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Friday, April 06, 2007

Aquaman (Vol.3) #1 - 1989

sgI thought for this week's Comic Friday I'd talk about the third(!) Aquaman #1, from June 1989, the beginning of a five-part mini-series by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, Curt Swan, and Al Vey.

I'm admitting right off the bat, I obviously don't know the ins and outs of DC's decision(s) not to directly follow up the excellent--and high-selling--1986 mini-series by Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton. There was a 1988 one-shot special, written by our pal Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn, which was specifically designed. among other things, to return Aquaman to his old costume. But even that special still continued on some of the themes of the series that proceeded it. This Aquaman is--wait for it--an entirely different kettle of fish.

I'm going to make some assumptions here about this series (if someone reading this knows better, please let me know)--first, look at the cover by Dave DeVries: very unusual, very distinctive. I remember getting this comic off the stands, seeing that cover and thinking, hey, this is a very cool, very different look for Aquaman. Then I opened the book and saw...pencils by Curt Swan?

It seems to me that at some point down the line, DC had plans to continue Aquaman--as a character--down the path that had been started by Pozner and Hamilton in 1986, with a new storyline, new look, a new raison d'etre. Like they were doing for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, (and even, to a lesser extent, Green Arrow, Hawkman, The Atom, etc.) at the time, Aquaman would be modernized and given a fresh coat of paint.

But it feels like, somewhere along the line, something happened to change all that, so Aquaman got handed off to Giffen, Fleming, and Swan, who produced--for all its good points (and there are some)--a very usual DC superhero story, laced with none of the new dramatic underpinnings that had come before.

Aquaman finds his beloved Atlantis taken over by an alien race and his people enslaved. Aquaman sorta acts like he did pre-1986, and, with all due respect to Mr. Swan, the look of the book is drab in the extreme. Atlantis is so simplistically rendered, it looks like an action figure playset. The alien creatures who take over Atlantis look like monsters from a 1950s sci-fi film, and all the men in the book look like each other, save for different hair color. Coming after the breathtaking beauty and grace of Craig Hamilton's work in the 1986 Aquaman, this new series' look just doesn't measure up.
Plus, you can't even really find any of the trademark sharp wit associated with Giffen and Fleming as storytellers.

The most entertaining part of the issue is the very funny, very entertaining editorial piece on Aquaman written by some DC staffer named Mark Waid. It's a shame that Waid, at the time, was not yet Mark Waid, since I would've loved to see him take a crack at writing the series himself.

I think all the leaps forward as a character Aquaman made in the mid-80s were abruptly halted with this series, and to superhero fans raised on The Dark Knight, Watchmen, Byrne's Superman, and Perez's Wonder Woman, Aquaman--as a book and a character--seemed sadly old hat, something I don't think he has yet to fully recover from.


Anonymous said...

That is one bad-ass cover though. I remember meeting Dave DeVries in New York while I shared a table with him and Scott Kollins. He was a really nice guy and he looked like a young Roger Daltry from the Who.

Good looks and skills to boot!

Siskoid said...


Man, I loved that first mini. Then the Special wasn't as good (especially the art). Then a wait until... this.

The only thing I actually remember/enjoyed was finding out that Aquaman's gold shirt was a prison uniform. Otherwise...

Then we got an Origin special which seemed totally unnecessary. Then another mini followed by a series which didn't do much for me. Thank Neptune for the Peter David series (for my, at least).

Louie Joyce said...

Ah, this is one of my all time favourite Aquaman covers. And by far my least liked Aquaman series. It was just so... blah.

I really do wish followed up the Pozner mini as originally intended. So much potential... lost.

Dixon said...

Indeed, this is an awkard mini-series, and I have to admit that my feelings regarding it are conflicted. While there were some aspects of the story that really captured my attention, and it's certainly one story that I'll never forget, it was ultimately unsatisfying, and you're right to say that the visual style simply didn't suit it. Rather than offering a revitalized take on Aquaman's adventures, it seems to take a few steps backwards in attempting to combine traditional elements of the Aquaman mythos with rather dark sensibilities. Truly, I can't say that I love it or hate it.

That being said, I don't care what anyone says--I've always loved those sinister, scheming jellyfish as villains!