Marineman #1-2

By Ian Churchill
32 pages, color
Published by Image Comics

There are so many jokes about Aquaman’s powers being fairly useless that it’s ceased to be a geek piece of knowledge and entered the general lexicon. (When even Saturday Night Live has gotten in on the act, you know it’s getting stale.) So with that in mind, I have to give credit where it’s due: Ian Churchill is awfully gutsy in having his brand-new, creator-owned comic be Marineman. I suspect Churchill’s already written all of the mockery himself at this point. But while he’s no Aquaman, Marineman ultimately became a book that both was and was the comic I was expecting when I first heard about it.

At its core, Marineman is exactly what it sounds like. Steve Ocean is known for his television show that’s a cross between Jacques Cousteau and Steve "The Crocodile Hunter" Irwin. Churchill’s set him up as a major celebrity in his own right, appearing at signings and being recognized on the street. But secretly, he’s working for the military and has the ability to breathe underwater. (It’s not entirely clear at this point if his gift with fishes is another supernatural ability, or if he’s just quite good at dealing with aquatic life.) So yes, on that level, this is exactly what you thought you were getting.

At the same time, though, there are some glimmerings of a larger plot or two starting to take shape. The predictable one is what looks to be the surfacing of an arch-enemy that wants to capture Steve Ocean for his own nefarious purposes. It’s not much of a surprise, and it feels like more standard operating procedure. But Churchill is also creating a potential romance in Marineman, and it’s the part of the writing that I think might click into place. I think it’s because Churchill hasn’t fallen into any of the usual sorts of traps when it comes to Lt. Charlotte Green, Steve’s opposite. She’s not madly in love with him. She’s not even quickly warming to his ways. Instead, she just seems vaguely annoyed with him more than anything else. And while that doesn’t sound like much, there’s something about their interactions (as limited as they are, happening mostly in the first two-thirds of issue #2) that makes me think that I’d like to see more. Considering that Steve Ocean’s civilian identity involves him looking like a bit of a brainless show-off for his television show, it makes sense that it’s going to backfire in that regard. (Think of it as a twist on the old, "Clark Kent is so feeble to not obviously be Superman that Lois hates Clark but loves Superman" angle.)

I’ll also be the first to admit that I’m intrigued by Churchill’s art. This new stripped down, clean style is so different from his older comics work on titles like Cable and Supergirl that I still have a hard time recognizing Churchill’s more recent art at a glance. Churchill draws the physiques here exaggerated; Steve doesn’t look so much like a swimmer but rather a linebacker’s greatest fantasy. He’s a solid core of a man, and his look makes you want to joke that even his muscles have muscles. Charlotte actually looks subdued in comparison. She fills out her clothes in her own manner as well, but considering how top-heavy so many female characters in super-powered comics are, it’s fun to see Steve as the character whose chest is distractingly large and looks like he was just attacked by an air compressor.

For the most part, I like how Churchill draws the action; it’s slightly posed in places, but it still moves well. The one type of action that doesn’t work here is when Steve’s swimming at high speeds. As said before, Steve’s body is more like a football player than a swimmer, and it’s a little hard to swallow that someone as non-streamlined as Steve is could still move that fast. I’m also not as crazy on how he fades people in the backgrounds out; instead of seeing them shifting out of our depth of field, it just screams, "Photoshop effect" and is more distracting than anything else. It’s a nice concept but it feels like it needs some fine tuning for it to completely click. (Then again, considering how goofy background characters seem to look in Marineman, perhaps fading them out isn’t such a bad idea.)

Marineman is two issues in now, and it’s not a bad debut for Churchill as a writer, and the book is awfully pretty. The pace does need to pick up, though. While I appreciate that a lot of the first issue was used just to show us Steve’s life, it felt like too much of the second issue was used to give us more of the same. Now that he’s been outed, it’s time for the comic to hit the high gear and have some action that doesn’t involve sharks to happen. Without that, Marineman can quickly end up being perceived as boring as his distant cousin Aquaman. And trust me, that’s a fate worse than death for a comic book character. I want to be into this book, but for now it’s more of just a pleasant read than anything you must search out. Here’s hoping Marineman can focus in on its promise and deliver some higher amounts of fun.

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