Shadowhawk reviews the first year of the brand-new Aquaman reboot, penned by Geoff Johns of Green Lantern fame.
“Geoff Johns’ Aquaman series is exactly what I want in a comic book: tons of action, super-cool characters, and oodles of ancient mysteries.” ~The Founding Fields
DC’s New 52 reboot of its entire line-up has been a really mixed bag so far. Some titles like George Perez & Dan Jurgens’ Superman and Tony S. Daniel’s The Savage Hawkman have been pretty bad, while Scott Snyder’s Batman and James Robinson’s Earth 2 have been just great with Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman has just fizzled out and I’m really dicey about picking up more issues. Joining Snyder and Robinson as the best performers of the relaunch is Geoff Johns with his Aquaman run, which is far better overall than his Justice League run (reviewed here and here by me). The problem with Justice League was mainly in the second arc as Johns attempted to tie together a lot of different stuff and the execution fell flat for me. Not so with Aquaman which has been a grand experience for me, especially as someone new to the character outside of a few animated cartoons.
The first arc of the new series follows Aquaman as he struggles to make a life for himself in Amnesty Bay alongside his wife/fiancee/lover Mera, who is also of Atlantean noble birth. Things are pretty difficult however because the locals have a really deprecating view of him as a superhero and stereotyping of his nature and history is very common. He is nothing more than an oddity to the people he has sworn to protect, compared to most of his peers of the Justice League who are held in high regard and are given more respect than he ever is. And in the midst of all this are strange piranha-humanoids who’ve been causing havoc along the Amnesty Bay shoreline, killing and kidnapping people at will. Local authorities reluctantly accept the Atlantean duo’s help in finding out the truth of things, and from there its all adventure and action in the depths of the ocean.
With the first six issues, Johns does a great job of inviting the reader into the world of Aquaman. There is little backstory involved, which serves to ground the reader and the character both in the here and now, focusing on the script itself rather than any tangents. Sure, there are ample references to events that have come before this, more so since Aquaman is living in Amnesty Bay as a “distant” King of Atlantis and seems to shun his birthright. I would have preferred more dramatic antagonists than the carnivorous piranha-humanoids but in retrospect I think that was the perfect approach to take. New 52 is all about relaunching the characters and Johns takes that objective to heart with this series. Speaking as someone new to the Aquaman-verse, I didn’t need to know a whole lot about him other than he is Aquaman, the rightful ruler of Atlantis and that he doesn’t live there. Bam. Character introduction done, first phase of basic training over. Unlike his Green Lantern series, where he jumped straight into what appears to be a carry-over from a previous story (and hence, a LOT of backstory is implied), or with Justice League, which is the team’s origin story, Aquaman takes the middle-ground and goes easy on the reader. The first issue is really memorable for that, as it quickly debunks some of the myths the locals have about him and also shows us what his motivations are.
Its not apparent from the get go, but there is a lot of nuance and depth to the characters of both Aquaman/Arthur Curry and Mera. They are both trying to make a new life for themselves and while the going isn’t easy by any means, they are quiet content with each other’s company. Aquaman is very much like Superman in that he is always there to do the right thing, even if no one wants his help. Its just what he does. Mera forms a great team alongside him and while the focus is almost always on her lover, she does get to shine, as happens in #6 when a grocery store manager misbehaves with her, leading to a lot of confusion with the police, and ends with her saving a girl’s life. Both of them are trying to bury a lot of grief from their past and Johns exposes it all bit by bit, never giving the reader too much to handle.
All of this dovetails well into the second arc, which explores Aquaman’s past as someone new to his abilities and his history as a member of the informal team of humans and superhumans, known as The Others. It is a past that he kept hidden from Mera and Johns does a great job of explaining why. This arc is one of the best arcs in the entire New 52 relaunch, being almost as good as Snyder’s second arc for Batman, if not better! In his more troubled years, Aquaman went around the world with his friends, trying to discover the lost Atlantean relics and keep them safe from anyone who would use them for harm. But he made enemies along the way, one of whom is Black Manta, a man with a long, long history with Aquaman by the current timeline ongoing in the series. After several years of no activity, Black Manta is back and he is hunting down each and everyone of The Others, and taking from them the Atlantean relics that Aquaman gave in to their safekeeping, the first one being Kahina the Seer, an Iranian character who we see little of, but are instantly drawn into her tragic death at Black Manta’s hand.
The reason that this arc works so perfectly is because it handles Aquaman as a man with a conflicted personality. He is always trying to balance his wilder impulses with his more noble acts, and this arc shows us the why of it. Johns really gets into the characters and shows what made Aquaman the man he is today. His motivations are all there, plain for the reader to see, and its not all black-and-white as you might expect. Dr. Stephen Shin, an old friend of the Curry’s who ultimately revealed Arthur’s secret to the world just so he could get scientific recognition, is a much more prominent character in this arc and alongwith Mera, a great window to Aquaman’s past. They are both trying to atone for their mistakes, mistakes that have been harmful to Arthur in one way or another. It offers another perspective to him as a realistic character that the reader can get right alongside and cheer on through to a brutal, violent, bloody conclusion. Lots of revelations are to be had, both about Aquaman’s past, and Atlantis’, including hints as to what sunk the greatest and most idyllic nation on Earth.
Finally, we have the #0 issue, which is a prequel story about Arthur’s trust being betrayed by Shin and him finding out the truth about who he is and who his mother really was. Its a really short issue, which didn’t sit so well with me since for all intents and purposes the ends in the middle of things. Its as if a big fat juicy script was cut into two parts and we only got the first half of that. Regardless, this is a very emotional issue and for me, it is right up there with James Robinson’sEarth 2 #0 which is the best “zero-issue” I’ve read so far.
Over the course of the series, Geoff Johns does a damn good job at exploring all his characters, whether its the principals like Aquaman, Mera and Black Manta, or the supporting cast which includes The Others (mostly). Ya’wara, P.O.W, Vostok and the others make for a great team alongside Aquaman; just as with Shin and Mera, they are a window to Aquaman’s character and personality beneath the surface of what we see. They offer insights into the hero and flesh him out for the reader. Johns knows how to write a great supporting cast and its shows here in spades. Aquaman is certainly a far better series from Johns than either Justice League or Green Lantern.
If I had to pick out any negative aspects of the series, I’d say that there are none. Honestly speaking, the only thing that comes to mind is that there should have been a bit more focus on Aquaman in civilian situations, such as with the car chase in #1 or Mera’s clash with authorities in #6. It all makes the character more rounded out, more humane even in that while the people can’t relate to him on any level, he can relate to them as people under his protection. Other superheroes share the same qualities, but other than Flash or Superman, none of them are as approachable or as accessible as Aquaman is (on the latter point of accessability, he is more akin to Batman, although it is far more direct than a spotlight on the roof of Gotham Police HQ).
The artwork, covers and pencils by Ivan Reis, is just beautiful. Reis’ character designs and his visuals are very consistent in that they rarely change from issue to issue and even then the differences are very minimal. That consistency helped to draw me in since I didn’t have to deal with a character whose facial design (most of all) never changes all that much. His work is solid, with a much more optimistic and positive feel to it when combined with the colours and inks by Joe Prado, Rod Reis and others. All the different characters are similar in their consistency and the artwork serves to delineate these differences. No downsides at all to the artwork. Each panel is expressive and packed full of things, irrespective of the panel being action-y or whimsical or what have you. Not the absolute best artwork I’ve seen (that crown goes to Nicola Scott’s work on Earth 2) but it is right up there with Greg Capullo’s Batman or Cliff Chiang’s early work on Wonder Woman.
In closing, I’ll say that Geoff Johns’ Aquaman is definitely a series worth picking up. The mythology of Aquaman is explored in great fashion by the writer and the various artists on the creative team do an equally good job of bringing it all out with the covers and the internal artworks. You can’t go wrong with this series.