Namor’s Past Comes Back to Haunt Him in Invaders #1

Thanks to Aquaman, underwater superheroes are hot right now, so Marvel couldn’t really have timed this series any better if it tried. It’s unlikely that the billion-dollar audience of DC’s biggest movie since Dark Knight Rises will transfer over to Invaders #1, but the closest equivalent that Marvel has to Arthur Curry is Namor the Sub-Mariner, and this issue has plenty of him. In a lot of ways, this is very much Namor’s book; yes, there’s an element of "getting the band back together" about it, but the motivation of the group of World War II super-allies is driven by Namor’s welfare.

Over in the current Jason Aaron-led Avengers, Namor has once again adopted the mantle of supervillain. After decades of ambiguity, leaning more towards heroism than not, the half-human ruler of Atlantis has returned to the early days of his inception, battling against the surface world in an effort to reclaim the earth in the name of his underwater home. Namor’s nothing if not complex, however, and this issue opens by showing us a time during the war when the Atlantean king was fighting for the survival of humanity. Having fought hard to save his soldier friends -- and failing -- this flashback is revealed to be haunting the Namor of the present day. Being primarily a brightly colored superhero slugfest, Avengers has portrayed Namor in a very uncomplicated fashion so far. The Avengers need to be the heroes, so Namor needs to be the villain. Here, though, writer Chip Zdarsky indulges in the shades of grey, depicting the Sub-Mariner as a man burdened with complex feelings over his actions.

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His inner turmoil hasn’t gone unnoticed. His old wartime compatriot Jim Hammond, aka the original (android) Human Torch, is writing a memoir/chronicle of the Invaders during the war and is concerned that Namor is forgetting the part of him that made him their close friend during those times. We cut between Hammond researching his book and Namor in the present negotiating a tricky alliance between Atlantean factions in order to strengthen his army for an attack on the surface world. Interspersed throughout is an extended flashback sequence showing the Invaders reacting to the death of a soldier and friend. The running theme throughout all three of these threads is the mental welfare and stability of Namor, until all three converge at the end of the issue and introduce an unpredictable element to the Sub-Mariner's character, teasing a dark direction for the future of this book.

Art duties are split between Carlos Magno and Butch Guice, the former depicting the present day, the latter tackling the flashbacks. It was a smart choice to have two different artists approach these very distinct eras of the team, Guice leaning into a rougher aesthetic for those wartime scenes and Magno embracing the grand superheroics of the present. The real star, however, is colorist Alex Guimaraes, who manages to enhance the stark differences between then and now. There’s a familiar, sepia-toned shorthand for flashbacks that Guimaraes definitely borrows from here, but that’s mixed with the somber palette often used to depict WWII, one with a gritty edge emulating the iconic D-Day photography of Robert Capa. There’s a moment in the issue that shifts from a flashback of the Invaders in a bar to the present-day Namor approaching a settlement of displaced Atlanteans, and the color change between the two is dramatic. We go from all browns and greys, and neutral tones, to a rich, vibrant palette of blues and greens, with the bright lights of the structures and the dark shadows of the deep. Guimaraes continues this trend throughout the book, switching up his style to capture the different eras, settings and environments.

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How much you get out of a book like Invaders #1 depends on whether you like Namor, seeing as he’s such a core part of this issue. He’s not always the easiest character to enjoy and is usually best served in contrast with other characters like the Avengers, Fantastic Four or even the X-Men. The concept of the Invaders has made a comeback infrequently over the years but feels here like a more natural resurrection of the idea than most. Zdarsky has a knack of supplying depth to characters in ancillary books that their main series doesn’t always have time for. His work on Spectacular Spider-Man and Marvel Two-in-One had rewarding character developments that served to enhance your understanding and appreciation of Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four respectively. If this debut issue is anything to go by, Invaders looks to be a series that does much the same for Namor’s character in Avengers.

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of Invaders #1 is the feeling that Chip Zdarsky is fast becoming Marvel’s most versatile and dependable writer. He just seems to ‘get’ whatever character he puts his hand to, but also introduces fresh approaches to them that then lead to interesting new directions. This book is vastly different from his work on Howard the Duck, which in turn was different from a book like Marvel Two-in-One and undoubtedly his upcoming Daredevil run. As such, Invaders is going to be a fascinating series to follow just to see what Zdarsky can do with 80-year-old characters that hasn’t been done before.

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