Comics : Marvel Team-Up #14

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Totalistic Team-Ups

This review was first published on: 2002.

Background...

At the time this issue came out Namor was featured in his own successful monthly title, and had toned down his "death to the surface world" act considerably. This issue builds on events that took place in Subby's own book.

In Detail...

"Mayhem is... The Men-Fish!"
Marvel Team-Up #14
Oct 1973 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man & Sub-Mariner (vs. Aquanoids, Tiger Shark)
Editor:  Roy Thomas
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Gil Kane
Inker:  Wayne Howard
Cover Art:  Gil Kane
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 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #249
 Reprinted In: Essential Marvel Team-Up #1

It's evening in New York City, and as Spider-Man swings over the streets he sees a trio of hoodlums about to give a pedestrian a little conk on the noggin with a pipe. The would be victim is wearing a trench coat and a face obscuring fedora, which as we all know is a sure sign there's more to him than meets the eye. If these muggers had ever read a single Marvel comic they'd know better than to mug a guy in a trench coat, but they're dumb enough to try and Spidey swoops down to help.

It's not at all clear whom it is that needs helping though. With a bellow of "Unhand me, scum!" our would-be victim has tossed two of the muggers aside and beaten a third unconscious with less effort than it takes me to type this. Spidey is about to be off on his way, but sees one of the muggers about to stab the stranger in the back. A well placed bit of webbing and a blow from a dumpster nixes that idea, sending the perp to dreamland. Now we see whom it is that Spidey has aided, and it's none other than Namor the First, Prince of Atlantis, better known to us as the Sub-Mariner.

Spidey recognizes the Sub-Mariner as well, and also remembers his many rampages. Acting on his best instincts, Spidey tries webbing Namor to the pavement until he can determine what exactly Subby intends to do. Let's pause for a moment to give Spider-Man credit for his courage here; Namor has stood toe to toe with Thor, the Hulk and the entire Fantastic Four, but thinking it will save lives Spidey doesn't hesitate to confront him.

Well, Namor is unimpressed with Spidey's webbing, simply grabbing hold of the strand and yanking Spidey off the wall before he can release it. Spidey breaks his fall by grabbing a lower roof as he passes, but Namor has already turned and begun to walk away. He clearly doesn't care about Spider-Man one way or another. Trying to stop him from leaving Spidey leaps at the Sub-Mariner once again, and is tossed into some trash for his effort. Stubborn as always, Spidey again leaps into Namor's path, and now he's provoked our Prince of the Blood. Namor throws a punch that Spidey is able to nimbly duck under, before getting punched by Spidey so hard it knocks him into the air. We all know that the air is an element in which Namor is quite comfortable, and he rapidly turns around in mid air and plows right back into Spider-Man. Namor scoops Spidey up and tosses him into the air, where Spidey snags a lamppost and gets ready to get back into the fight.

Throughout this whole fight Namor has been telling Spider-Man that his business in New York is personal and he means the city no harm, and we now see that he's telling the truth. Preceded by a low rumble, a high tech aircraft comes blasting out of a nearby building and flies away. Whomever Namor was pursuing has made good his escape, with Spider-Man's unwitting help. Needless to say Spidey feels very foolish right now.

Namor is surprisingly (perhaps even uncharacteristically) understanding, and reassures Spidey that he doesn't blame him for doing what he honestly thought was right. But Spidey wants to help set things right, now that he knows the score, and Namor fills him in.

Namor tells Spidey a story that treats us all to a flashback that encompasses events from Sub-Mariner issues 5 and 50, and Incredible Hulk 160. Several years ago, the fiend Dr. Dorcas used his perverse science to transform Todd Arliss into the Tiger Shark, who has menaced Namor ever since. Sometime later the Lemurian Queen Llyra aided Dr. Dorcas in abducting Namor's father to use as a hostage against Namor in his latest scheme. When Namor foiled his plans, Dorcas killed his father and fled. Tiger Shark was last seen in Niagara Falls, battling the Hulk, and Namor is hot to track the both of them down to exact his revenge.

Our flashback concluded, we shift our view to the hidden lair of Dr. Dorcas, and see Tiger Shark reporting to the not so good Doctor. As we listen in to their discussion of the plan, we learn that Tiger Shark's whole purpose was to lure Namor to this very base so that he can be dealt with. Dorcas then unveils the method by which he will "deal" with Namor, the terrifying Men-Fish! A logical (if horrible) extension of the experiments that created Tiger Shark and Orka, the Men-Fish are a "perfect transmutation" of man and fish, the fish in question seem to be octopus, manta ray, lobster and something I honestly can't identify. Dorcas' plan is to let Namor find them and then sic these monstrosities on him.

And it seems he'll get his chance before long. On the surface we see a swimming Sub-Mariner, pulling behind him Spider-Man on a pair of water-skis made of webbing. They're tracking Tiger Shark by having Spidey use his spider-sense to "track the unique radiation trail left by the exhaust" of Tiger Shark's ship. Um?huh? To me this sounds like a serious exaggeration of what "spider-sense" can do, filling a plot hole dug by lazy writing. Since the entire plan of Dr. Dorcas was to have Namor find them anyway, it seems like they would have left a trail that could be followed without this contrivance.

Well, in any event, the trail leads our heroes to a trawler that seems to be sitting at anchor. Climbing aboard, Spidey and Namor find the ship to be deserted, but full of high tech equipment, including what looks like an elevator. They cautiously enter the elevator, which leads straight down to the oceans floor, and the base of Dr. Dorcas. The elevator door opens and Namor sees the men he's been searching for, his father's murderers, and leaps to the attack with Spidey backing him up. They've outsmarted themselves though, because it's not the villains they've just beaten the crap out of but some drug-laden dummies! Spidey and Namor get dizzy from the contact poison and pass out.

The heroes awake some time later, in a bit of a fix. Spidey is held in a glassine tube, which Dr. Dorcas helpfully points out has pinholes at the base to allow him to breathe. The Sub-Mariner has an even bigger problem, as he's strapped to a table and about to have his life force transferred into the Men-Fish, strengthening them beyond what they already are. This will naturally be fatal to the prince of the deep. Dr. Dorcas leaves to make some final preparations for Namor's demise.

As soon as he leaves Spidey gets to work. He crouches down and fires his webbing through one of the pinholes Dorcas pointed out, snagging a nearby valve wheel and opening it. This douses Namor in water, which revives him and renews his strength. Namor hops to his feet and smashes Spidey's cage, freeing him. "Looks like the glass is only unbreakable from the inside!" Spidey exclaims.

Wow, there's an awful lot wrong with that page. First off, "only unbreakable from the inside?" How silly is that?! Secondly, why would an underwater base have a vale that admits seawater? I've a Navy veteran, and actually served on submarines, and I can tell you from experience that seawater is something you want to keep on the other side of the bulkhead at all costs! You don't just put valves around to flood the joint. Third, even if you were going to have such a valve, it shows an astounding lack of foresight to hold Namor prisoner directly under one. Finally, sharp-eyed Spidey fans will recognize the old "shoot the web through the air holes in the base of the glass cage" bit being directly lifted from Amazing Spider-Man #2, "The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer", which I find annoying.

Well, annoying or not, our heroes are now free and it's payback time. Even as the stalwart Tiger Shark tells his partner "I'm outta here" and runs for it, Dorcas releases the Men-Fish to attack our favorite wall crawler. The Sub-Mariner catches up with Tiger Shark and the two engage in a brawl. During the fight Namor remembers that Tiger Shark is not an amphibian, and should be weakening being out of the water, but is still as strong as ever somehow. Playing a hunch, Namor grabs Tiger Sharks tunic and rips it off him, spilling out the layer of trapped moisture that was keeping him strong. His opponent now greatly weakened, Namor slams him against an instrument panel, knocking him out of the fight and damaging the base.

Meanwhile, Spidey has been tossing the under strength Men-Fish around. Seeing that the damage Namor caused is bringing the base down around their ears he tosses one foe into another and decides to split. The heroes meet up by the elevator and get to the surface, leaping off the trawler just before it explodes. Our heroes watch the destruction, and the apparent deaths of Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark from afar, and our story comes to an end.

Next Issue: Ross Andru returns to Marvel Team-Up as Spidey joins forces with one of my Bronze Age favorites? the Ghost Rider!

In General...

There are a couple of patterns developing here, and I don't like either one of them.

First, even though Team-Up is a monthly title, the writers keep devising silly death traps for Spidey and friends and then having them escape one page later, usually by some method even sillier than the trap itself. This issue is no exception (see my complaint about the sea water valve above).

The second pattern is one of character development, and is much more serious. Once again in this issue Spidey is witness to the apparent death of two human beings, to say nothing of the arguably innocent Men-Fish created by Dorcas. The only reaction Spidey musters as he watches the sinking ship is "Well, that looks like the end of Dr. Dorcas and Tiger Shark?" Recall that when Norman Osborn "died" (by his own hand incidentally) Spidey spent a full page agonizing over it. And that was the guy that killed his true love. Here, Dorcas and Tiger Shark are seemingly killed at least indirectly because of actions the heroes took, and Spidey shrugs it off with a wise crack.

If Spidey is going to be so cavalier about death then he should have positively relished the Goblins demise, or if he so reveres life then the deaths of relative innocents in the last few issues should tear him up. One or the other guys, let's have some consistency. Later on in the series Team-Up will dovetail more nicely with the main Spidey titles as far as character goes, but for now I have to say it's impacting on my enjoyment of these early issues.

Elsewhere in Spidey's world: Spidey is finishing up his first battle with the Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man 125.

And meanwhile, in the real world: The Yom Kippur war, pitting the Arab World against Israel, starts on October 6th. Later this month OPEC begins an oil embargo, cutting exports to Western Nations and Japan.

Overall Rating...

This issue is just slightly below average, suffering a little from the silly death trap syndrome. Not nearly as bad as issue 8 though, which continues to haunt my nightmares. Two webs for this effort.