Thursday, March 8, 2012

52 Catch-Up: Aquaman #1-6

If you had told me a year ago that my favorite new title out of a company-wide DC Comics revamp would be based around Aquaman, I might not have believed it. Unless you told me it was written by Geoff Johns with art by Ivan Reis. Then I might have conceded that it was possible. For one of the few bright spots (no pun attended) in the mess that was Brightest Day, was Johns' and Reis' work in developing both Aquaman and his wife Mera into more serious characters. They continue to do this in the monthly Aquaman book, ironically, through the careful use of humor.

There is much that is funny in Aquaman but none of it is due to the title character himself. All of the humor comes from the other characters and how they react to Aquaman out of ignorance. A key example of this comes in the second issue, where Arthur and Mera are brought to investigate the disappearance of several locals. While some of the officials on-hand question what help Aquaman could possibly be, Arthur is big enough to ignore their words, focus on the task at hand and show just how useful being able to see through the eyes of every fish in the immediate vicinity can be when performing a rescue at sea.

Johns wastes no time telling us how awesome Aquaman is. He shows us! And, by proxy, Johns shows us how Aquaman's powers are not useless - just intensely focused. By the logic employed by those who rag on Aquaman, The Flash's powers are useless because there's nothing he can do to avert a plane crash. But don't worry, Aquafans! This book is far from being a long, joke-filled diatribe on Why Aquaman Is Not Worthless. There's lots of action, beautifully illustrated by Ivan Reis and inker Joe Prado, as well. Issues #2-4 are full of lots of good scenes like the one below, as Aquaman and Mera pursue a gaggle of Lovecraftian horrors into the depths of the ocean to rescue some nearby townsfolk.

There's also a fair bit of drama, with a minor subplot about Aquaman trying to find a balance between his heritage as the son of a surface-dweller and heir to the throne of Atlantis. Johns does not allow Arthur to get angsty, even as he is thinking back on how many people - above and below the waves - tried to kill him as a young man. Johns also adds further definition to Arthur's life before his father's death - a period of time that was little examined, even by long-time Aquaman author Peter David.

The art team deserves just as much praise for this book as writer Geoff Johns, if not more. Ivan Reis, a long-time Green Lantern penciler, offers one of the most horrifying monster designs in recent memory with the deep-dwelling fish-beings. Colorist Rod Reis uses a balanced palette that - when mixed with the inks of Joe Prado - causes items like Aquaman's trident and scale-mail shirt to shine. This effect strikes the reader particularly hard in the underwater sequences, as Aquaman and Mera descend deeper than even they have ever gone. These scenes further highlight Prado's skill as a inker.

Issue #5 shifts-gears entirely, offering a story in which Aquaman - through circumstances too complicated to get into - winds up lost in the desert after pursuing a group of armed men who attempted to steal a piece of ancient Atlantean technology from the U.S. Navy. The stolen technology turns out to be more than just a plot device - it's a black-box for an Atlantean ship from before the time that Atlantis sank. This, in turn, sets up what will apparently be the major arc of the book in the coming issues.

Reading all this, I think that Aquaman's greatest power may be a sense of self-control so strong that it prevents him from going on a one-man crusade to gut-punch every single person who has ever made a fish-related joke at his expense. Mera, on the other hand, lacks such patience and Issue #6 is a nice slice-of-life issue, detailing Mera's problems trying to shop for groceries without getting sexually harassed by a local shopkeeper.

Mera received a great deal of development during Blackest Night but Johns' uses Issue #6 to build upon even that and establish Mera as a separate entity from her husband. Mera, for instance, was raised as royalty and lacks much of Arthur's tolerance for the confusion of the surface-dwellers. She is much more confrontational and unwilling to back down for the sake of avoiding a scene. Indeed, the only reason she allows herself to be arrested for assaulting the man who dared to lay a hand on her is so that she can get the police to take her to a domestic dispute turned hostage situation so that she can intervene. It is here that we also see just how dangerous a creative aquamancer can be if provoked. Two words - "dehydration sickness".

Read This Book. If you like good artwork, you'll like it. If you like creative superhero stories, you'll like it. If you enjoy a good joke, you'll like it. If you like books with strong women who kick butt, you'll like it. Really, I can't think of anyone who wouldn't like this book except for those people who still insist that Aquaman can't be cool. You know what? I don't care if Aquaman is cool. I like him. I like his book. And I think most of you will too.

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