Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: Aquaman #1

The general public perception of comic book characters is typically very different than the perception of actual comic book readers.

"They wear their underwear on the outside." "Those are just for kids." "BAM! POW! Holy rusted metal Batman!"

The intricacies and depth of characters is often highly simplistic or in many cases considered non-existent by those who've never thought to look deeper.

No single character is likely more maligned by this than Aquaman. Everyone knows who Batman and Superman are and what they can do. The recent movie boom will ensure that the general public knows a few more than that, but everyone knows Aquaman, and no one seems to like him. "The fish guy? Yeah, great power there." Aquaman has become to superheroes what airline food is to comedians: A clich√© that is almost instantly referenced for a cheap laugh.

This is really a shame because he's a great character with a lot of (pun imminent!) depth. I loved how he always whispered in Justice League Year One because sound travels better under water than through air, or how utterly badass he was as a war general in Flashpoint.

Pictured: An Aquaman you do not #)@* with.

For me he became a definitive character in Morrison & Porter's seminal run on JLA. Minus a hand and orange shirt this Aquaman was on par with Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter in strength and fighting, held a ruthlessness close to Batman in battle, and had an aloof and entitled attitude because he's King of 2/3 of the planet!

Shirts? Who needs shirts?
Still, how is Geoff Johns going to talk your non-comic book reader into picking up a book starring "The fish guy"? In the way that I think only Geoff Johns can, by very nearly becoming meta, Johns not only acknowledges all the misconceptions the public has about Aquaman, but gives those same misconceptions to the public in the DCU!

The bank robbers we open on think he's a joke, the police are embarrassed by his presence,

What do you think, Bob? Lunch; sushi? What?

and everyone else reacts pretty much how you'd expect them to:
I don't know, how do you think this wicked Trident feels?
This is great for a number of reasons. First, it's just damn funny to see this play out in the actual comic. Second, it actually works great to give us an insight into Aquaman's psyche, persona, and demeanor. Clearly he's a lot younger, like everyone else in the new 52, but he's also a regular guy. Clearly a guy who can jump city blocks, communicate telepathically with fish, breath underwater, flip a speeding van with his trident (and it's a badass trident), and is basically bullet proof isn't regular, but that's really the sense you get.

He stops the bank robbery because he was nearby and heard the sirens. He goes to a restaurant for lunch because he's hungry and it reminds him of his Dad. He decides to relinquish his throne and live on land because he feels out of place and full of responsibility he never asked for. Well, that and to get it on with the apparently human (it's kind of unclear) Mera.

Johns treats him more like a celebrity constantly berated with idiotic questions and has Aquaman react pretty reasonably to what would almost certainly push a lot more people to start introducing Mr. Fist, or Mr. Kickass Trident, to Mr. Idiot public's face.

Your mother, on the other hand...
Yeah, I just flipped a getaway truck and did your job for you, a glass of water is clearly the
 appropriate form of gratitude.

Through all this we still get a pretty good, if quick, introduction to his past. Raised by his Dad ‘til 13, taken back to Atlantis, made King, doesn't really fit; he wants a new life. Nothing earth shaking here, but it's a nice FYI for new readers.

I really like this take on the character. I think Johns has set him up with a lot of possibilities. I'm really looking forward to those moments when the general public starts to realize that he's not a joke.

While I love the story I'm, torn with the art. I think Ivan Reis draws a fantastic Aquaman, but I'm not really sold on the rest. The other characters seem uninspired and almost flat. I can see wanting to make Aquaman stand out (it is his book after all), but I think everyone else ended up being too toned down.

Certainly a high point is the bright color work of Rod Reis. Given the nature of Aquaman's costume he makes the bright colors seem fitting in a way that works in the comic book world. I love the dichotomy represented between darkness and almost singular color scheme of the monsters in the ocean depths and the brightness and color variety of the surface. It works as subtle metaphor of the frightening unknown of Aquaman's sea life (he was kidnapped after all) and the hope and promise of the new path he's planning to take. I also think his action scenes worked well and the new deep sea monsters he created are probably going to haunt my dreams.

Screw Jaws. THIS is now why I'm never going in the ocean.

Really this is what Johns does best, showcase charaters in their day-to-day lives. I think he falters sometimes in the 'Epic battle, end of the world' stories, but I love every time he works with a character in their element. I think this is one of the most interesting, honest, and unique new takes on a character in the new 52 and cannot wait to read more. And, if nothing else, how insanely awesome is that trident!?

VERY insanely awesome!

By Kephus with 2 comments


I really loved the Morrison JLA run. It took the time to show why every character was awesome, even members who were only on the team every now and then. Hope Johns does the same!

I always like your captions. :)

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