By Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
The latest Aquaman revival is at its fourth issue, the conclusion to the opening storyline: The Trench. The man who relit the Green Lantern, gave Hawkman his wings back and brought the Flash up to speed, Geoff Johns, has finally taken a hand at the King of the Seven Seas and… I’m still not sure what to make of it.
Aquaman is a solid book that features astounding artwork from Ivan Reis (whom I have enjoyed on his various DCU projects over the years), but the script still feels like it is lacking something and that may be depth (if you’ll pardon the pun). The tricky thing with Aquaman is that there really is not much to the core character. He swims, he talks to fish and that’s about it. Subsequent attempts to add some edge to the character by pairing him with a mermaid-ish wife from another dimension, giving him a son then killing him, taking his hand, bringing back his hand in numerous forms, growing his hair/cutting his hair… have really made it plain that DC Editorial has no clue what to do with this character which is bizarre since he is so embedded in the public consciousness and recognized even by people unfamiliar with comic books.
When I heard of the New 52 project and that Aquaman was going to fall under Johns’ watch I was gearing myself up for a revamp or retooling a la the Rebirth comics he had written for both Green Lantern and the Flash. However, in this case, we are seeing a different, more subtle approach that has the character define himself by his actions through an adventure story rather than the story wrap itself around his origin. It’s an inspired decision but leaves me wondering if this is really the best idea as Aquaman is in such dire need of a revival.
The first storyline is a quirky one that involves Aquaman and his wife Mera attempting to live a ‘normal life’ away from Atlantis among humans. Aquaman had only just recently returned from the dead in the amazing maxi-series Brightest Day and deserves some time to find himself, especially given his track record with his underwater kingdom (at one point they chained him to a rock in the sun and left him to die). Through the reactions of the locals, we see that Aquaman is not regarded as a ‘heavy hitter’ by any stretch of the imagination and he handles the lack of respect with a stiff upper lip without looking brooding or intense.
The seaside town comes under attack from an ancient race of carnivorous beasts and only Aquaman and Mera stand a chance of stopping them. They discover a vast civilization under the waves that has become awakened (much like Godzilla) from a long hibernation and are seeking food for their queen. The ‘food’ in this case, consists of people preserved in gelatinous sacks on the cave walls. Unfortunately, the queen’s brood are mainly stillborn and the cave is littered with dead infants (pleasant, huh?) that are in turn eaten by the adults (thank you, DC Comics).
Understandably disturbed, Aquaman nevertheless feels compassion for the creatures and wants to aid them but in the end cannot help but damn them to a death under the sea, trapping them within an underwater volcanic eruption. Once more on the surface, Aquaman is accepted into the town as he and Mera take up residence in Aquaman’s father’s lighthouse. The closing scene where they are united with the stray dog was touching and showed simply that this is the beginning of a new life for the sea-faring superhero.
It’s not quite up to the quality of his previous work and the cannibalistic monster things were incredibly horrific (why do most DC Comics feature these nightmarish visuals???), but it’s a good start and I hope that the creative team stick to it as the series gains more momentum.
By Mark Waid, Paolo and Joe Rivera
Across the street, Mark Waid is showing how to reboot a hero without killing him or starting him over from the beginning in Daredevil. Sure, the previous series saw DD transform into a massive demonic creature that led an army of ninjas… but Waid was not faced with a solid reboot when he arrived to bring the magic back to the Man Without Fear.
Stripping away the grim drama and intensity from Daredevil may strike most readers are an impossible task that would remove the title’s core qualities but it has resulted in one of the most acclaimed superhero books on the stands and for good reason. Back to practicing law, Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson attempt to shake the curse of Daredevil and rather than enter the courts and be mocked instead advise their clients to represent themselves. Openly denying that he is the man without fear, Murdock lives a somewhat normal life with the occasional supervillain battle. A writer without parallel, Waid’s work on Daredevil has shown that if the stories are solid and the art good, the book will make it. In the case of DD, the art has been nothing short of jaw-dropping, joining the ranks of series like Batwoman and the Flash as breath-takingly gorgeous.
The latest issue feels very much like a television program and operates as a stand-alone story. Murdock is leading a class of blind ‘trouble’ students from a private school on a trip to the Catskills. On the busride back, they encounter a snowstorm and the bus turns over, stranding the kids and Murdock in the wild all alone. Even with his radar gift, Murdock is almost as blind as the children due to the heavy snow blocking his second sight but he is determined to save and protect the children. Pulling them along with his billy-club’s extended cord, he leads them through the hip-deep snow drifts to safety… and then things get worse.
DD #7 is a fantastic issue that serves as a guide for anyone interested in telling a compelling story in the comic book medium. The characters are solid, the action well told and the drama strong. Not a single punch is thrown, there’s no sign of a super villain and no one dies only to return an issue later. It’s just a great comic.
The Flash #4
By Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
I have a lot of respect for Francis Manapul. His work on the Flash with Geoff Johns was very good and reminded me of the secret formula that makes the Flash such a great read; an inventive story and spell-binding artwork. Previous artists such as Scot Kolins, Howard Porter and Alfredo Dos have taken the baton left by Carmine Infantino and run with it, filling the pages with that weird rippling line and lightning bolt combo that is the character’s trademark.
The modern revised Flash is a new character in many ways, while he retains the qualities of Barry Allen; a clumsy bachelor with an inventive mind and a heart of gold. The new series sees Allen in the early days of his speedster career, still finding new ways to tap into that mysterious ‘speed force.’ The issues to date have seen him vibrate an airliner through a bridge and out-think his enemies.
Despite my praise, this opening storyline ‘Mob Rule’ feels like it is dragging on for far too long. There have been some very clever ideas, but much of the plot involves a new character who requires so much development that this issue is almost entirely about him!
While Barry Allen lies dead (apparently) from a point blank gunshot wound, we are finally told the origin of Mob Rule and his relationship to Barry Allen. It’s a good story and well told… I just have a hard time ignoring the fact that the star of the book was only in the last few pages!
Honestly, Manapul kind of wrote himself into a corner here as so much of the story was unclear that an entire issue needed to be set aside for exposition. However, he’s a very talented artist and his layouts and design make the experience a stunning one. Images drip and branch from panel to panel, sometimes with characters literally leaping from the confines of one moment to the next.
When it comes time for best series to come along or best break-out talent, Francis Manapul deserves some consideration. He has made the Flash comic into a must read series by pouring all of his talent into every issue.