At a glance, Ian Churchill’s Marineman, the first six issues of which are now collected in trade paperback here, resembles a close relative of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. It boasts an array of colorful, classic superhero comics imagery, an overt sense of fun and a straightforward method of storytelling. Not to mention the two books share a publisher (Image Comics), and, as of this past year, Marineman can stand alongside Kirkman’s opus as a onetime Eisner Award nominee for Best New Series.
Also like Invincible, Marineman hangs its hat on a major series hook that is played rather close to the vest for the first few issues. As the series opens, we’re introduced to Steve Ocean, a handsome and fit marine biologist who hosts a Discovery Channel-style television program as the affectionately-dubbed “Marineman.” Only, just as we’re getting comfortable with that idea as a premise, the rug is pulled out from under us and we learn that Steve is the possessor of superhuman aquatic powers of mysterious origin.
In other words, Marineman is a book that looks like a superhero comic, pretends not to be one for a while, then eventually admits that it is. It’s this play on our expectations that Churchill seemingly intends to employ to infuse the series with intrigue, although it’s actually the point where the story begins to drift toward conventionalism. This isn’t a boring book by any means, but it ends up lacking the wow factor you might expect from one that was so widely lauded upon its initial release. As soon as the topic of Nazi research scientists enters the picture, it’s hard to feel like this isn’t a place we’ve visited before.
Equally familiar, but more welcome in being so, is the visual aspect of Churchill’s efforts. Polished and bright, it depicts Steve as a muscle-bound hunk who sports, as does most of the rest of the cast, a pristine smile. Churchill’s work is similar to that of Ed McGuinness, though with a lesser degree of stylization. It’s a look that is well suited to bringing in the sort of all-ages audience that this book, a few brief instances of innuendo notwithstanding, is tailored for.
All in all, it’s refreshing to have an independent comic come along that delves into the art of superheroics without needlessly darkening them or mocking them ironically. Churchill may not be rewriting the genre fiction manual, but he does deliver a product that can be uncynically enjoyed by all. Unlike a lot of comics out there, including many published by Marvel and DC, there’s no need to hide your copy of Marineman when the kids are around.
Raised on a steady diet of Super Powers action figures and Adam West Batman reruns, Chris Kiser now writes for Comics Bulletin and can be found on Twitter as @Chris_Kiser. He’s currently in the midst of reading and reviewing every tie-in to a major DC Comics summer event and regretting every second of it.