Today, Michael and Mikyzptlk are discussing Aquaman 16, originally released January 30th, 2012. This issue is part of the Throne of Atlantis event. Click here for all of our ToA coverage.
Michael: Nothing gets me going like a dramatic reveal. I love stories wherein tables are turned and even villains fall in and out of virtue. In comics, a strikingly juxtaposed panel can make a subtle twist even more shocking. There’s something thrilling about being duped by a brilliant turn. We’re told something is true, relevant, or congruous, only to find out that some or all of these things don’t matter, and yet the story is somehow better for it. It may be that we enjoy the release of tension or delight in dashing our assumptions that makes these betrayals so enjoyable, but part of what makes them effective is context. What the hero knows determines how new information changes him. Issue 16 of Aquaman delivers some really solid twists from Geoff Johns with vivid art from Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons to back it up, but our heroes are so clueless and mired in chaos that the impact of these bombshells are hard to gauge.
Cyborg is in Detroit getting an upgrade to be deep-sea compatible. Dr. Shin and ominous ex-Atlantean Vulko watch footage of Aquaman momentarily betraying Batman and company, attempting to prevent a war. Below the bottom of the sea, Aquaman breaks out of the punishment sea-pod his brother Orm put him in. Despite Batman’s arrogant insistence on leaving his pod, Aquaman convinces him to remain inside lest he get crushed by the pressure. So Arthur drags a pod around while Batman complains within and uses sonar equipment to guide them. When they’re attacked by a new breed of sea-monster, Batman is pretty unhelpful and almost ruins an otherwise bad-ass panel.
The back-up team of Hawkman, Black Canary, and Black Lighting fight Orm’s Atlantean warriors as Orm sinks Boston with explosives. Aquaman and Batman discover ancient hieroglyphs in the deep-sea trench that depict a king with a scepter leading a hoard of monsters. They immediately discover not only Superman and Wonder Woman’s bodies in a paralytic state, but also more of those crazy zombie sea-monsters. Mera and a freshly updated Cyborg burst in and help keep the monsters at bay. Meanwhile, something cool, gross, and sinewy surfaces from the water that distracts Orm and his army.
Orm’s primitive use of explosives to drown Boston prove he doesn’t have the powerful stolen scepter. Instead we see a vengeful Vulko slap those stupid glasses off Shin the way we’ve all wanted to, then wields the powerful scepter triumphantly.
We knew Vulko would be more menacing than a normal benevolent friend from the past. His association with Aquaman ruined his life in both worlds and his newfound power makes him a dangerous menace. This reversal is powerful — Vulko goes from impotent observer and messenger of exposition to the most powerful threat. It’s not entirely clear if Arthur even knows it’s Vulko by the end of the issue and is instead just shocked that his brother doesn’t have the scepter. Aquaman and Co.’s vague understanding of what’s going on somewhat stunts my own sense of what Vulko’s rise to power means. I’m sure this will pay off with Arthur getting blind-sided by forces he never knew existed, but for the moment, I wish Arthur had actually caught Vulko in the act and reacted, giving me a hint of how fucked they are. Instead, while powerful forces are shifting silently, Aquaman and gang are completely in the dark — their ignorance and foolhardiness showcased in nicely composed panels.
Every surprise or interesting twist in this issue happens without Arthur present, so the issue ends with tension between the Justice League’s befuddled escape from the trench, the battle of Boston, and Vulko’s personal rampage and new prophetic army. Arthur’s scenario feels isolated from these exciting developments,
Mik, what do you think of the premises being laid out for the next issue? Do these new developments affect you? Unlike me — I need Aquaman around participating in the action to clue me in on how to feel. Is Aquaman just destined to never really have a grasp on anything? After all, he’s torn between two worlds, each of which hate him in their own way. Could a readership even handle a truly savvy Aquaman? Feel free to touch on one or none of these questions.
Mikyzptlk: Seeing as how Aquaman is the titular star of this book, I’m inclined to agree with you that his presence in the action is a definite boon to said action. Of course, there is also something to be said about keeping certain things from your main protagonist for dramatic tension. I like the idea of things going from bad to worse on the surface while Aquaman and the League try to figure out how to get out of their potential watery graves. Their absence in the overall action above also validates the need for the Leagues reservists, and gives us the chance to see them in action for the first time…some of them at least.
Above, we see “The Savage” Hakwman (appropriately named it seems), Black Lighting (I’m NOT going there), Firestorm, and Vixen. Additionally, this issue featured Black Canary, Element Woman and someone else I’ll mention in a bit (a really tiny bit). We didn’t get to see too much of their battle against the Atlanteans unfortunately, but we did get to see Hawkman fight alongside a team for the first time. This acted as a preview of sorts to Johns’ upcoming Justice League of America where Johns has said that this’ll be a different version than the more regal character he brought back to popularity in the Pre-52. I’m interested to see where Johns takes Hawkman in the New 52, but based on what I’ve seen in this issue, it seems like he’s about to become yet another “Justice Jerk.” Although, considering that he only had 3 lines of dialogue in this issue, I may be jumping the gun a bit on that. Now, not all of the reservists were featured in this issue as Shazam, Green Arrow, Zatanna and Goldrush were not shown. I assume that we’ll be seeing these characters in the next issue of Justice League, and I’m hoping that we get to see the reservists in action more than we did in this issue. It’s explained to Cyborg that the reservists are holding back Atlantis, but I was disappointed that I had to be told that instead of actually seeing more of that team in action.
One more thing about the reserve team. Take a look at this:
Who could this be? Why, that’s not The Atom is it? I think it is! Ryan Choi has long been promised in the New 52 and it looks as if he’s about to make his triumphant return. Gail Simone’s run of the character in the Pre-52 was spectacular, and fans of that character have never quite gotten over his undeserved demise. Since he hasn’t been mentioned (as far as I know) as joining the JLA, I’m wondering if his almost introduction here means that he’ll be joining the Justice League proper. The reveal of this character was a small (pun totes intended) part of this issue, but it was also one of my favorite parts, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Johns will deliver.
Lastly, Michael, I’ve got to say that I think you and I interpreted the ending of this issue a bit differently. While Cyborg was shut down for upgrades, he pieced together footage of the true party responsible for the missile attack on Atlantis. As the League was about to resurface, Cyborg finished repairing the video and was able to show it to Aquaman.
To me, this looks like the face of a man who has just been utterly betrayed. Vulko has always been someone Aquaman could put all of his trust in. Now, that’s all been ruined. Johns is really putting the screws to Aquaman in this arc. Not only has he been fighting against his own brother, but now he has to fight against the man he thought of as one of his few remaining friends and confidants. Tough break A.C.
Lastly, I’d like to say that I rather enjoyed Paul Pelletier on art duties here. He does a good job of matching Ivan Reis’ overall style which provides good visual connective tissue between the crossover titles. In that vein, I have to point out what was probably my favorite panel of this issue, which just so happens to be the last page.
The composition here is absolutely perfect. Shin, lying broken and beaten on the ground effectively transitioning him to the role of victim. Vulko, standing powerfully with the stolen scepter as his horrifying army marches behind him ready to attack. As far as setups to conclusions go, this one was definitely a success as I can’t wait to see how the Aqua-cookie crumbles.
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I don’t have a lot of time right now, so I can’t give this the full review, but this issue left me pretty breathless. Awesome action, plot turns, it was pretty much non-stop and is easily the best Justice League issue since the reboot began (even if it is Aquaman). THIS is the type of story I’ve been waiting for from Justice League.
Also, Mix, if you look closely at Black Lightning, the electricity he produces is ACTUALLY BLACK, which is also something they’ve recently done on the Young Justice cartoon as well and is a nice way to justify an otherwise problematic name.
Mik, I was excited to see the Atom here, too, but I’m still not sure it’s Ryan Choi. Folks have been speculating since the FCBD issue that the new Atom might actually be a woman, and this issue plays it just ambiguous enough to make me think Johns might just be pacing out a surprise reveal. We only see the character in silhouette, which generally means that we’re going to get something we didn’t expect when the character is properly introduced.
The only woman I know of who could be Atom is Jean Loring; do you think DC would take that route?
I maintain that that’d be awesome. I’ve been pulling for it since the FCBD issue.
I really hope it isn’t Jean Loring. I’m still not over her Identity Crisis shenanigans…even if this would be a rebooted version of the character.
Hmmm….well they initially said that it was to be Ryan Choi, but I completely forgot about the FCBD speculation. On the one hand, he’s such a great character and deserves a come back (especially after how he was killed off), but on the other hand I can’t say no to a new female hero.
Also, this image shows its a guy, but this was from WAY back at the start of the N52, so I guess it doesn’t mean as much at this point. http://www.myremoteradio.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/justice-league-new-52.jpg
Hey! that design for Ollie still had the goatee!
Yup! And is that Mera on the bottom right? She’s lookin’ different as well. Hawkman’s mask is looking a bit off as well.
Oh! And Diana pants! Don’t forget the Diana pants!
Yeah, and Hal’s dead at the moment (and totally going to be a black lantern) and Supes is running around in his jeans-n-T combo these days. I guess… the Flash design is still correct?
Superman and Wonder Woman can breathe underwater?
I think Superman doesn’t need to breathe — he can fly around in outer-space just fine — but Wonder Woman is kind of a surprise to me. Maybe there are some perks to having an uncle who is the god of the seas.
Oh yeah, I forgot about that. I love how Batman is in charge of the situation from inside his little pod.
Hawkman has the coolest crazy eyes. Nearly Guillem March sort of crazy.
In stark contrast to most of March’s art, I really like that drawing of Hawkman. Look at how fucking badass and predatory his teeth look.
I was wondering about them breathing as well those are excellent explanations for that Drew. But even if they can breathe underwater wouldn’t they still sound…strange. Have you ever tried talking underwater? It’s fun…but not a very effective means of communication lol.
I loved this issue – fucking LOVED it. But the one thing that has me a little sad is that they’re turning Vulko into a big meany. I’ve always considered him to be one of the very nicest, most loyal, and most likeable supporting characters in all of comics so I feel bad that Arthur pretty much just lost his Alfred in this reboot. On the other hand it *is* a reboot and I’m trying not to bring my baggage, so let’s see where they go with it. Everything else about this comic is the kind of stuff that I live for – this crossover between two comics feels more like an EVENT to me than anything that’s happened in Batman or Green Lantern since the reboot.
Haha, dude, I was TOTALLY going to call Vulko Aquaman’s Alfred in my write-up but decided not to for some reason. Good one! I also feel pretty sad about Vulko being a big bad, but hey, it doesn’t necessarily mean he has to stay that way. I honestly feel he’s got some good motivation behind his turn, and I can see him being brought back around. Of course, he’d still have to pay for all of those deaths in some way.
Yeah, I had contemplated the same things, but I can’t escape the notion that pitting nations at war against each other and plotting to sink a city is the kind of evil that can’t be totally redeemed. Like if you take even 1 life on purpose then how can you even redeem that? Saving another life? I don’t know, but he’s in definite supervillian territory right now. In a way, having been de-aged, I could see how major mistakes in his younger days could result in him becoming the compassionate, wisened, dutiful older gentleman of the previous DCU but we’re talking MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR evil here
I’m inclined to agree with ya there, but who knows? This is comics after all. Sinestro’s killed (or has been responsible for) tons of deaths and now he’s a GL! Well…now he’s dead…but not…or…something?
He and Hal are leaving goofy messages on Baz’ voice mail – don’t you read these things, Mik?
As someone who wasn’t familiar with Vulko pre-reboot, he’s the perfect candidate for surprise-villain. This is going to make me sound like a monster: but the fact that you two feel a teeny bit betrayed by the reveal makes it all the more powerful to me. It also makes the odd tone toward the end of the Trench make a little more sense in retrospect. Remember how Arthur was like “oh, these fish-men have it really hard… eh, fuck it, I’ll kill them all anyway?” And the victory was morally ambiguous at best. Vulko IS a principled dude, and I love the idea that this is just another one of those situations brought about by Arthur’s impulsive macho posturing.
It really is a good twist, I thought the “new villian” behind Manta and Ocean master was going to be exactly that – an original creation. The idea that Vulko was introduced into the book seemed like a natural progression without any hidden agenda on Johns’ part so he got me pretty good with that reveal. And I love how he has big plans for these characters that were always downplayed or dumped on in the prior continuities (Steve Trevor being another great example.) It’s just that in my heart I want to LIKE Vulko and I can’t right now. I feel the same way about Azzarello’s Amazons to some degree.
Michael’s right about Arthur more or less being an observer in the action here. Cyborg too for that matter – even though he made a sacrifice, he didn’t really achieve anything… BUT, I expect Arthur to take a much more active role in confronting Vulko in a few weeks in JL17.
Man, Vic’s dream sequence was so tragic. It’s easy to forget that Victor was basically just a kid when he became Cyborg. I still think about how exactly this guy grew up after that. The ages between 20 and 25 are extremely transformative and I wonder who he had in his life (besides the League) to help him through that journey. Not only did he have to “grow up,” but he had to learn to deal with his implants while being on the JL. How did he cope? Who did he talk to? Who became his new family?
There was a reference early on in Red Hood made by Arsenal I believe that hinted that he and Cyborg were a part of a team NOT called Teen Titans. I really hope this is explored further. I’d LOVE to see flashback book of a team of 20 somethings just hanging out and learning how to be heroes.
Come to think of it, it’s kind of weird that Bruce wouldn’t insist that Dick be a part of this team, right? Like, there’s nobody he could possibly trust more, and he has WAY more experience than Victor. Sure, he doesn’t have any kind of super power, but when he’s often depicted as trusting nobody and worried that they might turn on humanity at any moment, you’d think he’d want a known entity on his side.
That’s a fantastic point. That makes me wonder what else was going on “5 years” ago when the League was first formed. Maybe Batman and the original Robin already had their falling out by that point and Dick had run off to become Nightwing? There are so many questions that I’m sure we all have about that missing era and I think it’s absolutely ripe for a mini series of some kind. I’ve recently read an article on CBR that talks about The New 52 needing a new “52.” I’m not sure who around the site has read it but it was basically a year long, weekly exploration of the many, many corners of the DCU and it was absolutely fantastic. I think a exploration like that covering the “5 year gap” would be SO MUCH FUN.
How big was that sacrifice really? Maybe I missed the full impact, but what I gleaned was something like “we’re going to take your lungs. also you don’t need lungs.”
Well, Cyborg has been dealing with the existential dilemma of “am I even still a person at all or just a computer that’s so sophisticated that it believes it’s a person”. For instance, medically, he would probably be considered deceased. There’s a scene at the peak of the Graves storyline in Justice League that really drives this home. He wasn’t to keep non giving up even more of his humanity
make that “he wasn’t too keen”, aye de mi
It is neat to see the Justice League doing shit in this event and in H’el on Earth, but it is SO WEIRD to me that these stories are just published at the exact same time like this. I feel like the writers should have to sign up to check the justice league out. And then they’d be off limits to the other writers for a month or two. It’s called dibs people, let’s learn to respect it.
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