Monday, 27 January 2014

Aquaman Vol. 1: The Trench (The New 52)

Anger, monsters and BUBBLES!!!
Aquaman Vol.1: The Trench (The New 52)

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artists: Ivan Reis and Joe Prado.

Collecting Aquaman #1-6

Background Information:

If you’ve watched Robot Chicken or Family Guy, you’re probably a little bit familiar with Aquaman. For years he’s been the unwanted middle child of the DC universe. So far as most of us knew about the sea king, his abilities began and ended at talking to fish; which is great for the The Little Mermaid, not so much for a guy who’s supposed to be an A-list superhero.

Okay, so he does have other abilities, all of which spring from his upbringing; the son of a suface-dweller and the queen of Atlantis, Arthur Curry possess psychic control of marine life the ability to breathe underwater and superhuman strength.

But for some reason, this guy has never been popular. This is mostly because there’s been a lot of assumptions made about him; he’s probably a sea-locked character, and talking to fish is probably a useless power.


In my mind, people drew straws to find out who was going to bring Aquaman into the New 52 universe. I can’t picture anyone actually wanting to take on the least-loved member of the Justice League. If that was the case, then it’s lucky that the short straw was pulled by Geoff Johns. Geoff Johns is a master at reviving characters and making them suddenly relevant – it’s why we now have five different titles set around the Green Lantern family (and for those wondering, I’m including Larfleeze) – and it’s a mastery that he brings out again for Aquaman, giving readers all the reasons why the king of the sea is still alive and kicking, as well as some reasons to give the character the respect he deserves.

And respect ends up being a major theme of The Trench. See, in the New 52, Aquaman spends most of his time on land amongst people who must have seen that one episode of Big Bang Theory where the group decided to cosplay as the Justice League, because nobody- and I mean nobody- takes him seriously. When Aquaman stops a robbery by flipping an armoured car over his head, the cops are shocked that Aquaman’s so far away from water. When he eats fish and chips for lunch, he is harassed by a punk blogger. When he stops monsters from attacking, he’s patted on the back and commended on his “good effort”. It’s amusing to see so much of real-world prejudice reflected in Johns’ writing.

But it’s not the humour of this public perception that is so ingenious about The Trench. Rather, it’s the message that Johns is trying to convey. The jabs at Aquaman aren’t just fun jokes. More often than not, it’s Johns saying “I know what you think about this guy. I know what you think you know about this guy, but give him a chance- I guarantee he’s better than you give him credit for.”

By the end of the book, you may still find yourself not crazy about Aquaman, and that’s okay. Johns even recognises this towards the end of the first story arc, when an onlooking cop remarks “I still don’t like him.”

As great as this public perception of Aquaman is, it’s almost an afterthought when compared with Johns’ reworking of the Aquaman character. Aquaman has plenty of emotional depth along with a supporting cast to let that depth shine. He’s got a very relatable personality and has to make some very difficult decisions throughout the book. It’s Aquaman’s ability to relate to the reader that reminds us just what a master storyteller Geoff Johns is.

Johns resists the urge to bring in the more prolific Aqua-villains at this stage, instead giving us a group of monsters from an area known as The Trench. This was a smart move, as not giving us a “main” bad guy allows for Johns to establish the status quo of the book before letting characters like Ocean Master of Black Manta loose on the world. The creatures are still fun, however- they’re fierce, freaky-looking, and interesting enough to keep the story going.

The artwork by Reis and Prado is fantastic. Reis does an amazing job at conveying Aquaman’s emotions and as a result, you normally don’t need any text to communicate what he’s feeling. The designs here are great. Aquaman looks much better than his Justice League design (the necklace is gone, as is the Wolverine facial hair), his wife,  Mera, looks equally dangerous and regal, and the Trench creatures look as scary and alien-like as they are meant to.

My on complaint about The Trench  is that for all it’s great world-building and status-quo-establishing the actual plot is fairly thin. Aquaman doesn’t seem all that challenged by the Trench and not much happens outside of that storyline. The final two issues are a fairly interesting look at Aquaman in the desert and Mera when on her own, but they feel tacked on to a story with very little suspense in it.

Long story short, though is that Aquaman is relevant again. Geoff Johns brings the character back to its former glory and makes it clear that the king of the sea should be considered a major player in DCs new universe. It gets a four and a half out of five robot chickens.

**** ½

+ Status-quo is interesting and entertaining.

+Artwork is brilliant.

+Aquaman is finally relevant.

-The story is sorta thin.

Alternate Option: Green Lantern: Sinestro

More work by Geoff Johns, because... Geoff Johns.

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