Sunday, August 29, 2010

Namor: The First Mutant #1

For some reason, most writers struggle with coming up with an interesting approach to Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Perhaps it's because he lives in an alien environment - under the ocean. Maybe it's because he's a king. Or it could be that fact that he's often portrayed as a jerk.

Whatever the reason, he started out as one of Marvel's most popular characters in the Golden Age of comics. He was the most successful of the short-lived effort in the mid-'50s to bring back superheroes at Timely Comics. But since his revival in Fantastic Four #4, he's appeared in a variety of titles - Tales to Astonish, The Sub-Mariner, Super-Villain Team-Up, Namor, and a host of mini-series since.

Those series have been a mixed bag - sometimes very successful, sometimes a complete flop - but it's hard to understand why. Namor is comparable to Thor or Superman - a powerful, regal figure with a mythic, larger-than-life background and a long history in the world of comics.

Which brings us to the latest effort - Namor: The First Mutant. I don't blame Marvel for trotting out the X-Men strategy (they've actually tried it in the past) in an attempt to bring some heat and light to Namor.

What I don't like is the choice for villains in this issue. Tying in to the ongoing X-Men story, Namor must face an underwater race of vampires. (I suppose we can be grateful that they aren't underwater mutant vampires with adamantium claws.)

I'm generally lukewarm about vampires, so for me, this issue was very disappointing. Writer Stuart Moore gives Namor a basic quest (though I have no idea why the object he's looking for was left in a mystic box in Atlantis) and a handful of "redshirt" assistants. The story has a good undercurrent of horror, but that's about all it has going for it.

The art is something of a mixed bag, too. Behind a terrific cover by Jae Lee and June Chung, we have the painted art of Ariel Olivetti. The figures are outstanding, but the underwater environment seems to come and go - sometimes the characters are undersea, and sometimes they're floating in mid-air. It all just seems disjointed, and the action scenes are lethargic.

I still think the Sub-Mariner can achieve greatness - but I'm not seeing that from this creative team. He should be tough but still show a goodhearted side - readers have to have a reason to like the guy. He could be the ultimate defender of the ocean, working on land and at sea, protecting the helpless from (real-world) pirates, from natural disaster, from environmental peril (surely Namor could have done something about the BP oil spill).

The possibilities are limitless - but so far, all we're seeing is limitations. Atlantis is "destroyed," the Atlanteans hate him, humans aren't crazy about him, he's pompous and demanding... you get the picture.

They need to find a writer who can tap into that "hardnosed action with a heart" - someone like Chuck Dixon, Beau Smith or Mike Grell.

In other words, bring back the Golden Age noble savage, with a modern twist. Hopefully Marvel will keep trying with Namor until it gets it right.

Grade: B-



Anonymous said...

I agree that Chuck Dixon would write a fantastic Namor!

Chuck said...

Absolutely! I've never understood why Marvel doesn't throw more work his way - his style is perfect for the House of Ideas.