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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Aquaman Shrine's Best of 2011: Aquaman #1!

The release of Aquaman #1 was, of course, a huge event for the Shrine, maybe even the single most significant piece of Aquaman history that the blog has been present for.

The build-up to the book was tremendous, and the Shrine is happy to say that the book for the most part has delivered on those expectations. The team of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis have done something truly extraordinary: made Aquaman a top-selling character, having brought tens of thousands of new fans into the fold.

To commemorate the release of the first issue, the Shrine decided to run a review of it by all of the
Shrine Correspondents--in addition to myself, we heard from Joe Slab, Russell Burbage, and Andy Luckett, all of whom shared their thoughts on the issue.

That in of itself also represented a huge change for the site: for the first time in its five year history, I decided to bring aboard some other Aqua-Fans to help me with the Shrine, to make it more fun, more diverse, and more comprehensive than ever before. Each of the guys have added to the Shrine in their own way, and I'm so glad I decided to loosen my grip and let some new voices in--the site is greatly improved thanks to their hard work and dedication.

This post originally ran on October 1:

Comics Weekend "The Trench Part One" by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado.

Well, after all the hoopla that met this book upon its arrival on Wednesday, this recap/review might seem a little anti-climactic. But the Shrine will soldier on, nonetheless...

After a brief introduction to the nasty-looking critters who we know as The Trench, we're dropped straight into an action scene out of a 1970s heist movie: three armed and masked men are making a hasty getaway in a stolen armored truck. Suddenly something drops out of the sky, and the crooks are shocked to see this waiting in front of them:
The crooks are less than scared, and speed up. Big mistake! Aquaman sticks his trident into the grill of the truck, heaving it over him, dropping it upside down! One of the crooks fires his automatic weapon at the Sea King, who nevertheless keeps approaching even as the bullets draw blood.

After tossing the one conscious crook into a nearby windshield, the local police are happy but bewildered. One of them asks Aquaman if he needs a glass of water:
Cut to: a seaside seafood restaurant, where Aquaman sits down--trident and all--and orders a meal. Rather than being awed or scared of this superhero in their midst, the patrons are curious, if even a little rude: they pepper Aquaman with questions, about his powers, his diet, his relationship with fish. Aquaman answers all questions, though he seems more than a little annoyed:
We see that Aquaman came to this same diner as a boy, brought there by his father. The nosy blogger, who keeps talking, even has the temerity to ask what it feels like "To be nobody's favorite super-hero?"

Aquaman scowls, grabs his trident, and leaves, but not before paying the bill:
Later, at their lighthouse home, Arthur talks with Mera, and shares with her the decision he's made regarding his future, one that does not involve Atlantis:
While Arthur and Mera enjoy their moments of peace and tranquility, a bunch of fisherman are the first humans to run afoul of The Trench, who seem like nothing less than monsters from the pit of Hell:
...to be continued!

Well, what to say? This is the first true Aquaman #1 in the Shrine's existence, so just having a book called Aquaman in my hands felt like some sort of vindication, in some weird way: after writing about, thinking about, and generally obsessing over the Sea King for so damn long--during times when it felt like DC itself didn't care--to have Aquaman presented here so forcefully and dynamically...well, it's pretty damn cool.

I still have my issues with how slooooow Geoff Johns tends to tease out his stories; I think it took my less than five minutes to read this book cover to cover, and after so many months of anticipation, I have to admit there was an ever-so-slight feeling of "That's it?" after I got to the last page. But I like said on the latest episode of our Fire and Water Podcast, that's simply how Johns writes. I can either just accept that, or not buy his books. Of course, this being Aquaman, the latter is not an option.

That aside, Johns' love of Aquaman practically jumps off every page in this book. Aquaman foils a bank robbery--with extreme prejudice--and then for his trouble gets abused by some annoying blogger (um...), and what's his response? To toss his waitress some gold coins which will change her life. That's my hero!

I was thrilled to get the sequence with Mera, and not just because it had Mera! No, its because of the declaration that this book will not be about Aquaman as King of Atlantis. The whole "heavy is the head that wears the crown" bit has been done to death. Done well, done poorly, but done. I've been saying for years Aquaman needed to get to more traditional superhero trappings if he was going to succeed as a comic book star, and not just a highly merchandisable property. And in just a couple of panels, Johns points in that direction. Bravo!

As a devoted (to say the least!) Aquaman fan, I didn't need to be told over and over in this story how put upon the Sea King is, and how the public's perception of him (both inside the DCU and out) is totally at odds with who he is. But when I had a few moments to think about it, I realized that Johns was not talking to the core Aquaman audience of about 20,000 fans or so (that's the number of people who bought the last book on any sort of regular basis), he was talking to the throng of new readers he (Johns) knew would be coming aboard for the first time. And, judging by Aquaman's sales numbers, that was a smart move, thematically and financially. So while I felt a twinge of "I know all this" reading Aquaman #1, I am totally ready for the ride, for the next issue and beyond.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the art: it's phenomenal. The team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (with colorist Rod Reis, who, visually, knows when to be in your face and when to be in the next room with the door closed) are simply producing beautiful work here--they can handle both comic book-style action and more quiet character moments. Aquaman's pissed-off look when he takes a bullet in the temple is one for the ages. Aquaman looks like a movie star action hero, Mera is tough yet alluring, and the Trench are suitably scary. It may be a little early, but we may be on the road to having the team of Reis and Prado be mentioned alongside the Great Aquaman Artists, people like Nick Cardy, Ramona Fradon, Jim Aparo, Craig Hamilton, and others (your mileage may vary).

The Shrine has taken a lot of (IMO, well-deserved) shots at DC over the years for their seeming indifference to one of their most famous and enduring characters, but they seem to be making up for it with gusto. The Shrine has always said that if you just gave the Sea King a fair shake, he would deliver. I think seeing the overwhelmingly positive reaction to Aquaman #1--from new fans and old--shows we were right.

Finally, before we go, I thought this new book was significant enough that we hear from all the members of the Aquaman Shrine Staff, to get their thoughts on this momentous occasion in Aqua-History. Take it away, boys!

Russell Burbage: Let me talk about the things I liked about Aquaman #1 first....

The colors! Yes, the art is beautiful, but wow! what a job Rod Reis did from the darkness of the first pages to the wonderful oceans of the lighthouse scenes to the bloody water of the closing. Aquaman appears to shine, which is awesome. This guy is good. Is Rod related to Ivan?

The flashbacks! From the pirates' treasure scene (established with Tempest back in the old Titans book, but still cool) to the scene of Arthur and his father at this same restaurant and then later at the lighthouse...the scenes seemed to be almost in sepia the way they were illustrated (painted?) It established in an instant that Aquaman has ties to the land from even before he had ties to the ocean. Great!

The love! Arthur and Mera belong together. Period.

The villains! The trench is supposed to be around for four issues. That sounds just long enough for these walking piranha-men. That last page was chilling. Brr!

The action! Aquaman stopping a bank robbery...by *leaping* to the rescue! I have always thought Aquaman should be at about the power level of Captain America: not as strong as Superman or Wonder Woman, but stronger than any human allies. This scene very clearly showed he isn't a Shrinking Violet. Yes!!!

And now the two things I wasn't as thrilled with....

The humor. Okay, the joke is that Aquaman is treated as a joke, even in the DCU. I get it. I just thought it was a little bit thick.

The pacing. I have more to say about this, but I'll continue next issue. Just kidding. Yikes, that restaurant scene went on for seven pages.

Overall, I'm very happy with this issue. I know I am going to enjoy this series very, very much.

One question, though...what exactly is supposed to be happening when the blogger pisses Aquaman off? What is the "shingg" sound effect supposed to represent? I didn't get that panel at all.

Andy Luckett: Well, it was every bit as good as I hoped and expected, if not more. I picked up my copy of Aquaman #1 on Thursday afternoon, since I wasn't able to on Wednesday, and by that time I was chomping at the bit to read it. I'd read a lot of reviews of the issue, tiptoeing carefully around the spoilers, and I was gratified to see that the issue was almost unanimously liked, even by people who identified themselves as never having liked Aquaman. It appears that Geoff Johns succeeded in his goal of converting those who have picked on the Sea King in the past.

So yes, I loved the issue, even with the super-high expectations I had from reading a wave of positive reviews. I think it's a brilliant move on Johns' part to immediately address the elephant (or blue whale) in the room when a new take on Aquaman begins. That is of course his perception as lame and useless. In this issue, Johns basically lobs every criticism he can right to Aquaman's face, and he lets Aquaman take them on and then shrug them off, revealing the accusers to be ignorant and petty. It stands to reason that if all of the frequent criticisms of Aquaman are addressed and refuted, then the book is free to move on and show people how exciting and dynamic thiese characters can be. Hopefully people whose complaints have been silenced will then be able to fill that new void with an appreciation for how cool all of this is.

Let's break it down. The Trench bookend the issue, at first discovering a passage from their volcanic vent to the surface, and then realizing that "there's food up here". Yikes. While we don't explicitly see what happens to the fisherman pulled overboard near the end of the issue, its pretty obvious that he is devoured completely. The Trench are scary because A) like vampires or werewolves they're strong, fast, bloodthirsty, and driven by a need to feed, and B) like zombies, they look to be numerous. One or two would be bad enough but it looks like dozens or so. Aquaman and Mera are going to have their hands full. These things just look mean too, like anglerfish mixed with piranha and made intelligent; with lithe, agile bodies, claws and those needle teeth. I'm not really into gore, but I do love a good monster design, and these guys are definitely memorable and a new, horror-influenced foe for Aquaman to tackle. I have a hunch the next few issues might have the feeling of Aquaman dropped into an H.P. Lovecraft story.

The armored car sequence was great. First of all, Aquaman is shown leaping all the way from the ocean to the street where the chase is happening. This leaping is an ability I hoped they would use, as it has only been touched on before. But it makes sense: with legs full of super-dense muscle fiber from handling the pressures of the sea, Aquaman should have no problem propelling himself long distances through the air and landing safely. Secondly, his strength is nicely showcased by the trident-to-the-grill move. And then, Johns completes the trifecta by exhibiting Arthur's "nigh-bulletproof" skin. This fits with how I've always thought of Aquaman's powers; sort of like Superman when he was first introduced: he couldn't fly but was able to leap large distances, nothing less than a bursting shell could break his skin, and he was extremely strong but not able to juggle planets.

The way Aquaman reacts to the cop's comment about a glass of water is the same way he reacts to the annoying blogger in the diner. He's clearly irritated and angered by what they say, but he has enough self-control to stay calm and walk away from idiots. After all, he knows that none of these people could survive a blow from him, and he also has vowed to protect them. This issue clearly shows that Arthur is a hero that will take the abuse of those he protects because he is working toward a higher purpose. The eating seafood thing is an interesting idea to bring up. I've always thought of Arthur as a vegetarian, because it would be strange to eat something you've mentally interacted with. But I can get behind the idea; eating there reminds Arthur of good times with his dad, and it also shows his duality (of the sea but also of the land). I love the explanation of how Aquaman commands the sea life, however, that makes the power much more relatable. Actually talking to fish is just too nebulous and vague to wrap the head around.

The little bits of his origin we were given were nice as well. It was good to see Tom Curry again, having fun with young Arthur at their favorite restaurant. And the scene with Mera was very well-done also, getting across their bond, her support of him and his mission to be responsible for the interaction of two worlds. If anyone still complains about Aquaman being lame, at least he's got a gorgeous wife that adores him.

I think I enjoyed the art here more than the Aquaman bits in Brightest Day. Ivan Reis and Joe Prado are clearly excited about this gig and it shows. All the little details, like the tube worms hanging out by the Trench's, um, trench to the individual scales on Aquaman's shirt picking up the sunlight, really add to the whole. The reveal of Aquaman in front of the armored car is as majestic as one could hope for, and some of Arthur's facial expressions to the onlooker's comments are great. Even the background characters in the diner scene all feel fleshed out and part of the scene, not simply tools to fill the panel. If this level of quality in both writing and art keeps up, this is going to be one classic run.

I think that covers my rambling but excited thoughts for this issue. I know it sounds like I'm raving, but I honestly haven't enjoyed a single issue of a comic lately as much as I did this one (of course, I am a bit biased, I admit). It succeeds to me on every level; as a first issue, as an Aquaman story, as an explanation of why he's great, and as a superhero comic.

Joe Slab: Well it's been three years since I returned to comics, having taken a hiatus at the end of Infinite Crisis when the OYL story-lines were launched and Aquaman as I had known him disappeared from the DC Universe. I still followed news of the Sea King but only from a distance, on message boards and as a viewer of the Aquaman Shrine. Then in early 2009 I saw a house ad for Blackest Night in black & white, drawn by Ethan Van Sciver and featuring the tag line "The Dead Will Rise" and my inner fanboy jumped with excitement: "They're bringing Aquaman back!"

Since then we've been treated and teased by Black Lantern, White Lantern, elemental, and Emperor versions of the King of the Seven Seas but not until this week did we truly received Aquaman back into the comics fold properly. The new Aquaman series is by arguably the best, most marketable, all around creative team in comics today and this fan feels Aquaman deserves nothing less. He's paid his dues and so have his fans. With Geoff Johns at the helm and the art team of Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, & colorist Rod Reis, they did not fail to deliver a great introductory issue with Aquaman #1.

Taking on the issues that we've all been faced with at one time or another as Aqua-fans, Johns turns perceived weakness into character strength and shows us perhaps the most human Arthur Curry we've seen to date. The story hits all the right beats from the opening sequence showing just how powerful Aquaman really is, to the deadpan comedy of the diner scene (to his credit Johns actually gives the Sea King a legitimate reason for being there), to the flashback scenes with his father Thomas which I understand will be an ongoing theme throughout this series--it all worked for me!

The art was just scintillating and it is here where I think non-Aquaman fans will be won over. Reis & Prado clearly know what's at stake with this new series and one thing is for sure, Aquaman will never be canceled due to bad art if DC is smart enough to keep this team on board. Special credit to colorist Rod Reis who really makes this issue brilliant (I've heard that when viewed digitally with back-lighting its even more amazing!) and thanks to him for checking with us about the color of Mera's eyes because he got them right!

My only art criticism is that some of the smaller panels appear rushed & less detailed, for example Aquaman's hair at times looks like a Mattel-toy doll's, ready to snap off in one plastic piece with a flick of the thumb. But that is a small complaint at best.

One final point, in keeping with DC's New 52 theme of moving forward, Johns' writing deftly maneuvers around any specific mention of past continuity. We know that many of the elements of Arthur Curry's birth story as presented in Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman are now canon, but what we don't know is what has happened with Aquaman in the five years that the new DCU has been in business. My guess is that now the only time Aquaman has lost a hand has been at the hands of Black Manta in Brightest Day and that the Peter David era is but a memory, as is certainly true for the Grant Morrison era of the JLA, the Waterbearer run, and the Sword of Atlantis. The statuses of Arthur Jr., Garth, and Tula are conspicuously not mentioned as well, although we do know that Jackson & Lorena will be popping up eventually in the series. Dare we hope for the former too?

All in all, I would give the issue 4 out of 5 starfish (oh yes I did!) with it needing just 2-3 more pages of story and art to give it that complete feel that would have allowed me to give it the full 5. What say you fellow F.O.A.M.ers? Do we need to put a digital countdown clock up for issue #2 of Aquaman to pace the anticipation?

1 comment:

Joe Slab said...

What a fun idea the multi-team review was...I loved hearing what my fellow correspondents had to say about the biggest AQUAMAN #1 since 1962!

Joe Slab