By Eric Drumm
When somebody tries to stab Prince Namor in the back Julius Caesar-style, you know the results won't be pretty. Co-writers Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson (POWERLESS) along with French phenom artist Phil Briones (WHITE TIGER) have been exploring what happens when Marvel's arrogant aquatic royal must face threats within and without his kingdom for five issues of the SUB-MARINER mini-series. with the sixth and final chapter on the way November 28, the underwater hits keep on coming.
Namor has been a pillar of the Marvel Universe for almost 70 years. First appearing way back in MARVEL COMICS #1 (yeah, you read that right), the Sub-Mariner has been doing the back stroke between hero and villain ever since.
Regardless of his affiliation, Namor's fierce defense of his kingdom of Atlantis has remained his most steadfast and defining characteristic. Cherniss appreciates the opportunity to explore one of Marvel's most tenured characters.
"It was great," says Cherniss of his time working on SUB-MARINER. "Namor has a special place in the Marvel Universe and any time you get to explore the character and add a small part to his history, it is a privilege."
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Though royal Atlantean blood flows through his veins, Namor has always maintained an interest in the surface world. Whether launching a war campaign or romancing the very married Susan Richards, Subby has never fully escaped his ties to humanity that began with his father, an American sea captain. In SUB-MARINER, Namor's chummy relationship with the land lubbers led to some of his own subjects turning on him. The coup to remove the prince from power has been the driving conflict of the series. Has Namor's relationship with the surface world made him a weak ruler in some of his people's eyes?
"Absolutely," confirms Cherniss. "Let's face it: Namor is a man of action and even though the earth is 3/5 water, most of the exciting stuff happens on the surface. Namor has never been able to stay away from that and, while it is often for good reason, there were some in Atlantis that came to resent it."
That resentment ran so deep in some that an Atlantean sleeper cell blew up a Kansas town in an eerie echo to the Stamford tragedy that ignited CIVIL WAR. Namor found himself the prime suspect with his world crumbling around him. His people turned on him as Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. mounted a counter-attack.
That much pressure from all sides could drive even the most rational man to violence, but since this is Namor we're talking about, they may as well have tossed a match into a fireworks factory.
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Throughout his history, Namor has always been of the "punch first, punch some more, keep punching until they break, then maybe ask a question or two" philosophy, so when you try to take away his throne you can imagine what he might do. SUB-MARINER has seen Namor in full-tilt murder mode, with no mercy for those who crossed him. According to Cherniss, the sovereign of the seas' brash nature may come back to bite him.
"I think that Namor had been trying to have it both ways for some time, and in this series he was forced to make some definitive decisions.," the writer explains. "It was less that he was hot-headed, and more that he was decisive."
In addition to character development, SUB-MARINER has provided plenty of bloody punch-ups and brutal beatdowns as well as some never-saw-it-coming shockers and twists. Cherniss certainly had his own personal favorite moments.
"Namor ripping out Venom's tongue and Namor impaling [Atlantean traitor] Arath on the tip of the Space Needle in Seattle stand out for me," recalls Cherniss. "Namor is a bad-ass and those moments were good reminders of that. There are also some great moments in issue #6 that I can't reveal here, but that I think are a lot of fun."
Cherniss also had some not-so-favorite moments:
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"If there was anything I regret it's that we didn't have more time to spend with Tony Stark and his situation in Atlantis. There was more story there to tell, but we just didn't have the space for it. There were many characters we would have loved to incorporate into the story that Namor has a long-standing relationship with, but for continuity reasons they weren't available to us for purposes of the story."
As the series heads into its sixth and final issue, fists are going to fly and heads are going to roll, but exactly whose remain to be revealed. Namor may have taken back his throne in issue #5, but he's not out of hot water yet. The U.S. government has decided that Namor must be taken out at all costs and leading the charge into the depths is reluctant S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. With his kingdom in shambles, can the Sub-Mariner fight off a heavily-armed armada at his doorstep?
"That is really what issue #6 is all about," promises Cherniss. "There are still some big twists that have yet to be revealed."
SUB-MARINER has provided Namor with a difficult series of challenges, but also reinforced him as a Marvel heavyweight, a hero and a ruler. This story has shown what Namor is made of, and without question confirms that he is not to be messed with. Will things ever be the same for the Prince of Atlantis?
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"I hope not," says Cherniss. "If they are, it would mean that the story was a waste of everyone's time. The whole purpose of this was to redefine Namor within the Marvel Universe. Issue #5 may make it seem like Namor has a chance of returning things to normal, but issue #6 makes it clear that 'normal' isn't a word Atlanteans will be using anytime soon. A lot of readers may think that they have it all figured out based on the events of issue #5 when combined with the flash forwards in the story, but anyone that feels that way has a big surprise in store."
Take the plunge in the final issue of SUB-MARINER by Matthew Cherniss, Peter Johnson and Phil Briones on sale November 28th.