As distressing as recent events have been, I think it’s time to return to the Feature That Refuses to Die with a character who exemplifies the kinder, gentler side of Nobody’s Favorites….
…the splendorous Stingray.
The second-rate scourge of sea-borne villainy started his career as Walter Newell, a government scientist and surface-dwelling pal of the surly Sub-Mariner. Following a string of supporting appearances and a near-death experience, Newell decided he could be less of a liability to Prince Namor if he adopted his own superheroic persona.
Electric-blasting, amphibious exoskeleton tech didn’t come cheap, however. In order to achieve his dream of helping the Avenging Son’s oceanic crusade against crime, Newell was forced to accept funding from folks who sought to bring the misunderstood mutant to heel. While Newell managed to whomp Namor in their initial tussle, the oceanographer’s guilty conscience eventually got the better of him. Instead of returning Namor to federal custody as instructed, he decided to prop him up against a lamp post and depart under a cloud of purple prose.
Since his superheroic debut, Stingray has faithfully followed the typical arc for Bronze Age D-listers. He fought the Hulk. He made a brief appearance in the Defenders. He had a brief recurring role in one Marvel-Two-In-One’s attempts at extended story arcs. The character’s big moment to shine took place during the back-half of the Eighties, when he traded access to his hand-me-down Hydro Base for a reservist slot on the Avengers’ roster and became a wrongful target of Tony Stark’s during the two-fisted copyright enforcement known as the “Armor Wars.”
That blip of (mildly) foregrounded prominence didn’t bump the Stingray into the majors, but it did net him a Marvel Comics Presents solo tale and a fair degree of visibility ever since. At the very least, it has spared him from any gory moment of forced pathos which tends to punctuate the never-ending cycle of Big Crossover Events. That’s no small achievement for a bit player in contemporary shared universe superheroics.
I know for a fact that there are at least a few of you who’ve been stammering “but but but Stingray is cool” at your screens while reading the above.
I agree with you. Stingray is cool. He is cool in a way that would’ve (and did) set the fires of my ten year old self’s imagination ablaze. Somewhere beneath the berm which currently caps Woburn’s old city dump rests an old notebook containing page after page of amateurish attempts at “original characters” which bit heavily from Stingray’s entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.
He was a perfect template to imitate. He had a neat costume, a badass predatorial name, and a respectable set of superpowers. He was high concept at its most elegantly simple.
(Most importantly, he sported a full mask, which was ideal for a kid who had trouble drawing faces.)
No amount of residual childhood affection can offset the fact that Stingray will never skate (HAW!) above his perennial backbencher status. For over six decades, Marvel has struggled to find a compelling role for the Sub-Mariner outside “occasional antagonist” or “ensemble cast member.” If they can’t make that leap for a seminal icon of their shared universe, it’s doubtful they could manage to do better by one of Namor’s supporting characters who also happens to be a situationally-limited, second-rate Iron Man knock-off.
There very well could be a great Stingray solo effort awaiting realization, but I suspect it would be inexorably tied to the vision of a specific creative team. Any buzz or success it generated would only last as long as their stint on the book did. Subsequent efforts to sustain that streak with another team — no matter how hard they tried to imitate their predecessors — would result in a quiet cancellation notice a couple of months later.
In short, “the unvoiced yet ever-present terror that keeps Marvel publishing execs awake at night.”