Sub-Mariner is the most powerful superhuman Daredevil has come across at this point in his career with Electro coming in second.
To Daredevil's credit he did not come here looking for a physical fight; he came to reason with the Sub-Mariner. To Namor's credit, he's no killer. Arrogant he may be but Namor MacKenzie is, at core, one of the good guys. He also has a nasty temper.
Once again, Daredevil's speed and agility is his salvation. I love Wally Wood's rendition of the action in the panel to the right - you can really feel DD's movement with that dodge and the power of Namor's punch.
Although Daredevil is more agile than the Sub-Mariner, the Atlantean is more than his match in speed. During the melee Matt makes a fatal mistake.
The grab is made worst by the fall into the water - an element that will make the already incredibly strong Sub-Mariner even stronger!
Underneath the waves this blow pretty much ensures the death of Daredevil!
What saves Matt Murdock? The inherent nobility of Prince Namor.
This reminds me of a story about Genghis Khan and his warriors going up against the army of a middle eastern ruler. A prince, the son of that ruler was fearless. He kept attacking Khan and his men even after there was no hope of victory. In the end, the prince was forced to swim across a river in retreat. Genghis Khan's men quickly nocked there arrows and sighted the hapless prince, but before they could loose their arrows Genghis Khan stopped them. In admiration he let the prince go, stating: "Every father should have such a son".
In the same way Namor finds much to admire in the weaker Daredevil's never-say-die attitude. Matt gets thrown clear of the deeps and manages to scramble into the pier.
Meanwhile, Namor has judged that he has done enough damage to be arrested. And so he has. The Atlantean then surrenders with an eye to his day in court.
Surrender it may be but it is clearly on his terms. Namor is able to impose limits to his incarceration, such as 'no handcuffs'.
Of course, when asked for legal representation Namor knows of only one firm: Nelson and Murdock.
And so we have the trial. During the proceedings, Matt Murdock raises a point. True to form, the Court will take it's time to mull the matter.
In the middle of the trial the Lady Dorma appears to inform Namor that Krang has started a coup-de-etat.
As you can see, Lady Dorma is sporting the 'fishbowl' helmet - a necessary accessory for all pure-blooded Atlanteans when in the surface world.
It is understandable that the rebellion takes priority with Namor but having presented himself to the Court the justice system will not be ignored. All this results in this excellently rendered scene of a fracas at court.
Fortunately, Matt is able to convince Namor to wait it out. The Prince of Atlantis is willing to stay in a cell for a day while the Court decides. Once again, the legal system, well, behaves like the legal system and takes it's sweet time. Namor is prepared to wait a day but when he is informed that it will take a week for the Court to decide. Well, he does what we all fantasize about doing if ever we find ourselves waiting for the Court behind bars.
I particularly like this panel from Wally Wood showing Namor literally fleeing from the justice system.
The military steps in but an original member of the Invaders is used to fighting soldiers. And thus we have Sub-Mariner on a rampage part two.
Who's comicbook is this anyway? We've seen the red costume, now it's time to see the all new billy club with the grappling hook.
Daredevil manages to convince the military to back off while he tries his hand at stopping Namor. One could say that DD is crazy; that he almost died the last time. Save your breath, he was the same way with Electro and the Masked Matador. Matt Murdock simply does not know when to quit. Plus. He has another gimmick up his sleeve. Or rather, in his billy club. Witness the rarely seen Daredevil smoke screen.
Appearing on the scene wreathed in smoke does go together with the 'devil' theme of Daredevil.
Does it work? Yes it does. For one thing the smoke gives Daredevil a much needed edge to avoid Namor's sledgehammer punches.
Remember, all that smoke is irrelevant to the sightless Daredevil.
All that smoke also allows DD to tether the Sub-Mariner with his billy club.
I'm not sure if this was the best possible maneuver from Matt because one of the two heroes involved can fly and it's not him. Remember my comment about Sub-Mariner's ankle wings being useless for flight? Well, Daredevil does this . . .
. . . and Namor falls from the sky.
Hmmm. There is no way those small wings could possibly work. Maybe Matt's act of stopping them had a psychological effect on Namor which affected his telekinesis. In any case both Daredevil and the Sub-Mariner head back down to Earth.
Namor manages to recover his ability to fly and promptly lands on the ground while Daredevil manages to snag something to break his fall.
And that something happens to be a wrecking ball which Matt uses on the Sub-Mariner.
Even with two hits the Sub-Mariner is not stopped.
Even unloading heavy debris right on top of his head does not stop him.
At this point Matt must be realizing that he is fighting way above his weight class.
Against an attack from Namor, Daredevil's recourse is his incredible agility captured beautifully in this panel by Wally Wood.
Daredevil can avoid the Sub-Mariner for only so long.
Notice the way Artie Simek is making the sound effect lettering spill out of the panel? That's a nice detail.
What are the chances that Matt will stay down? We all know the answer.
He just keeps trying, in this case even using electricity.
Daredevil does not only electrocute Namor but he subjects himself to some voltage also in spite of his insulated gloves.
These three panels are telling.
They show us the level of invulnerability of the Sub-Mariner and the tenacious never quit attitude of Daredevil.
But this is it. This is the end of the fight. After this Namor quits the surface world to deal with the undersea rebellion.
Notice the neat detail of Namor's shadow in the left panel?
This issue shows us Daredevil go up against an impossibly powerful adversary in the Sub-Mariner. A foe that The Man Without Fear could not reasonably hope to defeat. But Daredevil kept coming. He just would not give up. After seven issues we know that this is exactly in character for Matt Murdock.
We get a bonus pinup at the end of the story that is worth showing.
Once again: Who's comicbook is this anyway? My first reaction to this is why is Daredevil being shown in such a defeated pose? But then again they might have meant to show Daredevil's persistence.
I actually like the fact that Daredevil isn't powerful at all and that it is very possible for him to encounter foes that he simply can't handle; it's all part of the charm of reading Daredevil.
Oh wait, before you leave. We can't close our commentary without looking into the Nelson-Page-Murdock love triangle. We have this tidbit.