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Friday, April 10, 2020 

What appeared in Namor's debut book surely wasn't built on the same intent as today's identity politics

Screen Rant has an item telling about artwork coming from 1939's Marvel Comics #1, the debut anthology where Sub-Mariner makes his premiere appearance, and it's interesting how it features a citation of "white men" but you can be sure it differs from what identity politics makes it out to be today:
One of the oldest pieces of original Marvel Comics artwork still in existence, depicting Namor The Sub-Mariner in the very first Marvel comic book has suddenly resurfaced (pun intended). But it won't just be cause for celebration, but a trigger to some -- since it makes one of the world's greatest forces against heroism clear, right from the beginning. At least, to Namor.
As it so happens, it won't be a "trigger", which is like a figure of speech for a temper, at least not to people like myself, because the writers and artists like Bill Everett didn't intend it in the same context that today's social justice advocates would. Mainly because Namor is a white humanoid (and Everett was white himself), and at the time, it was likely an allusion to the fascism embodied by Germany's National Socialists at the time. After all, the prince of Atlantis, much as he looked down upon the typical humans of the surface world at the time, which is pretty much what the allusion to "white men" was intended for, still considered the totalitarianism of the nazis far more serious. That said, look who was "sharing" these old items:
Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort has recently been taking to Twitter, sharing obscure and rarely seen vintage artwork from throughout the course of the publishing house's decades-long history. The original design for Thanos shows how much the past can revealed, but the oldest image shared is from the company's first issue ever, 1939's Marvel Comics #1, and shows a black and white outline of the final page of the Namor story told within. After completing a mission to the surface with his cousin Dorma, Namor returns to the water, with the narration calling out the new mission adopted by the King of Atlantis: "And so Namor dives into the ocean again - on his way to further adventures in his crusade against white men!"
I'm betting Brevoort must've really felt smug posting it in the context of his own leftist politics, eh? He was no less responsible for Marvel's descent into rock bottom levels over the past 2 decades than Joe Quesada and Axel Alonso. He may have offered significant contributions when he first got his job with them over 3 decades ago, but come the mid-2000s, he lost whatever talent and understanding he had for the material pretty fast. The Screen Rant site, however, does acknowledge the context in how these old tales were built:
Before anyone grabs their pitchforks and torches, and as strange as this might sound on paper, some context is needed. Considering the hero and the time at which his character was introduced, Namor is likely referring to the human race as a whole -- or at the very least, Europeans and Americans in the West -- and not specifically 'Caucasian males.' In the story, Namor is told by his mother, Fen, that in the 1920s humans on the surface had been experimenting with underwater explosives, inadvertently killing most of the Atlantean race. Twenty years later, Namor, a quasi-villain at the time, travels to the surface to destroy a lighthouse in the hopes of hampering further efforts to explore the area.
See, that's how sci-fi and fantasy fare like this was developed at the time, and for many years after - [anti-]heroes and villains of humanoid or alien background who viewed the entire human race as a problem, not just one ideology, race or community in any particular country. During the Silver Age, there was an alien named the Stranger, who first made appearances in X-Men, Silver Surfer and the Hulk's adventures who considered the human race potentially dangerous, but was willing to evaluate accordingly, and he even took some villains like Magneto and Abomination with him into space, for further study on other worlds. If you know where to look, you'll find a number of further examples of aliens who view the entire human race as the problem, all but missing distinctions. It may have been a flawed concept, but the intentions weren't inherently bad, unlike how today's contributors approach the subjects. Rather, they were surely an allusion to people in real life who wouldn't make distinctions between races and ideologies.

So if Brevoort and so-called news sources like Screen Rant are trying to discourage those they disagree with from admiring past creations, they'd do well to think again, because they're mistaken about the meanings. They have no business working in mediums they don't respect.

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It gets even more triggering! In the same story, Namor's grandfather talks about "these white monsters", and there are frequent references to Namor's people as being of a different race from the white men. He and his people are colored green and blue when under water in the first story, and many of his people were shown in later stories as blue-skinned or green-skinned even when on the surface, with distinctive racial features such as pointed ears and big fish-like eyes. His mother describes herself as being the woman of her people "most nearly resembling the female of the white race". In his second story, Namor is described as being one of "that odd race of amphibians" and as waging "a war of espionage against the white man." In his third story, as 'bent on an inspired campaign against the white man - mainly American" and tells Betty Dean that "you white devils have persecuted and tormented my people for years".

At that stage of Namor's life, in his first story, the only surface peoples of whom he would have had any knowledge would have been Americans. He had no knowledge of Africans or Asians. He knew nothing of Nazis until he encountered their work in his third story. His references to "white men" referred to white people as a whole, women implicitly included, in keeping with the usage of the time, in the same way people can talk about "mankind". But it seems like, well, white-washing, to say that 'white men" somehow also included Africans, Asians and Native Indians, or even that it included the Blacks and Asians of North America. More people saw racial distinctions as important and fundamental then than do now, so it is unlikely that the phrase would have been used in a more generic sense back then.

Everett's use of the word 'persecuted' is interesting. Persecuting a people is more than just causing them harm; it carries with it a sense that the harm done is motivated by racism and bigotry. Yet the Americans have not persecuted Namor's race in that sense. They didn't even know they were alive. When Everett talks about amphibian people being persecuted, he is using language that suggests a reaction to racist bigotry; he is drawing an analogy between Namor's people and other non-white races who are persecuted. Doesn't necessarily mean he was sympathetic - Namor was portrayed as part-villain in those stories. But it shows that Everett saw the link, that he was talking about bigotry in the stories.

"If you know where to look, you'll find a number of further examples of aliens who view the entire human race as the problem, all but missing distinctions. It may have been a flawed concept, but the intentions weren't inherently bad, unlike how today's contributors approach the subjects. Rather, they were surely an allusion to people in real life who wouldn't make distinctions between races and ideologies."

When you write like that, you almost make it sound like, although aliens see the human race as a unity, perceptive people would make distinctions and would see some races as the problem but not others.

Or perhaps you mean the kind of distinction Einstein drew, when he said that racism was a disease of white people.

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