Thursday, August 21, 2008

Society doesn’t know, care about Namor The Sub-Mariner (and a few other subjects undeserving of their own posts)

Aquaman first appeared in 1941, but didn’t become a real fixture of comics and American pop culture until years later, during the so-called Silver Age. He was, at the time, essentially just a weaker, blonder, more pleasant version of Namor The Sub-Mariner, with a more direct and marketable name.

Namor first appeared in 1939, and he was essentially just Superman from underwater…if Superman was an enormous prick who would occasionally just walk around wrecking the joint for no good reason. Namor fought Nazis with Captain America in the Golden Age, kidnapped Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards of the Fantastic Four in the Silver Age, and has swam around the Marvel Universe being an enormous prick, telling superheroes to touch him not, spouting catchphrases and occasionally wrecking joints ever since.

And yet, when the mainstream, non-comics media reach for an underwater superhero to compare Olympic athlete Michael Phelps to, it is inevitably Aquaman, never Namor.

What’s up with that, mainstream media?

Here’s Sports Illustrated magazine online, comparing “two guys who live their lives in the water.” The guys are Phelps and Aquaman.

Here’s cartoonist J.D. Crowe’s horrifying caricature of monster-man Phelps, calling him Aquaman.

Here’s Jon Stewart showing “stunning footage” of “Phelps racing his French rival Black Manta.”

Here’s’s Ken Layne on Political Machine, talking about America’s inability to respond militarily to Russia’s invasion of Georgia, or do much of anything militarily a the moment: “Or that famous swimmer Michael Phelps can save the country by, uh, swimming very fast to various problem zones, like Aquaman.” (And at Wonkette proper, they ask, “WTF was Aquaman’s secret power anyway, just basically swimming?” Yeah. And a little thing we like to call telepathy! And the ability to totally breathe underwater! And super-speed, -strength and –endurance!)

Google News-ing “Michael Phelps” and “Aquaman” Thursday evening got me 74 hits; doing the same for “Michael Phelps” and “Namor” got me only three, and one of those mentioned both Namor and Aquaman.

Not that there weren’t any comparisons of Phelps to Namor, of course, but there are significantly fewer, and certainly none in as high-profile a place as The Daily Show or any of the one million newspapers that have called Phelps Aquaman.

In conclusion, while Aquaman may still be something of a pop culture punchline thanks to Super Friends, at least pop culture is aware of his existence.

—I don’t think all this Olympic-related name-dropping of Aquaman would at all translate into an increase of in-store comics sales, but it hardly matters, as DC isn’t publishing an Aquaman comic, the last volume of which was cancelled at the end of last year after an ill-considered 18-issue run in which the title character was ditched in favor of a brand-new legacy character.

In a similar vein, I found it rather ironic that DC published a monthly comic book series with the phrase “Dark Knight” right there in the title (Legends of the Dark Knight) for 215 issues over the course of 19 years, and the ended up canceling it the year before a gigantic movie called The Dark Knight was released, replacing it with a similar book entitled Batman Confidential (which no one will ever use for a movie title ever).

I don’t know that that necessarily cost DC any sales either (or, more accurately, cost them potential new sales)—particularly since I heard the film referred to as Batman and Dark Knight interchangeably in conversation—but it’s an unfortunate failure to capitalize on the free publicity of having everyone on earth saying the words “Dark Knight” over the course of a few months.

It’s not like they didn’t know what the name of the next Batman movie was going to be back when they decided to cancel LDK and replace it with a book that sounded like it was about Batman’s love life, right?

—Back to Namor for a minute: I stumbled through a (more) half-assed (than usual) review of the Last Defenders #6 last week, and I freely admit that I just didn’t get it.

Tim O’Neil did, and I’d encourage you to read his review of the series (and thoughts on the franchise in general). He has an interesting take on what exactly Joe Casey was up to with this weird little miniseries, and, after reading O’Neil’s case, I think that not only is he right, but Casey’s mini might actually have been kind of brilliant. I kind of want to sit down and reread it again sometime soon, now that O’Neil’s offered another way to look at it.

—Okay, one last thing pertaining to Namor and then I swear to move on: Did you see James Kochalka’s cover of a page of Kirby and Lee’s Fantastic Four? Kochalka, who is responsible for Superfuckers, a comic book that is all about a bunch of super-powered jerks and dicks, draws a superb Namor.

In a perfect world, Joe Quesada would already be knocking on Kochalka’s front door, with a big sack of cash money (complete with a dollar sign drawn on the front) in one hand, and a contract to do a Namor Max miniseries in the other. (Link from many places, but I think I saw it at first).

—I haven’t mentioned that Robert Kirkman video manifesto thing, in large part because I a) don’t have a dog in that fight, and b) don’t want to be a dick to Robert Kirkman, in case I ever have the opportunity to pitch something to Image Comics, but of the various reactions I’ve read—from Dirk Deppey’s it’s "just insane” to Steven Grant’s measured response—I thought Abhay Khosla’s was the most amusing.

He used it to frame a review the latest issue of Kirkman’s Astonishing Wolf-Man comic:

I watched this video of Robert Kirkman the other day; he put out this odd video saying that established comic creators should focus exclusively on their own comics, and quit their jobs, and something-something-kids. But I had a weird time turning 30, too, so who am I to judge?

Anyways, it at least worked as a marketing video, and successfully reminded me that guy existed and that I didn’t really have an articulate reason why I don’t read his comics

Good stuff, as always.

—Oh, and speaking of Abhay and good stuff, click here to watch him make Scott Kurtz look like the dumbest fucking guy to ever touch a keyboard.

In the comments section, Kurtz goes round and round with posters, several of them prominent and/or pretty great online comics critics, about, I don’t know, how he doesn’t believe in the existence of quality prose about creative works, or that criticism on the Internet doesn’t count because those are just bloggers and not critics (an odd statement for a guy who does webcomics to make; wouldn’t a webcomic creator be offended to be told their comic isn’t a real comic because it’s not on paper?), or that writing isn’t an art form unless it’s a screenplay, a novel or the words in the bubbles of his strip. (Hell, he says that not only is non-fiction writing not only not an art, it’s not even a craft. The construction of the previous sentence, by the way, isn’t very good, I know).

This is another excellent example of why creators should pretty much never post anything online ever, particularly if they happen to be idiots (like Kurtz) and/or have thoroughly unlikable online personas (like Mark Millar) and/or hold wacky-ass personal beliefs (like Dave Sim and a few dozen others).

See, I’ve never read Kurtz’s PVP. Not because I didn’t like it (I just searched for it online, and I see Kurtz has a pretty nice line and highly animated character designs), not because I wasn’t aware of its existence and not because of any aesthetic prejudice against online comics. I’m just a slow adapter. I’ve never had a cell phone, or one of those little white boxes that pump music into your ears…whattayacallit, an I-Pad? It took me years of hearing how genius Achewood was before I dedicated the time necessary to get into it, and, likewise, I had to try Dinosaur Comics over and over until I found the proper dosage of which I need to take it in to enjoy it (one strip a day; the opposite of Achewood, really).

But after reading Kurtz spend time publicly making an ass of himself, I’m never going to be able to come to PVP cold and try to experience it with fresh eyes. I’m going to think, “PVP? Oh, the strip by that dumb fucking guy who’s never read anything in his life? No thanks.”

The moral of this story? If you are a comics creator and can’t help making an ass of yourself in public, don’t go out in public.

—After completing this year’s Justice League Ice Cream Social, I went back and reviewed my master list and realized I completely forgot to do one of the superheroes on the League. Can you guess which one? Here’s a hint: She’s a she, and she was on the team sometime between Legends and JLA #1. I guess I’ll do a mini-one next summer, to include her and any Leaguers added by then, like Icon or Hardware (if McDuffie does end up adding some of the Milestone characters to the team).

The next sketch blog event is tentatively scheduled for October.

UPDATE #1: I altered the wording of the first sentence, since, as commenter Tegan pointed out, it wasn't technically accurate.

UPDATE #2: Kurtz struck a more concillatory note later in that Blog@ post which makes him seem like less of an ignorant douche. I still have no desire to ever read PVP though.


snell said...

Re: Aquaman. Aquaman's very name explains the reference, so it's easier for media commentators/comedians to use...they don't have to explain the joke. You drop the name Aquaman, even if the reader is unfamiliar with the character, they know "Aquaman"=aqua+man=water hero.

Namor, however, would require explanation, because unlike Aquaman, his identity is just a name (you didn't see any of those Michael Phelps articles drop the name Arthur Curry, did you?). And don't get them started on trying to pronounce "Submariner..."

Tegan said...

Aquaman appeared in 1941 and was then published continuously for over 30 years in his own solo tales, and appeared in the Justice League and Super Friends as well. He didn't appear "only briefly", his appearances were constant from 1941 until modern comics. He is still currently appearing in DC books, including Final Crisis, Super Friends, and even Tiny Titans.

Sub-Mariner appeared in 1939 and was part of a line that was dropped after the "Golden Age" ended. He had a significant hiatus and was nearly forgotten for many years, until he was re-introduced in the Silver Age. He never had his own TV series (Aquaman did) nor was he part of a major team cartoon (Super Friends).

Aquaman has a longer publishing history (in terms of the sheer number of stories he's appeared in) and is far better known than Namor the Submariner.

tomorrowboy 2.9 said...

Is it halloween costumes? Cause that would be killer.

Jacob T. Levy said...

I'm gonna guess Silver Sorceress, assuming that we're leaving out multiple versions of the same character (i.e. I think you did Dr. Fate just once, though the Linda Strauss version was a member briefly). Similarly, I don't remember Hippolyta, though she fails the "Before JLA #1" test.

Hey, you're the one who decided to be so completist as to include Moon Maiden, Tomorrow Woman, and Antaeus!

Bethama said...

Wasn't Resurrection Man on the team? Briefly? Like, one issue of his own comic that may or may not actually count?

Either way, looking forward to the next event.

SallyP said...

I think that Jon Stewart just likes Aquaman. He's shown up on the show before, memorably as a member of the Supreme Court.

It probably didn't hurt that Aquaman was in all of those old Superfriends cartoons either.

And I'm SO glad to know that I'm not the only person without a cell phone!

Caleb said...

Snell, Tegan,

Yes, definitely; I actually would have been shocked to hear anyone mention "America's own Sub-Mariner, Michael Phelps."

I happily defer to Tegan on all matters Aquaman; I'll revisit my phrasing regarding Aquaman's appearing only breifly later. I meant that Aquaman didn't really "make a splash" (ha ha!) in public consciousness until the Silver Age and, most especially, Super Friends.


No, but people who wear costumes for a living dressing up in costumes for Halloween is a damn funny idea...


Yes, it was Silver Sorceress. I kept failing ot think of something for her, and moving on to a different hero and eventually forgot her. I had Wonder Woman's mom down on my list at one point too, but was getting sick of doing them towards the end, and I rationalized that since I just did one Flash, not distinguishing between Barry and Wally, I didn't need to do two Wonder Women. (I did do all the GLs though, so my rationale isn't airtight...but since I was arguing with myself, I let myself be convinced by it. )


I thought Resurrection Man was on the team too, but all of the lists I've seen either don't mention him, or say he was probationary. I haven't read that story since the first time, so I dont' recall what it said his status was.

Joe Hennes said...

Resurrection Man was in the Justice Legion A in DC 1000000, which is pretty close.

Other than characters whose legacies are already listed and the ones who appeared in other characters entries (like Blue Beetle, Vibe, Snapper Carr, etc), I didn't see: Jesse Quick, Geo-Force, Justice League Elite, or the team from 52 #24 with Ambush Bug and Super Chief.

I'm done being a big nerd now.

Unknown said...

Joe, you say that as if it is a bad thing. It isn't. And you did a great job at being a big nerd. Do it more often, please. :)