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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Legend of Aquaman #1 - 1989

Comics Weekend "The Legend of Aquaman" by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, Curt Swan, and Eric Shanower.

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years, and for whatever reason I never got around to doing a post on it for Comics Weekend. But since Aquaman's run in Action Comics ended yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk about an one-off Aquaman story, and this fit the bill!

After the 1986 Aquaman mini-series and the subsequent one-shot special, Aquaman was homeless yet again. Having undergone a facelift in the mini (and the having that partly walked back in the special), DC decided to move ahead with another one-shot special and mini-series, this time putting the Sea King a major, from-the-ground-up revamp:
We see the young man as he essentially raises himself under water, learning to feed himself, survive, and then even become part of the family of sea creatures who also share the oceans.

One day he runs across a lighthouse keeper while he's fishing, and they engage in a fight. The lighthouse keeper decks the young man, knocking him out. Feeling guilty, he takes him inside.

Later, the young man wakes up, and the lighthouse keeper--having heard legends of a "Fish Boy"--dumps him back into the water.

Over the next few weeks, the Fish Boy keeps reappearing, leaving fish on the lighthouse keeper's door as a way to say thanks. Even though he is initially not interested in having food given to him, he takes a shine to the boy, and starts to teach him basic human behavior, like reading and writing.

Years passed, and one day after the young man had been gone for a few hours, he returned to the lighthouse and found:
The young man finds the lighthouse keeper's journal, where he reveals that in the last few weeks, he has seen a race of underwater people lurking nearby. He is sure they are looking for the young man (whom he now calls "son"). He leaves him a gift--since the young man never had a name, he can now have his father's--Arthur Curry.

Young Arthur Curry heads back out into the world, looking to learn about the world. He wanders into New York City, stealing basic clothes and food, always heading back into the sea.

One day, though, he makes an amazing discovery:
But he gets too close for comfort, and two Atlantean guards grab him and drag him inside, putting him in prison, where he is forced to wear the standard prison uniform--orange tunic, yellow belt, green trunks.

Arthur decides the best thing he can do with his time is, while staring at the Atlantean passersby, is find his mother.

One day, he spots a woman who he is sure is her. Soon after, he meets a professor named Vulko, who takes it upon himself to teach the young man the Atlantean language. He spends so much time with Vulko the other inmates think of him derisively as a "teacher's pet", and come up with a name for him: "Aqua-man."

Another year passed, and Arthur sees a funeral procession go by. Realizing this is his mother's funeral procession, Arthur feels no longer compelled to stay in prison, and finally unleashes on the guards who have treated him so poorly:
When Aquaman returns to Atlantis, he is determined to find his old friend Vulko and free the people of Atlantis who are also wrongly imprisoned just for being "different", as Arthur was.

But Arthur is pleasantly surprised to learn that, in the intervening years, Vulko has become a powerful figure in the Atlantean government.

Vulko is happy to see Aquaman, and tells him they have been keeping track of his exploits on the Surface World all these years. He introduces Aquaman to the King, who grants Aquaman full citizenship of Atlantis.

Later, in the Atlantean hall of records, Aquaman and Vulko make an amazing discovery:
The King insists that Aquaman is the rightful heir to the throne, and that as a baby he was spirited away--because of his "deformities"--to protect the monarchy. Aquaman's mother was told he was a crib death, and she mourned her son all her life.

Aquaman reluctantly accepts the crown, in a grand ceremony. But of course, that was just the beginning:
...I remember reading this special when it first came out, and I was utterly confused: this wasn't Aquaman's origin, so what did all this mean? Who was this Aquaman?
If I have to point to one moment where Aquaman as a character really went off the rails, it was here. After years of different creative teams pulling Aquaman in one direction and the other, this special erased the basic underpinnings of the character.

Reading it again, I now think its not a bad alternate origin, but since the original is so basic, so primal, so iconic, there was no reason to supplant it with this one. To me, it left Aquaman a character more confused than ever. Basically, this is Aquaman's Hawkworld.

This special was artist Eric Shanower's second piece of work with Aquaman (here as an inker, the first as a penciller for the JLA's ret-conned origin in Secret Origins #32). He was a superb choice as artist for the character, too bad he hasn't drawn more Aquaman stories.

sgWith Summer officially here, I thought it was the perfect time to kick off a brand-new week (+1) of posts over at my black and white magazine blog, All in Black & White For 75 Cents. Go check it out, mag fans!


Erik the Sleeper said...

G'day Rob and everyone!

I enjoyed that overview of yet another take on Aqua-thology, but you're right; it does get confusing with writers dragging Aquaman in all sorts of directions.

I've got some large missing chunks in my Aqua-comic collection, so I'm still trying to sus out how Arty went from hook to golden glove/hand and then beck to hook before he heads to Ireland to get his water hand?!?! As for the '1 year on' Sword of Atlantis thing (which I like as a story on it's own) how the hell does that fit in with yet another altered origin story? My head hurts!!!

PS: Glad the weather is nice and warm for you Yanks - it's bloody freezing down here!!!

Andy Luckett said...

I agree that this special only further muddied the waters of Aquaman's history, but one detail that I still think is genius is the idea of Aquaman's familiar costume being a prison uniform.

I think it fits in perfectly with Peter David's idea of Aquaman as a model of perserverence through tragedy. Arthur takes a former mark of shame and turns it into an international symbol of justice. That's pretty unique and cool, as far as superhero uniforms go.

Diabolu Frank said...

This special is the single story most responsible for turning me into an Aquaman fan. I loved it on first reading, and thought it did a fantastic job of giving Aquaman a mythic quality. I even enjoyed Curt Swan's art, and I generally hate his work. I also loved the origin of his "costume," and the whole "Tarzan of the Porpoise" shtick. Mercy Reef remains a very striking notion. If Peter David had picked up from here instead of going with the hook hand, I'd have kept followed that ongoing past the first year.

On the other hand, I doubt most '90s fans had any more use for Swan than I usually did, and the departure from the Silver Age origin wasn't kewl enough to be commercial at the time.

The mini-series that followed was terribly misguided, as the last thing Aquaman needed was to emphasis "talks to fish" as his primary power, especially while fending off generic alien invaders. One step forward, three steps back...

Wich2 said...

Wow, little love for Curt Swan here...

No doubt, his art always leaned much more towards Norman Rockwell (or one of the Wyeths?) than a more Impression-/Expression-ist model.

But at his best (which, frankly, he's a little past at this time), I think the guy deserves props as one of the real pillars of the late Gold/early Silver transition era.

For me, the real World of Superman - Planet cast, Fortress, Krypton, etc., will always look most like the one he & George Klein cteated.


P.S.- Rob & gang, you're much greater experts than I; but - though a bit pedestrian - doesn't this origin indeed contain vestiges of THE origin of The Big Wet Cheese?