Sub-Mariner: The Depths #1

So I recognize that I am about a week behind the eight-ball in getting a review of this comic up, but the premiere issue of the new Sub-Mariner mini-series by Peter Milligan and Esad Ribic is so great, so precisely everything that I look for in a superhero comic that I simply could not let the opportunity pass.   The particular success of the issue stems in no small part from the creators' ability to employ techniques--Alex Ross-esque painted photo-realistic art, multiple narrative types, overt and subtextual literary references--so often associated (at least in my mind) with comics that are heavy-handed, overblown or even downright abstruse, to make a comic that is most emphatically not any of these things.

'The Depths chronicles the stories of Marlowe and Dr. Stein, both adventurers in a classical mode, but representing opposing temperaments.  After a failed undersea mission to locate Atlantis in 1939 resulted in the deaths of his entire crew, including his wife, Marlowe returns for a second attempt in the submarine Plato. Following the transmission of a message in which he claims to have found Atlantis ("I think I see it . . . it . . . it's BEAUTIFUL"), Marlowe disappears.  Skeptical of the veracity of his discovery and suspicious of his political sensibilities, the government hires Dr. Stein, self-proclaimed rationalist empiricist, to follow Marlowe's course in order to determine if he has indeed located Atlantis and, if possible, to bring him back.

The doubling of the characters of Marlowe and Dr. Stein establishes the comic's debt to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, except in this case the story is sort of reversed, with Marlowe (what at first appears to be a misspelling of the name of Conrad's protagonist in fact suggests a further link to Chandler's detective) apparently "going native," leaving the uber-Apollonian and boorish Dr. Stein to rescue Marlowe from himself.  Saddling a comic with all of this literary baggage clearly runs the risk of bogging it down, but The Depths wears its erudition lightly.  The narrative is pulled along surely and economically and Esad Ribic's subdued palette and, dare I say, soft-focus give the book a sort of timeless, storybook quality which meshes well with its mythological foundation.

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