Sub-Mariner: The Depths #2

There is an awful lot going on in the second issue of this new Sub-Mariner series. The book is growing into one that takes its narrative about a sea quest and the power of myths and those who make it their business to debunk them and projects it into a legitimate examination of belief and fear and the effects they have on the mind.

The story creates a very clear dichotomy between the deep men on the one side, who have a very real fear of the sea in general and Namor in particular, and the rational Dr. Stein, who insists that Atlantis and Namor are myths--products of the psychological disturbances associated with deep sea travel. The irony in this case is that Stein's belief has more naked religiosity to it than that of the crew. One gets the sense that it doesn't really matter to them whether Namor exists or not, it is simply that they have learned a healthy respect (and fear) for the sea.

It is interesting to note that at least at this point in the narrative, the question of whether Namor actually exists or not doesn't really make a difference. As he spends more and more time in the deep ocean, Stein's grip on his sanity becomes ever more tenuous and the tension amongst the vessel's passengers reaches a near breaking point. We are given suggestions of Namor's existence, but when Stein finally breaks down and "sees" Namor, he doesn't actually see Namor at all, but rather some generic creature from the deep obviously cobbled together in his mind from various horror stories. The bottom line is that crew of the Plato is falling apart and whether it is Namor or "Namor" that is causing it matters not at all, the effect it the same.

Both Milligan and Ribic must be credited for maintaining an extraordinary level of tension throughout the book. Suspense is maintained simply by means of the subtle, obscured suggestions of Namor's presence, despite the fact that very little happens in terms of action. Ribic in particular has done an excellent job of documenting the physical manifestation of Stein's steady decline from the cocksure skeptic brimming with rude health of the first issue, to the wide-eyed, sallow skinned neurotic we are left with here.

The issue opens with an epigraph ("A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned.") from J. M. Synge about the dangers of approaching the sea fearlessly. Perhaps just as telling in terms of where this series might be going is the portion of the quote left out: "But we do be afraid of the sea and we only do be drownded now and again."

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