So, we'll dive in this week with a discussion of Aquaman #16, part of DC's New 52 and a tie-in to the "Thrones of Atlantis" story-arc that's running across both this title and also Justice League.
I know. I know.
I get it. I seriously used to hate Aquaman. Why do people hate him so much? Personally, I blame this:
People hated Aquaman in the old Hanna-Barbera Superfriends cartoon from the 1970s, and with good reason - he was lame, and looked like an idiot. The guy wears an orange shirt, has the absolutely totally amazingly useful superpower of being able to talk to fish, and... well, yeah. That's about it.
The thing is... MOST of the DC Super Heroes were portrayed a bit like morons on that show. Aquaman just stood out because it's like they had to go out of their way invent scenarios where he could be in the water, just so he'd look useful.
DC did some things in the mid-1990s to try to make the character "cooler" by shedding his clean-cut image in favor of long hair and beard, and having his hand eaten off by piranhas and replaced by a harpoon. And then he died and came back as a zombie Black Lantern and then was resurrected by a White Lantern (because in the DC Universe, heroes never stay dead no matter how noble their sacrifice). So, you know, your typical super hero stuff.
Let's get back to the "New 52" Version of Aquaman. Firstly, let's define "New 52" for those of you who don't know. The New 52 was DC's rebooting of their entire line of comics in the Fall of 2011 when they effectively "canceled" all of their long-running comics and the next month brought out 52 new comic books, all numbered starting with #1. This was a way of trying to bring in new fans who might be intimated by a comic numbered in the 800s and with 70+ years of historical baggage. The idea was that you could start reading these books with no prior knowledge and you wouldn't be lost, because everything that had happened before hadn't actually happened. That's a huge generalization - they did keep some stuff intact, but don't worry about that for now.
[Full disclosure for me - I stopped reading monthly issues of comics from about 1991 until about 2012, and in the in-between time only read original graphic novels and the occasional trade paperback collection, so I'm not really up-to-speed on all the stuff that happened in regular comic continuity during that time except for the "big" stuff (the various Crisis books for DC and some big events for Marvel). For DC, I was reading mostly Elseworlds stuff. ]
All right - so, Aquaman. Well, the thing is, DC did something really interesting and clever with this book. Firstly, they put one of their best writers (and one of all of comics' best) on the title, a guy who also just happens to be their Chief Creative Officer - Geoff Johns. It seemed a bit of an odd choice to put one of their best on a title that, most likely, nobody was going to care much about and that they were most likely publishing out of an "obligation" because Aquaman is one of the big name guys that people recognize, whether they like him or not.
And then Johns did something really interesting. He took on all of the things that people hate about Aquaman head-on. He didn't ignore them, he didn't try to make Aquaman so over-the-top bad-ass cool as a way to say to the detractors, "But... see? He is cool! Honest! PLEASE?!" That wouldn't have worked.
Instead, within the first few pages of the first issue of Aquaman, we see the hero standing in the middle of a downtown street, facing down a stolen armored car that's racing toward him, followed closely by a police patrol car. You see the robbers inside the armored car scoffing at Aquaman's appearance and attempting to run over the "Tuna-man," as they call him. Meanwhile, the police officers are wondering "Aw, Hell. What's Aquaman doing here? We're not in the ocean, and I don't see any fish around..."
Aquaman stops the armored car flat, and is asked by one of the patrol officers, "You need a glass of water?" Aquaman says "no," and wanders off as the officers speak to each other:
"I can't believe we just got upstaged by Aquaman."
"The boys at the station are never gonna let us here the end of this."
The book is full of little scenes like this - people, upon seeing Aquaman in action, instead of marveling at what he does, say things like "Hey, did you see SNL last week when they did that skit of Aquaman? Freaking hilarious!" Police officers constantly push him to the side, telling him that he's not needed and that they have things under control.
One of my favorite scenes occurs when Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) enters a restaurant near the coast, in full Aquaman regalia, sits down, and orders a plate of fish-n-chips.
"You can't get the fish and chips!"Aquaman, looking frustrated and a little annoyed.
"Because you talk to fish."
"I don't talk to fish... Fish don't talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation."
A nerd then attempts to interview Aquaman "for his blog," and the hero later walks out of the restaurant, casually flipping a gold doubloon onto the table as a tip for the waitress.
The "orange shirt" is dealt with as well, along with many other misconceptions about the Lord of Atlantis. All the while, we see how Arthur Curry and his wife, Mera, attempt to lead a normal life among the surface dwellers and do their best to do the right thing and protect and help people - the very same people who are making jokes at their expense.
DC also put one of their best artists on the book, Ivan Reis, who teamed previously with Geoff Johns on a number of projects, most notably Blackest Night. His pencil work is extremely detailed and somewhat reminiscent of old-school Neal Adams. Recently, Paul Pelletier has taken over to Reis on this book, starting with Issue #15. Paul does some great compositions to back-up Johns' writing, having to do a lot in terms of drawing tons of battle scenes between the Atlanteans and the surface world without things getting too crowded and hectic that you can't follow what's going on.
I've read the hard-back trade collection of the first six issues of the title, called The Trench, which involves some mysterious under-water creatures that bear more than a passing resemblance to some old-school horror movie monsters, and I mean that in a good way. In this story-arc, we also see some relatively dramatic personality changes in Mera and how Arthur deals with that while trying to figure out what the deep sea monster race is up to.
I'm currently reading the most recent monthly issues of the title as well, as it ties into a story arc with Justice League, called "Throne of Atlantis," and also written, coincidentally, by Geoff Johns. This week's issue of Aquaman, #16, is Part 4 of that storyline, which concludes next month (I think). In this issue, we get to see the formation of a "new" Justice League - a team of heroes who have been on the main Justice League's radar and who are called up into action when the "big guns" of the Justice League are incapacitated. This is all leading, I think, to the unveiling later in February of a new book, called Justice League of America, again written by Johns and containing a new team with more ties to the American government.
- Should I buy this issue? That's a little hard to say. If you haven't been reading comics at all recently, and aren't reading Justice League, this would be difficult issue to jump into as it's part of a cross-book story arc. Since this issue also involves the formation of a "back-up" Justice League, in a way, you don't get as much focus on Aquaman as in some of the previous issues.
- What about the title in general? I would full-heartedly recommend picking up the first trade collection of "The New 52 - Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench" either at your local comic book store, or online via an app like Comixology on your iPad or smartphone. It's a great re-introduction to a character you probably thought you knew. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
- I read your blog more for your posts on games versus on comics. What's in it for me? As mentioned, there's a really cool deep-sea monster race that surfaces in this story-arc to wreak havoc, and they're almost a tiny bit pseudo-Cthulhu-like in a way. The way they are treated in this book could make a good model for how you portray Kuo-Tua, for example, in a D&D game, or just used exactly as they appear in the comic as a maritime foe. The book also provides good examples of how to work back-and-forth between sea-based and land-based adventures. I tend to overlook sea-based adventures in my games when I DM, instead just looking at sea travel as a way to get from Point A to Point B. This storyline has given me ideas on how I might actually focus on the journey and turn it into an adventure.
- Is it good for kids? Based on the amount of violence, I'd say no, but of course that's up to each individual parent to judge. There's very limited swearing (Hell, damn, that kind of thing), and no sex, but you do see sea monster bad guys being skewered by Aquaman's trident. There are also some mild scary parts with Mera toward the end of the book that could frighten smaller kids who don't understand what's going on. I'd say that, at the earliest, that a smart seven year-old could handle it, but that's kind of stretching it. A tween or teen would be better suited.