What constitutes the Battle of the Century? To me, it's mainly one or two things. The combatants have to both be at the top of their game, and/or the battle itself has to somehow be epic. As I did my research, I didn't limit it to only the word "battle." I also included "fight, "bout" and "showdown." It's all good. I did, however, want the extravagant claim to appear on the book's cover.
I found twelve comics that made that claim. I'll be posting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until I've covered all twelve in chronological order.
Let's get started! First up, The Human Torch vs. The Sub-Marnier! Originally presented in Marvel Mystery Comics #9, 1940. Story by Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and John Compton. Art by Bill Everett and Carl Burgos.
Admittedly, I'm already breaking my own rule. This comic does not state "Battle of the Century" on its cover. It's on the splash page. However, this may be the first comic to make the claim, so I'm giving it a little grace.
WHY ARE THEY FIGHTING?
Namor, the Sub-Mariner, has vowed to destroy the human race. The Human Torch has recently joined the police department. As Namor attempts to wreck the Washington Bridge, the Human Torch arrives to stop him. I think I’m going to have to side with the Torch on this one.
HOW EPIC IS THE BATTLE?
Namor soon retreats to his winged submarine to grab an air tank. He immediately returns to the surface and quickly blows out the Torch’s flame.
Namor then drags the Torch underwater to his “Aerial Sub”. Namor wins in four pages!
But wait! Namor accidentally loses control of an air hose (which powers his engine) and it hits the Torch. Not only does it revive the Torch, it also surrounds him with an air bubble! And, like a fart in a bathtub, it starts to float to the surface. Namor tries to stop the bubble, but he can’t!
Ladies and Gentlemen-- The Sub-Mariner, Lord of the Seven Seas, unable to pop an air bubble.
The bubble bursts as it reaches the surface. The Torch is free, on fire, and the battle continues on land. Soon, Namor has jumped into a water reservoir for a refreshing dip. The Torch (somehow) covers the reservoir with flame, trapping Namor. Namor immediately starts to suffocate because of the water’s chlorine content. He passes out.
The Torch wins!
No wait! Unfortunately, the Torch can’t see Namor through the flames and doesn’t know his predicament. So, he contacts the Army and asks them to bomb the reservoir. (Yes, they are actually trying to kill each other.) The American Army successfully drops an American bomb on the American reservoir. This, of course, blows Namor out of the water and saves him from suffocation.
As the fight begins anew, I discover something I never knew about the Sub-Mariner— He has a Sprinkler System!
After more shenanigans, Namor eventually slips a “translate case” over the Torch. This isn’t really a win however. Every time Namor lifts the case to kill him, the Torch has enough air to burst back into flames.
Suddenly, Betty Dean appears. She is described as Namor’s “only human friend.” I present the searing, nail-biting conclusion below--
Dispute settled! There's touching and everything. It's actually quite sweet.
They then say their pleasant goodbyes.
IS IT THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY?
Let’s see—Both the characters were relatively well-known, there’s collateral damage, and it appears the fight lasted most of a day. Plus, in 1940, I suspect no one else had yet made the claim, so I’m going to say, “Yes!” At this point in the 20th century, it is the Battle of the Century!
Come back Wednesday for Part 2! Li'l Abner vs. Daisy Mae!