For this installment in our series featuring the Obscure Marvel Women (OMW) of the Original Marvel Universe (OMU), we hearken back to a bygone age, known today only to masters of the occult, to find a woman of unbreakable spirit.
Zartra, the last Queen of Atlantis, was born some 20,000 years ago on the continent of Lemuria. For the previous five centuries, Lemuria had been ruled by the offshoot of humanity known as the Deviants, and they treated Zartra as little more than a slave, even though she was descended from the Lemurian royal family. She spent her youth engaged in seemingly endless warfare, and every day brought violence, bloodshed, and death. She quickly learned to be a highly-skilled fighter and managed to survive to adulthood. In one battle she lost her left eye, which was replaced by a mystic green gem that she obtained from a sorcerer. She kept it behind an eye patch for the rest of her life.
As a young woman, Zartra risked death to escape to Atlantis, an island continent on the other side of the world. Alone among the human civilizations, Atlantis had resisted the Deviant Empire and remained free. Zartra admired the Atlanteans for this feat, and despised her own countrymen as weak and ineffectual. She soon came to the attention of the emperor of Atlantis, Kamuu, who was smitten by her great beauty and ferocious spirit. When he proposed marriage, Zartra happily renounced her Lemurian heritage and pledged her heart and her sword to Atlantis and its king. To Kamuu’s delight, his bride pursued lovemaking with the same vehemence she brought to all other aspects of her life, and he soon nicknamed her “The Lusty One.”
Zartra had little use for Kamuu’s court philosopher Ocar or his chief scientist Zapal, as life among the Deviants had taught her to distrust science and technology, disciplines at which her inhuman masters had excelled. Nevertheless, she enjoyed her annual holidays with Kamuu in the scientific wonderland of Pangea, a vast artificially-maintained wildlife preserve located on the world’s southernmost continent which was populated by tribes of genetically-engineered Animal People. Otherwise she disdained the “weirdling machines” that seemed to fascinate her husband.
Never having accepted the official religion of Lemuria, which centered on the Deviants’ “space-gods” known as the Celestials, Zartra embraced Kamuu’s gods Valka and Bishru and devoted herself to the study of the Nine Sacred Scrolls. She submitted to the religious authority of Shabarr, priest of the royal court, but harbored a secret affinity for the teachings of the sorceress Zhered-Na. Though not a practitioner, Zartra had developed a great respect for magic as a protection against the fearsome creatures that haunted her world, such as the Serpent Men, the Vampires of Thuria, and the Wolf-Men of Valusia.
Thus, when Zhered-Na was accused of blasphemy for her repeated prophecies that Atlantis would soon sink beneath the sea, Zartra entreated her husband to banish the sorceress from the realm rather than ordering her execution. Kamuu agreed, and when Zhered-Na refused to recant, he commanded that she be placed alone in a small boat, with few provisions, and set adrift on the hostile seas. Privately, Zartra prayed that Zhered-Na would come to land somewhere safely, and she rejoiced when, several months later, she received word that the sorceress had established a new temple on the Thurian Continent.
Years later, Atlantis came under siege by the forces of the Deviant-controlled kingdoms of Lemuria and Mu, and Kamuu and Zartra struggled to maintain control of their empire in the face of relentless attacks and constant espionage. Worse, a plan to protect the capital city within an impenetrable dome caused civil strife throughout the kingdom as agitators and dissenters used it as an excuse to rail against the government. The situation was becoming desperate when, one day, Kamuu and Zartra interrogated a trio of strange magicians who had appeared out of thin air on a fishing boat at sea. The dark-bearded man and blond woman deferred to their flame-haired leader, who spoke the Atlantean language. He claimed they had come from an unknown land called “Satan” in search of Zhered-Na. Kamuu disabused them of any notion of finding her in Atlantis. Disturbed by the sinister aura surrounding the strangers, Zartra urged her husband to banish them at once. However, Kamuu was fascinated by the leader’s golden trident and determined to keep it for himself. This enraged the wizard, and he suddenly melted his shackles, caused the trident to fly to his hand, and unleashed walls of unnatural flame that enabled them to escape the palace. Soon after, Kamuu and Zartra received a report that the magicians had commandeered a ship from the harbor and set sail for the Thurian Continent.
Within hours, the mysterious strangers were forgotten as a renewed assault by the Lemurian Air Force threatened the imperial palace itself. Using technology of Deviant design, the invaders penetrated the protective dome and a strikeforce stormed the throne room. Kamuu and Zartra met them with their swords and slew them. However, the rest of the Lemurian horde began to fight their way through the breach in order to open the gates of the city to an invasion force brought into the harbor by the navy of Mu. As a last resort, Kamuu ordered the opening of the magma pits, which provided the city with heat and light, to sweep away the invaders on a tide of molten rock. Although his gambit was successful, the results were catastrophic.
Once released, the magma proved unstoppable. It flowed through the streets of the capital city, littering the marketplace and temples with flame-ravaged corpses, and turned the water in the sewers to scalding steam. Earthquakes began to shake the entire continent of Atlantis as the magma release triggered a series of tremendous seismic waves. When Zapal calculated that the city had perhaps an hour before being utterly destroyed, Kamuu dismissed his council members to spend their final moments with their loved ones. As they left, massive doors sealed off the palace, leaving Kamuu and Zartra in isolation.
Facing imminent death as the earth-tremors grew stronger and stronger, Zartra was resigned to her fate and enticed Kamuu to make love to her one final time. However, before they could begin, a Lemurian assassin appeared and delivered Zartra a fatal wound from behind. She collapsed to the floor and Kamuu, mad with rage and grief, slew her attacker. Then, dying in her husband’s arms, Zartra asked Kamuu for his sword, as she had one final gift to impart. Her strength ebbed as she removed the enchanted jewel from her eye socket and fixed it to the sword’s ornate hilt. After exchanging a few bittersweet words with the man she loved, Zartra breathed her last.
First Appearance: Sub-Mariner #62
Final Appearance: Marvel Spotlight #17
Minutes after Zartra’s death, the imperial palace, along with most of the capital city, crumbled into the sea. The rest of the continent of Atlantis followed soon after when the Second Host of the Celestials unleashed a devastating counterattack on the treacherous Deviants. The forces unleashed by the Celestials destroyed the nations of Lemuria and Mu as well, and completely altered the face of the earth. As revealed in Sub-Mariner #66, the magic crystal known as the Eye of Zartra bound a portion of the life-force of both Kamuu and Zartra to the sword. Their spirits would be awakened 5,000 years later by a youth of the warring Homo mermanii tribes who discovered the ruins of the palace at the bottom of the ocean, where it had lain since the Great Cataclysm. Over the ensuing millennia, the Sword of Kamuu, with the Eye of Zartra on its hilt, became an object of great mystic power. Eventually, the sword was lost under mysterious circumstances until being rediscovered in modern times.