THE COMIC COMPENDIUM #49: Aquaman: The Trench (2012)

Ed speaks up for the “uncoolest” superhero of them all in Geoff Johns’ recent revamp. 

Who made it?: Geoff Johns (Writer), Ivan Reis (Artist), DC Comics.

Who’s in it?: Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Mera.

Original run: Aquaman #1-6 (Vol. 7).

Released: September 2012.

With this being the NEW 52, everything you think you know about Aquaman is wrong, and in his much-maligned case, this can only be a good thing. Someone had to not just reinvent him as a serious hero but undo the utterly convoluted history that’s appeared in the last ten years. After being a fairly serious and well-perceived warrior king in the nineties, some idiot decided what the Aquaman series really needed was more magic. Wow. It’s like saying that after fifty years of being a technologist, Iron Man should become a fashion designer. Does that example make any sense? No? Good, then the metaphor worked.

Even if your knowledge about things defined as “geeky” or “nerdy” derive entirely from cookie-cutter shows like the The Big Bang Theory, then you’ll be aware that Aquaman has never really been perceived as one of DC’s greatest heroes. This is despite being a founding member of the Justice League and the rightful ruler of Atlantis, and by extension, about seventy percent of the Earth’s surface. This is because people are under the impression that his powers are a little bit useless on dry land. I mean, talking to fish is no good if you’re in the middle of a desert, right? While this is true, surely being able to jump large distances, having super-strength and a degree of invulnerability doesn’t hurt either.

In fact, substitute his telepathy for eye beams and you’ve got yourself an original Superman! I’ve always thought that this disbelief in his fish-telepathy is a completely arrogant perception by people who believe that the world revolves around humanity and the thirty percent of the planet above water. Just because over half of it isn’t visible doesn’t make it any less important. This should come as no surprise but Aquaman isn’t fully human, but is half-Atlantean as his mother heralds from Atlantis, the mythical underwater city that holds a civilisation smaller but more advanced than our own. Is it really worth ignoring this race of people just because you refuse to believe in their existence despite the evidence against them? Would it not be worth getting off your high-horse and setting up diplomatic relations with them to avert any future crises? For one, how can people disbelieve in intelligent life under the sea seeing as the evidence points to that being where humanity originally came from?! Ah, right, yeah. That might explain it actually…

Writer Geoff Johns starts, as with the other major characters, five years after Aquaman’s original appearance and we discover that he’s now living in a lighthouse with his partner, Mera. His previous poor reputation is referenced by the local authorities and citizens who are uncertain about what to make of their local hero. Metropolis is proud of Superman, Gotham is in fear of Batman, but Amnesty Bay is merely puzzled by their protector. The tone is set by a conversation in a local sea-food restaurant where everyone seems puzzled when he orders fish and chips. Why is this weird? Surely it’s weirder to eat what you’re made of, such as meat, rather than because you merely “communicate” with a certain species, but then again, humans perceive anything they’re unable to truly comprehend as weird, so what can you do?

This “outsider” perception is also shown by a scene with Mera trying to adapt herself to life on land by going shopping. She ends up discovering more about humanity even if she comes away with very conflicting and uncertain views. We also have a scene where Aquaman attempts to help the U.S. Army against a group of Atlanteans which ends up with his contribution white-washed by the media for the sake of an attention-grabbing headline. I’d honestly have no sympathy for humanity if Arthur decided to let them all die and leave due to pulling that sort of crap. Yet when the nearby town gets attacked, Aquaman and Mera still do their utmost to help the town purely because it’s the right thing to do rather than to gain acceptance. It even gets to the point where the local law enforcement go out of their way to endanger the town purely because they don’t wish to believe anything the duo say. Yet it’s not just humans and Atlanteans that have the monopoly on perceived intelligence when a previously unknown species appears, causing the deaths and disappearances of several members from the local community. Why are they attacking, how are they related to Atlantis, and how can Aquaman help save Aquadog?

With the NEW 52, Johns appears to be burning the candle at both ends what with being DC’s Chief Creative Officer (still not entirely sure what that means), as well as the main writer of Justice League, Justice League of America and Green Lantern as well as Aquaman. Although I’ve only read the latter and Justice League, I can say with some certainty that he appears to work well under pressure. This title is an entirely enjoyable read, perfectly circumnavigating the need for an origin tale through the use of ongoing flashbacks that slowly educate us about his past in a way that feels completely natural. He also doesn’t appear to be shoehorning all of Aquaman’s past history into these first few issues a la Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, letting this fresh start be exactly that. Ivan Reis’ artwork is always beautiful to look at, something that hasn’t changed here despite having designed some ugly-ass monsters for Aquaman to fight. That he and Geoff obviously put some thought into the enemy designs, meaning that their creation takes into account how they live and react to certain stimuli, is a complete credit to their dedication.

Reading Aquaman just makes me realise what dicks we humans are. Part of me hopes that convincing people of that was Johns’ intention, but the rest of me just believes that it’s always been an undeniable feature of humanity. His re-invention causes you to feel real sympathy for this human/Atlantean hybrid and his quest, as out of all the characters in these first few issues, he is proven to be the best of mankind. I’d been looking forward to reading Aquaman ever since I read his portrayal in Justice League, and I’m pleased that, unlike the duo’s work on Blackest Night, it hasn’t caused me any disappointment. Oh, and I’m serious about there being an Aquadog…

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)

  • Created by Paul Norris and Mort Weisinger, the character debuted in More Fun Comics #73 (November 1941). Initially a backup feature in DC’s anthology titles, Aquaman later starred in several volumes of a solo title.
  • Arthur Joseph Curry is the second DC Comics superhero to be known as Aquaman. Created by Kurt Busiek and Jackson Guice, he first appeared in Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #40 (May 2006).

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