Aquaman 13

Alternating Currents: Aquaman 13, Drew and ShelbyToday, Drew and Shelby are discussing Aquaman 13, originally released October 31st, 2012.

Drew: Confession time: I dropped this title after issue 4. My only sense of what is going on in this title is the zero issue, and reading the reviews on this site. For the most part, “The Others” storyline has been hard to follow from just summaries, as it focuses heavily on characters I know in name only. The only thing I’ve really gathered from those reviews is that 1) the art is fantastic, and 2) there’s room for disagreement about whether or not Aquaman is actually the villain of this title. Picking up the action in issue 13, I can say for sure that both of those statements are definitely true.

The issue picks up with the reiteration that Vostok has died, and that Arthur is going to kill Black Manta. It turns out finding Manta may be difficult, as he now has a teleportation orb, but eventually the team tracks him to the eye of a hurricane, where he’s attempting to exchange the scepter for the treasure he was after when Arthur killed his father. A fight ensues, and Arthur beats Manta, but decides not to kill him after all (though he oddly seems open to the idea in the future). Meanwhile, the Atlanteans Manta was trading with (who may or may not include Orn), make off with the Scepter. After the dust settles, Dominick exorcises his ghosts (literally) by visiting their families, while Mera assures Arthur she’s committed to their relationship.

Now, it may just be because I haven’t been around for any of the rising action of this story, but essentially all of the conclusions here feel too pat. I was especially distracted by Dominick’s epilogue, where he shares some catharsis with a grieving family I’ve never seen before.

Also, who's Dominick?Again, I haven’t been around to see how hard Geoff Johns has worked to earn this moment, but I’m kind of skeptical that ANY amount of groundwork could justify strangers sharing a hug while ghosts of dozens of soldiers look on approvingly. It reeks of cheap sentimentality.

Arthur’s conclusion feels equally unearned. At the start of the issue, he vows to kill Manta, but when he finally has his opportunity, he doesn’t — apparently as an act of mercy. This is clearly intended to demonstrate Arthur’s moral backbone, but then it’s weird that he suggests that he’ll probably kill Manta someday.

Arthur doesn't kill Manta…FOR NOW“Probably”? As in, “when you inevitably kill more of my friends?” Look, I get that killing in cold blood is bad, but isn’t allowing someone else to do it in the future just as bad? Especially if you plan on killing them at that time? He could have said, “I won’t kill you, Manta. And I hope I never do.” Instead, he’s betting on killing Manta at some point. Faced with the option of now and after he inevitably kills again, Arthur chooses “later.” This is presented as the heroic choice, but I just don’t buy it.

If the point of Arthur’s actions here are meant to show cooler heads prevailing, wouldn’t not threatening to kill Manta be even more heroic than chasing him down only to have an epiphany about how wrong killing is once he caught up with him? We’re left with a portrait of a wildly inconsistent man doing wildly inconsistent things for wildly inconsistent reasons. I think that makes him both the hero and the villain of this title, but I can see how “wildly inconsistent” might place him more in the comic book villain category.

More than anything, this issue reminded me why I dropped this title in the first place. I was never bothered by Arthur’s posturing, and I got out long before Mera’s wacky adventure to the grocery store, but I have been bothered by the way these stories tend to wrap up with pretty sunsets and a level of optimism that is totally un-relatable — and I don’t even have an estranged brother bent on killing me. These endings embody all the quaint lameness Johns was hoping to eliminate in “darkening” the title, but that darkness won’t stick without a little commitment. It looks like I showed up just in time to remind myself what bothered me so much about the first arc. Shelby, I know this title has been a bumpy ride for you, but did this conclusion fare better in your mind? Am I totally missing the character beats that earned these saccharine endings? More importantly, did you giggle when Mera finally told Arthur to put on a fucking shirt?

Shelby: With shoulders like that, why would she want him to? More importantly, why did Johns feel the need to conclude this incredibly long arc with trite sentiment and saccharine cliches? “I have to do this alone!” “I’m ashamed of my past!” “I won’t kill you because I’m a better man!” “I can’t find shirts that fit because of my swimmer’s build!” Just like the end of the Trench arc, Johns wraps everything up in a bow by having Arthur abruptly change his mind about how he feels and rendering everything we’ve read basically meaningless. How many times has Arthur insisted he has to do this by himself? How many times has he insisted he’s going to kill Black Manta this time, he really means it? How many times did he insist he couldn’t possibly bring himself to cause the demise of a whole race of creatures, no matter how horrifying and dangerous they might be? I had hoped Johns was turning Arthur into a strong and interesting character, but instead he’s just wishy-washy and whiny. Mera’s character is flat as well; instead of Sexy/Angry, like she generally has been, she’s The Supportive Wife. She is always the only one to make Arthur see reason, even when she is saying the exact same thing everyone else has said all along. When her Tormented Husband doesn’t know how to Make Things Right, she’s right there with Womanly Wisdom.

The Prisoner epilogue was absolutely the worst. It reeks of last minute inclusion to “wrap things up.” I wanted to know more about the Prisoner’s past: is he a meta human, is that why he’s got the ghosties? How did he get to where he was? I don’t give two shits about some sappy-ass conclusion that answers questions I didn’t have. Johns has done a huge disservice to one of the more interesting characters in this arc; I would have been more satisfied having never seen this spread.

I don’t know what to do about this title. On the one hand, I’m intrigued by Orm and Atlantis, and I feel like we’re going to need to read it for the Atlantis fight stuff coming down the pike in Justice League. On the other hand, I feel like this title is a bad relationship I keep going back to. Every time I think, “This time it’s going to be different!” but it never is.

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?

27 comments on “Aquaman 13

  1. It was also dumb that the arc didn’t just conclude in that cave of wonders – instead of after a pointless chase around the globe. PADDING. There’s no reason Arthur couldn’t have just kicked Manta’s ass WITHOUT the horrible “oh, I can track where he teleports for some reason” scene.

    I bitch a lot about how Johns seems more interested in pacing for trades, but considering how long we’ve had to wait for the end of this arc to play out (three months by my count), I had expected SOMETHING with a little emotional honesty to it.

  2. I’d argue Johns isn’t so much darkening the title as he is slowly lightening it; the mopey era that begain in earnest with Black Manta killing Aquababy in Adventure Comics and lasting well through the piranha-eaten-hand days is slowly being peeled back a little at a time with Arthur regaining a little optimism and those terrible events being retconned in the reboot. I think Arthur’s whole “I will probably have to kill you someday, but not like this” is essentially him saying that he’s going to call the police (who we see arriving afterward) to arrest him since he knows what Manta actually wants is for Arthur to kill him in cold blood right in front of the people who care about him so he would reveal himself to them as the bad person Manta actually “knows” him to be… thus ruining Arthur’s life by taking away his family (as Manta’s was taken from him by Arthur)

    • That’s a fair read. Maybe the optimism is more self-conscious than I estimated, but I’d argue that Johns is definitely working overtime to make Aquaman cool (which, unfortunately, often means “dark”). I can’t speak to the more recent issues, but the first arc had him genociding an entire submarine race. You don’t get much darker than that, yet the arc still concluded with him laughing and petting his new dog with his beautiful wife. I thought it was the darkness that felt tacked-on, but the lightness is actually a better explanation.

      • I can see your point but I find it difficult to nitpick a Johns/Reis Aquaman title as a long-suffering Aquaman fan; he rarely has a solo title and when he does it’s usually terrible. The last decent thing I remember by my standards is Busiek and Juice for a dozen issues or so on Sword Of Atlantis and before that you have to go all the way back to Peter David in the early 90’s

  3. I was bummed out by Prisoner’s ending. I like that character a lot – I think channeling the ghosts of his dead war buddies makes for an awesome powerset and and even cooler set of baggage. But delivering messages to his buddies’ still-living relatives just has nothing to do with what that character is about.

    • Well, there were those scenes where he’s compelled to call their families but hangs up after they pick up, not konwing what to say… this is the resolution to that… though I imagine you’re saying you’d rather the set-up be removed as well

        • I wouldn’t mind seeing a Prisoner solo mini where he has to do these chores, involving having to follow-up with the family of a GI who wasn’t exactly a nice guy and the family isn’t exactly responsive to closure so the mean-spirited GI is left to torment Prisoner. Not all soldiers, of course, are saints

      • Even with the set-up, though, this ending feels so hollow. With the phones calls, we had a mystery about the character, but to just have him drop off the soldiers’ ghosts with their families is anti-climactic.

        • I kind of agree, I think The Others’ endings were kind of ham-fisted and they were just kind of shuffled off for the time being (although I think they’ll have a strong presence in this book again soon). I think since this arc basically served as a prelude for Throne Of Atlantis (Manta was working for Ocean Master, who I *believe*, based on an old Johns interview, is also working in league with an entirely new villian). I think Ocean Master as king of the Atlanteans is going to use whatever relics were retrieved by Manta along with his Atlantean army to attack the surface work in the upcoming Justice League arc and Black Manta negotiated a deal to rule whatever’s left of the surface world after the war… so this arc was kind of an event prelude with no real closure

        • I don’t have the issue in front of me, but didn’t it claim that the next issue was going to serve as an epilogue to this issue? I don’t know if I can take another issue of wrapping this thing up.

          But if this is all really just some prelude to the Throne of Atlantis stuff, I have to reiterate my standard criticism of Johns: lost in the details of the set-up, the story itself suffers. The Atlantis stuff could be cool, but unless if seriously pays off character-work these 14 issues have (theoretically) played out, then it’s just a cocktease. And much of that character work has been inconsistent, so I’m not even sure what would qualify as paying it off.

        • I’m at work, so me neither, but I believe it actually said “Next issue: Throne Of Atlantis” or something to that degree

  4. I think it’d be fun to read more adventures of The Others – specifically adventures where the writer doesn’t try so hard to convince me that Aquaman is a hero. He can be the de facto leader, and a great resource for the team, but always with fucked up priorities. The story could be about how all these otherwise capable heroes learn to cope with a difficult boss!

  5. The only reason I bought this was that yesterday was a fifth Wednesday so my shopping cart was light. I went by it at the start and thought, “Nah, I just haven’t liked it,” but by the time I got to the Hulk I realized I hadn’t picked anything up. Somehow ended up with Higher Earth, too, even though I thought I was done with that comic after its first arc.

    God there are some good looking pages in this book. I wish the story compelled some reaction from me other than, “Really? THAT is how you’re going to end it?”

    Yuck. I REALLY wanted to like this title after issue one when when Aquaman was deflecting bullets and eating at Red Lobster. Forty bucks later and it ends up in the pile next to Mr. Terrific.

    • This just makes me want to dress up as Mera, find someone to dress as Arthur, and go to a Red Lobster. Maybe some good can come out of this title after all.

  6. First of all: Holy Crap, is this arc finally over? It seems like we’ve been dealing with “The Others” for a long, long time. For a while, Aquaman was that title that I couldn’t figure out why I kept getting, but the end of each issue would remind me why I liked it. The end of this one, though, was a real “WTH?” moment. I honestly don’t even know who that guy was at the end; there were so many characters introduced during this arc and then killed off, and everyone was wearing masks, etc. This book works with Mera and Arthur; put Dr. Shin somewhere else for a really long time, and let us be done with the Others. They seems like a cool concept and a good team, but until there’s more story than Vostok telling us that he has a heart, I don’t really want to deal with it, I don’t think.

    I’m betting the arc with the “Throne of Atlantis” and “Justice Leauge” will be a bit better, since there will be some interplay there and hopefully not nearly as convoluted. Also, I really like Aquaman in the JL books, so doubling that will be nice. All that said, I’ll probably drop this book entirely after that bit. It’s not just keeping me interested enough month to month.

    (That seems like a very disjointed review, but it might be appropriate considering the title.)

    • I think the biggest problem I’ve had with this series so far is that Aquaman is a terrible guy, but the other characters keep telling me that he’s a hero. I am CONVINCED that Arthur is the villain of this series, and I just don’t understand why all the other characters are like “no – you have changed and are loveable and a great dude.”

      Also, I don’t mean to sound snarky, but what is it you like about Aquaman in JL? Most of our write-ups point out that Aquaman has like a single line or dialogue. Hell, his single biggest contribution during the battle with Darkseid was Superman using him as a projectile. As far as I can tell, he’s the least characterized hero in the League. (But, I am a big fan of the character from the year or so leading up to the relaunch, so I’m totally with you on wanting this series to be good).

      Thanks for finding us Ben, love having new voices in the conversation.

      • Maybe that’s why I like him. He just seems to be above the fray of the JL. He’s not like Flash or GL, and he’s obviously not one of the Big 3. He’s just so “other” that he stands out. I’ll have to look back again, though, and I bet he’ll come to the fore of that group soon.

        Maybe he’s the anti-hero of the JL, and he and Bruce will really have at it over that.

        • And I would love to see him behaving the exact same way his is right now, but I’d like other people to see it too. That bit at the end of this issue where Mera is like “I’ll never leave you” is SO WEIRD to me. I want her to see that he’s selfish and emotionally distant, and then I want her to dump his ass and hook up with Ray Palmer (because I love the Atom and only want what’s best for him).

        • If you’d like to see Mera leave Arthur you need look no further than the back issue bins – she left their famous marriage following the death of Arthur Jr and did not appear alongside him starting from the Keith Giffen/ Curt Swan mini-series in 1989 until Johns brought her back into the fold in the late during Blackest Night and Brightest Day in the latter 2000’s

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