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Thursday, October 11, 2007

1st Anniversary Week, Part 4: JLA #223 - 1984

sgThis is probably the single most bad-ass, "I'm Aquaman, bitch" moment in the Sea King's career.

This is part three of the "Beasts" storyline by Gerry Conway, Chuck Patton, and Romeo Tanghal. A group of failing, crooked, soon-to-be-busted businessmen subject themselves to a bizarre series of experiments, turning themselves into beast-men and then performing horrific acts in bloodsports for money.

One of them, a woman-turned-cat-girl named Reena, escapes their clutches and goes to the JLA for help(there's a lot more to it than that, trust me). During the first two issues, various members of the JLA are picked off(Hawkman is stung by a giant scorpion, Flash is gored by a rhino!), leading to this final issue where the JLA strikes back.

The main thing that struck me with this storyline was how brutally violent it was--the beast-men, led by a lion-man named Maxiumus Rex, perform savage acts of brutality, torture, and murder, and there's an astounding amount of blood spilled for a Justice League story. I had never seen the JLA take on anyone so mean.

To that end, the JLA is depicted as being a little more brutal in turn, and during their final assault on the beast-men, we get to see Aquaman use his mental powers to basically turn this whale guy into a drooling, absent-minded vegetable. Think Aquaman has lame powers? Read this and say that. If I'm a bad guy, I'd rather take on Batman--he'll beat the crap out of me, sure, but at least he doesn't have the ability to make me sit in a corner thinking I'm a twelve-year-old girl for the rest of my life. (and yes, Aquaman had the ability to go back and undo what he did, but any takers he bothered? More likely this guy was eventually the main course at an all-shark buffet)

If I want to over-analyze this(why stop now?), I look at this story as one of the first steps into the darker, more violent world superheroes would start to inhabit just a few short years from now. The next storyline(issues 225-227) would feature only the "B" team(no Batman, Superman, WW, GL, or Flash), and then there was one final JLA/JSA team-up before Justice League Detroit was founded. So in a lot of ways, this three-part tale was the last "classic JLA" storyline, and even though its a gripping, gutsy tale, the JLA does seem a bit...ill-equipped to face this new, darker world of superhero comics.

One last thing--wondering why some of the panels have such sloppy, vibrant color? An accident at the Flexographic printers? No, that was an intrepid-yet-stupid Bob Kelly, age thirteen, trying his hand at coloring comics. Cripes, why didn't I just a buy a frigging coloring book?

And remember, the next time someone tells you Aquaman is lame, think of this:
T-th-th-that's all, folks!


Anonymous said...

Now THIS is more like it. I remember LOVING this story at the time. Everyone's characterization was spot on in this one, especially Hawkwoman's. And I remember loving Chuck Patton's art after that dull Don Heck stuff. I remember thinking, Oooh, is THIS the way the Justice League is heading??? Of course, the answer to that was NO. But for one brief shining moment....the awesomeness of the JLA was back.

Anonymous said...

Great, great Aqua-moment! This is one of two "Aquaman is cool, dammit!" moments that I thought of when you first started your anniversary week celebration.

Don't want to steal your thunder so I'll e-mail you 'bout the other.

Anyway, the best part of Aquaman's encounter with the whale guy is that previously in the story Moby had put the smackdown on Superman.

"I'm Aquaman, bitch!", indeed!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I never had this issue, but I did have the first part. Even at 9 years old, I could tell this story was more violent and like you say...mean.

Chuck Patton was a great artist for JLA. Like Dick Dillin, he had a clean but dynamic style, like a slightly more cartoony Garcia-Lopez. After he left JLA, I know he drew Outsiders for a while, but I never heard from him again. A real shame.


Luke said...

Very interesting, rob. Wouldn't Arthur do something somewhat similar (on a smaller, less viscious scale) a few years later when he dominated the mind of Steel to make him agree to something? And of course in first story of the Morrison reluanch JLA, Arthur reached deep into his enemy's mind and zonked him. I guess the whole "tapping into the part of your brain which evolved from marine life" part is more powerful than most people realize!

Though, I do like that this is hard for him to do... it should be a last ditch type of strategy for Aquaman to break out the mental powers.

rob! said...

yeah, he's done this since, but this one alwayc chilled me a little bit since the way Patton drew that whale guy's face--its completely vacant, and Aquaman doesnt just render him that way for a moment so he can get into the bad guy's HQ, he LEAVES HIM THAT WAY!

cold, Arthur, cold!

chunky B said...

Cold, but he does wish him "sweet dreams"...

It's always the heroes that pull something out like this that make me go "see I knew he was a bad ass!" That has to be some control, having the power to turn a foe's mind to mush and only using it when necessary.

Plaidstallions said...

I have never read this but was in similiar awe when Aquaman gave the white martian a seizure during the Morrison JLA run. If I recall correctly the White Martian was taunting Aquaman's powers too.

Anonymous said...

And, of course, Arthur "shut down" Attuma and all his Altantean minions in JLA / Avengers #4. He even zonked Marrina (sp), the alien mer-woman from Alpha Flight, and gave half-breed Namor a migraine.

Not to have this devolve into a "who can defeat who post" but, let's face it, Namor doesn't have a chance against Artie when he's pulling these kind of tricks!

Diabolu Frank said...

Jeez-- so bloodthirsty, Rob! I don't actually like my Aquaman quite so hardcore as to feed his victims to the sharks! That's some bedraggled nastiness, arr!

However, I confess that I dug the jarring ultraviolence of this story arc. It confuses me still to see Satellite Era Leaguers forcing respect for their Authority here, only to have the early going of Justice League Detroit be so soft and campy. Alan Gold seems tone deaf on the editing there. I'm glad you reminded me--I've never read the last part (223?) so I've got to look for it at Bedrock City's Halloween sale. I'm working on a list of back issues to troll for (I can't believe there's two gaps in my first series Who's Who! I need my Steel II profile, blast it!)

God, Chuck Patton should have been more of a name. He should have at least gotten some of that sweet Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez merchandising work, and he especially should have done solo Aquaman work! Beautiful in his element.

Also, don't be so hard on the coloring. I've been scanning a lot of issues from that era, and your page looks light years better than any of mine. I don't think my skills are up to the task of tarting them up to your level.

rob! said...

>>I don't actually like my Aquaman quite so hardcore as to feed his victims to the sharks!<<

well, i'm not saying he FED him to the sharks, i'm just saying that as he headed into the bad guy's HQ, he left a giant whale-man defenseless in the ocean.

you do the math, as it were.

Anonymous said...

It's a good moment, but during PAD run Orin had far more impressive moments.
Like him owning Tiamat in issue #25.
"Tiamat...Go to Hell!"
Oh and Aquaman leaving Black Manta to
be eaten by all those fish in the last issue before SOA was also bad @$$.

Anonymous said...

Beating a dead horse? Me?

Anonymous, can I call you Anon? Anon, in my opinion this sequence that Rob has posted is fundamentally different from anything that Peter David may have done in his run. How? I’ll tell ya …

Gerry Conway has a story about animal-men battling the JLA. He looks at the line-up of heroes and decides to give Aquaman a moment in the spotlight by including a whale-man. Or maybe Moby was already a part of the story and Gerry said, “Eureka! I’ve got just the scene for one of my Leaguers!” Chicken or egg, whatever.

Anyway, he examines Aquaman’s powers and decides to highlight what is inarguably Arthur’s most widely known ability; his aquatic telepathy. What this scene demonstrates is that the Aquaman who has been swimming around since the Silver Age is really cool, tough, badass, or whatever you want to call it, just the way he is. Intentionally or not, Conway also makes a great statement about why the Justice League of America exists and why folks like Aquaman are a part of it. Superman, despite his bewildering array of powers, was defeated by Moby. The League exists because not everything can be solved by the same hero, no mater how impressive his powers. There are things that Elongated Man, The Atom, Black Canary, and, yes, Aquaman can accomplish that Supes can’t.

Peter David’s badass Aqua-moments are tainted for me because they stem from the basic assumption that the Aquaman who has been swimming around since the Silver Age is NOT cool, tough, etc. Aquaman lost his hand because David decided that Aquaman’s most widely known ability didn’t work the way we had been told it worked for 40 years. But the demotion of aquatic telepathy from awesomely scary power to the marine equivalent of IMing, along with the harpoon hand, the bombastic “warrior king” persona, and all that freakin’ hair sent a clear message to the nay-sayers. You were right. Aquaman wasn’t cool. All the bad jokes and put-downs? Right on the money. But just look at Aquaman now. He’s gotta a pointy thing on his arm and a bad attitude. He’s rough and tough and hard to bluff.

Obviously, David didn’t do anything that DC didn’t authorize so he isn’t solely to blame. But imo his run is still a low point for Arthur (his name isn’t Orin!) and I’m always just a little surprised when folks who were fans of the character pre-David talk about his run glowingly. I guess I’m just a grouch.

rob! said...

this sequence stood out to me for the reason(s) you state, Vince--taking his most famous power, and one that is generally regarded as a joke(see today's post!), and making it bad-ass--AQUAMAN CAN SHUT DOWN YOUR BRAIN AND LEAVE YOU A VEGETABLE FOR LIFE. criminy, Wolverine cant do that and he's considered the ne plus ultra of superhero tough guys.

i havent read that much of the David run, so i dont comment about it much. i want the Shrine to be an upbeat place so i generally dont review comics i know i didnt like since i dont see the point.

but also like you said Vince, nothing is done in comics without editorial approval so whatever criticisms i have of the PAD run, the higher-ups at DC are at least as responsible.

i imagine a post script to this story, where all the Beast-Men are sitting in some super-duper high-security supervillain jail, bitching to each other and wondering, "hey, did anybody ever hear from the whale-guy?"

Anonymous said...

Vince Paul Aquaman is my favorite character.I've read most of his stories in his own books as well most of the JLA books.
IMHO PAD's run was the best thing that ever happened to the character.
Instead of PAD recycling old themes he gave Arthur a new direction and explored his character in depth, strengthening his background story.
It's not only his run on Aquaman but also the work he did before he actually started writing the series
in Atlantis Chronicles.
True Aquaman had started gaining some respect among the comicbook fans during other writers' runs but PAD was the first to make him truly a first class respectable hero (indeed one of the Big 7).
Many people didn't like what he did to his appearance and generally his attitude, but if you take into consideration what Arthur had been through during his existence as a character (and you can't blame PAD for Arthur's previews misfortunes like Black Manta killing AJ and Mera abandoning him) it's only logical that all his frustration, anger and bitterness would someday catch up with him.
And PAD did all that and more in the best way possible.
As for Orin (this is his name after all)using his telepathy during PAD's run, he also did a great job in that aspect too.
Aquaman was cool before PAD came into the book.But he certainly looked cooler with him writing it.You can't deny that PAD's mark on the character's royal,take-no-$hit behaviour that made him a force to be reckoned with stayed with him from that point on leading to some magnificent portrayals of Orin from Pfeifer.
To sum it up I'm a newer Aqua-fan and I understand the silver age nostalgia.
But I certainly prefer Orin kicking major @$$ like him trashing Olympian (a guy with Superman like abilities- JLA Classified #3)and swimming at 1000 knots, than him standing around and wondering how useless he is like some older Justice League stories.

Anonymous said...

Oh and Orin lost his hand not because his telepathy didn't work, but because he had his powers drained at the moment by Charybdis.
PAD basically took his telepathy to new highs (Orin gaining access to the clear and having world scale reach)during is run.
And finally Orin's last known incarnation, the totally powerful Water Bearer was just great utilizing
his telepathy nearly in every issue.