Namor the Sub-Mariner has been many things. He’s been a mutant, fighting alongside the X-Men. He’s been a scourge of humanity, squaring off against the Fantastic Four and the original Human Torch. He’s even been a member of the Illuminati. Sub-Mariner: The Depths presents a different take on Marvel’s first superhuman: one of a mythical creature, guarding Atlantis while hiding all signs of his own existence. The new collection out this week reprints all five issues of the titular miniseries by Peter Milligan, Esad Ribic, and VC’s Cory Petit. It follows a deep sea expedition team on their exploration of the Marianes Trench, where conflict stems from both outside their submarine and inside their own minds. It’s certainly a unique tale, but is it good?
The most immediately eye-catching aspect of this series is definitely its artwork. Esad Ribic’s painting is beautiful. The sheer size, danger, and mystique of the sea is one of the story’s main themes, and Ribic’s work captures that perfectly. The colors are lovely, and the blues and blacks capture the foreboding, mysterious tone very effectively. I also really love Ribic’s take on Namor himself. He’s like a force of nature, and his razor-sharp teeth are very intimidating. Ribic even frames the action in such a way that Namor’s winged feet become terrifying at times.
Unfortunately, the plot itself is much less interesting. This is one of those series where the titular character isn’t actually the focus of the story. That doesn’t automatically make for a bad read, but the protagonists are nowhere near compelling enough to make the misdirection successful. The story follows a group of (regular, non-superhuman) submariners as they go in search of another crew who disappeared while searching for Atlantis. It’s a familiar enough setup, and little about the execution is memorable. The crew go into mysterious waters, see glimpses of the unknown, and face life-or-death danger by the end. Unfortunately, the action is seldom rendered excitingly enough to be thrilling. These scenes often seem a bit stiff, robbing them of effective dramatic tension.
It doesn’t help that the characters themselves are also quite bland. The captain is a man of science who doesn’t believe in Atlantis or Namor, while the rest of the crew are very superstitious. This naturally leads to conflicts as they all enter Namor’s domain, but it’s not actually interesting to read about. The characters never receive enough development to feel like anything but archetypes, the captain especially so. He even gets an underdeveloped backstory about mistreating his lover. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more generic troubled man stereotype.
The characters are even the worst part of the artwork. Ribic’s style definitely has a realistic bent to it, which works well for the nature imagery but not so much the human interactions. Not all of the faces are bad, but some of them are definitely off. The worst offenses definitely arise with one of the black characters. The way that the character’s face gets rendered sometimes ends up looking like a blackface caricature, which is a major unsettling disruption from the usual lovely ocean imagery.
Overall, Sub-Mariner: The Depths isn’t bad but it is a bit disappointing. The artwork is impressive on a lot of fronts, and the depiction of Namor as a terrifying force of nature is great. Unfortunately, the actual plot and characters are very generic and there’s not much successful dramatic tension. I would recommend passing on this collection unless you’re a huge Sub-Mariner fan.
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