Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Aquaman 8, originally released April 25th, 2012.
Shelby: Geoff Johns first impressed me with Rebirth, the retold origin arc of Hal Jordan as Green Lantern. His narratives combine epic, sweeping action with a much closer, personal look at the characters. He has a knack for writing emotion that doesn’t diminish the super-humanness of these characters. Lately, I haven’t been quite as impressed; both Justice League and Aquaman have felt a little….pedantic. It’s true, I have fallen away from Johns somewhat with the relaunch, but I feel like this Aquaman arc is beginning to get back to what it is I first liked so very much about his writing.
The issue starts by going back six years, shortly after Arthur’s father was killed. Declaring he is definitely not like everyone else, Arthur bursts out of his house, tears off his shirt in a super dramatic way, and leaps into the sea. Back to current time, Arthur is chatting with Mera and Ya’wara in Shin’s kitchen. We learn that The Others had formed to a) find the Relics of Atlantis, and b) keep said relics from falling into the wrong hands. Black Manta’s hands would probably be considered wrong. Arthur decides he needs to see Kahina’s body, so he and Ya’wara head out; Mera stays behind to protect Shin in case any other members of The Others feel the need to teach the doc a hard lesson. Flashback #2 introduces us to the rest of The Others as they pursue Black Manta through Siberia, more on that in a bit. The crew is distracted by a village about to be obliterated by an avalanche, but Arthur, in a super dickish movie, decides he’s not going to risk losing Black Manta again, so he continues on while the rest start the rescue. Of course, he comes back and the bad guy gets away. Hop back to Ya’wara and Arthur in the jungle: they’re just trying to pay their respects when some inconsiderate guerrillas start shooting at them in the name of Black Manta.
There was a lot going on in this issue. We got some solid info about Arthur’s past, we progressed our current mystery, and we met some new friends! We already knew Kahina the Seer and Ya’wara the Angry Jungle Woman. Now we’ve got Vostok, who is Russian and shy, I guess; he’s wearing an Atlantean mask/helmet. Next up is Prisoner, who is in an Army uniform with a string of dog tags, a black hood over his face (ooh, topical), and golden manacles with chains. Finally, there’s Operative, who just looks like a high tech, futuristic assassin/spy, which he probably is.
That’s all very interesting, but I want to talk about the art. Oh, the art of this book, it is so nice. Ivan Reis continues to do a great job with clear and dynamic action sequences, but the emotion he conveys in this issue is great. Just look at this exchange between Kahina and Arthur, when she tells him the future she’s seen for him:
It’s impressive to convey that much emotion with a character with most of her face covered. I mean, the joy and care being shown here is almost overwhelming to me. Not to mention the look on Arthur’s face. I really like to compare that panel of Arthur to one from the first page, an image of him trying to cope with his father’s death.
In the earlier panel, there’s sadness in Arthur’s face. Here, though, that sadness has been sharpened to a razor’s edge of anguish. It’s this narrow little strip of a panel, his whole face doesn’t even fit! And yet, the face, the body language, it’s devastatingly effective and beautiful. Between Ivan Reis’ expressive pencils, the inking work by Reis and Joe Prado, and the colorist work of Rod Reis, the story sparkles off the page.
And it’s a pretty interesting story, too. Now, maybe I just made this up, but I assumed Black Manta killed Thomas Curry. Is that right? I know he killed Arthur and Mera’s son, but I guess I’m not sure about Arthur’s dad. Can anyone confirm/deny this for me? Another question about The Others, how did they, confirmed land-lubbers, get to keep and use Atlantean stuff? A perk of knowing the King of the Sea, I guess. For me, the story is a lot like the art: the big-picture stuff is awesome, but it’s the little moments that really shine. My absolute favorite moment, both in the story and art, is the exchange between Ya’wara and Mera as they discuss Arthur’s past.
Overall, a very pleasing issue. I am excited to learn more about the rest of the team and who Black Manta is working for. Oh yeah, and that little detail of who sunk Atlantis. What about you, Patrick? Were you as pleased with Arthur’s latest adventure as I?
Patrick: It’s interesting you should ask me about “Arthur’s latest adventure.” Most of the present-day stuff can’t really be described as “adventuring.” Sure, there are jaguars and teleporting spells and dudes with guns, but all the real juicy bits are relegated to the past. Much as issue 7 of Batwing focused on the heroics of a long defunct superhero group, this issue tells a much more compelling story about the past than it does about the present.
The flashback is fantastic. It excels in exactly the same ways this series usually falters (which is confusing). My primary complaint with the character of Dr. Shin is that every scene with the guy becomes this tedious expositionpalooza. But the story about The Others abandoning their chase of Black Manta to save a Siberian town from an avalanche has virtually no context and half of the characters are given zero introduction. We have to speculate on what the deal is with Vostok (which is Русский for ‘East,’ by the way), Operative and Prisoner.
Prisoner is my favorite in the bunch. First of all, the fact that he has to slap his shackles together to create force fields (or something) is so cool, I almost can’t stand it. It’s just such an emotionally loaded concept: the dude needs to embrace some horrible experience from his past (I’m assuming). He’s also rocking a whole set of dog-tags (probably from the dead bodies of the unit he was a part of until they were all murdered)! Check out all those parenthetical assumptions. The character is designed in such a way that my imagination just goes crazy. Look how much of a story this single image tells:
The downside, of course, is that this whole story is about Black Manta killing off the members of the group. And maybe that’s not a bad thing – if my imagination is engaged and we never get explicit origins and power-lists, I’ll actually be relieved. Still, it’d be nice to see more of their glory days.
You know what else is cool about the good ol’ days? Aquaman was a dick. I mean, most of this run has suggested that Aquaman is kind of a jerk – or at least not very patient with the world that continually mocks him. But I like this idea a lot. If Arthur’s anti-social behavior is the result of an Andy Bernard-esque anger management issue, I can retroactively accept his assholery. I had almost given up on liking this version of the character, but knowing that he’s suppressing this level of reckless mania tickles me in just the right way.
Did Black Manta kill Pappa Curry? I think I’d have to dig through 25 issues of Brightest Day to glean the answer. Though I’m sure he won’t require the prompt: Peter, you care to answer that one for us?
I think your observation about the art is apt. Joe Prado and the Reises always do a reliably flashy and fluid job portraying clear action, but usually (and especially so in this series) their layouts are straightforward. The one consistent paneling trick they’ve used in Aquaman is using very tall slim panels – usually to depict depth (I thinking the first and last pages of issue #1 or any time they headed into the trench). They use this trick only once in this issue, but it’s so rad: Arthur makes his escape from those horrible reporters.
Hope I didn’t lose you with that ridiculously tall graphic. It’s great, it’s emotional and it’s innovative.
There are still some kinks for Johns et al. to work out (like Shin and what, exactly, to do with Mera), but I think this series is showing more promise than it ever has. I still don’t get why it’s DC’s #1 selling book, but then again I don’t understand how Two and a Half Men is the best rated comedy on TV. I digress.
Speaking of digressions: all this talk of ‘The Others” naturally put this speech in my head:
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