DC Comics 2012
144 pages $22
I will be the first to admit that I have never been an Aquaman fan. The bulk of my experience with the character comes from Super Friends, and I have had little desire to get more acquainted. Even with that caveat, I have to say that thinking of the character ever having humor in his book was not something that came to mind easily. Any time I have checked in on him by flipping through one of the 6 previous volumes of his adventures, dour is the only word I would have chosen to describe what I saw. The only story I have read completely that used him at all was Brightest Day, and even there, he was not a happy camper. So when I heard that the first few issues of the New 52 version of the character’s eponymous book had a fair bit of humor, I was intrigued. I did notget these when they came out, but went back and grabbed the first 2 issues. I liked them enough to get the HC (collecting the first 6 issues) and I can say that this is a pretty fun, and funny book.
Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis and Joe Prado have put out quite a book and it stands out as one of the best of the New 52. Johns affection for the character comes through in his writing. While there is action the real treat here is the tongue in cheek humor. He gently pokes fun at the clichés that everyone thought were part and parcel of the King of Atlantis. From the moment he sits down in a seafood restaurant and orders the fish-n-chips you know this will not be a book to play it safe with the character. The constant references to his girlfriend and partner Mera as Aquawoman are giggle inducing at times, and make her interesting, where before she was nothing but a plot hammer. This book does have the same problem as most of the other New 52 collections in that it reads like the first arc and a half rather than something complete. From a story point, the first arc by itself in most of these books would have been a letdown. Adding the first part of the next arc (as an intro, interlude or teaser), feels as much like bonus material as the “same bat-time, same bat-channel” tease intended to get the reader to come back for the next book. It is not a great tactic in my mind, but it seems to be working for DC. The real test will be how well volume 2 of all these do.
Reis and Prado team up here to make a VERY nice looking book. The production value in the line and color is particularly stunning. There are the hero shots of the 2 main characters that are simply dazzling to look at. The color, leaping off the page at times, creates a powerful fantasy feel that cannot be understated. My only complaint here is there is sometimes too much going on. You cannot always make out what each panel contains. Part of this is art style and part is storytelling experience. It takes the master storytellers in this medium years, even decades to become masters. Only then is the storytelling sense developed enough to create truly great panel to panel storytelling. Eisner, Miller, Byrne, Sim, Wagner ,Kurtzman, Adams, Kirby and Ditko are examples of the greats. Nothing against the art team on this book, but they are not there yet. They are also victims of the current attitude in comics that more is better. Jim Lee and the Image style popularized this and it has been a huge influence on comics for two decades. Cramming a panel with piles of needless and sometimes distracting detail to make the book look more complex or intense is just how you sell books these days. Don’t get me wrong, this can make for some very pretty comics. This style is very well suited to digital where you are best only viewing a panel at a time, but as a page at a time read in print, it does not work as well. It can be too much for the eye to sort through easily. This changes the flow of the book and can really lessen the dramatic impact. The masters at controlling pace (Neal Adams and Dave Sim are good examples) can force you to speed up or slow down according to the demands of the story. There is only one pace here and in most other modern comics, and the art is not always going to mesh with those same story demands.
All else being equal (and the above is a relatively minor quibble that separates the good books from the great ones), this is a fun and interesting read. Aquaman, not so much rebooted as re-energized. Aquaman is easily in the top 5 of the New 52 and well worth a look.