Braving Marvel – Namor, The Sub-Mariner
During my previous readings I have read about teams and characters that I have had some knowledge of before. It has been very exciting to read about them and to get to know them even better. Now I’ve been reading about a character that I knew nothing about before but was introduced to through my reading of Civil War. It has been a lot of fun to learn about a new character and their place in the Universe. It has been a lot less predictable as I didn’t know about their relationships to the characters and world around them. This feeling of exploring something new is what reading is all about!
Comics Read: Sub-Mariner: Revolution (2007-2008) and Sub-Mariner: The Depths (2008-2009)
Namor has been a part of the Marvel Universe since the beginning. He was actually the first superhero to ever be a part of a team up (with the original Human Torch) AND he was the first ever anti-hero in comics! This event was the first time that Marvel showed that their heroes existed in the same universe. Since then Namor has been a part of team-ups with many established heroes, worked as a villain, and has had his share of solo series’. The last 15 years, however, Namor hasn’t had a lot of solo issues. In 2003 and 2004 Marvel published a 12 issue story about a young Namor, but this run has never been collected. A new solo series started in 2010, but didn’t live past issue 11 because of low sales. I decided to read Revolution and The Depths as they are complete solo stories published around the time of Civil War, which I am already familiar with.
Revolution is a six issue series about Namor and his kingdom, Atlantis, in the time after Civil War. While Atlantis was barely involved in the main struggle of the Civil War conflict, we see them being very involved in the shadows in the tie-in series Civil War: Frontline (2006-2007). The story doesn’t only show the effects the war has had on Atlantis’ relation to the surface world, but also how it has affected the citizens’ faith in Namor, their king. The story begins with a terrorist attack on America. SHIELD soon discover that the attack was of Atlantean origin and get dangerously close to starting an all-out war with Namor. Meanwhile in Atlantis, there is increased unrest among the citizens. Namor must risk everything to find out who was really behind the attack while fending off SHIELD and nefarious villains, as well as keeping the peace in his kingdom.
The Depths revolves around an expidition team looking to prove or disprove the existence of the fabled underwater city of Atlantis. Slowly making their way down into the darkness of the Mariana Trench things soon start to go wrong. The crew start to whisper stories of a vicious protector of Atlantis, a godlike creature called Namor. But is a mythical being really trying to stop the crew, or is it just the deep sea darkness playing tricks on their minds?
I honestly don’t really know. I first encountered him as I read Road to Civil War. I immediately liked his snarky attitude. Sure, he’s a bit too direct and harsh at times, but I tend to agree with many of his points during his arguments with the Illuminati. I also realize that he is a bit too high on himself. But to be fair, I probably would be too if I was one of the strongest mutants alive and ruling king of an advanced kingdom. He also has one of the silliest wardrobes in the Marvel Universe. Green speedos? Really? Still, I just really like him and I always enjoy when he shows up in any of the comics I read. Also, there isn’t many characters out there who can completely destroy Wolverine in a fight and not even break a sweat. He’s pretty bad ass!
Revolution is an action packed mystery story. Namor is being pressured by both the surface world and his citizens, and needs to find out the truth about the terrorist attack that is being blamed on him. The first part of the story is quite good and really sets up the mood of the story. It hits one of Marvel’s more serious tones, which I really enjoy. Namor is finding himself between a rock and a hard place, and the smallest error of judgement will make the rock (SHIELD) come down hard on Atlantis. His citizens are also feeling the pressure and are questioning his abilities as leader and king. There is no support or comfort for Namor anywhere. His only choice is to get to the bottom of the mystery himself, risking a full-scale war by doing so.
The story kind of goes downhill a bit from there. The story does keep the pace up, but not everything that happens make a lot of sense. Namor has to get through many obstacles on his way, but some of those feel as if they are there just to fill the pages. He turns to old allies for help, only to walk away disappointed. In some of these scenes Namor will only follow his own logic and refuse to listen to the opinion of others. In doing so he gets depicted as incredibly stubborn and single minded, which ends up getting me annoyed with him instead of feeling supportive. While I know that it is part of his character I always find it a bit jarring when I don’t feel sympathetic to the protagonist of the story I’m reading. While I know Namor is right and that is cause is just, I still don’t like it if he’s acting like a stubborn jerk.
The pacing of the story is also held up by mandatory fight scenes. Because there can be no Marvel comics without fight scenes. In this comic they do feel a bit misplaced. It feels like they are there simply because they have to be. Namor also has to fight against some popular characters which seems to have been placed there just for the sake of selling more issues. The story is about Namor, but if we put in a fight against Wolverine surely the Logan and/or X-men fans will buy it too, right? I don’t know if this idea actually works, but I see no other reason for these characters to randomly show up for a fight.
After the odd pacing with random celebrity fights and Namor jumping through some hoops to find his answers, the ending is simply amazing. It twists in a way I did not expect at all, and the story evolves into something different. The consequences of the events are so severe that they will be a part of the Marvel Universe for a long time after the last chapter. It really hit me, and I am very curious to see how Marvel will pull these storylines further. There is a lot of potential there.
While reading the story I really felt I missed an opportunity to get to know Namor better. Despite the fact that he is the protagonist of the story, not much is done to flesh out his character or his psyche. With everything that he is going through you would think he would show some kind of stress or genuine worry. You never really see anything like that. Namor is frustrated and perhaps even quicker to anger than usual. He never seems to doubt himself in any way, and he tends to view every other character as lesser than him. His character is prideful and stubborn, which is how he is often portrayed. What could have made this story more interesting would be to show some other sides to his character, or some deeper thoughts or emotions. Even if he is prideful and never show weakness to people around him, he could still be struggling with personal issues by himself. Instead, the book only shows his standard traits and the character does feel a bit one sided and poorly fleshed out.
In stark contrast to Revolution, The Depths has a much slower pace. In fact, the two books are opposites in almost every regard. While the art was beautiful and colorful in Revolution, it is dark and haunting in The Depths. The darkness does fit the story and setting in The Depths perfectly. Namor is actually barely featured in the story at all, which is an interesting new twist.
Instead, the story, set in an alternate 1950, revolves around Dr. Randolph Stein, a scientist who makes a living out of hunting down myths and legends with the intent of proving to the world that they are false. You could call him a sort of myth-buster. After a group of adventurers in search of Atlantis suddenly go missing, Stein assembles a team to investigate the disappearance and debunk the Atlantis myth once and for all. As their submarine descends into the dark depths of the Mariana Trench strange things start to happen. The crew tells stories about a sea god named Namor who serves as a guardian of Atlantis. Stein clings to logic and science, but soon the darkness starts to play tricks on his mind. Is the fabled Namor real, or is he just haunted by ghosts from his own past?
The Depths is the most unique Marvel comic I have read and I really loved it. The story and setting has the same feeling as the first Alien film. A crew trapped in a submarine far below the surface of the sea is hunted by something they can’t see. While Namor is hardly featured on the pages in the book, his name is often referred to in fear and awe. The comic does a fantastic job of setting up the haunting and claustrophobic setting. There are no heroes and villains here, only a truly special story set in the Marvel universe.
The characters are very well written, and their reactions during the pressing events seem plausible and realistic. The tension between the logical Stein and the superstitious crew is also well played out. The book is focused on the psychological. It is Stein’s inner thoughts and the effects the events have on his fracturing mind that is the focus. Seeing him slowly break down under the pressure is fascinating. It is also a new and fantastic twist to have the reader see Namor exclusively through the eyes of these characters. You have no idea who or what Namor is, but you are able to understand his powers and motivations through the results of his actions. He is always hiding in the shadows, so you can never be sure where he is or what happens next. You do understand that he is not some mindless monster, but a calculating and intelligent being on a mission.
The strongest part in the book is the fantastic art. Every page looks like a paining which gives it a distinguished look. The colors have a watery quality to them which fit the themes in the story perfectly. The palette consists mostly of dark shades which help the claustrophobic life on the submarine come to life. The darkness of the sea is absolute on the pages. In the pitch black you can only see outlines of what is happening on the outside of the ship. I felt myself drawn into the dark images as if I could feel what it would be like to actually be there. The art is also amazingly detailed, so if you skip by too fast you might miss something. The characters also have incredibly expressional faces. Since this is a story that has a lot of focus on psychological stress it wonderful to see how well the characters show their state of mind with a single facial expression. The artist here is incredibly talented and I hope to see more of his work.
While I absolutely loved The Depths, I soon realized that the book is not actually canon. When I read about it I understood it as a story about Namor’s origins, but that was incorrect. Since Namor is hardly featured in the book at all, you don’t get any impression of him as a mutant, super hero, or villain. He is simply not that character in this story. Even if you did get a better understanding of him, it would not be true to the main Marvel storyline. It’s a shame that I ended up buying a book that didn’t bring me any closer to getting to know Namor better, but at the same time I loved this book so much that I’m happy I made that ‘mistake’.
No. To really appreciate the situation in the starting chapter in Revolution, you should have at least read Civil War. I would also recommend Civil War: Frontlines if you can get a hold of it (it’s really good!) as it shows more of Atlantis’ role in the conflict. While I think you could understand and appreciate the story in Revolution without having read CW, I believe that many characters and their motivations might be lost on you as they are not really explained at all. In addition, the series does nothing to introduce you to Namor or where he came from.
The Depths is a story about an alternate reality with an alternate version of Namor. This version is vastly different from his counterpart in the main Marvel Universe, so if you’re looking to get introduced to Namor this comic is not for you. However, I will highly recommend this book as it is a truly unique gem in the Marvel alternate universe.
The Road From Here
I have decided to finally take the plunge into the maze that is X-men comics! I just hope I don’t get lost in there.