The ocean is a fascinating place, filled with some of the most amazing organisms known to man. If you believe in evolution, the ocean is where our great great great great great ancestors started out.
It covers 2/3’s of our planet. Its enormity is awe-inspiring and even today there are undiscovered,unmapped, and unexplored expanses deep beneath the waves. So with everything the ocean has going for it, why can’t anyone write a solid comic book series based around it?
Seriously, how many times has Aqua Man been redone, reloaded, and rebooted? DC still can’t make him stick in the greater DC U on his own. What about Marvel’s own Atlantean monarch, Namor the Sub-Mariner? How often have any of his series lasted more than 12 issues? I’ll tell you: 3 times, not counting his appearances in multiple-story books. Thing is, I don’t believe it’s strictly the writer or the artist’s fault that these books don’t catch on. There are some legitimate reasons that “Sea Operas” (I just coined that on Twitter not too long ago) just don’t work all that well.
Limited Power Sets Work Beneath the Waves
How many characters can you think of, just off the top of your head, that utilize some sort of flame/electricity/plasma/combustion based powers? In modern super hero comics there’s a ton. Probably too many.
The Human Torch, Electro, Havok, Sunfire, Pyro, their powers won’t work underwater. What about a hero that can fly? Does he/she swim? Does he/she have gills? Well then he/she is a fish out of water. Heavy hitters, like The Thing, the Hulk, Juggernaut, Solomon Grundy, I’m just shooting from the hip here, but none of those guys stand a chance in the depths. They don’t make sense down there.
A lot of this has to do with H2O itself. Water is an incredibly restrictive medium that completely inhibits a vast majority of the average hero’s physical skills (e.g. martial arts, tossing of projectiles).
It’s a specialized environment that calls for a specialized set of abilities that humans, and most super humans, simply don’t have. Of course that’s why the Atlantean hybrid character works so well, but more often than not the half-breeds end up fighting enemies that sport very similar super powers.
Frankly, that’s not all that entertaining. You can only watch a super fast, super strong, water breathing hero beat the tar out of an evil half man half octopus who’s also super fast, super strong and can breathe underwater, so many times before it just gets old.
The Underwater Setting is Just Used as an Excuse to Draw Underwater Things/Creatures
If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about here just watch any episode of SpongeBob SquarePants. The show is obviously happening in the deep blue sea, yet the characters do things that are only possible on land.
Grilling patties, running, biking, karate, etc. are all obviously impossible underwater. The show is set there just so they can draw underwater things and tap into deep-sea mythology.
Now in comics, where you’re supposed to be completely engrossed in the story, it strikes me as odd when anyone’s walking around underwater. Have you tried walking underwater? It’s freaking impossible unless you’re weighted down! It works in SpongeBob because that show is for kids, but in serious comics it just looks strange.
Namor and Aqua Man comics have usually handled this pretty well, characters’ hair is always floating about in the current, they swim most of the time, blah blah blah, but frankly life in the depths is as alien to us as life among the stars and trying to impress strictly land-based behaviors and activities on deep-sea denizens comes off as strikingly unbelievable, and thus snaps me right out of the story.
Aqua Leung, a graphic novel by Mark Smith and Paul Maybury, is going to be my sacrificial lamb here. Smith and Maybury based their tale in the ocean, but apparently in an ocean devoid of any water.
The main character, Aqua, at one point attempts to scale the mountain stronghold of one of his enemies. Now I know there are undersea mountains, no it’s the fact that he uses a grappling hook that annoys me. Why not just swim straight up? Boom you’re there.
They have fires underwater, armies of fish people run toward each other fighting on the seabed, people fall to their almost deaths. These sorts of situations run rampant through the book and it’s obvious that a huge reason Aqua Leung is set in the ocean is so Maybury can draw awesomely cool deep-sea creatures. Which he does. Awesomely. If you’re going to write a comic underwater you better freaking OWN it.
Talking to Animals Always Comes off as Hokey, Aqua Man
Yeah, it does. Remember Ma-Ti from Captain Planet? Do you remember how lame he was? While the rest of the Planeteers were shooting fireballs, causing earthquakes, making tsunamis, and summoning tornados the little Brazilian with the power of heart was talking to monkeys and getting himself kidnapped like a little whiny baby.
It goes without saying that if you’re talking to animals while your friends are throwing down with a juiced-up super villain you’re not going to be well liked. I personally think talking with animals would be super cool, I mean who wouldn’t want to chat it up with a beaver or whatever? However, the fact remains that unless you’re using an army of super violent and super cool looking creatures to mess up villains on a panel-to-panel basis, you’re going to come off looking pretty lame. Don’t even get me started on Aqua Man from the Justice Friends…
The Ocean is Really… Blue
Now this is a little aside but honestly the ocean is one color: Blue. Sure you get variations, dark blue, light blue, cerulean, but unless you’re on the sea floor or hanging out around coral reefs there’s not a whole lot of cosmetic diversity in the open ocean. That means it’s boring to look at. And I guess that’s it, a few reasons why ocean-based comics don’t work.
Here’s the recap: 1) Standard, conventional, familiar powers don’t work in the deep, 2) a lot of times the underwater settings are only used to draw cool underwater creatures and don’t really influence the story, 3) talking to animals (sea creatures) is sorta lame, and finally 4) the ocean is really blue. This isn’t a comprehensive list and I’m sure all of you could add something here too and feel free, but that’s what I’ve got for you today. Here’s to hoping someone gets out there and OWNS an undersea comic in the near future. Show us how it’s done!