Mighty Marvelites, gather ’round your screens to read of the first Marvel Comics multi-title crossover. Thrill as I The Timely Comics Watchamacallit fill in your concept of the Golden Age of comics. I’ve talked about the first Marvel comic, some familiar names with unfamiliar faces, the Golden Age origins of Captain America and Bucky, the first Golden Age crossover, and the top ten Timely Comics B-Listers and sidekicks. But, wait! There’s more. I reveal to you the first Golden Age multi-title crossover “The Human Torch Battles The Sub-Mariner As The World Faces Destruction!” Or, as I like to call it, the Golden Age Civil War!
Golden Age Civil War – The Four Horsemen
Namor and The Human Torch didn’t stay pals very long after their team-up in Marvel Mystery Comics #17. Thrilling girls and boys of all ages, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch find themselves duking it out once again in Human Torch Comics #5b ((cover date Fall 1941) check out this article for information on why there are two Human Torch Comics #5‘s).
Human Torch Comics #5b opens on Namor and three other figures (Death, Hitler, and Mussolini) riding horses with weapons brandished. They are “The Four Horsemen of Destruction,” bringing to mind a particular biblical quartet. The next page features a sweeping shadow of Mars lurking on the American horizon.
Golden Age Civil War – A Super Dinner Party
After this stark introduction, we see some familiar faces sitting down for a banquet. Casey, a colleague of Jeff Mace The Patriot, has been assigned to cover the war in Europe for the Consolidated Press. The Angel, The Patriot, The Human Torch, Toro, and Casey have gotten together for a farewell dinner. Unfortunately, Namor is unable to attend because he was called back to Atlantis by his mother. (Pfffff!)
As the group of friends toast the absent undersea prince, we cut to Subby himself happening upon a naval battle near his home. As he’s done a hundred times before, Namor breaks up the battle by twisting the rudder of a Nazi destroyer into a “shapeless mass”. But, after diving down to his undersea hometown, Subby finds that the battle overhead has taken its toll on Atlantis. Wreckage and corpses cover the seabed: Atlantean dwellings are in ruins.
Golden Age Civil War – Rathia Cometh
After a joyous reunion between Namor and his mother, a new Atlantean “beauty” named Rathia makes her debut in Human Torch Comics #5b. Rathia suggests to Namor that the only way to stop the war between the Allied and Axis forces, which have been devastating undersea cultures like hers and Namor’s, is to do battle with both groups, and declare undersea superiority over all. Namor calls a special war council of the submarine races and finds support for his war from all delegates. But, though Namor is only interested in the welfare of his undersea comrades, Rathia convinces him to try for world domination!
Back in New York, The Human Torch, Toro, and The Patriot are seeing Casey off. But just before he leaves, Casey receives a telegraph from Namor telling him not to risk covering the war. Casey ignores the cryptic wire, and heads to the Eastern Front. The Human Torch says that he’ll come along to find out all he can about Namor’s odd message.
Golden Age Civil War – Atlantean Interventionism
At the Eastern Front, Casey is up close taking pictures of the battle. Things are going pretty poorly for both sides when a massive whirlpool opens up in a nearby river. The whirlpool becomes a tidal wave, and several Nazi and Russian troops are pulled underwater. Casey nearly dies, but The Human Torch and Toro flying overhead manage to save the drowning reporter. Casey is then ordered to London to cover a story there. The Human Torch and Toro decide to take a trip to Atlantis to meet with their mercurial pal Namor.
Back in Atlantis, Namor is feeling pretty good about his chances for victory. He brags to Rathia that undersea peoples all over the world have been sending him formidable troops and weaponry. The two would-be dictators appear to have developed a romantic relationship; Rathia suggests that with the combined might of the submarine races they’ll be able to dominate the world both above and below the waves. Namor, she says, will be called a second Napoleon.
Golden Age Civil War – Namor Bonaparte
Namor, imagining himself as a more successful and much taller Napoleon, gets a visit from The Human Torch and Toro. Rathia warns that conquerors have no friends, only pawns, and Namor decides to use the fiery duo as his allies, willing or otherwise. Flying over Namor’s kingdom, The Torch and Toro get sucked underwater by the same type of whirlpool machine Namor used to bust up the Eastern Front.
Toro makes fun of Namor, likening him to a preening Mussolini, as he poses in front of the mirror. And, Namor, who has no time for the flaming lad’s sense of humour, slaps him across the face. Namor declares himself the dictator of the world. The Torch and Toro go on the offensive but Rathia floods the room, and the Torch is forced to swim to the surface for air (even though he’s an android).
Toro doesn’t make it out in time. Namor instructs Rathia to revive the boy and put him in a dungeon cell while Namor goes after the Torch. But, the Torch manages to escape, saying he’ll attempt to rescue his young sidekick as soon as he’s warned the Russians and Germans that Namor’s on the warpath as well. Unfortunately, when he does, both sides believe that the Torch’s warning is just propaganda from the other side. The battle continues.
Golden Age Civil War – Ka-Zar’s Ark
The Human Torch decides to fly to London. He hopes that Casey will publish the true story of the Sub-Mariner’s involvement in the war. But, as he flies over Africa, the Torch decides to first warn Ka-Zar of Namor’s involvement in the war, and his tactic of using whirlpool machines to drown people. The Torch instructs Ka-Zar to build an ark, and, with a mighty “Karooo! Aiee!” Ka-Zar sets to the task with the help of his animal friends.
The Human Torch makes it to London, and Casey prints a story concerning Namor’s attempt at world domination. The public doesn’t believe it, though, so The Patriot meets with the US president to convince him of its truth. The president is convinced, and orders that SCUBA equipment be distributed to civilians.
Back in London, the Torch convinces Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill to provide him with troops to launch a surprise attack on Atlantis. With the troops in tow, the Torch melts a tunnel to Namor’s undersea kingdom. Sadly, Namor detects the Torch’s intense body heat with a “photo-electric eye” machine, and floods the tunnel. The entire regiment of British soldiers is wiped out. The Torch narrowly escapes: the reader sees the outline of the grim reaper in close pursuit.
Golden Age Civil War – A Whale of An Army
The Sub-Mariner is once again preening in front of a mirror, but this time he compares himself to Goering. Unwilling to give up on rescuing Toro after the deaths of the British troops, the Torch attacks Namor in his private dressing room. Namor challenges the Torch to an old-fashioned fist fight, and the Torch knocks Namor out. An asbestos gun at the ready, Rathia appears and stops the Torch from continuing his assault.
Namor takes the Torch as his prisoner, and, by drugging his food (but he’s an android!), brainwashes him into slavery. At Subby’s command, the Torch obediently destroys a British convoy plane, its pilot, and all munitions aboard. Convinced of his drug’s effectiveness, Namor reveals his troops to the mentally conditioned Torch.
Namor shows off his fleet, replete with “devil-fish,” man-eating sharks, steel whale-boats that hold 3000 combatants, and enough whirlpool machines to flood the entire planet. Rathia swims up to the unlikely duo and reports that Toro is delirious and threatening to drown himself. Namor shows some evidence of having a moral compass when he says that he draws the line at killing children, and orders an Atlantean doctor to visit the poor kid.
Golden Age Civil War – Toro’s Escape
In a relatively sad Golden Age moment, we see Toro losin’ it. The Atlantean doctor orders Toro removed from his flooded cell to be admitted to an Atlantean hospital. The doctor examines Toro and finds that he’s delirious with pneumonia, which he likely caught while imprisoned. Namor rests, haunted by nightmares accusing him of endangering Toro’s life. But, the young delirious prisoner escapes when his nurse falls asleep. He flies off to England, hoping to find the Torch there.
Later, a British soldier finds Toro lying unconscious on an English beach. The Brit takes Toro to an English hospital. Toro cries out several names in his delirium, Casey’s among them. Toro’s new nurse calls Casey, and the American reporter visits Toro in the hospital. Toro tells Casey that the Torch is underwater with the Sub-Mariner, and raves, “Maybe they’ve gone fishing!”
Golden Age Civil War – Mussolini Non Grata
In fact, Namor and The Human Torch are launching an attack on all of Europe! They seek to take the continent by storm in a far-reaching pincer maneuver ranging from the Rock of Gibraltar to the Russian arctic. Subby’s whale navy takes the south while the Torch attacks from the north. Now that’s hubris!
Mussolini, having heard of the Sub-Mariner’s attack on the Rock of Gibraltar, sends submarines to assist him. In fact, Mussolini believes he is sending his subs to assist Hitler. But, when the Italian subs arrive, Namor and his navy destroy them, having no interest in sharing the glory of the battle.
Even without the assistance of the fascist undersea navy, Namor and his fleet manage to force a British surrender. The undersea prince now controls the Mediterranean Sea.
Golden Age Civil War – Karooo?
Again, thinking from a continental perspective, Namor covers his rear before pushing on to invade Europe. Using his turbine machines, the undersea despot sends a massive tidal wave over all of Africa. Luckily, for him and a bunch of his animal pals only, Ka-Zar completed his ark in time to avoid the unfathomably large tidal wave. Presumably, the wave drowns just about everyone else on the continent, but this is never mentioned in the story.
As Africa drowns, The Human Torch breaks off gigantic pieces of Russian glaciers, and, by super-heating parts of them, sends them steaming toward Moscow. Adding a bit of North American immediacy to the Golden Age Civil War, the Torch unknowingly sends another glacier speeding toward the western-most continent as well.
Golden Age Civil War – Jim Hammond, All-American Android
As the steam-powered glacier destroys Russian homes, the reader again sees the Grim Reaper, this time walking among the snowy carnage. An opportunistic Hitler reflects that the progress of the glacier will help his troops, attacking from the south. We see the Grim Reaper lean over Hitler’s shoulder: he reminds the mustachioed madman that Death wins every war.
Back in Moscow, Stalin addresses the Soviet troops before they take on the approaching glacier. The Russians use explosives and artillery fire to chip away at the approaching ice but they have limited success. Thankfully, as the Torch flies by the US embassy he stops and recognizes the waving form of Old Glory. The sight of his homeland’s flag snaps the Torch out of his brainwashed state. And, realizing he’s not being a very decent guy, he stops the glacier in its tracks by using his flaming body to melt a giant ditch for it to fall in.
Golden Age Civil War – The Human Torch Saves Canada
His mind again his own, the Torch gets a radio call at the US embassy in Moscow. It’s Casey who tells him that Toro is in a London hospital, and would like to see him. But before the Torch flies to London, Casey tells him about the second glacier heading for North America. So, it’s off to Canada for The Human Torch.
Alas, Casey’s conversation with the Torch is intercepted by one of the Sub-Mariner’s whale boats. And, learning of the Torch’s betrayal, the Sub-Mariner meets his erstwhile slave in Canada. The two have a bit of a dust-up, but the Torch is able to stop the advancing glacier before it kills any Canadians (“Way to go, eh?”). In the confusion, though, Subby manages an escape, so the Torch flies to England for a reunion with his young pal Toro.
Golden Age Civil War – “V for Victory!”
The Human Torch offers to take Toro to an American hospital, so that he can recover without the threat of being bombed. The brave sidekick, recovered from his delirium, refuses. Toro elects to stick out his recovery in London in solidarity with the other children in the hospital. Sadly, there isn’t much time for the Torch to visit the gift shop. While Toro and the Torch have their happy reunion, the Sub-Mariner unleashes the full might of his underwater turbines on Berlin, submerging the city.
The image of Mars again appears, this time astride the watery wreckage, laughing at the drowning victims of war as they plead for their lives. For those keeping track, this is the 2nd appearance of the Roman god of war in this story, and the fifth appearance of a mythical apparition.
Golden Age Civil War – Gibraltar? I Hardly Know ‘Er!
Unleashing another even larger deluge, Namor successfully destroys the German ground forces. But, from the stresses applied to it during the recent whirlpool activity, the Rock of Gibraltar falls into, and plugs, the Strait of Gibraltar. This blocks off and drains the Mediterranean Sea. Italy’s navy runs aground on the muddy seabed. Mussolini reflects that his predicament is “like being caught in a barrel of spaghetti”.
Subby and his troops take advantage of the drained sea. Having no difficulty fighting in the mud, they attack the helpless Italians on the mucky seabed. But, when the Torch appears to lend the Italians a hand, The Sub-Mariner takes off. The undersea dictator knows that with the water drained from the sea his fleet will be easy pickings for the Torch. Namor takes one of his whirlpool turbines, and uses it to reset the Rock of Gibraltar in its rightful place. The water floods back into the Mediterranean, and the sudden deluge utterly destroys the Italian navy.
Golden Age Civil War – New York Is Sinking
Unfortunately, the Sub-Mariner’s fleet of whale boats is still afloat. And, after sinking an American battle fleet, Namor sets his sights on New York City. Again, Namor uses his turbines to flood the land. And, though the populace is ready for the deluge, with diving equipment and water-tight shelters, Namor’s tidal wave destroys most of the city, and presumably drowns the enfeebled and bedridden.
The Human Torch solves the problem by, again, digging a big hole. He melts through layers of earth under New York City until he comes to lava, then he makes a U-turn and heads back above ground. The Sub-Mariner’s whale boat fleet follows the rushing water and Namor unwittingly steers his fleet into the Torch’s sinkhole. The water, reacting to the heat of the lava, turns into steam. The whale fleet must retreat since their boats can’t take the intense heat.
Golden Age Civil War – Et Tu, Jim?
The Sub-Mariner manages to escape the deadly steam, and, in his haste, flies right into the face of the Statue of Liberty. He enters the observatory deck but The Human Torch is hot on Subby’s heels. The Torch corners Namor, and Subby has an epiphany. Namor thinks of Brutus murdering Caesar, of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, and of himself stopped at every turn by The Human Torch. The Sub-Mariner surrenders, saying that Rathia’s “spell’s broken”. Namor says he only wanted to put an end to war, but that Rathia perverted his altruistic aim.
The Human Torch tells Namor he can help “square accounts” by radioing Rathia to call off the Atlantean attack on the US, and recall all troops to Atlantis. Namor makes the call, and Rathia recalls the troops. But, as soon as she does, Namor dives into the water and makes a beeline for Atlantis in order to settle with Rathia.
Golden Age Civil War – Rathia, Public Enemy
The Human Torch, aboard an American ship, follows Namor to Atlantis. And, it’s a good thing too, because when the Torch arrives he finds The Sub-Mariner unconscious awaiting execution. Using the same principle that allows underwater blowtorches to work, The Human Torch keeps his flame on underwater. After knocking the axe that would kill Namor from his executioner’s hands, the Torch uses his fiery form to destroy the underwater turbines, and Rathia surrenders against overwhelming odds.
The final wrap-up of the story informs the reader that the American president has dropped all charges against Namor and the Atlanteans, on the condition that they “behave”. Rathia, though, will stand trial as Public Enemy #2, second only to Hitler. It just goes to show you, you can’t trust a Baltic fish-lady when world domination is on the line.
Golden Age Civil War – Fishy Bits
Well, True Believers, that’s that, Human Torch Comics #5b in all its glory. On top of having the honour of being the first multi-title crossover in what would become the Mighty Marvel, this story, weighing in at 60 pages, also represents Timely Comics’ first graphic novel. Its haunting artwork showing the reader apparitions of vengeful gods astride the battlefield, and its depiction of real-world villains like Mussolini and Hitler show that this isn’t a story for little kids. It’s a story that underlines the brutality of war and the need for heroes.
Of course, The Golden Age Civil War isn’t perfect. Aside from Rathia taking the role as Namor’s scapegoat for war crimes he undeniably committed, there are some strange parts to this story. For instance, why does Casey cover the Eastern Front, and not The Patriot whose alter-ego is Jeff Mace, reporter? The Patriot is barely in this story. When he is, he acts more like a liaison to the American president than a superhero. Also, why is The Angel in this story at all if he’s just in it to be a dinner guest?
Much more pressing, why don’t The Human Torch and Ka-Zar care about the well-being of the human population of Africa, who presumably drowned while Ka-Zar and his animal buddies were riding the waves in their ark?
Keep in mind that the creative team behind this story was working around the clock pumping out colourful adventures by hand. The editorial timeline for these four-colour adventures was tight, and pages were few. In today’s comics market, this story would likely have comprised four to six issues, and had plenty of pages left over to address the details. This wasn’t the case in 1941. So, considering its creators’ hectic timeline, the level of detail in this story is amazing.
Golden Age Civil War – Retcons? You Bet … cons
Well, we’ve come to the end of the Golden Age Civil War. But, luckily, there are still plenty of retcons that retell this and other Golden Age stories. So if you’ve enjoyed reliving the Golden Age of comics with me, The Timely Comics Watchamacallit, and don’t want this ride to end, take heart! Check out my review of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s six-part mini-series Captain America: White, a 2015 retelling of Cap and Bucky’s early days fighting in World War II. ‘Nuff said.