Aquaman #1 - 'The Trench, Part One' - Johns, Reis and Prado
Story - It's often discussed how writers like Grant Morrison, Alan Moore and Matt Fraction are mind-bendingly brilliant because of their use of 'meta-commentary', that their work is just that little bit better because it's not only a story, but it's also about comics as a whole, or if not comics, then at least a particular character such as Superman. But it's often over-looked that good old Geoff Johns, the most mainstream of superhero writers, likes a bit of meta-commentary himself. The very concept of Superboy Prime is meta-commentary about internet whiners, and what would happen if they were in the DCU. Of course they'd fly around telling Jason Rusch he's not the real Firestorm. It's extra-juicy when you consider that the very whiners SBP is meant to be hate him with a fiery passion. Johns' brand of meta-commentary is a bit more direct than the one that Morrison et al uses, but it's still a lot of fun and it's interesting to see a writer who is normally so straight-forward show a certain amount of self-awareness and willingness to experiment.
But what does this have to do with Aquaman? Well, this issue is yet more meta-commentary, this time focused on Aquaman. The way Aquaman has been depicted in the comics has always been at odds with his public perception. In the old DCU he was the King Of Atlantis, a well-respected hero who kicked ass. But the real-world public saw him as a joke, he was a guy who talked to fish, he was fucking lame. Saturday Night Live and Family Guy and Spongebob Squarepants and every half-baked internet comedy site ripped the shit out of Aquaman. This was a barrier which stopped DC from being able to get people to read Aquaman, it didn't matter how cool he was inside the comics, people just thought of 'Sea-Man' from South Park and sniggered.
Rather than avoid this joke-status, Johns has decided to tackle it head on, and transpose the jokes made about Aquaman in the real world to the actual comics. So we have people calling Aquaman Tuna-Man to his face, or asking him whether he needs a glass of water, and being visibly embarrassed when he's the hero to save the day. Johns knows what people say about Aquaman, and believes the best way to dispel these jokes is to confront them head on.
And mostly, it works. By showing Aquaman calmly (and in a bad-ass way) defeat the bank-robbers without talking to fish, and by having him clearly explain how he doesn't actually talk to fish, Johns is exposing the media perception of Aquaman as a myth, and making the character legitimately cool again. It seems some readers have found this to be a little on the nose, but I think it had to be done if this new series is to stand a chance. Perhaps Johns does go a bit too far, but I am interested in seeing what this new Aquaman is like going forward, and what he'll do when faced by more than just snotty bloggers.
There are some problems with this issue. As with many of the other DC #1s not much actually happens. Aquaman stops a bank-robbery, goes to a restaurant, meets with Mera, decides he no longer wants to be king of Atlantis and Johns introduces the new villains. It's a slow-mover, but it kind of has to be, it needs to establish why the readers should like Aquaman and not laugh at him before he swims head-on into action.
I did also cringe a little when I saw that Johns was once again focusing on a superhero's daddy issues, just like with Hal Jordan and Superman, Aquaman's father and his death is a big presence in this issue, and it's getting a little silly that Johns does this with every single character. To be fair he switched it up with Barry Allen, who had mommy issues, but still, it's a crutch he keeps leaning on.
I also hate Mera, she's a terrible character and I'm annoyed that this is the one marriage in the DCU that wasn't erased in the relaunch. But thankfully she doesn't do much in this issue (although the 'stronger than Wonder Woman' thing was annoying) but I'm sure when Johns' crush on her takes on a more prominent role, my enjoyment of this series will plummet. Seriously, they get rid of Flash's marriage and keep this? Idiotic, at leas Iris was interesting.
Overall, this was a strong first issue, and one that made Aquaman interesting without making him into a joke. I may love his Batman: The Brave & The Bold incarnation (OUTRAGEOUS!) but that version of the character is still a joke, albeit a funny one. In this issue, Geoff Johns turns the jokes onto the reader, and shows that your online sniping and memes don't matter, Aquaman is cool now. It may be a little forced, but then so are the jokes about the character online. This as a direct challenge to the online fanboy, and to lazy comedians everywhere, I hope they take note.
Art - Ivan Reis has worked with Geoff Johns for so long now that it's hard to separate their work at times, they just work so well together. Reis has a clean, bright style that fits with Johns perfectly. I'm sure some readers find his work a bit bland, but for this type of story it's perfect, and Johns' attempts to make Aquaman into more than a joke wouldn't work half as well without Reis' art making him look as cool as he does. The colours by Rod Reis were also fantastic, and I can't wait to see how this art team depicts the underwater world.
Best Line - 'I don't talk to fish'