One criticism I've seen of this issue is that not a lot happens. It doesn't. But what does happen is gold! I'm Aqua-happy.
Again, a little bit of Kent's Comics History: Although Legion of Super-Heroes is my all-time favorite series, one which I've bought faithfully pretty much from 1967 to the present, and now have a complete collection of Legion stories from their very beginning in 1958 to the present – most of those the original issues which I now have bound up in a twenty-odd volume series of hardbound books that are the pride and center of my collection of “library-bound” comics (which I have yet to properly describe, with pictures for this blog, it occurs to me), Aquaman was my first favorite super-hero. I was about five years old when the Superman-Aquaman Hour appeared on Saturday morning television, and I was hooked. I wanted to be Aquaman!
I wore out two copies of the Big-Little Book Aquaman: Scourge of the Sea. I still have some of my original issues of the King of the Seven Seas from that period, centering around the great 1968-1969 “Search for Mera” storyline by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo, in a nice library binding. I was quite disappointed when that series was canceled not too long after that very underappreciated saga (Reprint it now, DC!), but pleased to read whatever appearances he would make from time to time in Justice League, a revived feature in Adventure Comics, a renewed title of his own, over the next decade and more. But no one ever really knew quite what to do with him … and things started going awry during the mid-late 1970s when tragedy struck – the death of “Aquababy,” the split between Aquaman and Mera, and a death-spiral of IMHO worsening stories over an interminable decade and a half or more until the character had become quite unrecognizable to me – angry, long-haired, bearded, half-naked, sporting a harpoon instead of one of his hands. I bought none of those, although his appearances in other titles, particularly the JLA from the late 1990s on kept me abreast of the character. As far as I was concerned, however, he wasn't “my” Aquaman – the King of Atlantis, devoted family man as well as hero. This “Aquaman” was almost painful for me to see. My childhood memories compelled me to still rank him as one of my “favorite” superheroes, but the reality was that hero had not existed for a very long time. I tolerated this Namor knock-off, but didn't like him.
Then he died … after being subjected to the indignity of becoming some kind of octopoid creature haunting the depths … I didn't read those issues so I don't know the details. Don't really want to know.
Then he was brought back along with a dozen or so other dead DC characters at the climax of Blackest Night. And in one panel DC made me very very happy – Aquaman and Mera locked in a loving embrace after far too long.
Aquaman and Mera were one of the central story-threads of Brightest Day over the past year or so, and between Geoff Johns' writing and Ivan Reis' art, the greatness seemed to be restored. He looked like “my” Aquaman. He acted like “my” Aquaman. And well, with this issue we have confirmed that two out of the three qualities I identified above as being essential to “my” Aquaman are still present.
He renounces the crown of Atlantis. But that is to devote himself to building a life with Mera as a surface-world superhero. Two out of three ain't bad.
That decision is one of the narrative threads central to this issue. Basically, he stops a bank robbery in Boston, near his childhood home in the lighthouse at Amnesty Bay, where he and Mera seem to have taken up residence. Then he tries to have a peaceful lunch at a … seafood restaurant – fish and chips! We find out that this restaurant was where his father would bring him as a boy – it holds precious memories for him. But in both Boston and at the restaurant he meets incomprehension and condescension. “You need a glass of water or something?,” one of the police tries to be helpful. Aquaman's disgusted cutting his eyes at the cop is priceless: “No.” It gets worse at the restaurant. “You can't get the fish and chips,” protests a patron. “Why not?” “Because you talk to fish.” Aquaman grits his teeth, “I don't talk to fish. … Fish don't talk. Their brains are too primitive to carry on a conversation. … I reach into their midbrains and telepathically push them to help me out.” Then the patron – a blogger (d'oh!) wants to interview him, building up to a sucker punch – “How's it feel to really be, y'know … Aquaman? … I'm sure you've heard all the jokes and seen all the skits from Saturday Night Live on Youtube. … So how's it feel to be a punchline? How's it feel to be a laughingstock? … How's it feel to be nobody's favorite super-hero?” Aquaman is righteously pissed. He leaves without getting his lunch, but he's gracious enough to leave the waitress a nice tip – golden pieces of eight or whatever from sunken treasure – which we'd already found out is how Aquaman “gets by” financially! Mulling over everything that evening, when Mera comes to him he tells her his decision, mentioned above. “Let them find a new king.” And it looks like she's quite fine with that, replying with a smile, “And us a new life.” Smooch.
This is all the central story of issue #1 – no, not much action, but a lot of character development and revelation about who Aquaman is, what he has to deal with. Framing it is the setup for the first story arc – this is “The Trench, Part One,” after all. Creatures from the depths just discovering there is another world up there. What is up there? Food. Specifically, an unfortunate group of fishermen on the last page … To be continued.
There is truth in the popular derision that the Aquaman character has been subjected to … on Seinfeld, on Spongebob Squarepants, on Big Bang Theory (“Aquaman swims around in his own pee!” – and the image at right.... ) … Colin Ferguson. But Geoff Johns is succeeding in his stated goal of showing why Aquaman is cool – in my opinion. Maybe he goes a bit too far in having him stand up to the bank robbers' bullets with barely a scratch, and leap tall buildings and a distance of what looks like at least an eighth of a mile (like the original Golden Age Superman). But I can live with that. There's so much that's so right here.
Yeah, I'm Aqua-happy. Cheers, and thanks for reading.