Aquaman 12

Today, Peter and Patrick are discussing Aquaman 12, originally released August 29th, 2012.

Peter: The multi-issue story arc is an ungainly creature. What should the first issue look like? How about the last? What shape does it take in the middle? I tend to read my comics the way I think DC wants me to: one at a time, the week they come out. But sometimes that episodic reading does a disservice to the story. That’s why someone decided to collect them into graphic novels. “The Others” is definitely one of those stories that I am going to have to go back and read as a whole from start to finish to get the full effect. Geoff Johns has crafted something that definitely will flow together better as a whole, because frankly, this is a roller coaster of emotion and story.

Issue 12 is the penultimate issue of The Others story line. Black Manta has come into possession of the elusive seventh Atlantean artifact, The Scepter, which it turns out – is mighty powerful. Black Manta decides the could direct that power for some Dr. Shin murder, but Arthur jumps into  save the day.

Meanwhile The Operative and the rest of The Others contact Mera and they meet up. They have a chat and rush off to save/help Arthur. When they arrive at the tomb, everyone has a small conniption – bickering about who told who to “let me do this on my own.”  While all our heroes argue, Black Manta takes the opportunity to jump out of the shadows and attack Arthur from behind. Vostok jumps into the block the shot, and takes a Scepter in the neck. Vostok shares a tender moment with his team and prompty dies. Arthur vows to kill Black Manta.

Wow, this is an incredibly emotional issue. Despite this entire issue only taking about what seems like an hour or two of comic-book-time, a whole lot happens. But also – at the same time – almost nothing happens. Well, at least, a whole lot of predictable things happen. At the end of the last issue, Johns really had my attention, but not enough happened here that really got me excited like Issue 11. He is a compulsive questioner, and all I want are some answers. How will all the answers fit into two issues?

I have to say, I’ve decided that it’s very difficult for me to call Arthur Aquaman. He doesn’t really act a whole lot like any Aquaman that I know. He does heroic things, but at the same time, it seems like he’s mostly acting in his own interest. Which is addressed here. Arthur is an very secretive person. For God’s sake, he keeps secrets from people like THE OPERATIVE. He’s like the king of knowing your secrets. He also keeps secrets from Mera, who is probably the last person that you want to keep secrets from, since she can remove all the water from your body with a thought.

The art is what really sets this issue off. But we already know that the Reis brothers are awesome. They have the incredible ability to convey a lot of emotion. I definitely almost cried a lot when Vostok died. Except that he didn’t bleed so much as emit a gassy sparkly thing.

Is that a side effect of his genetic mutation and training? Or maybe even the Atlantean helmet? Does he not need to eat or breath because he doesn’t even have insides.

But I think the real problem with Vostok’s death is that it really didn’t leave that much of an impression on me. I said that I almost cried, because I didn’t really want to. Vostok was a cool character, but he’s only been around for a couple issues, and we didn’t learn a whole lot about him in those issues. In a team comprised of emotional people, he’s probably the most emo.

I am feeling slightly underwhelmed by the end of this arc. The Others storyline started off really well. It was big and mysterious, had interesting characters and plot devices, but it hasn’t lived up to its promise. This is the penultimate issue. I think it would be difficult to create the best ending in just one issue.  If everything unfolds the way I suspect it will, than there will be plenty of openings for Ya’Wara, The Operative and The Prisoner (and even Black Manta) to make returns later on. Also, where do you go from The Others in the Aquaman storyline? Geoff Johns has clearly established that this is all happening with pretty much no connection to Justice League other than passing mentions.

The #0 issue next month will give us some insight into Arthur’s past relating to Atlantis. Also, not to spoil a lot, but at the end of Justice League 12, there is a spoiler that shows Arthur leading Atlantean soldiers against the surface world. Is that going to be a Justice League story? Or could Arthur gain the scepter, get some Atleantean soldiers, like those seen in the earlier issues back with The Trench, and then take on the surface. Or could we go some other completely different direction? Johns and Reis can create some pretty cool things, and Aquaman continues to sell really well for DC, so I hope they can 1. finish off The Others well, and 2. have something great in the hopper for what comes next.

Also, will Vostok’s beard, I am going to have to start working on my Con-caliber costume.

Patrick: Peter, I know you’re an XBox guy, but have you played the Uncharted games? They’re a lot of fun, but there’s an unsettling thread that runs through all three games: you only ever kill non-American characters. And Nathan Drake is a goddamned murder-machine. He loves snapping necks and shootin’ dudes and pushing guys off cliffs. And partially because Drake’s a globe-trotting adventurer and partially because institutionalized racism is still prevalent in AAA gaming, every single bad guy is black or Russian or speaks Spanish or something. I get hints of that coming off this title. Which of our Others don’t make it through this conflict alive? The Russian and the Iranian? Come on – that’s kinda fucked up.

And I’d be happy to give Johns and company the benefit of the doubt if either Kahina or Vostok were particularly well-developed characters before they were offed. But they really weren’t. Kahina can only be defined by her power-set and Vostok… there’s not much to say about him. He was a lonely guy. Full stop. I think it might be because of this incredibly slight characterization that I was genuinely surprised when Vostok took a scepter to the sternum.

But this brings me back to a theory I’ve had about this series for a few months now. Namely, that Aquaman’s not the hero of his own story – he’s the villain. Peter, you mention that some of the other characters voice their frustration with Arthur’s revenge-mania in this issue. And Arthur’s actions totally warrant this frustration. He’s not acting like a good guy: he’s literally on a murderous rampage.

This isn’t the story of Aquaman finally getting his revenge on Black Manta, it’s the story of how Aquaman was finally driven insane by his nemesis. 20 years from now, you’ll be reading comics where Arthur – three-quarters of the way through a bottle of Patron – recounts the evens of this story, sobbing about what a fool he’d been, and how he couldn’t save them. I’ve had a problem with the macho-bullshit in this title for a while, but if that same quality that annoys me is actually part of Arthur’s deepest character flaws, then so be it. I really really really really really hope that the creative team recognizes this about their character and that they understand that this is not a dimension of Aquaman to be glorified, but rather the source of his greatest tragedy.

That wouldn’t be unexplored territory for superheroes. Just flip through any issue of Justice League, and you’ll meet like a billion assholes in capes. Only — that’s not the whole trope, is it? They’re not just “assholes,” they’re “assholes with hearts of gold.” Batman might seem gruff, but he only wants what’s best for the team. Green Lantern may be impulsive, but he genuinely cares about his friends. Aquaman is prideful, reckless, a liar.

Which makes it so strange that we have this four-panel flashback early in the issue. When Manta threatens to kill Dr. Shin, we’re transported back to Arthur’s childhood:

What are we to make of this? I don’t think it’s Johns responsibility to convince the readers that Aquaman would try to save Dr. Shin. Preventing a murder should be motivation enough, right? Perhaps it’s there for the “They’re you’re friends. Just like I am” line. Arthur doesn’t trust his friends – why should he? Shin tried to kill him, Mera was sent to kill him, the Atlanteans tried to (you guessed it) kill him. Vostok may have lived on the moon, but Arthur’s the loneliest guy in this book. Oh and hats off the the Reises on this sequence. They’ve pulled out this trick before with the lighter lines and airbrushed quality to the colors and it’s always moody and spectacular.

And really, the art throughout is amazing. I found myself breathlessly flipping the pages, propelled by the promise of another show-stopping action sequence. Like I kind didn’t believe it when I reached the final page. So there’s something that actually works here, and it works beyond a “that fight was fun to watch” kind of way. How all of this plays in to the on-going evolution of a character that DC’s been bragging about reinventing is yet to be seen.

Oh and yay for a for active Mera. Just when you think she’s been sidelined for too long (and she has), they give her something awesome like this.

Why, you are Mera. You are.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?

6 comments on “Aquaman 12

    • It’s an interesting point and it never occurred to me. The first time we got 2 covers of the same situation one showing arthur and the other showing the Trench monster with Arthur from cover 1 as the reflection which I thought was awesome.

  1. The line that got me from the flashback is “They’ll help you when you ask them to.” Arthur has spent this ENTIRE ARC very pointedly not asking for help. Nay, he’s been pointedly telling people to stop helping him. I can kind of see why, since it seems to get people corpsified. I do really hope Johns can make something unique of this character, I’d hate to think we’ve spent 123 issues listening to him say, “I need to do this myself!” for no reason.

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