O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
MTV Geek recently ran a list of their 7 Best Superheroes of the Seven Seas and it got me thinking, as these things are designed to do. I love ocean-adventure comics and appreciate the topic, but on a list of superheroes, I think we can do better than One Piece and Last Airbender. Those are great characters; they’re just not superheroes. Superhero comics are full of fantastic, undersea heroes, so this is my list. To open up spots for some lesser-known (if not exactly obscure) characters, I decided to leave off the obvious Sub-Mariner and Aquaman. We can agree that they deserve to be here; I’m just not confident that I have anything new to say about them.
I worried at first about picking seven characters for a Six by 6 column, but since the precedent has been set…here they are in reverse order:
The Inhumans are a weird, mixed bag of characters. Medusa and Lockjaw are awesome, but Gorgon and Karnak? Not so much. Others – like Black Bolt and Crystal – are entirely dependent on who’s writing them. Triton’s one of the great ones though. An outsider amongst outsiders, Triton wears his strangeness right out there where it counts: on his skin. There’s something awesomely underdoggy about characters who can’t blend in with “normal” people and Triton gets props for not only being a fish-man, but looking like one too.
In contrast to Triton, Marineman blends in with human society almost too well. Writer/artist Ian Churchill is still revealing the origins of his creator-owned hero, but what we do know is that Marineman (aka Steve Ocean) has worked hard to keep his powers from even his closest friends by hiding in plain sight as it were. He’s a popular marine biologist/activist with a reality TV show, but until recently everyone thought that was all he was. Everyone, that is, except for his mad scientist dad and the top-secret military group that they both work for. It’s a combination of that drama with the sheer awesomeness of the environments that Churchill’s designed (the undersea base, the marine research facility that supports Marineman’s public research, the ruins of Atlantis, etc.) that earns Marineman a spot on this list.
5. Sea Ghost
Sea Ghost is probably the most obscure character on this list, but he’s also one of the coolest. Spinning out of Jay Piscopo’s The Undersea Adventures of Capt’n Eli, Sea Ghost is as an homage to Space Ghost and other classic Hanna-Barbera characters and concepts.
Piscopo’s put a lot of thought into Sea Ghost and Capt’n Eli’s world. Though it’s a relatively new series, the allies and villains all have back-stories that give everything a sense of grandness, like every story is a special event. Even if you don’t know who Commander X and Lord Hydro are, seeing them team up with or fight against Sea Ghost is almost as exciting as if you’ve grown up with these characters and been waiting for this battle your entire life.
When I was growing up, Mera had a bad reputation for sitting at home in Atlantis and whining that Aquaman was neglecting his duties as husband and king. And there’s a certain amount of justification to that perception, because once they got married, she was written that way. But in Mera’s earliest appearances, she was a partner with Aquaman on his sea-trotting adventures. I’d say “equal partner,” but that’s not accurate. With her ability to control water, she was way more powerful than he was, making her post-marital sidelining even more criminal. Fortunately, Geoff Johns is working hard to return her to her former status as a true, fellow soldier in Aquaman’s mission.
Speaking of soldiers, how cool is Namora? She’s a total badass without all the douchery of the Sub-Mariner. Don’t get me wrong, I love Namor’s jerky side. It’s part of what makes him such a fascinating and enduring character. But rather than mimicking that with breasts, Namora’s her own woman. She’s tough, powerful, and enigmatic, but also able to work well with others, which opens a lot of great, unpredictable story possibilities.
John Byrne once made a dismissive comment about Alpha Flight’s only reason for existence being to survive a fight with the X-Men. That’s been quoted a lot, but the John Byrne who said it seems like a very different person from the man who wrote the first 28 issues of the series. A lot of thought and care went into these characters and none more so than Marrina.
Her story is tragic in more ways than one. Found as an egg on the beach by a loving family of lighthouse-keepers, her quick development of underwater powers landed her a spot in Canada’s Beta Flight program. Her promotion into Alpha Flight however brought horrible consequences when – on her very first mission – she learned her true origin. Her sweet, shy demeanor was a product of the nurturing she’d received from her human family, but her true nature as a member of an alien race of world-conquerors was vicious, as Puck learned the hard way.
Even when she thought she got that under control and entered a romantic relationship with the Sub-Mariner, Marvel writers couldn’t leave her alone. They continued to bring up and manipulate her alien DNA whenever they didn’t know what else to do with her, which was all the damn time. Ultimately, she was unceremoniously killed, but like with Mera there’s hope that Marrina will get some interesting stories written around her in Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak, and Dale Eaglesham’s upcoming Alpha Flight mini-series. Her nature/nurture conflict deserves to be explored, not exploited as a cheap way to propel someone else’s plot.
1. Abe Sapien
This one has it all: Triton’s fish-man looks; a mysterious background like Marineman; the tragedy of Marrina; a fully-realized, but self-contained world to explore and lots of great team-up possibilities like Sea Ghost; the toughness and power of Namora. Abe may have started as just a cool-looking sidekick for Hellboy, but thanks to some one-shots, mini-series, and of course BPRD, he’s become nobody’s sidekick, but a hero and a respected leader.
So that’s my list. What’s yours? Any great, sea-based superheroes that I didn’t mention?