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Friday, December 14, 2007

Aquaman (Vol.6) #'s 1-6 - Aug. 1994 - Feb. 1995

Today is a very special(and long--be warned) Comic Friday, where I'll discuss a half year's worth of the Peter David run on Aquaman.

My general loathing of Aquaman's "badass" look is well known, but as my efforts here at the Shrine inch from Gushing Fan to Fan/Historian, it started to feel...wrong to me that there was this long period in my hero's adventures that I went out of my way to avoid. After all, of all the Aquaman solo series, it was this one--the sixth to bear the name Aquaman--that lasted the longest(seventy-seven issues).

Obviously, there was something to this Aquaman that people responded to, and that seems to be something Aquaman, more than a lot of other(and, to me, lesser) heroes has had a real problem with. So I decided to buy the entire first year of Aquaman, read them all in close to one sitting, and see how I felt. We'll talk about issues 1 through 6 today, and then 7 through 12 next Friday.

The first issue doesn't open that promisingly, with Arthur and Garth pissed at each other. Aquaman is caught in a funk of depression, disappearing for a few weeks, totally incommunicado. During this time he grows his hair long and scraggly beared, and Aqualad shows up to get help retrieving a lost nuclear Navy sub. None of this seems terribly heroic to me, and Arthur and Garth even come to blows.

Luckily they put all this aside and go talk to the Navy. The art by Martin Egeland leaves me cold--it's very Comic Book Anatomy, definitely part of the whole Image movement of comic art. But there are moments where he does put across the power and grace of the Sea King's movements, like when he pops directly out of the water into a hovering Navy helicopter:
Here they run into bad guy Charybdis, who has a whole bunch of powers Aquaman isn't ready for and at the end of the first issue Arthur awakes imprisoned by Charybdis, who has also captured...Dolphin!

The second issue, "Single Wet Female" is the most famous issue of David's run, I'd say, because this is the one where Aquaman loses his hand. Charybdis has a throng of crazed piranhas, and when he dips Aquaman's hand into the river where they are, Aquaman is left with just his bones---eww. Dolphin shoots our bad guy, and then Aquaman trips him so he falls into the river, the victim of his own death trap.

The violence level in this issue is very high--aside from all the flesh-eating, Dolphin shoots the guy at point blank range, Charybdis shoots a woman's head off(and we get to see a big ol' blood spatter), and we get to see him dump a defenseless mouse into a piranha tank.

I flat out don't think this level of gore belongs in a mainstream superhero comic, but David and Egeland were hardly alone in doing this, and in fact major DC series like Infinity Crisis featured just as much, so this kind of stuff is still with us.

And even though I didn't like the whole hand thing at the time--and still don't--I ca admire the dramatic tactics David was employing here. You don't expect a big, character-changing event to happen in the second issue of a title, so this was David's way I think of saying everything is up for grabs, anything can happen. It's sorta like Hitchcock killing off Janet Leigh in the middle of Psycho--it disorients you, since you think you knew where the story was going.

In the third issue(featuring a nifty cover by Tom Grummett and Terry Austin--classic comic book superhero fisticuffs!), Aquaman, Aqualad, and Dolphin try to talk to a Navy bigwig, but he won't see them. They run afoul of Superboy(can I still say that name?) and then unleash a massive tidal wave on the mainland to show they mean business. Um, what? Not terribly heroic.

In the fourth issue, Aquaman finds out what secrets about him the Navy knows(like who his mother really is, and that she is currently being held by them) and he takes off to rescue the dolphin, Porm, who raised him(I had a tough time keeping all this new origin stuff straight).

Lobo gets involed because one of his beloved space-swimming dolphins has been captured and is held at a research institute in Japan. Of course, Lobo and Aquaman cross paths and kick each other around for a while until Aquaman lets it slip that he was raised by dolphins, which earns him the grudging respect of Lobo. Nice touch.

One thing David has a lot of fun with is assigning different sea creatures personalities. There's a very funny scene of Aquaman rescuing some sharks trapped in a net, and instead of going through the hole he's made, they simply stare at it:"It's a very nice hole." This was my favorite sequence so far, since it was some relief from all the heavy-duty grimness and violence.

The fifth issue is drawn by Jim Calafiore, who of course would have his own long run with the character. In this issue, we meet a Inupiat mother and son, who has just come back from fighting a mysterious creature tormenting their village. Who is this brave, headstrong young man?

Meanwhile, as Aquaman tries to sort out the truth about his past, Dolphin takes matters into her own hands:
...I love the look on Arthur's face in this panel.

Aquaman's research tells him his father's last known appearance was in Alaska, so he heads there and searches out the Inupiat woman from before, named Kako. When he reaches her house, the young man--named Koryak--attacks him! Kako reveals that this man is...Aquaman's son!!

In issue six(featuring a nifty Mike Mignola cover), Kako explains that her and Arthur's romance(first shown in the Aquaman: Time and Tide mini-series, I believe)produced a son, Koryak. Turns out Koryak has some extraordinary abilities....hmm. Aquaman agrees to go with Koryak to find this creature that's been attacking the village, and here we have the chance to watch two hotheads snipe at each other. (Meanwhile, there's a subplot featuring Aqualad in a search for who he thinks is Aquagirl--even though she died!--that references a two-page Aquagirl solo story that appeared in Aquaman, Volume One, #56. Nice touch!)

Back on land, Dolphin and Kako are attacked by one of the Deep Six, at the same time one of them attacks Arthur and Koryak, part of a planned attack to prepare for the birth of a new elemental!

While I still wish they had found some way to make Aquaman more interesting and dynamic without making him look like a quasi-Wolverine, I have to remember these books were very much of their time. The era of making everyone grim n' gritty was in full swing, so it only made sense to try that approach for a character that always had a tough time selling.

And reading these issues over again, I have a better appreciation for what Peter David was trying to do--he was creating a long-term arc for the character, and not simply regurgitate the same stories. And while I don't think it always(or even most of the time) worked, I'm glad I re-read these issues and gave them another shot.


Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Kipling, "you're a better man than I am, Rob Kelly."

You might want to track down Aquaman #0. It was released between issues 2 and 3.

Siskoid said...

Damn those zero issues! ;)

I, for one, was a fan of this series at the time, and looking back at some of it now, what I most like is the fishy stuff. The grand operatic Atlantis stuff is interesting (I've never read Atlantis Chronicles, but I think it's all supposed to be echo that, generationally), but the fish are funny and well used when they are used. In the issue with the "old one" I love the passing of the message between sea creatures, for example.

Anonymous said...

Hmm....well Rob, I'm really glad that you're doing these reviews. I've been thinking very hard about getting my hands on these books. I pretty much hate all the changes they make to the character and the mythos, but I hear that, despite that, they are decent stories. At the very least, they treated Aquaman's powers with major respect. I'll be looking forward to more on this.

Anonymous said...

I am also trying to re-read this series. I'm up to 30-something, and the whole Aquaman Turns Green Like Kordak (or whatever it was) is where I'm stuck. Plus, I never understood the whole "Bottom of Atlantis is a Skull" thing. I look forward to your review of those stories. There are bits of good stuff in the series, but overall I hate them. When I met Peter David at Mid-Ohio Con a few years ago, I told him my favorite character was Aquaman, and he asked what I thought of his version. I hemmed and hawd until I said, "Well...I liked the way you treated him as a major character. " He said, "So basically, you hated it?" "Yeah, pretty much." "Well, I did write one of the longest series he ever had, so I must have been doing something right." "Okay." Then he frowned and I walked away. Haha!

rob! said...

this is what i found from these 12 issues--i like the stories much more than i thought i would.

my issue is the art, which just turns me off in its image-ish comic book anatomy, and the fact that he looks so silly.

as i'll write about next week, i believe david could've done almost all these stories and made them just as good without subjecting him to looking like Conan crossed with Wolverine.

Diabolu Frank said...

My first attempt to comment bacame a blog @ http://idol-head.blogspot.com/2007/12/of-hook-hands-and-idol-heads.html , so let's hope I can get through this one.

I was a big Peter David fan, but his work on Aquaman dimminished my appreciation of his work. He pretty much lost me as soon as he started smacking Garth around, as it became clear the writer was going to go full steam in the wrong direction, undoing the character's progress in the Pozner/Hamilton mini.

I personally liked Marty Egeland's art, and wish he'd gotten to depict in story the the Harryhausen-style animated skeletons from his promo ads. That would have been so much cooler and more appropriate than AquaMarine/Wolverine/Punisher boy.

David teased the word "piranha" in a Wizard issues, so I imagined some body-wide scarring, or at least a much needed haircut. Aquaman having his hand shoved into a friggin' puddle rendered him impotent in my (and I suspect other) eyes right there in the second issue. No. Just, please, no. I wasn't much for all the general violence either, but it's been a trademark of David's since he offed Jean DeWolff, so hardly unexpected.

The marine life humor worked. The puns chafed mightily.

I've never felt Jim Calafiore was a good artist, and I mean that objectively. Everything look brittle, lacking dimension, and don't get me started in his weird anatomy. Great with the fish, though.

I didn't like Koryak until near the end of his life, as John Arcudi fleshed him out some and Patrick Gleason became the first person besides the colorist to allow him an ethnic identity. David's painful reworking of Arthurian myth for "King Arthur" required a Mordred, but never paid off. A lot of that did come out of Atlantis Chronicles, of which I'm more proud to possess the fairly rare set than entertained (though Esteban Morato's work was nice.)

Anonymous said...

Alongside Morisson's work on JLA.