Each weekday, Tim will take a look at what we know about each of the upcoming 52 new comics from the September DC relaunch, one series at a time. Today: AQUAMAN!
The Concept and Characters: Everyone knows Aquaman. He’s the blonde guy from the Super Friends. He was part of a long-running joke in Entourage. He’s starred in his own failed pilot for the WB.
Part of me thinks that this whole DC relaunch is a way to scale up the kind of process Geoff Johns is using to make Aquaman matter. Because it’s like this: though Aquaman is a founding member of the Justice League, and one of the DC characters the general public has the most knowledge about (after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and maybe Green Lantern or the Flash), he’s also the character most likely to be used as a punchline. The guy swims around and talks to fish. That doesn’t lend itself to superhero machismo.
And then there’s the fact that his DC Universe continuity is crazy convoluted, with deaths and reincarnations and missing hands and magic powers and maybe he’s an underwater King Arthur, but no that was another version, and the real guy was brought back as a zombie Black Lantern and then he was, well, his back story is not the kind of thing that could easily fit in one or two sentences. His high-concept is weak, and his history is a mess.
What Geoff Johns has been doing with Aquaman over the past few years, even if he’s never actually written a series called “Aquaman” until this September, is to reconceptualize the character within the confines of DC continuity and begin to brand him as more of a heroic leading man. From Brightest Day (in which the resurrected sea king and his wife acted as a kind of dynamic duo of rugged heroism) to Flashpoint (in which an alternate reality Aquaman is a monster of military aggression), Johns has worked to show: hey, Aquaman is cool. And tough as hell.
Now, with the freedom of a relaunch, Johns doesn’t have to make sense out of Aquaman’s convulted past from previous DC comics. He can just focus on telling action-packed, probably epic stories about a character who is an undersea badass. We haven’t heard much about what this series will entail, but based on Johns’s recent approaches to the character, and what we’ve seen from his previous work, this series looks to be something like an aquatic Greek adventure tale. Think Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy, but combining Agamemnon and Achilles into the same character, and giving him an undersea kingdom to command. That’s merely my read on what Johns seems to be going for here, but don’t be surprised to see a kind of Hollywood ancient-epic feel to this series. Maybe with some underwater horror thrown in.
The Creative Team: Writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis are the same creative team behind Blackest Night and the Aquaman bits of Brightest Day, and they are both superstars in the comic book industry. Reis combines a post-Neal Adams classicism with contemporary reader-friendly superhero storytelling. Johns has successfully rebranded the Green Lantern franchise already and has become such an influential component of the storytelling engine at DC that he’s now a top executive with the company. His writing style is plot-heavy but emotionally charged. It’s the kind of thing that can reach a new audience with its simplicity and clarity, and sometimes makes critics cringe because it’s so unsubtle. I find his work consistently compelling, though, and appreciate the Romantic (in the literary sense) grandeur of his superhero spectacles.
If anyone can make Aquaman commercial, and widely-read, it’s these two guys.
Recommendation: Buy it. Justice League may be the DC relaunch title targeted most directly at new readers, but Aquaman has a better artist and seems poised to hit the ground running. Or hit the water swimming. Or whatever it is that Johns and Reis have planned. I expect that this series will be straightforward superheroics done exceedingly well.
Tim Callahan writes about comics for Tor.com, Comic Book Resources, Back Issue magazine, and his own Geniusboy Firemelon blog.