Waiting for the Trade Aquaman & the JLA

 

Aquaman (vol. 3): Throne of
Atlantis

by Geoff Johns, Ivan
Reis, Paul Pelletier and Pete Woods

collects Aquaman 0,
14-16 and Justice League 15-17

Why I Bought This: I
liked the first volume of New 52 Aquaman quite a bit. While volume 2 was not
nearly as good, I still bought volume 3 on preorder from Amazon because of the
quality of the first one. But even if I hadn’t read the other volumes I likely
would have picked this up to see a JLA story with Aquaman in the lead.

The Plot: Atlantis
declares war on America
leaving Aquaman caught in the middle.

 (spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – In a flashback issue we see young Aquaman at his
father’s deathbed six years ago and he tells him his Atlantean heritage. In his
grief he dives into the ocean and gets into a fight with a shark. He rescues
two people on a boat, tells them his story and they just happen to know were
another Atlantean lives. This turns out to be Vulko, who informs Arthur that
his mother is dead. He also lets Aquaman know he has a younger brother Orm, who
may have murdered their mother and then exiled Vulko 10 years ago. Vulko takes
him to Atlantis.

Chapter 2 – In 1820 some sailors are torturing an Atlantean
until the Atlantean army surrounds their boat. In the present Aquaman sends his
fish to arrange a meeting with his brother Ocean Master. Meanwhile in jail the
government attempts to recruit Black Manta to the Suicide Squad but he turns
them down. Aquaman asks his brother if he was involved in the one-off Atlantean
attack in the first trade and with hiring Black Manta in the second trade and
he denies it. In Norway Vulko finds a dead Atlantean warrior and dives into the
ocean. Ocean Master tells Aquaman the story of the 1820 boat—it ends with all
the sailors drowning. His point Atlantis could sink every boat on the ocean if
it wanted to and yet they don’t. He says whoever hired Manta is trying to make
Aquaman think Atlantis is to blame. In the cliffhanger the Trench monsters from
volume one are freed by an unseen person.

Chapter 3 – A battleship is in the Atlantic
Ocean when its systems are taken over and it launches all of its
missiles on Atlantis. Cut to Smallville where Superman shows Wonder Woman how
to assume a secret identity. In Gotham Batman is fighting some of the
Scarecrow’s minions on a boat when Aquaman arrives to lend a hand. He is there
to warn Batman that he thinks the Trench monsters are heading to the East Coast
and he will need the League to stop them this time. Mera has come with him and
reports fish are fleeing from the area. In Metropolis Clark and Diana are on a
date until the city is hit by a tidal wave. They suit up and save those they
can as Lois gets herself in danger only to be saved by Vulko. We also learn Boston was hit with a tidal wave and another wave is heading
towards Gotham. Aquaman realizes these are the
Atlantean war plans to invade the surface world that he himself wrote when he
was king. 

Chapter 4 – Batman and Aquaman save who they can but a lot
of people die. Mera manages to push back some of the wave until she passes out.
Mera, Aquaman and Vulko are all concerned about what Atlantis does next if they
follow the plan but no one says it out loud. Aquaman tells Batman the Atlantean
army will hit whichever city was hit hardest. He also believes Atlantis would
not attack without provocation so the missiles must have detonated in the city.
Aquaman then recounts how he first claimed the Atlantean throne and accepted
their superstitions about the surface world until the Darkseid attack that
formed the League made him see things differently. Batman says there is no
justifying the attacks on the cities and the League has to bring Ocean Master
in. The Atlanteans shoot down the Batplane but the heroes are okay. Aquaman
says Dr. Shin will be targeted next. The League regroups at the watchtower with
Vulko. The Trench monsters are getting closer. Aquaman & Vulko want to
reason with Ocean Master, let him know the missile attack was a setup and avert
a war; but Superman says Ocean Master must answer for his crimes. Batman offers
Aquaman one chance to talk peace with his brother. Ocean Master emerges in Boston and demands two
civilians take him to their king. They wonder if he means the president, but
Ocean Master assumes Aquaman is king of the surface world. Aquaman shows up and
Ocean Master is agog that he does not rule the surface world if he gave up the Atlantean
throne. He tries to explain the surface world does not even know Atlantis
exists. Ocean Masters notes he has grieving Atlantean citizens to answer to and
refuses to stand down. He promises to sink Boston. The League teleports in on that line.
Aquaman asks for more time. They refuse so Aquaman attacks Superman.

 Chapter 5 – Cyborg is sent to protect to Dr. Shin. Aquaman
tries to get the league to back down before the Atlantean army arrives but the
big three won’t listen and so after a brief melee the Atlanteans emerge from
the ocean. Cyborg teleports Shin to the Watchtower. Back at the main event
where we see Ocean Master has magic weapons that let him live up to his name as
he controls the ocean water as a weapon. When Superman evaporates the water
with his heat vision Ocean Master also takes control of the weather and uses
lightening to KO Superman (???) and Wonder Woman. He then takes the captured
League including Aquaman below the ocean. Cyborg sees this and asks his father
to replace his lungs so he can breathe underwater. He also sends out a general
alert to recruit 10 new heroes to the League.

Chapter 6 – While Cyborg undergoes surgery he is also
running a program to find out who hacked the battleship’s missile system to
start all this. The four leaguers are locked in pods at the bottom of the
ocean. Aquaman breaks out of his and establishes contact with Batman, who is
awake and has a radio and sonar on him but can’t be freed since he would be
instantly crushed at this depth. Aquaman is attacked by two Trench monsters. He
slays them but realizes they don’t have much time before the entire horde
arrives. In Boston
we see Hawkman leading the new recruits against the Atlantean army. They
include Firestorm, Black Lightening, Vixen and Black Canary. The Atlanteans
meanwhile are detonating bombs in Boston
with the intent to sink the city. Cyborg is awake and Mera joins him in a
rescue mission. Aquaman and Batman are in the trench and find ancient ruins
showing an Atlantean king controlling the Trench monsters with a magic scepter.
They also find Superman and Wonder Woman held hostage by a giant jellyfish.
Aquaman attempts to free them only for the Trench monsters to attack. Mera and
Cyborg arrive just in time to save Batman. As the heroes regroup the Trench
monsters emerge in Boston
and attack the Atlanteans. In the cliffhanger we learn Vulko is controlling
them and orchestrated the attack on Atlantis.

Chapter 7 – The heroes learn the truth about Vulko. Everything
is chaos in Boston
as Orm assumes Aquaman is controlling the Trench monsters but he still manages
to defeat the League reserves (in part because they don’t work well together as
a team). The League’s A-team teleports in and begins disabling the bombs and
clear a path for Aquaman to take on his brother one-on-one. Orm is a given a
real nice monologue during the battle on how he loves Aquaman and why he hates
the surface world and then seems to win the fight. The League destroys the
bombs so Orm goes back to summoning tidal waves. Mera halts the wave long
enough for Firestorm and Element Girl to freeze it. Aquaman recovers, defeats
his brother and reclaims the Atlantean throne. Vulko surrenders without a
fight. The League and Atlantis unite to fight the Trench. Vulko tells Aquaman
he did all of this for him so he could be king again and Aquaman decks him.
With Vulko’s scepter he gets the Trench monsters to go home. Vulko is arrested
by Atlantis and Ocean Master is arrested by the League. Orm is stunned that
Aquaman would let this happen to him when he was acting to protect their
people; and because Arthur knows how much he hates and fears the surface world
but nevertheless we end on Orm alone in a cell. In the epilogue Mera tells
Aquaman she will not live with him in Atlantis but this time he will not
relinquish the throne. As Aquaman descends into the ocean we see the everyman’s
opinion of him has changed to fear. A final epilogue shows both the League and
Suicide Squad intending to use this event as a reason to increase their
membership.

 

Critical Thoughts: I
really liked Ocean Master’s characterization in this story and he’s not a
character I’ve cared about before so that is really well done. The rest of this
not so much.

First off the League comes off like A-holes in this story. Like
I get people died and their upset but they refuse to let Aquaman deal with his
brother and refuse to accept his explanation on how Atlantean politics and
culture work annoyed the heck out of me. Indeed the whole treatment of Ocean
Master in this story annoyed me. He’s not a super villain. He is the leader of
a sovereign nation and his nation was attacked first: his capital city in fact
and civilians died. So he’s perfectly entitled to go to war to defend his
country and that does not make a villain or a terrorist that belongs in prison.
Indeed the League members are having the exact same furious reaction for the
cities being attacked and people dying yet somehow they’re rage is justifiable
and Ocean Master’s is not. And Aquaman turning his brother over at the end to
sit alone in prison in a foreign land makes him a jerk. Especially since Orm
was following war plans the Aquaman wrote himself! So yea that whole dynamic
annoyed me.

Furthermore if the goal of this story is to make the general
public now hate and fear Aquaman moving forward wouldn’t that work better if he
grants his brother diplomatic immunity and takes him back into the ocean rather
than he turns him over for a prison sentence?

I hate that they made Vulko a villain. Why can’t
supporting characters just be supporting characters anymore? Why do they all
have to become heroes and villains themselves? This is sort of an industry-wide
problem but it does annoy me and I’m tired of perfectly good supporting
characters being altered for no particular reason.

On the other hand I will say Mera remains an interesting
supporting character. She’s consistently portrayed as strong with a unique perspective.
Her relationship with the lead adds to the title’s drama; while her powers also
compliment his without being redundant.

Also from chapter one I’m just not a big fan of Aquaman’s
New 52 origin. I much prefer the Peter David version from Time and Tide. The flashbacks here make no sense. Aquaman was
raised in America
in a lighthouse with no clue about his powers or heritage. Then after the death
of his father he finds Atlantis. And upon assuming the throne he just forgets
his entire childhood and fears the surface world and writes these plans of
destruction. But then fighting Darkseid makes him change his mind again. What a
ping pong of characterization.

Not a complaint I care much about, but why is Superman hurt
by lightening and a giant jellyfish? And why can Wonder Woman breathe underwater?
I know Superman is always problem of how do you find enough villains who can be
a threat to him but lightening, really? Because electricity is a fairly common
power in comic books so I feel like this is a big step down for Supes’
invulnerability. 

As for the Justice League portion of the story, I thought
the League calling in the reserves via a general SOS was a nice moment as was
the fact that the new members didn’t know how to work together. Hawkman’s New
52 interpretation is sort of interesting so I may grab one his trades if I can
find it on the cheap.

Finally I will say the art is pretty good, particularly the
splash pages.

 
Grade C+.  Ocean Master’s dialogue in the final
chapter and his sailor story in chapter 2 are pushing this up from C- to C+.
Otherwise the only other positives are Mera’s role, the Trench monsters are
still visually interesting and some of the mystic mythology could have
potential down the line. Beyond that I disliked most of this to the point that
I am now on the fence on whether to drop this title or not. Also as far as
being a crossover there is nothing here that makes me want to start picking up Justice League again.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Aquaman: The
Waterbearer

by Rick Veitch

collects Aquaman #1-4,
Aquaman Secret Files #1 and JLA/JSA Secret Files #1

 

Why I Bought This: I
came across this at a comic show two months going for $5. I love Aquaman enough
to probably buy any solo trade he was in at that price but the fact this one
involves him meeting the Lady of the Lake from
the King Arthur legend ensured I was buying it and jumping it to the top of my
reading pile.

 
The Plot: So this
is an early 2000s relaunch of the title after the 90’s title that started with
the Peter David run, which apparently ends with Aquaman presumed dead and
Atlantis presumed destroyed during the “Our Worlds at War” crossover. In truth
both were teleported into the distant past where the Atlantean citizens became
experts in sorcery, and where Aquaman had to resink Atlantis to get them back
into the present. (All this happens prior to this trade and is helpfully
explained in a precap page of text next to the credits). This story starts with
the Aquaman deposed from his throne and declared a traitor to Atlantis. The
Atlanteans mean to crucify him but fate has other plans in store.

 

Chapter 1 – The Atlanteans drag Arthur through the sea in
chains, stabbing in the side with a lance and then tying him in crucifix
position to a rocky reef in the sun to die of dehydration. Aquaman tries to
call for the fish to help but learns Atlantean magic has turned every fish in
the ocean against him. His JLA communicator has also been sabotaged. However
through effort he pulls himself free of the rock, yet when he tries to go back
into the water he blasted with guns that fire razor sharp coral by the
Atlantean guard.  Collapsing on the beach
he is attacked by a swarm of crabs and now he is both losing blood and dehydrated.
He goes into the interior of the island and finds a lake but collapses before
he can reach it. He tries to use his harpoon hand to pull himself into the lake
but that’s been sabotaged too. He tosses his hook away in rage and it lands in
the lake where it is caught by water nymphs. The nymphs take Aquaman into the
lake where he meets the Lady of the Lake and
is instantly healed. She then offers him even greater power if he will be her
champion, known as the Waterbearer–a role she notes was filled by a different
Arthur once before. Meanwhile Martian Manhunter is searching for Aquaman as the
JLA suspects he is in trouble. He finds Aquaman’s hook sticking out a stone and
then finds Aquaman with a new hand made entirely of water.

Chapter 2 – Aquaman’s new hand can function as a crystal
ball and turn solid enough to pickup objects. Aquaman notes to MM that while he
can survive in freshwater lakes he won’t thrive like he does in saltwater. He
then resigns his membership in the JLA to take time to find his new place in
the world. Back in Atlantis the Atlanteans are mutating sea life into monsters.
Arthur goes hiking in civilian clothes in Ireland and finds an old run down
lighthouse. He meets the lighthouse keeper; an old man named McCaffery and
decides to do some odd jobs for him since his own father was a lighthouse
keeper. McCaffrey goes out to sea, while Arthur works and he meets a local
female cop named Sweeney. Meanwhile the Atlanteans send mutant kelp after an
oil tanker. McCaffery tries to guide them safely to shore only to get electrocuted
by the Atlanteans in hopes of luring Aquaman into a trap. Aquaman hears the
mayday over the police radio and dives into the ocean to help. He has to fight
some sharks (since the sea creatures are still turned against him) and then the
Atlantean guards as well. Aquaman cuts the guards and lets the sharks’ nature
do the rest. Aquaman then touches the kelp monster with his water hand and
learns that it can short-circuit any magic spell (thus reducing the monster
back to ordinary kelp). Aquaman gets McCaffery’s boat to shore but the old man
has stopped breathing. However the Lady of the Lake
appears and teaches him to use his new water hand to heal others. As Arthur he
tells Sweeney who he really is but she doesn’t believe him, and he’s taken to
wearing gloves to preserve his secret identity.

Chapter 3 – The Atlanteans order one of their best warriors,
Rodunn to go to the surface to hunt Aquaman down and kill him. He is armed with
their most powerful lightening gun and a giant mutated sea lamprey. Arthur is pleased
to learn the lighthouse has a saltwater pump so he can shower in sea water.
Then he goes into town with Sweeney to get a haircut. On the way back Arthur
& Sweeney discover a civilian who has been bled by the lamprey. Arthur
tries to use his crystal ball power to find the culprit but is ambushed by
Rodunn. He’s able to short out Rodunn’a magic armor that lets him function on
land but then the lamprey grabs Aquaman, drains his blood and tosses him over
some trees. Aquaman is again on death’s door but he finds a portal to Annwn (an
Irish netherworld of natural magic prominent in druidic lore and other Celtic
texts) where he has another conversation with the Lady of the Lake.
Aquaman emerges back in the real world and takes the fight to Rodunn. Rodunn
gets bit by his own Lamprey but Aquaman saves him first by shorting out the
Lamprey spell and returning it to normal size and then by healing Rodunn with
his magic hand. Rodunn then swears loyalty to Aquaman as his true king. Aquaman
then reveals himself to Sweeney in his new costume, which looks good.

Chapter 3.5 – Tempest (the former Aqualad) and Dolphin have
a baby now. They are living in Atlantis but the new regime is watching them
closely. So Tempest leaves in the night to go find Aquaman.

Chapter 4 – Arthur tells Sweeney he has no interest in
reclaiming the Atlantean throne just in time for Tempest to arrive to ask him
to liberate Atlantis. When Aquaman tells Garth this, he doesn’t take it well
and uses a spell to astral project their spirits into small fish so Arthur can
see how bad it is in Atlantis for himself. He sees the mutations, citizens
under house arrest, and his wife Mera—who allegedly sits on the throne—being
drugged by the shadow government running things now. This enrages Arthur so
much he makes a move to intercede even though he’s just a fish causing the head
sorcerer to detect the truth and send mutated barracuda after the heroes. As
always with astral projection if the fish with their souls in them die Aquaman
& Aqualad die too. In addition Atlantean soldiers find Arthur and Garth’s
bodies on the beach and decide to stab them in their astral sleep. Sweeney
however intercedes and scares the Atlanteans off. The hero fish get eaten by a Barracuda
with Tempest bit in half and Aquaman swallowed whole and about to be digested,
when he uses the link with his new magic hand to reverse the crystal ball
effect, have the detach from his human body, crawl across the beach and touch
Tempest thus short-circuiting his spell and returning the heroes to their
bodies in the nick of time. However Garth is in system shock from having his
fish be eaten and is on the verge of death but Aquaman uses his healing hand. When
Garth recovers he is able to convince Aquaman to try to reclaim Atlantis but
then the Lady of the Lake shows up and forbids
him from using the magic hand she gave him to wage war.

Chapter 5 – The Atlanteans continue to mutate sea life in a
well written creepy scene. We also see they are using political prisoners in
the process and dumping them in mass graves. Meanwhile Vulko, longtime to
advisor to the king of Atlantis, is overseeing the forced march escort of
prisoners set for exile or execution. He becomes stunned to see first the
cruelty of the guards, and later to learn many of the prisoners have been condemned
for either political dissidence or because they know of the drugging of Mera
(which is the first Vulko is hearing of that as well). Vulko attempts to stand
up for the prisoners but the guards decide they are just going to execute him
too. And then the political prisoner being experimented on in the opening pages
climbs out of his grave as a Jelly-fish like meta-human and kills the guards.
Vulko thanks him and dubs him Man O’ War, then frees the other prisoners and
vows to restore justice to Atlantis.

 

Critical Thoughts: This
has some interesting ideas but it doesn’t really feel like an Aquaman comic.
Aquaman getting exiled from the ocean could be an interesting story idea.
Aquaman meeting the Lady of the Lake and
playing with the Arthurian parallels has a lot of potential. Even using Ireland as the
setting of a superhero comic is something new that could work out very well
given time. The problem is the whole water-hand thing. It just looks weird and
its powers are too far away from what makes Aquaman a fun hero. The healing
touch is ridiculously powerful—he brings two people back from the dead in this
story. The short circuiting of magic with just a touch and no heroic effort is
a pretty strong superpower also. Throw in clairvoyance and really it’s just a
weird mystical power set that isn’t Aquaman—who has also been stripped of his
signature power of talking to fish in this story. You could create a new hero
with these same powers and this same setting and it might make for an
interesting read but it’s not what I want to see when I buy an Aquaman comic.

While I’m not thrilled with the direction of the story, I
will say the story itself is well told. Aquaman’s desperation in chapter 1 and
his various tactics to save himself and call for help are well realized;
although the repeated Christ symbolism in that chapter is a bit much. I can
admire how this author gets Aquaman where he wants by slowly discarding all of
the elements of Peter David’s run. While I like the Peter David run quite a bit,
I can see why future authors wouldn’t want Aquaman to have a harpoon hand
forever or would want to give him a shave and change the grim and gritty 90s
look once it’s a new decade.

The mutation scenes throughout the story also work very well
both in making interesting monsters and echoing the darkness in Atlantis. The
Vulko chapter is quite good in this regard, and the new Man O’ War character is
interesting enough visually that I wouldn’t mind seeing him again—especially since
he is more fish-based and thus feels more natural in an Aquaman story that a
lot of the magic stuff. The chapter with Arthur and Tempest turned into fish is
also quite an intense bit of story-telling.

One other nitpick is I am not sure of the rationale behind
the Lady of the Lake  preventing Arthur from using her gift (the
water hand) for war. I mean I get the ultimate goal is probably to make Aquaman
a mystical protector of either Ireland or the environment in general and that latter
vibe doesn’t lend itself to being pro war. But traditionally the Lady of the Lake gave King Arthur Excalibur and he used that gift in
a bunch of wars, so it doesn’t completely jibe with the mythology they are
steeping this in.

I also want to say I like offering a precap page at the
start to recap the dense continuity that preceded this story. A lot more trades
in general could use that approach.

 
Grade: C+. While
the direction of Aquaman himself in this trade ultimately isn’t my cup of tea,
the writing itself deserves credit for exploring new ideas and having a sense
of how it wants to portray the central character and his supporting cast both
old and new.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman New 52

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Aquaman vol 1: The
Trench
By Geoff Johns, Ivan
Reis and Joe Prado

Collects Aquaman 1 – 6

 

Why I Bought This: As
I’ve said before Aquaman is my favorite DC character, so if I was going to
sample New 52 titles of course I’d pick this one up.

 

The Plot: Aquaman
and Mera try to start a new life for themselves in the small coastal New
England town of Amnesty Bay when a new species
of carnivorous humanoid creatures emerge from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

 
Chapter 1 – Fanged creatures emerge from a trench in the
bottom of the ocean discovering there is an “up” for the first time in their
existence. In Boston Aquaman helps police foil a bank robbery in a scene that
shows his power level has increased in this continuity as he effortlessly lifts
a truck with his trident and takes a bullet to the head with only minor
annoyance. Next Aquaman goes to a seafood restaurant and when he tries to order
fish everyone gets weirded out since he supposedly talks to fish; although
Aquaman corrects them as we’re back to his power being telepathically commands
fish rather than talks to them (with the possible exception of Dolphins). He
also reflects on his early family life and in this continuity Aquaman was
raised by a human father in this same area of New England.
Through his interaction with the restaurant’s patrons we also establish that
most people think Aquaman is a joke, and they specifically reference some of
the real world late night comedy sketches at his expense. Later Aquaman and
Mera are at the lighthouse Aquaman’s human father operated. Aquaman reveals to
her he didn’t know Atlantis existed or about his powers until age 13. We also
learn that while he tried to rule Atlantis as king, he never felt he fit in and
now he has forsaken his throne so he and Mera can have a new life together.
Back at sea a fishing boat hooks one of the humanoids, who pulls the fisherman
in the water and eats him. A swarm of them peer up at the boat and think
“There’s food up there.”

Chapter 2 – The fisherman on the boat get eaten as do any
trench creatures they shoot and kill. In the aftermath of the feeding frenzy
the trench creatures see the lights from the shore town and think “more food.” The
next morning Aquaman and Mera are looking over old photo albums and making
plans to go skiing, when police knock on the door and ask for assistance
investigating what happened at the docks last night. Aquaman and Mera (who has
the power to control water) arrive and learn from the Coast Guard half the town
is missing in addition to the dozens of bodies they have found. Aquaman tries
to summon fish and learns there are no fish at all in this part of the ocean,
which makes him fretful. The police find a cocoon and when they try to disturb
it the trench creatures attack en masse. We get a viscous fight as Aquaman has
no problem killing things with his trident in this continuity. This leads to
the alpha male of the creatures deciding it wants to take Aquaman back to the
trench.

Chapter 3 – Aquaman tries to use his fish telepathy to stop
the alpha male but it just shakes it off and bites him deep in the shoulder.
Mera is able to wash away most of the minions back into the sea; while
Aquaman’s solo battle is fairly even. The creature manages to toss Aquaman
aside before ordering its minions to gather up the food it has cocooned and
take it back to the trench. Aquaman deduces how the cocoons work: it allows breathing
underwater in hibernation, and he frees a dog from the one cocoon the
townspeople recovered prior to the attack. Aquaman takes one of the dead
creatures to scientist Stephen Shin, whom we learn helped teach Aquaman to use
his powers before they had a violent falling out when Aquaman wouldn’t take him
to Atlantis. While Shin examines the body, he also hints at a mystery foe whom
Aquaman obtained the trident from. Anyway, the creatures have similarities to
piranha and ants, and Shin hypothesizes they have to eat 20 to 30 times a day
as well as noting they are an entirely new species of evolution. Shin wants to
keep the body so he can publish in scientific journals but Aquaman refuses to
allow it and Shin gets very upset. As Aquaman and Mera head to the trench she
considers the creatures to be monsters that need to be exterminated while
Aquaman notes they are just another species out to survive.

Chapter 4 – Aquaman and Mera find an old UFO in the trench
of Atlantean origin from before the continent sank. Aquaman also notes the fish
he had accompanying them have just fled out of fear despite his telepathy,
which has never happened before. Eventually they find central hive of these
creatures and much like ants (or Aliens) they have a really big queen that
spawns for the entire race. Also out of Aliens
all of the captured people have been cocooned to the walls, so Aquaman takes
the entire wall with him as he attempts to save them. Of course the entire hive
gives chase, and while Aquaman wishes he could communicate with the creatures,
he is forced to use his trident to detonate a volcanic vent, which kills the
queen and seals the rest of the creatures in beneath an avalanche. Afterwards
when the townspeople are freed a little boy tells Aquaman he is his favorite
superhero, and Mera and he are given the dog from last chapter since its owner
did not survive the attack.

Chapter 5 – Aquaman falls from the sky into the desert. We
flashback to 12 hours earlier when the military called Aquaman for help because
an Atlantean artifact attached to the trench wall he brought up last issue has
begin emitting a high-pitched noise when the military began poking around with
it. Back in the desert Aquaman is bleeding and dehydrating. Back in the
flashback, Aquaman says the device is similar to an airplane’s black box when a
trio of armored soldiers attack and steal it. They attempt to fly off in a
futuristic plane and Aquaman grabs a wing as they leave. In the desert Aquaman
hallucinates about his dead father and then uses his telepathy to summon a
lizard. Back in the flashback Aquaman discovers the attackers are Atlantean
before they shoot him, accidentally blowing up their plane in the process. In
the present Aquaman finds the black box and turns it on revealing a hologram of
a man who talks of how Atlantis was sunk by beings that could use the ocean as
a weapon. He hints at more secrets but the Trench creatures killed him before
he could finish the recording. Aquaman is then rescued by military helicopters
but news of the military operation gets out, making him an even bigger late
night joke.

Chapter 6 – A flashback from four years ago, show us Mera’s
parents trained her to kill Aquaman. In the present Mera has gone to town to
buy dog-food. The salesman gets all sexual harassmenty so she breaks his wrist.
The police attempt to arrest her but she uses water from the store’s bottled
water inventory to put a stop to that. More cops arrive and the situation seems
poised to escalate when an A.P.B. call comes in about a domestic violence
situation prompting Mera to surrender so the cops can respond to it. Once at
the scene she easily breaks free of the cuffs and cop car. When domestic
violence dude pulls a gun on her and calls her “a fish out of water” she starts
draining the water out of his body. He’s about to die of dehydration when his
victim begs Mera to spare him. Mera states she doesn’t understand humans and
flies off. We get a flashback to Mera choosing Aquaman over her father and
being disowned (in fact he vows to kill her alongside Aquaman). The girl from
the grocery store tracks Mera down and brings her dog food to show “We’re not
all bad.” Aquaman comes home and tells Mera he wants to see Shin in order to
discover who sank Atlantis, as the narration implies it was Mera’s people
(after all who else can use the ocean i.e. water as a weapon?).

 
Critical Thoughts:
Holy cow! This is the right way to start a new series. Issue 1 is really an
absolutely perfect set-up issue telling a new the reader everything he needs to
know about the new Aquaman: from his powers to his back-story to his place in
the world.

The primary story of the monsters from the trench is really
good. The art is flat out excellent. The story is suspenseful. The thought
narration in particular is very well done, both in letting us see the different
perspectives of how the creatures and Aquaman see the same events; to using Aquaman’s
reactions to build the threat-level in moments when he telepathically finds no
fish in the ocean after their attack or when the fish he commands leaves his
side out of fear.

The desert story was also really good for a one-issue story
both in the parallel story telling between the flashback and the desert scenes
and for using the adversity to give us a glimpse into the hero’s psyche.

Johns is also building long-term subplots here, which you
don’t see as much of in the modern writing for the trade era. In terms of building
for the future look at the mysteries sets up in the background: we have who
sank Atlantis, who owns the trident, Dr Shin, and Mera’s past. We’re setting up
a lot of story threads and they are all introduced in a way that I want to see
them play out.

That said I do have some criticisms. Within the story, I
found this to be more violent than I think a mainstream superhero comic should
be, particularly the Mera chapter (which admittedly does its job of
differentiating her perspective and methods from Aquaman). There also doesn’t
seem to be any reason for Aquaman not to let Shin keep the body of the trench
creature. It’s not like Aquaman needs the body to track the creatures down or
to build a weapon to fight them, and since they eat their own dead it’d be hard
to argue it would be disrespectful to let scientists dissect and study it. I
get Shin is potentially dangerous (and will probably become a super villain
soon) but Aquaman really comes off as an A-hole in this scene, especially since
he’s the one who went to Shin for assistance in the first place.

Outside of the actual story my main criticism would be some
of the changes to Aquaman’s origin and powers. As I said in my review of Time and Tide I prefer an Aquaman that
talks to fish rather than telepathically commands them, so that change feels
like a step backwards to me. In general you can see this also knocks Time and Tide completely out of
continuity, which is something of a shame. (It has to be out of continuity now
since in that story Aquaman was born in the ocean and raised by dolphins, here
he was born on land and raised by a human unaware of his powers until his teen
years.) Again I probably prefer an Aquaman who has closer ties to the ocean;
however, it’s not a deal-breaker as it is only back-story at this point and
Johns’ clearly has a firm idea of where he wants to take the character. Since
the point of the New 52 is to give some of these characters fresh starts, I am
willing to let it play out, especially given the overall quality of this first
volume.

 

Grade A. While
there are some external choices I am not fond of, within the rules of its own
narrative this is excellent.

Waiting for the Trade – JLA New 52

Waiting for the Trade

 

by Bill Miller

Justice League vol.
1: Origin

by Geoff Johns, Jim
Lee and Scott Williams

collects Justice
League 1-6.

 

Why I Bought This: Even
though I’m primarily a Marvel reader, like most of the comic-buying public I
was pretty intrigued when DC launched its New 52. This being the flagship title
is the obvious one to sample. Plus Jim Lee’s art in the preview pages looked
fantastic. On Cyber Monday, Midtown Comics put all the volume 1 New 52 trades
on sale at 40-percent off so I finally picked this up (along with Aquaman and JLI).



The Plot: The
Justice League comes together for the first time to deal with the threat of
Darkseid. Your heroes are Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green
Lantern, Flash and Cyborg.

Chapter 1 – Gotham Police are chasing down Batman with a
helicopter as he runs across rooftops in pursuit of an unknown foe. Batman
catches it and finds a non-human cyborg. Batman is on the defensive when Green
Lantern arrives and he and Batman meet for the first time. Police open fire on
the heroes; and while GL’s force field keeps them safe it gives the cyborg time
to counterattack by breathing fire. This results in the heroes having to save
the cops while the cyborg escapes. GL informs Batman the foe is definitely extraterrestrial
as well as filling him in on the whole GL Corps shtick. GL is also agog when he
learns Batman has no powers. They trace their foe to the sewers where it seems
to be planting a bomb. When GL tries to intercede it blows itself up, shouting
“For Darkseid” as it does so. They discover the bomb is actually a Mother Box,
which Batman deduces is an alien computer. This causes GL to suspect Superman,
whom neither he nor Batman has met yet. While Batman advises caution given
Superman’s power levels, GL flies them both to Metropolis. Cut to an interlude
where African-American teen Vic Stone wins a high school football game while
college scouts are watching, but mopes because his dad doesn’t attend. GL and
Bats arrives in Metropolis where Superman has just finished a battle. GL
cockily confronts Supes only to be easily knocked across the city; leaving
Supes and Bats staring each other down.

Chapter 2 – In Central City, Flash is working at his day job
doing CSI stuff while other police officers talk about the need for an
anti-Flash taskforce. In Metropolis Batman is exhausting his utility belt on
Supes to no effect, as we learn Supes off-camera also battled one of the Mother
Box planting aliens. GL recovers and tries to contain Supes with his ring but
Superman is too strong. GL is desperately on the defensive so he uses his ring
to radio Flash for help, as apparently they’ve met, worked together before and
even shared secret identities. Flash arrives instantly and uses his speed to
confuse Superman for a bit, but ultimately Supes is able to move fast enough to
hit Flash with one finger and take the fight out of him. Batman then uses that
interlude to talk sense into everyone, and the heroes band together to
investigate the Mother Boxes. Cut to STAR Labs where they too have a Mother Box
and are trying to decipher what it does. Heading up the project is Vic Stone’s
father. Vic arrives and his dad blows him off, feeling human athletic prowess
is no longer relevant in a world of super-humans. Back with the heroes, who
even with Superman’s X-ray vision and Barry’s CSI background are finding it
difficult to get evidence from the Mother Box. Suddenly all the boxes activate,
opening Boom-tubes to let the Parademon (aka the fire-breathing cyborg alien)
army invade the Earth. At STAR Labs Vic Stone takes a bunch of shrapnel when
the portal opens.

Chapter 3 – in Washington
DC Col.
Steve Trevor is being debriefed about his first meeting with Wonder Woman and
the Amazons of Paradise Island, while Wonder Woman explores DC and has ice
cream for the first time. This new interpretation of Wonder Woman carries a
sword at all times (on her belt, opposite her magic lasso) and also seems to be
extra-eager for combat. When Parademons explode over DC she is happy to engage
them in battle. Back at STAR Labs Dr. Stone reveals he already lost Vic’s mom,
he won’t lose Victor too even though the shrapnel in the youth is emitting
weird energy. In Metropolis, Bats, GL and Flash are holding their own, while
Superman is taking entire squadrons of the Parademon army down with ease. Back
at STAR Labs Dr. Stone gets his son in their safe room where the other sci-fi
tech gizmos are stored and performs emergency surgery with them to save his
son. As more demons pour into Metropolis, Wonder Woman arrives to give Superman
a hand. The heroes drive the demons back as Vic Stone comes online as Cyborg
and is somehow patched into whatever background noise/orders the Mother Boxes
are giving the demons. The demons erect a tower in the ocean (but within sight of
the Metropolis docks/shoreline), which causes Aquaman to arrive on the scene as
well.

Chapter 4 – Cyborg is in a lot of pain, and is trying to
come to terms with what his father did to save his life when the demons break
down the wall to the safe room causing Cyborg’s arm to reform into a laser gun
which vaporizes the demons. (His powers in general seem to be like the villain
in Terminator 3 here). With the threat
at STAR Labs defeated Cyborg runs off into the night feeling his father made
him into a monster. In Metropolis Aquaman meets all the heroes for the first
time, and tries to take the leadership role claiming his experience as King of
Atlantis. GL mocks Aquaman and his powers just as the Parademons mount a new
attack from the ocean and Aquaman has an army of sharks jump out of the ocean
and eat the entire Parademon army, except for one whom Aquaman kills with his
tridents thus shutting GL up. The military arrives and fires on the heroes but
Wonder Woman uses her bracelets to protect everyone. Cut to Cyborg who is
getting flashes of Apokolips in his head. He takes out a few demons and manages
to activate one of their Boom Tubes to teleport to the other heroes in
Metropolis. He warns them of what is coming but it is too late as Darkseid
arrives via Boom Tube.

Chapter 5 – Darkseid takes out the military fighter jets
with one shot of his Omega Beams. Flash and Superman get his attention so he
shoots Omega Beams at them. The beams actually split as the heroes do and keep
pace with their speeds. Flash is able to avoid the beams by getting them to hit
some Parademons but Superman is overtaken, knocked unconscious and kidnapped by
the Parademons into their ocean tower. As the next most powerful hero (and
rashest) GL tries to fight Darkseid one-on-one next. Darkseid keeps breaking
his constructs and eventually grabs GL and breaks his ring hand. To his credit
GL attempts to keep fighting but Batman talks him down by unmasking and telling
him his origin. Batman tells GL to come up with a team-based attack using the
combined superpowers at hand to keep Darkseid busy long enough for Bats to
sneak into the tower and free Superman. Once Bats gets there he realizes it is
going to be tougher than he thought since the inside of the tower is a portal
to Apokolips.

Chapter 6 – Darkseid is incinerating civilians until the JLA
hits him with everything at once. Wonder Woman tries to use her lasso to get
info on why Darkseid is here on Earth, to which he just says “For her,” and
before WW can get him to clarify he decks her. Back on Apokolips Batman finds
Dessad torturing Superman, presumably as part of some brain-washing process. On
Earth Darkseid tries his Omega Beams but her bracelets deflect them and she
counters by stabbing him in the eye with her sword. As he reels from that
Aquaman stabs him in his other eye with his trident. The heroes are dismayed to
see Darkseid is still standing. Cyborg decides to try overriding the Mother
Boxes again to Boom Tube Darkseid back to Apokolips. The Boom Tubes powering up
gets Dessad’s attention on Apokolips thus giving Batman an opportunity to free
Superman. Superman returns to fight Darkseid, but Darkseid proves stronger than
him. The heroes combine to push Darkseid back into the Boom Tube as Cyborg uses
it to teleport Darkseid and his army away. In the aftermath the humans of
Metropolis/the world love the heroes. They then get invited to meet with the
President, who publically embraces them for saving the world, assuming they are
a team. The JLA go along with it for the greater good of human/super-human
relations. They receive their name from a reporter during a second mission,
which we see only in passing press coverage as they fight with Starro
recreating the famous cover of the original first JLA story. Finally we get two
epilogues: first in London
shadowy figures discuss the arrival of superheroes in the world and embrace the
super villain moniker; second Pandora of Greek myth fights with Phantom
Stranger before blackmailing him into leaving her alone while announcing plans
to use the JLA to end her curse.
Critical Thoughts: Let’s
start with the positives, which is the art is absolutely jump off the page
amazing. This is Jim Lee at his very best; reminiscent of the stuff he and
Liefeld were doing when they hit it big in the 90s on the X-books. Every hero
gets a stunning pin-up when they arrive in the story for the first time. I
really like Wonder Woman’s new costume. As an Aquaman fan I have to say he has
never looked cooler, or in the scene where shark army jumps out of the water more
badass, than he does in this book. Furthermore the art works beyond the pin-up
cool to enhance the story. For example, in the first meeting between Batman and
Green Lantern the art visually reinforces that these are two different types of
heroes. The Superman debut fight is rendered (and written) in such a way to
make Superman and his power levels feel fresh and new, which is no easy feet
considering how well we all know Superman. It’s really one of the best fight
scenes I’ve seen in some time, especially once Flash arrives. The sequence
where Superman and Flash try to outrace the Omega Beams is also drawn to really
give a sense momentum and wonder to the action.

In terms of plot and story elements there is both good and
bad here. The dynamic of the heroes’ first meetings and reactions to each other
is handled very well. It’s also interesting to see the heroes of the DC
Universe not being trusted by the public and law enforcement. While I don’t
read as much DC as Marvel, I’ve never seen that before in their
universe—usually each hero has their fictional city they watch over like a
guardian angel and everyone there loves them for it. Of course by the end of
the story the heroes have turned the corner to that more beloved status quo, so
I guess it’s not something they’re going to explore any further.

I thought Green Lantern’s reaction to Batman’s lack of
powers was just great. GL’s portrayal in general is interesting, as he’s
arrogant and rash but we still get to see the determination that powers his
ring and makes him a hero when he fights Darkseid. There’s a funny moment where
he brushes up against Wonder Woman’s lasso and reveals he’s going to be the one
save day because he likes to impress people. All that said I didn’t really buy
the scene where Batman supposedly turns it around for GL to be more of a team
player by unmasking. I think it’s something done more to be dramatic for the
reader than the characters. By which I means as readers we know Batman’s secret
identity is important so seeing him unmask is a big deal. But within the logic
of the story it feels out of characters for Batman to unmask to someone he just
met. More importantly why should GL care, who Batman is? It’s not like they’ve
been fighting alongside each for years and suddenly Batman trusts him with this
big thing. It’s more like, “So uh yea my parents were killed by a mugger when I
was a kid so we better stop this alien invasion, kay?” I think there are easier
ways within the story’s own logic to get to “We need to work as a team for this
one” than jumping to Batman unmasking.

Among the other heroes, I can’t say I like the new Wonder
Woman interpretation. I seem to recall her classical interpretation being that
she’s the emissary of peace into Man’s World. Now she’s the exact opposite of
that as this blood thirsty battle seeking sword wielding demigod. Hell, even
though I didn’t read it, I know I read online that there was a DC event story a
few years ago where the big three’s relationship fractured because Wonder Woman
used a sword to kill Maxwell Lord when he possessed Superman. It sounds like
the whole point of that story was Wonder Woman went too far, and that even she
knew stabbing someone is a big deal with consequences; and yet now we’re going
to make it that she casually stabs people all the time.

Which leads to my next point, I found the scene with Wonder
Woman and Aquaman stabbing Darkseid in eyes far more viscous than I prefer a
mainstream superhero comic to be. Admittedly it is good strategy giving
Darkseid’s eyes are his power source, but I think A-list heroes who appeal to
kids should be presented as morally above such tactics. Actually the eye
stabbing scene is another way this book reminds me of a 90s comic, as I
remember when X-Force launched they had Shatterstar stabbing people in the eyes
to show how grim and gritty they were. Objectively I can see that both Wonder
Woman and Aquaman have roots in Greek myth where viscous things, including
blindings, befall people all the time. So yes, an artistic argument can be made
to portray those two characters in this way; however, I’m not sure personally
it’s what I want to see. I had decided if I liked these first three New 52
trades I probably sample Wonder Woman
and Batgirl next and this
interpretation makes me less likely to buy Wonder Woman’s solo title.

This brings up the next question I can see both sides too,
which is what is Cyborg doing in this book? You have DC’s six most important
well known A-list heroes and then this random C-lister better associated with
the Teen Titans hanging out with them. It doesn’t help that his origin scenes
are probably the least interesting parts of this trade. That said if you are
rebooting your entire universe for the 21st century I can absolutely
see and respect the need include an African-American hero in your A-list
flagship title that younger readers are most likely to read. When you throw in
that this relaunch is also meant to reach out to lapsed comic fans, Cyborg is
probably a better choice than most other African-American heroes to fill thus
role since he was part of the final season of Super Friends that also heavily featured Darkseid. (And this story
even manages to work the “Super Friends” name into the final chapter when the
President introduces the heroes to the public). Then again if the goal is to
make Cyborg an equal of these other heroes, why is he a teenager just getting
his power when everyone else on the team are fully power adults? As I
understand it the next trade jumps ahead five years so by then Cyborg should be
about 23 years-old and on more equal footing with his teammates, so hopefully
that criticism works itself out.

My final criticism, and it’s a big one, is the ending of the
Darkseid fight both makes very little sense and falls flat on a dramatic level.
On the doesn’t make sense front, Cyborg uses the Boom Tubes to teleport
Darkseid back home. So why can’t Darkseid return again, if not immediately then
certainly in a couple of days at most if he wanted to? Didn’t he build these
things to begin with? He can’t fix and repair them on Apokolips, which is
galaxies away from whatever signal Cyborg is generating. It seems the heroes
were not terribly effective against him physically so there’s does not seem to
be a logical reason he wouldn’t return fairly soon once he got tech support on
the phone to fix his Mother Box problem. Fanboy logic nitpicks aside, on
narrative level it’s not a satisfying solution to the fight either, which is a
much bigger problem when your climax doesn’t work. The heroes entire plan is
keep Darkseid busy so Batman can free Superman so that Superman can then kick
some ass, but when Superman is free we don’t get to see any ass-kicking and
after two chapters of working towards that goal, it’s a letdown that Supes
doesn’t get the big cut loose moment at the end.

Grade: The art is an A+; the story is a B-. Story means more
to me than art so let’s call it a B+.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade

Aquaman Time and Tide

By Peter David, Kirk
Jarvinen and Brad Vancata

Collects Aquaman Time
and Tide 1-4

 Why I Bought This: I’ve
mentioned before that Aquaman is my favorite of DC Heroes. I’m also a fan of
Peter David’s writing and many consider this to be the definitive take on
Aquaman.

 The Plot – It’s
an origin story covering Aquaman’s childhood, his entry into the world of super
heroics and his first meeting with Ocean Master.  Spoilers ahead.

Chapter 1 – The story is framed by Aquaman recalling in his
life for an Atlantean history book. A battle between Flash and Trickster causes
a disturbance in the sea leading to Aquaman’s involvement. This is his first
meeting with the surface world’s superhuman population. Flash convinces Aquaman
to visit Florida after Trickster’s defeat and he finds the hero worship
annoying.

Chapter 2 – Aquaman recalls being abandoned by his parents
at birth and being raised by dolphins before coming to terms with being a man.

Chapter 3 – As a young
man Aquaman saves an Eskimo girl from a polar bear, whom he soon begins his first
intimate relationship with. A jealous neighbor who will later become Ocean
Master stabs Aquaman’s girlfriend. As she hovers between life and death Aquaman
battles a mystical entity to save her life. He succeeds but her family believes
Aquaman has angered the gods in doing so and he never sees her again.

Chapter 4 – As the King of Atlantis, Aquaman and Mera celebrate
the birth of their son only for Ocean Master to interrupt the proceedings. He
is summarily humiliated by Aquaman but allowed to go free as Aquaman doesn’t
consider him a threat. He returns launching torpedoes at Atlantis, captures
Aquaman and gives his own origin. Aquaman is saved by Mera, but Ocean Master
escapes by killing the crew of his submarine. Recalling this story in the
present for his history book Aquaman realizes from something Ocean Master said
in his origin monologue that Ocean Master is actually his half-brother.

Critical Thoughts: As
someone whose primary familiarity with the DC characters is the Super Friends
and various movies and TV shows over the years, I liked this fine. It’s
certainly an accessible entrance into Aquaman’s origin made all the easier to
read thanks Peter David’s trademark humor: I particularly liked the way he
portrays Aquaman’s conversations with sharks, and in general I think having
Aquaman talk with the fish is a more interesting story-telling approach than
just having him telepathically command them. The second chapter with Aquaman’s
childhood among the fish was my favorite in the book.

I think the redefinition of Aquaman as completely outside human
civilization and the norms of the super hero fraternity is an interesting take on the character; as is the playing up of mystical elements that influence Atlantis.  I can also appreciate David’s ability to
change tone from humor to deadly serious with Ocean Master. Again not being
steeped in DC lore I don’t know if he was Aquaman’s brother before this story
but the realization by Aquaman at the end is a well done character moment. You
cans see David is clearly setting the table for his long-term interpretation of the
character, whom he would write for several years after this.

I also found the art to be quite good throughout in terms of
conveying the story David tells here. 

Grade: B. I won’t
pretend it’s an all-time great story; but it’s a sometimes funny, always
accessible story with a character I like for only a $10 cover price.  You can certainly do worse.

Waiting for the Trade – Aquaman

Waiting for the Trade
By Bill Miller
Aquaman Sword of Atlantis: Once and Future
by Kurt Busiek and Butch Guice
Collects Aquaman Sword of Atlantis 40-45.
Why I bought this: I don’t recall whether I was looking up Aquaman or Kurt Busiek when I came across this—either is equally probable as Aquaman is my favorite of DC’s top tier heroes but I own little of his stuff as I own little DC relatively speaking; while Busiek is in my view the finest Avengers writer ever and thus I’d like to read more of his stuff. Regardless when I discovered there was an Aquaman series written by Busiek my interest was piqued. That it has a name straight out pulp serials like “Sword of Atlantis” attached to it only intrigued me more. And once I saw the name of the first volume was an Arthurian reference I knew had to own it as there a few things in the world that fascinate me more than Arthurian literature. A quick trip to Amazon later and it was mine.
The Plot: So apparently after another of DC’s aptly named Infinite Crises they yet again restarted their continuity-timeline. God only knows which one or why, I stopped keeping track after Zero Hour. But from the standpoint of a trade like this it actually makes things easier since hey it’s a whole new beginning so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what came before. Anyway spoilers ahead.
Chapter 1 – A storm destroys what looks to be an oil-drilling platform knocking someone who looks an awful lot like Aquaman into the ocean, where he can breathe and is contacted telepathically by a mysterious voice. The voice leads him to a battle between King Shark (a humanoid shark, I’ve actually seen this character before as he was a villain in Superboy’s book post Reign of the Supermen) and a group of green-skinned Creature from the Black Lagoon-looking people called the Aurati. The voice directs our hero to aid King Shark and he does so and together the follow the voice to a squid-headed dude who looks like the villain in Pirates of the Caribbean 2. Squid-head dresses the young hero in Aquaman’s garb and tells him that is who he is. nu-Aquaman, whose name is Arthur Joseph Curry (traditional Aquaman’s name is Arthur Orin Curry and that is brought up), gives his version of his origin: that he was born premature on a sea lab away from medical help so his dad injected with an experimental drug that enabled him to breath underwater but now he can’t breathe air for more than an hour and has lived his life in an aquarium tank on the sea lab (called Avalon Cay) until the storm knocked him into the ocean. Squid-beard (who comes to be known as the Dweller or Depths so lets call him that from now on) gives a prophecy that gives us the traditional Aquaman origin including his marriage to Mera and death of his son at the hands of his brother Ocean Master until ultimately making a deal with dark-powers to save his people that will leave him transformed. Arthur doesn’t believe that he’s Aquaman and swims off, while King Shark notes most of the Dweller’s prophecy already happened years ago. Dweller finds the differences between this Arthur and traditional Aquaman odd; and as he muses on how well he remembers what he prophesized we get a close up on his hand which is made of water—which is meant to signal that the Dweller himself is the original Aquaman.
 (Don’t ask me why he has a water hand other than I know Peter David had Aquaman lose a hand and replace it with a harpoon in the early 90s, so at some point he replaced the harpoon with magic water I assume).
Chapter 2 – We begin with Arthur on the losing end of a sword fight with a green-skinned warrior (not an Aurati) as narration tells us three days have passed since chapter 1. We then flashback to Arthur and King Shark searching the sea lab wreckage for survivors and finding none, although Arthur’s father is not among the bodies they find. King Shark decides to go his own way, while Dweller agrees to accompany Arthur to Maine where he hopes his uncle will have heard from the missing father. Enroute they meet one of Mera’s warriors who requests their assistance in dealing with the Aurati. Dweller agrees for Arthur but when he learns Mera is there he bails so she doesn’t see him. Mera is looking over Atlantean refugees as Atlantis was destroyed in the latest Crisis crossover, and could use assistance although she questions why Arthur is dressed as her ex-husband. This leads to him offending one of her warriors and a challenge of honor and thus we return to the swordfight that opened the chapter. Arthur loses a lot before pulling the Hulk Hogan comeback and is debating whether to strike the killing blow when King Shark returns.
Chapter 3 – King Shark takes Arthur to a dive bar where he flashes around some gold Mera gave him to pay for drinks. This leads to some disreputable types trying to rob him and we get a demonstration of Arthur’s level of super-strength in a rather one-sided fight. King Shark and Arthur have a heart to heart about their upbringings, and we learn King Shark is the son of the God of Sharks. Arthur feels a buzzing in his head, which leads him and Shark to Windward Home: another sea lab of scientists with an adventure team (The Sea Devils) who I gather were supporting characters in prior Aquaman stories. They explain they were trying to summon Aquaman via mystic-telepathy (hence Arthur’s buzzing) because the ghost of Vulko (royal advisor to the king of Atlantis) is now residing on their lab.
Chapter 4 – Arthur and Vulko compare notes on Aquaman with Arthur saying he only knew him from the 60s cartoon show (which I own on DVD and is quite fun btw) and was never impressed with Aquaman compared to the other Justice Leaguers as Arthur has all of Aquaman’s powers except talking to fish which he doesn’t care to do. Anyway Vulko is a ghost now because of something Spectre did in whatever Crisis reset this reality and after comparing notes with Arthur, Vulko wants to meet the Dweller to discuss his prophecy. Meanwhile the sea lab people get word that Arthur’s father is indeed dead, it just took awhile to identify the body because of sharks; however they also note a lot of high-level types seem to be interested in what happened to Avalon Cay. Arthur is mourning his dad with King Shark and Vulko attempting to comfort him when Arthur receives a massive telepathic summons from the Dweller that Mera and her refugees are under attack by the Aurati.
Chapter 5 – Arthur, King Shark and the Sea Devils race to the rescue. They meet up with the Dweller and capture an Aurati scout, learning from him the Aurati are being forced to participate in these raids by surface men in armored dive suits who have taken their women and children hostage. The villains also have a female humanoid shark-crocodile hybrid working for them, who King Shark finds attractive. They sneak into the villain’s fort and rescue Mera and her guards. Despite the squid-face she recognizes the Dweller as her ex-husband. Then as they begin to mount their attack they discover the head villain is Ocean Master. Dweller warns Arthur not engage but he ignores him and is quickly out-fought by Ocean Master and stabbed in the stomach.
Chapter 6 – Ocean Master guts Arthur. Mera uses her full-power (she can create “hard water”– in this case she makes an explosive force field type effect) to allow the heroes to escape. Dweller uses his full mystic powers to heal Arthur, and in the process fully reveals himself (he’s been wearing Merlin-Obi Wan type robes all story) and we see half his body is made of water. Meanwhile the heroes’ army is losing badly to the villains’ army so Arthur comes up with a plan to lead the villains into a trench where the Sea Devils can blow it up and collapse it on them. However Ocean Master takes out the Sea Devil with the detonator. All seems to be lost when the trench collapses anyway and we learn from witnesses a pod of whales aided the heroes. It is implied Arthur summoned them and not Aquaman/Dweller whose powers were drained from the healing. Mera vows to investigate mystic sources as to whether Dweller’s condition of being half-water is potentially fatal (since it used to be just his hand was water and it’s spreading) and/or reversible. Dweller meanwhile knights Arthur and dubs him the new Aquaman. Finally we get a pair of reveals as the trade ends. First we see a flashback of why King Shark came back to Arthur’s side when he left in chapter 2; and it is because the God of Sharks senses Arthur has a great destiny and wants King Shark to stay close until the right moment when he will be tasked to kill him. Then we see Arthur’s father is alive and being held prisoner by a shadowy evil corporation.
Critical Thoughts: I liked this a lot. I can see how someone who is a longtime Aquaman fan could hate this story since it’s a new character barely out of his teens parading as Aquaman, while the original is both horribly mutated and mentally confused about his memories/identity. But taken in a vacuum its an interesting story, and clearly did no long-term damage to the character since DC reset their continuity again in the new 52 and while I haven’t read it yet I’m fairly the sure the original Aquaman is back to his status quo in that reality. For my first Aquaman trade (though in the 90s I did read some of the Peter David run plus I of course know from the various animated series over the years) it’s good jumping on point to his world and the different supporting characters in it as we see them all through Arthur’s fresh eyes.
The art is for the most part quite good. It doesn’t have that “wow” pin-up flare of a Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld, but it conveys the mood and action of the story well and that’s the primary job of comic art. Many of the underwater scenes have an interesting look to them, which again helps with the mood of the story since the whole underwater world is new to Arthur. When splash pages are used such as Arthur donning the Aquaman costume or King Shark’s father appearing they have the desired dramatic effect.
I enjoyed the parallels to Camelot with Arthur as King Arthur, and Aquaman/Dweller as Merlin. They’re not overdone (well the Avalon Cay name is a little obvious): meaning it’s not just a retelling of Arthurian myth underwater, which admittedly would still be kind of cool but other than the change of scene what would be the point? Instead the parallels are there, so that if you know Arthurian myth it provides a secondary level to enjoy the story on and it gives Arthur’s journey of self-discovery a more mythic quality that it probably wouldn’t have on its own. Busiek is clearly a big fan of the Arthurian legend as his very first Avengers story had them face Morgan Le Fay and travel to a Camelot-style alternate reality, while his first Aquaman tale is this story (and I keep being tempted by a Superman trade entitled “Camelot Falls” at my local comic store by him too).
My one criticism is the scene where Arthur mocks the 60s cartoon show/Aquaman’s powers to Vulko. I get there is this whole Comedy Central inspired riff on Aquaman having lame powers currently out there in pop culture; but if you’re reading an Aquaman comic you probably don’t feel that way about the character so why incorporate that into the story? Because it comes off as DC telling the reader they’re wasting their time and money reading books about this character. I like Aquaman best of DC’s heroes precisely because his powers and setting are so different than any other character. There are scores of characters in comics who can fly and throw cars, or shoot laser beams, or stop bank robberies. There’s only one who talks to fish and maybe it’s because I live within walking distance of the ocean but I think Aquaman’s power would be damn interesting to have in real life: more-so than 99-percent of the other comic characters out there. And from a potential plot perspective how many heroes can breathe underwater? Marvel has Namor, Sting Ray and Triton (who are B, C and D-list respectively) and DC has Aquaman’s supporting cast (like Aqualad). Thus Aquaman is the only A-list character who has the ocean to play with–which means he has a whole unique setting for stories that a good writer can exploit and tell creative stories that literally can’t be told with any other character. And his ability to talk to fish means you can occasionally allow some truly unique narration (as Peter David proved in his run) that even Aquaman’s undersea contemporaries like Namor will never offer. Throw in that you can use his ties to Atlantis to explore larger mythic themes or his link to the ocean to tell environmentally conscious stories and I just don’t see the need to belittle the protagonist when he has such a variety of unique story potential.
Grade: A-. Busiek is one of the finest writers in comics and he shows it again here. While this isn’t an Aquaman story in the traditional sense, when you have a character with a 70-year history it’s okay to break up the status quo once in awhile. Sure, Arthur’s tale does not vary too far from the usual heroic coming of age story, but it is written in an engaging way with a colorful supporting cast—King Shark in particular comes across as a much more nuanced character than the one I remember in Superboy. I’d be happy to read more of this run to see King Shark’s eventual heel turn on Arthur but alas it seems DC never printed any follow-up trades to this.