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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Aquaman (Vol.3) #5 - Oct. 1989

Comics Weekend "Battle Royal" by Keith Giffen, Curt Swan, Robert Loren Fleming, and Al Vey.

The final battle between the alien invaders and the Atlanteans has begun:
Despite their passion to defend their home, the alien invaders quickly beat back the Atlanteans, with each wave being held back by the alien's superior firepower.

Pressure mounts inside the city--the army is demoralized, and the hospital is filling with wounded. Despite all this, the Atlanteans plan on making one last attack, in what is essentially a suicide mission.

Aquaman, watching nearby, has finally conceived of a plan:

Just as the Atlanteans are about to be cut to pieces by the aliens, a massive underwater wave hits them, followed by scores of giant whales, sharks, eels, and more denizens of the sea!

The aliens and their Atlantean accomplices wonder what's causing this, and they see, up high:
The aliens have finally met their match, and turn tail and run, leaving their traitorous henchmen behind. The henchmen, seeing this, climb into their ships and also hastily depart, inspiring the citizens of Atlantis to cheer for their king, who is depleted from the effort:
Soon after, Atlantis returns to normal (resilient people, those Atlanteans). Back in the royal palace, Aquaman plans to meet with the ruling council, knowing they won't like what he has to tell them:
...the end!

Having now given this mini-series several different chances over the years to grow on me, I think I can safely say that its never going to. Aquaman is a miserable, mopey bastard here, Mera is simply a raging monster, and after all the talk and bloodshed, Aquaman's big plan is...call in his finny friends? It took Aquaman two whole issues to come up with that?

There are some really interesting ideas here, especially the concept of Aquaman--long accustomed to being part of the ruling elite--becoming, essentially, a terrorist. Sure, its in the interest of justice, but every terrorist sees their cause that way. Aquaman's compatriots are willing to kill innocents for a greater cause, a cause those innocent people weren't included in or asked about.

Sadly, this very serious and meaty issue is casually forgotten by issue three, as a good chunk of the series is filled with Mera chasing Aquaman around, only to abruptly end once Aquaman points something out to her that has already been covered over and over again. I can't imagine what a new reader might have thought of Mera as a character after being introduced to her here.

I don't mean to be too harsh toward this series, because I'm sure Mssrs. Giffen and Fleming (whose previous work I have loved) meant to do their best, and of course I don't know how much editorial interference there was this time around.

But let's put it in a larger historical context: by the mid-1980s, DC was revamping its icons with fresh new talent and ideas: John Byrne on Superman, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli on Batman, George Perez on Wonder Woman. Neal Pozner and Craig Hamilton brought their own unique take on the Sea King, freshening up the character and delivering a briskly-selling book, selling so well it even surprised DC.

DC plans to follow up with more, but circumstances get in the way, so instead they give all the new Aqua-fans who bought the 1986 mini a series that feels like it came out of the inventory drawer: it looks like old school DC (which, in 1989, wasn't charmingly Old School, it was just old) and really doesn't use any of the character or story developments so hard won in 1986. Its a shame, such a lost opportunity!


Joe Slab said...

Great insight rob! Following up the Pozner/Hamilton series with this one was suck a poor decision :(

Covering this series in 1 weekend was however, a good decision. I liked the fast paced look/review rather than taking 5 weeks to do it.

Russell said...

I absolutely HATE this series. And I totally agree with you, Rob, as to why.

My least favorite part: Aquaman's supposed "suicide" attempt and fall after calling in all finny friends. He's underwater; they're all underwater! How is "falling" off a building supposed to kill him!?!?

Bad, BAD stuff. Blech.

Joe Huber said...

After the Pozner/Hamilton series I too expected another winner, especially considering the cover to the first issue of this run.

I too also was horrified to see the main Superman artist tackling the art chores on this as well. I was never a fan of Curt Swan, his artwork was always so undynamic, especially in motion, flying, or in this case, swimming poses.

After I originally purchased the first issue, which at the time I don't even think I read out of sheer disappointment, I quickly passed it on, or gave it away.

Years later when I found the entire series in a 25¢ bin, I gave them another chance. The completist in my still hangs on to them. The Aquafan in me still cringes.

Earth 2 Chris said...

Wow, you guys are harsh on Swan. I love his artwork myself. I don't think Swan was inked very well during his 50 plus comics career. Vey did as good a job as just about anyone. I will admit that this Aquaman mini had some old-school charm to it because of Swan, but to me that was a good thing, because DC seemed to be letting everyone run wild with the art styles on their mainstream books at the time. In some cases this was good, in others...not.

But I never did like the story either. But the art was pretty...to me!


rob! said...


I don't mean to be harsh; normally if I don't like the artwork in a comic I just don't mention it.

But I felt as though the choice of Curt Swan was a major part of why I don't think this series "worked", and why it was a curious choice given the context.

I think if CS was around today and drew a Superman mini it would be regarded as a wonderfully charming Old School book, but in 1989 the feeling was quite different.

That said, this was still my favorite look for Swan's work I've ever seen, I thought Al Vey did a tremendous job.