I’ve covered the first Marvel comic and the Golden Age Civil War. I’ve reviewed a few familiar names with unfamiliar faces. I discussed the Golden Age origins of Captain America and Bucky and rated the top ten Timely Comics B-Listers and sidekicks. What makes Marvel comics so tantalizing, though, isn’t just the quality and quantity of their heroes. Instead, it’s the fact that those heroes coexist in a shared universe. Indeed, if not for the concept of operating within a shared universe, certain MCU movies of today wouldn’t exist, most notably Marvel’s The Avengers. But, those who think that the first-ever Marvel comics crossover occurred in 1963 with Avengers #1 (cover date September 1963) operate on a misconception. Instead, the origins of the Golden Age Marvel Universe date back to June 1940 in Marvel Mystery Comics #8.
So, let me the Timely Comics Watchamacallit peel back the passage of the years as one might peel back the flap of a comicbook’s Mylar bag. Read on, True Believers …
Golden Age Marvel Universe – Cop On Fire
The first hints at a Sub-Mariner/Human Torch crossover dropped in Marvel Mystery Comics #7 (cover date May 1940). The Human Torch story in Marvel Mystery Comics #7 shows the Torch, now Constable Jim Hammond of the NYPD, hunting down and arresting a racketeer. But, after solving the case, the Human Torch hears that the Sub-Mariner is destroying New York City! The final panel of the “Human Torch” story shows a perplexed Jim Hammond scratching his head asking who the Sub-Mariner is.
Golden Age Marvel Universe – Electric Eel
Although Namor’s reasons for wreaking havoc on the surface world aren’t always clear, this time is different. The undersea prince is taking revenge on the people of New York City for electrocuting his royal person! In response to his killing spree in Marvel Comics #1 (cover date October 1939), Namor is convicted of murder in Marvel Mystery Comics #6 (cover date April 1940) and sentenced to death by electrocution.
Namor’s trial proves to be more about the threat he poses to humanity than his guilt or innocence as a murderer, and, since the state is systematically drugging him, the undersea prince can’t escape from his cell. Luckily for Namor when the time of his execution comes, the electric chair only serves to re-invigorate him (lucky!). He makes his escape and returns to Atlantis.
Namor returns to New York City to take his revenge at the beginning of his story in Marvel Mystery Comics #7. He crashes a ferry into an ocean liner, destroys an elevated train and its tracks, tosses the Empire State Building’s spire into a crowded street, and beats up half of the NYPD. The final panel shows Namor telling Betty Dean, a police officer sympathetic to the mighty fish-man, that he’s only just begun his reign of terror. Betty warns Namor that the police will send the Human Torch after him but Namor simply says, “Let him come!”
Golden Age Marvel Universe – Fire, Meet Water
Marvel Mystery Comics #8 shows Namor destroying New York City in order to attract the attention of the Human Torch. And, for the first time in what later became Marvel comics, a character with his own title makes a guest appearance in another character’s story. Carl Burgos‘s Human Torch appears at the end of the Sub-Mariner story. And, Bill Everett‘s Sub-Mariner appears at the end of the Human Torch story. This Golden Age crossover does a pretty neat job of telling the same story from two super-viewpoints.
Laying the groundwork for basically every future meeting of superheroes in the Marvel Universe, Namor and Jim’s introduction devolves quickly into name-calling. Both heroes attempt to best the other. The heroes meet on a bridge, but after some threats and property damage the Sub-Mariner escapes into the water.
Despite it’s boring stalemate ending in Marvel Mystery Comics #8, Namor and Jim’s first meeting must have been a hit with the readers! Marvel Mystery Comics #9 (cover date July 1940) featured a continuation of the crossover in that issue’s Human Torch and Sub-Mariner stories. Once again, the elemental foes fight, but this time they fight in all kinds of places. They destroy a reservoir and an airplane, and threaten several New Yorkers’ lives. And, once again, the battle ends in a stalemate. Namor traps Hammond in a vacuum tube, and, unable to get any oxygen, Hammond can’t turn up the heat.
The battle finally wraps up in August 1940 on the first page of Marvel Mystery Comics #10. Betty Dean convinces Namor to release the Human Torch from his oxygen-free prison. The Torch calls off his hunt for Namor as long as Namor swears to never bother humanity again. Riiiight.
Golden Age Marvel Universe – Business As Usual
The subsequent Human Torch and Sub-Mariner stories in Marvel Mystery Comics #10 are pretty standard fare. The Torch puts an end to a gasoline racketeering syndicate. Namor, scorned by his people for not destroying humanity, defends his undersea kingdom from pesky Americans Luther Robinson and Lynne Harris. Robinson and Harris get theirs though. Namor eventually kidnaps and has an Atlantean doctor surgically alter them! Both get gills and an additional resilience against cold. No big, right?
Over the course of the next few stories, Namor realizes that the Axis powers are worse than the Allies (duh). He endeavours to do what he can to stop the fascist forces in their tracks. It’s in Marvel Mystery Comics #17 (cover date March 1941) that the elemental foes work together for the first time.
Golden Age Marvel Universe – Namor and Jim
As any seasoned Marvelite knows, tense meetings of superheroes are almost always followed by superhero team-ups. The Golden Age of comics proves itself no exception to this rule. In Marvel Mystery Comics #16 (cover date February 1941) readers saw the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner investigating potential invasions of the US by Axis forces.
Namor, working with his captive “friends” Lynne Harris and Luther Robinson, foil a German plan to build an invasion tunnel. After doing so, though, Namor overhears a Nazi lieutenant raving about Japan’s similar invasion tunnel. Knowing he’ll need help destroying the Japanese tunnel, Namor sends his surgically altered American friends home and decides to call upon his old nemesis Constable Jim Hammond, the Human Torch.
Taking care of any past hostility in a couple of panels at the top of their story in Marvel Mystery Comics #17, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner agree to join forces in order to stop whatever invasion the Axis powers have planned. They find a seemingly active volcano in the middle of the Bering Strait but determine that the volcano is actually an entrance into a vast tunnel filled with a Japanese invasion force.
Namor and Jim cause a cave-in that kills the advance guard of Japanese soldiers. Luckily, the two heroes escape! And, after some very effective sabotage they destroy the tunnel, save some POW’s, and eliminate several troops of Axis soldiers. All in all, a successful, if bloody, wartime venture, and, as Subby himself says sociopathically in the final panel, “We had a lot of fun doing it!”