By Will Barber – Taylor
It is the 1950s, the age of the Cold War and nuclear science. Parting the curtain to expose old world myths and urban legends is showman scientist and myth buster Dr. Randolph Stein, who embarks on a quest to find the lost explorer Marlowe and disprove the existence of the legendary underwater city of Atlantis.
Traveling deep beneath the ocean’s surface on the submarine Plato, Stein is confronted by the growing threat of mutiny within his superstitious crew and by a series of horrific and unexplainable events that test his resolve and his rational, scientific mind.
Nothing can prepare Stein for what he finds; a scene of carnage that suggests the legend of Atlantis might be true and that its protector, the dreaded Sub Mariner, will do anything to prevent its discovery. To survive the awful black depths, Stein is forced to question everything he stands for.
Sub Mariner: The Depths is a dramatic reimagining of one of Marvel’s lesser known characters; Namor, king of Atlantis. Namor is Marvel’s equivalent of Aquaman. While Aquaman is far more famous, Namor predates him by several years having first appeared in 1939. The story centres on Doctor Randolph Stein’s hunt for the city of Atlantis and the lost explorer, Marlowe whose tragic life and hunt for the famed city has consumed the newspapers. Namor, though named, hardly appears in the comic and that is part of its power.
Stein’s character is centre stage throughout and we are shown his slow and painful acceptance that some things cannot be explained. He does not want to comprehend anything outside his safe bubble of scepticism; he merely wants to prove that he is right and that he has always been right. The story, particularly in the pages featuring Stein and his crew, captures the battle between science and belief. Stein constantly berates his ship mates for believing in Namor and even when it begins to become apparent that the Sub Mariner is real he doesn’t want to admit it to himself.
The whole tale serves as a metaphor for our own struggle with the unexplainable. Stein represents humanity and its search for a logical, cold hard truth while Namor and his shadowy, clouded deep water kingdom represent the unknown. Stein finds the situations terrifying because we as human beings like to understand everything; whether through the exploration of science or through belief in hypothetical spiritual creatures like his crew does. This gives it much more power and substance; you can not only enjoy the novel on a basic action adventure level but also on a deeper, subtler level.
The artwork by Esad Ribic is very detailed and has a depth and quality that many graphic novels don’t have. It has a consistency similar to the artwork of Alex Ross and this goes well with the story; it does have certain similarities to Marvels. Ribic’s depiction of Namor is particularly eerie; he seems to reflect the black, murky depths of the deep.
Overall, Sub Mariner: The Depths is a wonderful graphic novel that explores the dark recesses of human endurance and that no matter how much we learn, there will be always something lurking in the dark that we cannot comprehend.