Monday, February 15, 2010

Squish the fish

What does the world have against fish?

Namor and Aquaman remain two of the characters that neither DC nor Marvel ever seem to be able to keep functional as a mainstream book, and I don't get it.  Admittedly I've always been fascinated by the idea of a lost civilization, and Atlantis was one of my favorite myths when I was a young boy, so it isn't hard to understand why I see such vast and untapped potential in both of these characters.  They represent some of my favorite story telling elements; outcasts, royalty, lost civilizations. Yet time and again they are launched into the comic world as supporting characters, or as lead characters who have to be melded to feel as though they belong amongst the surface dwellers.

I think most of the writers (and editors) have it all wrong.

In Namor's case I do find some level of interest in his arrogant contempt for Reed Richards, and his unabashed pursuit of Susan Storm.  In that area at least he tends to reflect the kingly qualities of old, not all of which were admirable. In Marvel's universe Namor is considered to have been the first mutant, a role which should carry with it special consideration.  Then again, I think I recall them suggesting that that is no longer the case, as one of the thousands of X-Men villains turned out to have been around since the time of the pharaohs I think.  In any event, Namor was an ally of Captain America in the Second World War, and is often believed to have had a close relationship with Steve Rogers.  Too often though the tales which include him have, in my experience, focused on what he does in the world of men, with his kingdom and its roles in Earthly affairs playing out in the background as a minor plot.

I don't know for sure that a great Namor tale could be told, but I would certainly like to see somebody try.  Here is this mutant of sensational power and strength, who is always brought into the enclaves of the powerful (Avengers Illuminati & Osborne's Dark Council) out of respect for his role historically to Marvel, and yet when the time comes for him to either stand as a villain or rise as a hero he seems to take a back seat to others (Cap, Doom, the FF.) When will Namor be either THE villain or THE hero?  I don't mind the fact that he has waffled back and forth as has suited the writer's fancy, because I see him in the same way that I see Doom, or T'Challa.  Namor is a foreign dignitary who must always consider the best interests of his kingdom  before all else. But it is time for him to stop playing second fiddle.  Is Cap really more impressive than Namor?  He doesn't rule the largest nation on Earth.  He isn't the world's first mutant. And the suggestion he's a more potent hero might even be debatable.

Yet Namor remains a periphery character for Marvel.

Over in DC we have seen a much more concerted effort to elevate the status of Aquaman on more than one occasion, and when the editors decided that Grant Morrison's relaunch of JLA would include the BIG GUNS, that included Aquaman.  He is considered a force in the DCU, although he seldom gets to elevate himself to that status in major stories.  But that isn't where I want to start talking about the disrespect that continues to be heaped on this character.  I want to start.........with his name.

Aquaman is a name that, in my opinion, the press would have called him; not something his friends or family should be calling him.  It borders on racist. The man is a king.  His name when he was raised on land was Arthur Curry (and I doubt it is a coincidence that he was destined to become King Arthur) and that translates, I suppose, to his Atlantean name of Orin. Nobility should be above being referred to as Aquaman. It would be like calling the Blob Fatguy, or calling Two Face Ugly Bastard.  I understand the roots and heritage of the character's naming, and I appreciate the importance of the continuity of such things.  I'm not advocating changing the character's name, but I would like to see his writers treat him with enough respect to realize that he would have put a stop to that name a long, long time ago.  He's a king.  He doesn't need a 'secret identity' which means he doesn't need a code name.

DC has, at times, put more effort into grounding Orin's books in the culture and political intrigue of Atlantis, placing the major focus of their stories in his under water kingdom.  I like the efforts that were made on Peter David's run on the book, but the stories I really liked were just as that series was being cancelled, when Dan Jurgens took over the book and did an arc.  It's a very interesting and engaging interpretation of a kingdom under the water, ruled by a lord who has gained an almost legendary status amongst his people.  It had a real 'high fantasy' feel about it that I really enjoyed, but unfortunately it was a very short story arc and then it was gone.  I'd like to see more of that.

I also don't think that enough is made of just how powerful these two men really are.  They're insanely strong under the water, at depths that we would be crushed at.  Consider how strong that should make them above the water, and how dense their bodies should be (making them very hard to hurt.) Namor can fly (which is stupid) and Orin has the ability to communicate with all forms of sea life (a low level telepath who, it was revealed in David's run, hadn't done nearly enough to hone or train that skill but had instead taken it for interesting point!)

I did enjoy Morrison's take on Orin in his graphic novel Earth 2, in which the JLA is recruited to go to the anti-matter universe to try and put an end to the Crime Syndicate (evil JLA) and their rule of that world.  The Martian Manhunter and Orin stay behind to defend Earth, and man oh man is it cool when they unload on the Crime Syndicate.  Check it out, it's an interesting read in which good and evil are examined under the question of nature versus nurture.

So, now that I've shaken off the wrist pain and gotten back at this, I'm going to be spending some time considering what are the greatest ten comic stories I've ever read.  When I start to pull them into some kind of order, I'll start sharing them with you.  I encourage you to jump in and tell me which ones you think should be considered, and which ones you've read and loved the best.

Until then...

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