This was another book that came out of the drugstore’s Big Bin of Affidavit Return Comics and the first point when I learned that before it had featured the Hulk exclusively, MARVEL SUPER-HEROES had been split between the Green Goliath and the Sub-Mariner just as TALES TO ASTONISH had been years before. More than anything, I think that’s why I bought this issue, the novelty of that split logo at the top. I wasn’t used to comics changing their logos, it happened relatively rarely in those days. So there was something cool and exotic about this book simply because it had a different masthead than the later issues that I had sampled so far. The modern reprint editor felt the need to change the Hulk’s face on the cover for some reason. This sort of thing happened a lot on the reprint titles of the 1970s. Even when the original cover was used (sometimes a new piece would be commissioned) often the image would be touched up or funked with in some way. Here, it seems as though the goal was to modernize the Hulk a little bit, giving him longer, shaggier hair.
The lead Hulk story was produced by Stan Lee and Marie Severin, whose art was appealing and just a bit cartoony. The inking by Frank Giacoia kept things sharp and neat. The plot is pretty straightforward: while observing the plight of Thor in a contemporaneous adventure in which Odin had stripped the Thunder God of his godly might, Loki realizes that he needs a diversion to keep the All-Father from seeing the jam that Thor has gotten himself into, lest the All-Father intervene and re-empower his favorite son. Locating Bruce Banner, Loki causes him to be transformed once more into the rampaging Hulk and he deposits the beast on the Rainbow Bridge that leads to Asgard, counting on him to cause enough mayhem so as to divert Odin’s attention.
What follows is a sort of travelogue, as the Hulk, confused at his whereabouts, trods through Asgard, coming into conflict first with Heimdall, who attempts to prevent his entrance but to no avail, and thereafter the Warriors Three, who likewise hurl themselves against the brute. The Hulk’s remarkable strength is up to every challenge, even from these Demigods, but while he’s ready to fight at the drop of a hat, he’s really just looking for some peace and quiet. Ultimately, the Warriors Three begin to listen a bit more and fight a bit less, and everybody calms down and begins to parlay.
But that parlay isn’t in the interests of Loki, who needs trouble stirred up in order to distract his father, and so the God of Evil approaches, attempting to convince the assembled legions of Asgard that the Hulk represents a threat to the Realm Eternal. Things don’t work out so well for Loki, though, as the Warriors Three aren’t buying his sales pitch. Along with their new green-skinned friend, they head off towards the domicile of Oldar the Oracle, to find the Hulk a way home (I don’t know why they don’t just slide him down the Rainbow Bridge again–doesn’t seem terribly complicated, guys.) But the vengeful Loki, pissed that the Hulk failed him, mystically changes ol’ Jade-Jaws back into Bruce Banner just as he’s in mid-leap across the convenient Bottomless Chasm. And so, the story ends with Banner falling to his seeming death–or, if not, falling as he will forever into this limitless gap in the ground.
And that leads us to the Sub-Mariner story that makes up the second half of this issue. It’s written by Archie Goodwin, a fact that I had forgotten until pulling this book out for this piece. I would have sworn that Roy Thomas was behind this story (and indeed, Roy did finish it up when it continued into the first issue of Subbie’s own series.) It was illustrated by Gene Colan, who had handled the Namor strip on and off since its inception, and whose version of the Sub-Mariner was powerful and solidly built.
The issue opens with Subbie experiencing a powerful dream of a taunting helmeted figure, one that has troubled him often in recent times. He believes that it’s connected to the years he spent wandering the Earth with amnesia, before the Human Torch found him in the Bowery and restored his memories. In search of answers to this strange siren call, Namor heads south towards Antarctica, where the Atlanteans’ original city, long since destroyed, was situated. This particular reprint is forced to cut a page or two out of this story due to the shorter page lengths of modern comics, and it’s positively murder on a story that was only 11 pages to begin with.
There’s some subplot material here as well, and it’s incredibly complicated; Namor thinks the Atlanteans think he’s a traitor, but they know that he isn’t–but they think that he perished in battle with the Plunderer, but that didn’t actually happen, and now Lady Dorma is being wooed by the smooth-talking warrior Seth–believe me, it’s all melodramatic as hell but doesn’t really amount to much of anything. Eventually, Namor gets to the area where lost Atlantis used to reside. He’s attacked by a robot servitor so that the issue has some manner of action in it–it’s about as perfunctory a fight scene as you’re ever likely to find. And then, the Sub-Mariner bursts into an inner chamber, coming face-to-face with the very man whose image has been taunting him in his dreams. The End! Actually, a caption indicating that the story would be continued in the IRON MAN & SUB-MARINER one-shot has been cut out of this reprint, since they weren’t going to be running it the next issue. So this is literally where this story ended for readers in the 1970s. I’m sure a whole lot of people were baffled by this when issue #56 rolled around.