Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Comic shop comics: September 28

Aquaman #1 (DC Comics) Geoff Johns on Aquaman has long seemed like a no-brainer to me. The writer has shown a particular faculty for getting over older, less-loved versions of DC’s Silver Age stalwarts, from his Flash run to his Hawkman run and, especially his five years-and-counting run on Green Lantern, which made the former C-List character into a Batman-level success.

Having him Geoff Johnsify Aquaman or Wonder Woman seemed an obvious move, and, in fact, he did already work for quite a while on rehabilitating the former—along with Martian Manhunter, and newer old characters like Firestorm and Hawk and Dove—in the year-long Brightest Day series.

And, of course, at this point in his career, Johns has not only the faculty for resurrecting less-popular characters, but he has the cred to do so effectively, and spending it on an unsure thing is the sort of thing you see far too rarely at the Big Two (For example, Brian Michael Bendis did commit himself to a Moon Knight series recently, but it’s not like he’s quitting his multiple Avengers books to work on The Defenders for Marvel; Grant Morrison is still sticking with DC’s World’s Finest characters, instead of a new Animal Man or Doom Patrol or Aztek sort of characters).

Teaming with his Blackest Night and Brightest Day collaborator Ivan Reis on an Aquaman book then seemed like as sure a thing as a publisher like DC could hope to have these days. Of course, since Aquaman #1 isn’t building on the momentum of those two hit series, but starting fresh as part of “The New 52” DCU, it’s more of a gamble than the slamdunk itwould have otherwise been.

I’m sure it will pay off. Like the vast majority of the new line, this is a book that DC should be fairly happy with if they manage to sell three or four consecutive issues with sales over 30,000 units. That would be sensational for an Aquaman comic these days, after all, and by initial orders, Aquaman is already a huge success by 21st century Aquman standards.

So what’s Johns’ strategy for rehabilitating Aquaman? He seems to be going about it in two distinct ways.

First, he’s made the character a lot more powerful. Aquaman is now essentially Golden Age Superman. He travels by jumping, leaping over tall buildings. He catches and lifts a speeding armored car over his head. He’s not just tough, but bulletproof now, able to withstand a machine gun blast to the head without suffering anything more than a minor cut.

Second, Johns is making Aquaman’s traditional, real world pereception as the least cool of the Superfriends part of the Aquaman comic itself.

Personally, I’m not so sure I like this Aquman being at once so steel-skinned he shrugs off automatic weapon fire, but so thin-skinned that he takes offense at the jokes of powerless surface-dwelling civilians.

When a police officer asks him if he needs a glass of water or something, Aquman gives them a funny look and then bounds away. When a diner tells him he can’t eat fish because he talks to them, Aquman responds “I DON’T talk to fish,” and looks like the dude just accused him of fucking fish. And when a blogger asks him how it feels to be “nobody’s favorite super-hero?”, our hero silently threatens him with his razor sharp trident:(Come on Most Popular and Successful Writers In Super-Comics, why all the blogger hate lately…?)

On the subject of talking to fish and Johns’ changing of Aquaman’s powers, here’s how Aquman explains it to some fat guy with a weird beard eating lobster: “Fish don’t talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation…I reach into their midbrains and telepathically push them to help me out. Squids, sharks, eels, it’s all the same. Though dolphins are another story.”

I found this amusing because just yesterday Tom Spurgeon wrote the following in response to news that Aquaman was 70 years old:
I still find it fascinating that this guy talks to fish. I know how to swim and how to punch people I don't like and I've worn at least one bright orange shirt in my lifetime; I've never, ever talked to a fish, let alone had one talk back to me. You can keep your harpoon hands, palace machinations and sunken San Diegos: I'd read hundreds of pages of straight-up conversations with sea creatures and pay for the opportunity to do so.
Johns has gotten rid of the one aspect likely to enctice Spurgeon! It was also an interesting change because it’s the exact opposite of the take Peter David had on that particular power, during the last time there was an extended, easy to understand, relatively high-quality Aquaman book.

David had Aquaman clarify that Aquaman didn’t command the fish, he simply asked them to help him, and they usually did if they wanted to and/or could. His Aquaman could commuicate with sea life, not simply command it.

Johns went in the opposite direction. Which, at the very least, makes it seem okay for Aquaman to eat fish now. There was a scene during David’s run where Aquman plunged his trident hand down and revealed a bunch of shrimp shish kebab-ed upon it which he proceeded to eat which just seemed…barbaric to me. I don’t eat any animals, so the consumption of meat in general seems barbaric to me personally, but if you could actually hear the animals screaming and maybe pleading with you “My king, my king, why have you killed us?”….Ugh. I always assumed an Aquaman who can talk to fish had to be on an all-seaweed diet.

Okay, well that’s on intersing aspect of the power tweak. The other is that it seems like just one more overly-sensitive revision, like making sure Superman and Batman didn’t wear underwear outside of their pants anymore. There’s an insecure, somewhat juvenile aspect to trying to “correct” anything that someone who doesn’t read comics might conceivably joke about, as if Johns and his fellow fans-turned-creators-turned-creator/executives internalized the scoffing they heard kids at school 25 years ago level at DC’s iconic heroes, and resolved to answer those scoffs when they finally had the power to do so.

Other changes? Well, Atlantis seems to be unkown as a world power now (Booo! What about JLA arc “World War III”…?! That was the best….!!), and the continued existence of the much ballyhooed new Aqualad character so recently introduced in Brightest Day is unknown. Mera is the only supporting character who appears, and the pair have their history with one another somewhat in tact, but it will remain to be seen what else has changed, if anything.

Reis’ art, inked by Joe Prado, is better than ever, although I found Rod Reis’ coloring a little over-powering for my personal tastes. There are just too many lighting effects, which tend to come between my eyes and the linework, and, when I’m reading comics, I’m more interested in the lines that form the images than how effectively computer technology allows color artists to replicate the light of a sunset or noonday sun on Aquaman’s metallic orange shirt.

As you may have noticed, I’ve read only a handful of “The New 52,” deciding to trade-wait the books I’m most interested in and am most certain I’ll like, but of the few I’ve sampled, this is up there with Wonder Woman as on I look forward to reading more of.

Captain America and Bucky #622 (Marvel Entertainment) This perfectly, almost aggressively generic done-in-one finds narrator Bucky Barnes having to prove himself to his fellow Invaders not simply because he’s a teenager, but because he’s also the only one of them without superpowers.

Writers Ed Brubaker and Marc Andreyko pit him against movie Arnim Zola Toby Jones’s Amazo-like sciene project (right down to using the same sort of power-draining individual glass cases like Professor Ivo used on the Justice League).

If you’ve ever read a superhero comic before, you can guess how it all pans out.

Great art by Chris Samnee makes up for the otherwise rote tale, and I have a soft spot for this nearly naked, douchey version of Namor, who here is shown repeatedly being a huge jerk to a little kid:Namor being mean to Bucky is especially awesome given how much it hurts Bucky's feelings. Look at the hurt Samnee draws on Bucky's face.Oh Namor, you lovable monster you...

Justice League Dark #1 (DC) It’s strange to see the fully-formed and functional Justice League show up here, when Justice League #1 didn’t get very far in introducing the new iteration.

This was my longerst exposure to the new Superman so far, for example, and he seems cold and removed. I see Wonder Woman’s costume is different than in her own book (the black shorts are blue again here, and her black boots are back to red again). Batman and Cyborg show up too, the former talking to Zatanna as if they have some history—Over all, I’m finding this selective continuity more off-putting than keeping everything in or starting all over. Anyway, this new book is apparently an in-(new, uncertain)-continuity version of writer Peter Milligan’s Flashpoint: Secret Seven miniseries, now imported into The New 52’s DCU.

Milligan introduces a big, League-level threat and uses the Justice League proper to justify the sorta awkward-sounding title. He also introduces the majority of the folks on the cover, heroes and villain alike, effectively.

The artwork by Mikel Janin is kind of awful, like an extremely high-quality version of Greg Land’s work, from the awkward, photo-referenced posing and acting, and airbrushed-looking colors (by Ulises Arreola).

With a decent but not incredible script and art I don’t care for, this isn’t the sort of book I’d normally by a second issue of, but I might end up sticking around at least another issue simply to get my JLA fix. Measured against the first issue of Justice League, this is the more Justice League-y of the two.

Hey look, Enchantress’ breasts aren’s as withered and rotted as the rest of her body:How surprising.

Also, what’s up with this bit of dialogue, delivered after Zatanna casts a spell to prevent Batman from risking his life alongside her….? Is Zatanna unstable now? Is she, perhaps, hysterical? Is her womb making her crazy? Who knows? New 52!


Ed Howard said...

I thought Aquaman was pretty awkward. The main character spends most of the book glaring angrily at everyone while they crack jokes about him - even though his new amped up powers make it seem strange that he's considered such a joke in the first place. Did he just get powered up? And the blogger interview was another one of those painful exposition-dump moments that are so rife in the New 52. It has some promise to be a good series in subsequent issues, and I liked the horror aspect of the framing story, but this was not really a great issue on its own.

I liked Justice League Dark a lot. It had a subtle sense of humor that I really appreciated, like Superman saying that he could smell insanity or that he could smell the anxiety in Cyborg's oil. (Really working out the super-smell here.) I also liked the stuff with Shade and "Kathy." There's a lot of promise here for this to be an interesting series, I think.

John Foley said...

I don't know that they amped Aquaman's powers up so much as they just had him behaving in more bad-ass fashion when using them. He's always been incredibly strong and tough, it's just they never show him beating anyone up in a fight.
The telepathy thing was a bit of a change, though. Maybe he was just bragging, to intimidate the common folk? Or maybe the previous explanation from Peter David's run only applies to sea creatures that have some modicum of intelligence?

Akilles said...

Are you reading Morrisons superman, or are you gonna tradewait it?

Caleb said...

...even though his new amped up powers make it seem strange that he's considered such a joke in the first place....

Oh yeah, I didn't think of that while I was reading, but if this is a retcon-sorta reboot, where Aquaman's always been that powerful, one wonders why he was ever a joke.

It could be that he got a power increase as a result of the White Lantern Entity brining him back to life and making him an elemental for a bit I suppose, but obviously they never mention Brightest Day, and I can't tell if it really "happened" or not anymore.

I don't know that they amped Aquaman's powers up so much as they just had him behaving in more bad-ass fashion when using them. He's always been incredibly strong and tough, it's just they never show him beating anyone up in a fight.

I think they amped him up from being very, very strong and very, very tough to now being "Holy shit!" super-strong and super-tough. I think he was resistant to small-caliber firearms before, but here he's taking machinegun rounds to the face.

The jumping also made me think they amped him up, although I suppose maybe his legs were always that strong and Johns was just the first person to make him jump around like that...?

Are you reading Morrisons superman, or are you gonna tradewait it?

Trade-waiting. One of my favorite artists + one of my favorite writers on Superman assured me I wouldn't regret buying a trade later. I'm only buying the New 52 I'm pretty sure I might like, and trade-waiting the ones I'm totally sure I'll like and skipping the rest.

John Foley said...

Morrison's Superman might be good eventually, but the first issue was ho-hum. Still way better than the George Perez one, which was dreadful.

Aquaman has gone toe-to-toe with Despero in the past, and his Wiki entry claims he's bulletproof, but who knows. He's been written as a joke so many times it's tough to say what his "real" power levels are/were. His skin was obviously not strong enough to prevent his hand being eaten by piranhas that one time. I'm just glad to see the guy finally kicking some tail. Now if they can just do the same with Martian Manhunter...

Hey, I see Enchantress nipple in that picture! Is this the first mainstream nipple in comics history?

Kevin Huxford said...

Couldn't agree with you more on Aquaman. I looked at it more as being lectured at by the writer than the whole "oversensitive" thing, but I can see where you're coming from on that, too.