Namor: The Best Defense #1
Namor, king of Atlantis, faces a quandary: he knows war is coming with the surface world, but the only allies he can possibly bring to his aid are the Vodani, long-ago outcasts now viewed with skepticism and mistrust. Even as Namor argues for the necessity of this alliance, his own council pushes back, resulting in the king having to use his royal authority to cease the debate. The Vodani, he argues, do not understand the full scope of the threat the surface world poses, and only Namor can convince them. Namor's councilor argues that the king's own dalliances with the surface world weakens him in the eyes of the people, and may even introduce the concept of democracy to them.
Namor seeks out the Vodani on his own, convinced they will join him and be ecstatic to rejoin Atlantis. Unfortunately, he is unsure of the way, and as he plunges deeper and deeper into the unfathomable (heh) depths of an unexplored trench, he becomes lost in the dark, and even begins to hallucinate his time spent in World War II. It is only when the Vodani come to his aid that he is rescued. The Vodani king, Okun, refuses to even acknowledge Namor as a king, nor does he rush to rejoin Atlantis with open arms. The Vodani view Atlantis with the same disdain the latter holds with them, only more pointedly so, since Atlantis did in fact exile them centuries prior.
After much deliberation, Okun concedes that he will fight along side Namor if he kills a kraken-like beast that has been troubling the Vodani; Namor does so with relative ease thanks to the timely assistance of Okun's daughter. But the double-dealing Okun was using Namor the entire time, and never intended to honor his word!
Namor and Okun fight, and Namor discovers that the tunnel he originally became lost in is in fact a magical passageway to the surface of an alien water world that opens up immediately into space. Namor holds his foe, watching as he gasps for air and finds none, then ultimately chooses mercy by dropping him back into the ocean. Too late for Namor, though, as the icy vacuum of space begins to take him...
Although this is technically the second chapter in the “Best Defense” miniseries, on the surface this story bears almost no ties to the previous installment, The Immortal Hulk: The Best Defense. That is by design, but a bit of forewarning on the front side for readers uninitiated in how this story was designed.
That said, Chip Zdarsky understands the fundamental underpinnings of Namor the Sub-Mariner: He’s neither the hero or villain, but a king who makes decisions for what he sees as the betterment of his kingdom, and those decisions are therefore are neither “good” nor “bad,” but simply ARE. Does he sometimes attack the surface world? Yes. But his reasons are always in defense of Atlantis, just like when he fights alongside the Avengers, that too is a decision based on what he perceives as right for his nation.
This story is a microcosm of that ethos. Namor does what he must for Atlantis, despite pleas from his council or any trepidation he may have about heading into the unknown. And if King Okun’s heel turn is predictable, bear in mind – he was only put in that position AFTER Namor gave him every opportunity to play nice. Namor came to him in good faith, against the odds, and Okun’s response was one of pettiness and an inability to get over his own prejudices and do the right thing for his country (we’re never told why Namor suddenly has such certainty that the surface world is an immediate threat; I assume it ties into recent issues of Avengers). In short, Namor proved to be the stronger leader.
While this was an indelible character study of Namor, and all due respect should go to Chip Zdarsky for orchestrating it, the bigger stars are artist Carlos Magno and colorist Ian Herring. Their art is lush; detailed without being over-rendered and frankly just about as close to flawless as it gets. Magno’s linework is thin without looking reedy, and his inks embellish it perfectly. Herring’s coloring is a thing of beauty to behold. Both are truly masters of their craft.
While not necessarily doing much to move the Best Defense story forward, this issue is quite a gem in its own right. The argument could be made against the necessity of a character study for such a timeworn character as Namor, but I'd argue that it's always best to remember that every comic could be someone's first. And if I knew nothing about Namor, this issue would hook me without hesitation.
Namor: The Best Defense #1
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 9.5/109.5/10
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