I don't recall exactly when I saw the solicitation or preview for this book, but I remember thinking, "Good. At least someone's going to make good on Aquaman's current pop culture popularity," and quickly dismissed it. Then I saw the preview for this book and made a mental note to check the book out. The story seemed thick, the art was buoyant, and this was a fresh start, a seemingly perfect mix for a new book, and a book that at least deserved a review so other comic readers could know whether or not this might be of interest or investment.
Churchill makes no pretenses about world-building here. This character is a completely blank slate, this is the first appearance, and everything builds on this. Churchill makes sure the foundation is nice and thick, with dense support. Steve Ocean is a world famous marine biologist: think Jacques Cousteau with Steve Irwin's peak popularity and Tim Allen's personality. Steve's supporting cast includes a handful of characters: his buddy and cameraman, Jake Clearwater; Steve's Ocean Point Aquarium tour guide gal pal, Tina; Steve's dad, David Ocean; and a soon-to-be-prominent supporting character, Lieutenant Charlotte "Charlie" Greene (yeah, "C. Greene"). Churchill's creativity isn't completely on display with the names these characters have, but these are comic characters after all, so their names play up a little better.
Marineman's world is stuffed with detail and description, from the nautilus-shaped design to the Ocean Point Aquarium to Marine Base Alpha. Churchill drops in subplots and snippets of relationships, but doesn't overload this book. It's smartly paced and comfortably constructed. Being both writer and artist, sharing an idea with us that he's held onto for over thirty years, Churchill doesn't try to hit the home run right away. He's taking his time introducing us to Steve Ocean and the world he inhabits. As a matter of fact, there isn't any super-powered activity to be found anywhere in this book, but it is so masterfully planned out with believable characters that the lack of world-saving heroics is barely noticed.
Churchill's art is lively, expressive, and buoyant, not unlike the work of the late Mike Wieringo. As Churchill himself mentions in the back of this issue, he wanted to give readers a bright and shiny superhero. While Ocean isn't a superhero yet, he is bright and shiny and so is this comic. In the aquarium and oceanside scenes, Churchill doesn't just deliver generic fish. His lemon shark is keenly researched without being forcibly traced and the fish in David Ocean's lab look as though they could be purchased from the local saltwater fish store. Churchill doesn't stop there, adding detail to the settings, and environments.
Adding to the overall package of this first issue, Churchill provides a text piece explaining how he came to create Marineman, citing both Marvelman and Namor as source inspiration. My apologies to Mr. Churchill for immediately jumping on the "Aquaman rip-off" bandwagon as I mentioned earlier. After reading the text and looking at the comic again, the Marvelman influence is quite prominent. Further continuing with Silver Age flavored extra goodness, this issue also contains a pin-up of Marineman, two pages of sketches, and a nice piece on "real world marine men and women" in the form of an article titled "The Oceanauts." I was pleasantly surprised by the "The Oceanauts" feature that closed out this issue (and promises to appear in future issues). It is a nice addition that serves as a crossover point for fans of the comic to investigate the world around them a little bit more. It gives the comic a feeling similar to an oversized special, summer annual, or even a companion-like piece.
While I was extremely skeptic at first, I found "Marineman" to be easily one of the best debut issues of 2010. This first issue is the type of first issue I want to see more of. Image has another winner on its hands here.