Today, Patrick and Shelby are discussing Aquaman 17, originally released February 27th, 2013.
Patrick: When I originally got my friend Taylor into comic books, I suggested Scott Snyder’s Swamp Thing series. Taylor was intrigued, saying that the idea of a Captain Planet made of Plants seemed like a really fun book to read. Of course, Snyder’s Swamp Thing has more to do with elaborate mythologies and alternate futures and cool stuff like that, but that idea stuck with me. We read so few comic books about superheroes that stand for anything. Our heroes are driven by revenge or obligation or circumstance to fight crime, but none of them end up championing any causes – they just keep fighting whatever supervillains pop up to challenge them. After the events of Throne of Atlantis, Aquaman finds himself wedged uncomfortably between the roles of superhero and supervillain. What other choice does he have than to enact his own values and forge his own path?
Aquaman takes his royal army out for what appears to be a test drive. Their target is a overreaching whaling ship. It’s a good thing Arthur decided to intervene: there’s a small band of environmental activists that were about to take matters into their own hands. Under Arthur’s orders, the Atlantian soldiers send the activists home, and place the whalers under arrest, to be tried and imprisoned by land lubbers. But Arthur’s subjects don’t much care for this tactic. Herewith, is a partial list of their concerns:
- “Hey, you’re not Orm. I liked Orm.”
- “It was really more efficient when we were allowed to murder people.”
- “They tried to use our own weapons against us. Those are our weapons!”
- “If we turn over human fugitives to more humans, justice will not be served.”
- “These humans we saved don’t even like us!”
Frustrated, Arthur mopes a bit amid the carcasses of the whales he failed to save, until he’s interrupted by a request to meet up with Amanda Waller. She mostly wants to inform him that all the Atlantian weaponry that should be at the bottom of the ocean, isn’t. She delivers more bad news: Orm could be facing the death penalty. But this bad news is clearly manipulative in nature, because she follows it up with some of the more devastating criticisms leveled against Aquaman:
I don’t understand you, Arthur. The surface world doesn’t trust you and Atlantis will never accept you. Who are you fighting for?
Twice rejected by people he’s just trying to serve, Aquaman returns to the ocean to answer Waller’s question for himself. He’s fighting for the fishes.
Now, that’s pretty a cheesy idea right there. Let me ask you this: why do I like it so much? Arthur’s never been a people-person, and any time his goals get more abstract that “kill this” or “protect that,” he seems to get flustered. He’s just not made to deal with diplomacy or intrigue. We’ve seen how easily Aquaman is manipulated (by Black Manta, by Vulko, and to a lesser extent by Waller), and Geoff Johns has keenly observed that Aquaman might just find comfort helping creatures that don’t want anything from him.
Plus, I think in his heart, Aquaman is kind of an idealist. He recognized one of those activists as someone who sabotaged some oil rig construction, but doesn’t even try to arrest him. Arthur might even respect the guy. In fact, the activist is able to throw his enviro-cred around, and somehow puts Aquaman on the defensive.
Arthur wants to do right by the creatures of the sea, but there are too may political powers pulling him in too many directions. Johns has been trying to convince us for years that Aquaman is cool, but I think he’s only now actually achieving that feat. Coolness isn’t having a useful set of superpowers – it’s having a point of view I can respect. He’s a major player on both sides of an on-going war between Atlantis and the surface world, but he just wants to protect the fishes. It’s pure, it’s noble, and I would love to see him pursuing his own values like this in the future.
Much as I like Ivan Reis’ pretty-pretty art on this series, I’m starting to see where Paul Pelletier is a better fit for this character. For one thing, Pelletier manages to give the entire issue a smokey moodiness that never becomes too dark. He clearly conveys the idea of Arthur’s isolation without turning it into a depressing mope-fest. It’s like there’s a sad serenity in Aquaman’s loneliness. Also, I think Pelletier draws Arthur as a slightly older man, so the unkempt whiskers appear more like those of a tired sage than of a rebellious youth.
I love this direction for Aquaman. Somehow. He still holds the keys to Atlantis and has a direct line to the Justice League, but giving him real-world problems (like whalers and environmental wackos) solve, he seems like a more vital part of the DC Universe.
My sole complaint about this issue is that it could have used a little TLC from an editor. The story beats are great and there’s even some poetic prose throughout, but there are a couple of occasions where speech balloons are too densely grouped to follow easily. And occasionally there will be like eight balloons in one panel and two the same-sized panel that follows it, which implies some strange pacing. Also, there are two typos on page 13 (Waller says “weaons” instead of “weapons” and later crams the words “Atlantis” and “is” into one word: “Atlantisis”). Johns and Pelletier deserve better support than that.
Shelby, I didn’t get into two of those scenes at the end — including one that recalls our absolute favorite issue from this series [sarcasm]. Shelby, what’d you think about revisiting those events? Beyond that, what’s Waller’s deal? Why would she want to do anything to Mera?
Shelby: Oh man, that hot mess of an issue. I would really love for this to be an opportunity to grow Mera’s character a little bit. Since the relaunch, she has vacillated from vulnerable sexy to angry sexy, with a brief pause at useful sexy every now and again. It was nice to see her acting like a normal person, though I do think she should put on a sweater.
I wonder if it is Waller who is after Mera. She tells her friend on the phone, “if they want to move in on Mera, they should do it now.” Was Waller keeping some unknown third party at bay until she could suss out Arthur’s next move in regards to his wife? And what exactly is Arthur going to do about Mera? He almost certainly has the authority to do whatever the fuck he wants, I’m sure he could just tweak Atlantean law so she could live there with him. What he doesn’t have is the goodwill necessary for his own people to tolerate something like that. Arthur abandoned his throne for the hateful surface dwellers, was pseudo-responsible for instigating a war (it was his advisor who started it, but still), staged a one-man coup to get the throne back, and essentially sentenced his brother and Atlantis’ king to death; I’m a little surprised he hasn’t already been assassinated.
Patrick, I agree with you about Johns wanting to make Aquaman cool, and I do think this is the closest to cool we’ve seen him yet, but I think it’s for the complete opposite reason you do. You’re right, Aquaman just wanting to help fishies is totally cheesy. For me, that doesn’t translate into an admirable nobility for Arthur; I think it’s a totally dorky throw-back to both Captain Planet of our youth and Aquaman’s own Silver Age history (did you know he used to have an octopus side-kick? ). It’s this acceptance of his cheesy purpose that makes him “cooler” in my eyes. For the first time since the reboot Arthur has accepted who he is and the purpose he serves. It’s like Johns finally said, “You know what? Aquaman is a total dork, and that’s ok,” and it IS ok. Is Arthur’s devotion to aquatic life going to be challenged? Of course: he’s still got to deal with running Atlantis, the Justice League, whatever is happening to his wife and whatever that dead-eyed man in the cave has in store for him. I feel, though, that finally this character has direction, has personal motivation, and I’m hoping this new-found nobility/dorkiness can take Arthur to new depths.
Get it? It’s an ocean pun. For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?