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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aquaman Special #1 - 1988

Comics Weekend "The Missing Peace" by Gary Cohn & Dan Mishkin, George Freeman, and Mark Pacella

Hard to believe I've never gotten around to the 1988 Aquaman Special before now, but somehow I hadn't. Seeing it on my "to do" shelf for the one millionth time finally got me to sit down and start scanning.

This was Aquaman's first solo story since the 1986 Pozner/Hamilton mini-series. For various reasons, a second mini by that same team was not to be, so this one-shot was put together to help bridge the end of that series and where DC ultimately wanted Aquaman to be--namely, back in his classic orange and green suit.

But before we get to that, we find ourselves on the moon. Yes, the moon:
Aquaman--with the help of Mera--rescues the crew of the ship and drops them safely off with the Coast Guard.

On their way home, Arthur expresses how "Good...free..brand-new!" he feels, and as any regular Aquaman reader knows, this is a big change for the man.

We get a brief recap of the earlier mini-series, and Aquaman's only regret is that his brother Orm had to die in the battle that caused Aquaman to experience this transformation.

Back in Atlantis, Arthur expresses interest in reclaiming the throne, but Vulko seems a little uncertain, leaving Aquaman frustrated
...a bravura sequence, courtesy artists Freeman and Pacella.

We see this mysterious, "other" Aquaman still floating through this alternate reality, but this time, our Aquaman seems to feel it.

That feeling is interrupted by a telepathic distress call from a pod of porpoises in danger, and Aquaman and Mera head out to find them.

They are startled to find a massive, glowing, pink orb, which seems to pulse with life. As he begins to get closer, Aquaman is blasted in the back by a Russian mini-sub nearby.

Aquaman easily wrecks the sub, and forces it to the surface. Mera takes pains to surround the sub in a hardwater bubble, so the men inside don't die from the sudden decompression. Aquaman then lashes out at Mera, and she worries about his sudden unstable mood.

They then discover a typhoon-class nuclear sub that looks to be protecting the orb, and they climb inside it. There they meet a scientist named Yuri Popov, who explains he is the research assistant to Professor Vladmir Magus, who has been studying parapsychological phenomena under the sea.

Magus discovered four mystical artifacts buried in the seabed, and when he aligned them a certain way, a huge burst of power came forth, transforming Magus into the giant orb!

Aquaman thinks those might be the same mystic artifacts that Orm used against him, so he heads down to investigate:
Face to face with Magus, Aquaman is perplexed by Magus' talk of a "soul-self" with Magus claims was split asunder by his battle with his brother.

Aquaman vows to find the mystic artifacts and separate them, which will remove Magus' powers. But, Magus warns, doing so will kill Aquaman's other half, and himself!

Aquaman realizes that maybe what Magus says is true--there is some part of his personality missing. A conscience, for lack of a better word, that guides both his emotions and ego. But before he can worry about that too much, he must find the mystic artifacts.

They lie in his mind's eye, inside four structures representing various signs of the zodiac: Taurus, Capricorn, Gemini, and Leo.

Aquaman experiences another mood swing, rushing headlong into Taurus' palace. He is grabbed and thrown by the bull before he can retrieve it, and he has to force himself to remember that it was his impatience that caused him to fail.

He then heads into the palace of Capricorn, where he is met by a phalanx of beautiful woman, who try to seduce him. He sees in the distance, a statue of his queen Mera, holding the magic crystal!:
The old goat does what the bull did, and tosses Aquaman out of the palace. He has failed again.

He then battles the lion, but lets his thirst for a fight do him in--he fails a third time.

He is knocked out, and wakes to find himself in the presence of Magus, who has created an alternate world commensurate with his ego--Magus is now wearing a super-villain-like costume, perched upon a giant hammer and sickle.

Magus then shows Aquaman that his astral twin is near, but that doesn't stop him from trying to fight Magus directly.

Magus wonders if this quest--even if it means self-immolation--might be a form of suicide? Maybe all the guilt Aquaman has felt over the years is finally causing Aquaman to be so reckless, because he thinks, deep down, he'd be better off dead?

Magus uses this moment of doubt to attack, but its just the slap in the face Arthur needs to snap out of his funk. But instead of fighting Magus, Aquaman sidesteps him and goes after the fourth mystical artifact--the Gemini Seal!

Once removed, Magus' entire universe disappears into nothingness. The giant orb begins to disintegrate:
...between this, and the Pozner/Hamilton mini-series, Aquaman was well situated for a fresh start: writers wouldn't have to feel bogged down from all the grim back story that had built up over the years, and simply write a more fun-loving, adventure-driven character, with his beautiful queen at his side. And in his original costume, to boot!

But of course, that didn't happen.

Re-reading this special, I appreciate all over again how well it supports the mini-series' themes, but moves Aquaman back to his original set-up and look, something DC specifically wanted writers Cohn & Mishkin to do.

The art I find phenomenal--I've always liked George Freeman's work, but he renders a terrific, fluid Aquaman, and a absolutely stunning Mera. Freeman tended to do work just in specials or annuals (perhaps he was too slow for a monthly book?), which is too bad, he would've been a great choice as regular Aquaman artist.


Wings1295 said...

This was the comic that brought me back into collecting. I had dropped off for many years growing up and one day my younger brought this home from his trip to the shop. He knew I liked Aquaman as a kid and thought I would like it.

I loved it and dove back into collecting, scooping all the Aquaman (and Justice League) issues I could find.

Now, I have basically stopped once more. Too much BLEHHH has pushed me away and caused me to lose the passion for the hobby.

I am still hopefull, however, that there will be another great time ahead. I hope.

Anyways... Great issue and a great post!

Vincent Paul Bartilucci said...

Let me join you in praising this special, Rob.

I've been a huge George Freeman fan since I stumbled across Captain Canuck #9 as a kid. Seeing his work on my fav' Aquaman was a real treat.

rob! said...

Yeah, Freeman's a great artist--I wish I saw his work around more.

Diabolu Frank said...

I hated this special. All the metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and regressive thinking left me stone cold, and I don't think Freeman's style suits the character at all. If it hadn't been for The Legend of Aquaman, my interest in the character may have been brief.