Marvels Snapshot: Sub-Mariner #1 Review

by Charles Martin on March 11, 2020

Marvels Snapshot: Sub-Mariner #1 Review
Writer: Alan Brennert
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colourist: Espen Grundetjern
Letterer: Travis Lanham
Curator: Kurt Busiek
Publisher: Marvel Comics

1946 is an interesting time in both global and comic book history. While most of the world struggles with war recovery, America takes a breather before launching into its long standoff with the Soviet Union. In the funny books, the Golden Age is ending and readers are turning their backs (for a time) on most of the superheroes and their suddenly-obsolete Nazi-bashing.

This is the curious world Alan Brennert and Jerry Ordway bring to life in Marvels Snapshot: Sub-Mariner. It's one where Americans are hoping to put the war behind them, but that's easier said than done for the men (and women (and Atlantean mutants)) who were traumatized by combat.

While the Sub-Mariner is the headliner, this is actually Betty Dean's story. The comic opens with her and her brothers, all home from the war. One of them lost a leg, while another, Lloyd, deals with less-visible damage. He shakes and drinks and struggles to put his experiences behind him.

That opening gambit pays off masterfully when Betty tries to lighten Namor's spirits by taking him to an amusement park. The introduction to Lloyd, though brief, sensitizes the reader to PTSD signs. And Namor himself begins showing them well before the comic's hero vs. villain fight erupts.

By using the nigh-forgotten Betty Dean as his viewpoint character, author Alan Brennert frees himself from a lot of continuity concerns. He crafts an authentic, compelling voice for Betty that provides a clear look at the psychological aftermath of war. 

There's plenty of insight into Namor's character, but it's filtered through Betty's eyes. And the story ultimately concerns her relationship with him and her feelings as much as his problems. 

The superhero action serves as a justification for bringing the All-Winners Squad into the book. There's more quality writing work done on these subordinate characters; Miss America (Madeline Joyce) is an important sounding board for Betty's evolving thoughts. 

And this comic features an interesting, businesslike take on the Whizzer that really honours the great potential of his speed.

Jerry Ordway's art plays a pivotal role in anchoring this comic into its historical context. Full mastery of character anatomy and an instinctive feel for classic heroes take care of the action; where Mr. Ordway truly shines is in evoking a bygone era through details. 

Fashions, settings, vehicles, even hairstyles -- everything in the panels looks authentic thanks to painstaking effort. The artist clearly did tons of research and then put in tons of sweat on the pencils. The result is a seamless, utterly convincing portrayal of 1946. 

(Jerry Ordway must be the go-to expert for comics set in the 40s; he worked similar wonders on last year's retro Invaders one-shot.)

Colourist Espen Grundetjern pulls a dangerous trick with this book's palette, giving it a faux antique look by using pre-faded colours and off-white neutrals. I've seen this go wrong in other comics, sometimes quite badly. But this palette works wonders. It's not just the colour choices that are consciously retro; the way the colours and the lines interact also comes from bygone times. 

The overwhelming majority of the colours are laid in flat. Where shadows and highlights appear, they are heavy and eye-catching. The result of talented collaboration between artist and colourist is a visual presentation that strongly echoes the look of a 20th-century comic without falling into any of the shortcomings that limited technology sometimes imposed on works of that era.

The art team even does well with the biggest visual challenge of Mr. Brennert's script: the antagonist. Namor fights a crook in a shark-headed robot battlesuit. Despite the huge potential for farce there, the panels manage to deliver a (mostly) believable take on a Golden Age robo-shark. 

The Marvels Snapshot series is off to a great start with this insightful look at the Sub-Mariner and the psychological damage that war leaves behind. Thanks to Jerry Ordway's scrupulous retro art and Alan Brennert's adroit use of Betty Dean as the viewpoint character, this comic's weighty thoughts on PTSD are conveyed with a look and a voice that are both engaging and distinctive.

Our Score:


A Look Inside


Charles Martin's picture
The strong similarities to the classic film "The Best Years of Our Lives" are surely not accidental.