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Portrait of the Atlantean as a Young Man...

Namor #1
writers: Bill Jemas and Andi Watson
artists: Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki

The youth staring balefully from the cover of Namor may bear a passing resemblance to the Savage Sub-Mariner, but nowhere within its pages will you find that guy. Unlike some of the other projects under the Tsunami rubric, this book isn't adding a manga feel to existing Marvel Universe properties. If anything, Namor strips the Marvel Universe away to leave a decent fantasy book.

Does that fit with a manga mandate? I really don't know and couldn't care less. Because Namor just has a good story to tell. Wonder of wonders, if you didn't know better, you'd have no idea this is a superhero book.

But then, Namor always has been a little to the left of the capes and cowls crowd.

As originally conceived by Bill Everett, the Sub-Mariner was no do-gooder. Despite his half-human heritage, he was determined to wreak havoc on the surface world for perceived crimes against his people. Even in 1940, the company that would become Marvel was doing things a little bit different.

Namor's hatred toward air-breathers shifted focus with the advent of World War II. Teaming with erstwhile enemy The Human Torch and Captain America to fight Nazis (first as the All-Winners Squad, then retroactively as The Invaders), Namor evolved into a more standard comic book character.

But when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived Namor in the pages of Fantastic Four, it was strictly as a villain again, albeit with the mighty Marvel touch. One could almost commiserate with him as he searched in vain for a sign that his people might still be alive rather than destroyed by atomic testing. Almost, anyway, until he blew on a giant conch and unleashed a giant whale beast on Manhattan.

Since then, he's reformed almost as many times as Metamorpho, been declared bipolar by John Byrne, then called Marvel's First Mutant, and been a member of both The Defenders and The Avengers. Despite some back-up Tales of Atlantis in the sixties, though, nobody has really thought to explore the "hero" as a young man.

Until now. And I have to eat some crow, because it not only seems to be the brainchild of Bill Jemas, but it's a good read.

Jemas has "story" credit, while the script appears to be written by Andi Watson. How the idea-making actually divides up, well, that's a matter for press releases and fans to argue for years to come.

They start in the early 1920's, on a beach under a Maxfield Parrish-soaked sky. (Special kudos to J.D. Smith's incredible coloring - this is a book that proves how crucial color can be.) For a few pages, we get a very humanizing look at young Namor making friends with a human girl named Sandra.

It plays out very realistically, considering that one of these kids is from under the sea. The twosome play tag, and teasingly argue over what a sandcastle should look like. Only when adults barge in does the fun end. (Always the way…)

While the beachgoers' backs are turned, Namor slips into the sea, and the rest of the book is devoted to exploring his culture. Though it flashes forward "years later," the book never returns to the surface. Indeed, the surface doesn't matter, because Jemas and Watson are busy fleshing out a very rich undersea world.

Making it really work, Larroca and Miki give us an Atlantis both familiar and different. The city life has been richly detailed, and compared with recent appearances, you can believe that the culture has changed over the years.

Unlike the standard Marvel Universe view, this Atlantis has not yet become a militaristic society with vague renaissance overtones. If anything, it has a strong Persian flavor to it while maintaining an otherworldliness.

When Everett created his version of Atlantis, Namor stuck out, not just because of his pinkish skin. The Atlanteans had a much more fishy appearance; even Kirby exaggerated their features and made Namor himself look coldly inhuman. Larocca seems more determined to give them all an elfin look, which makes Captain McKenzie's attraction to the Atlantean Princess Fen sensible.

Not that we get a whiff of McKenzie (Namor's father) here. This story seems very removed from continuity without violating any of it. Sure, there are dark events brewing, but they come more out of the trials of living in the vast ocean depths than evil machinations.

Even at the low low price of twenty-five cents, Namor is not your absolute best bargain of the week. Honestly, that's what Free Comic Book Day is for. But the timing is right. When you go in to pick up some freebies, give this book a look. Spend that quarter.

Actually, spend a couple and get two, because this is a book that just might hook kids that aren't into superheroes. Not only is it appropriate for all ages (in the best sense), it may have a particular appeal for girls, and neither Marvel nor DC have many books you can say that about.

As for this one man, I'm going to give the second issue a shot. And at full price to boot.


Derek McCaw

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