Review

“How’s it feel to be nobody’s favorite super-hero?”

When I first wrote up my pull-list for DC’s “New 52,” Aquaman wasn’t on it. I was by no means a detractor, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan either. Being thoroughly neutral on Aquaman, combined with the fact that my comic budget was already getting dangerously high led to this one almost slipping past me. However, a day or two before the issue was set to be released, I saw that both Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis were responsible for it. It was Blackest Night that got me back into comics after many years away, so I figured if those two were on board it might be worth checking out.

The issue begins by introducing what are sure to be the villains for the rest of this story arc; mysterious humanoids with the big black eyes and teeth of a deep sea anglerfish who have just discovered that “there is an above.” Very little is revealed about these creatures and they only appear on a grand total of three pages, but it’s just enough to pique reader curiosity.

Meanwhile, on the surface, Aquaman–looking like a beacon of pure awesome–has shown up on the scene of a high speed chase between the police and a gang of armed robbers. Both parties seem equally amused and baffled by his presence, but he quickly demonstrates his abilities by facing the robber’s getaway car head on and flipping it with his trident. When the bullets start flying, he regards them in much the same way that one would regard a swarm of flies – as a nuisance.

Even after witnessing him stoically dispatching the criminals, the cops still don’t take him seriously, even though they are seemingly grateful for his intervention. As he leaves, one cop exclaims, “I can’t believe we just got upstaged by Aquaman.”

“Aquaman talks to fish. Everybody knows that.”

After the fight, Arthur heads into a small seafood restaurant, that we later learn is a place that his father used to take him when he was a boy. Not long after being seated, a restaurant-goer looking to interview Arthur for his blog insists that Aquaman can’t have the fish and chips because he “talks to fish.” Arthur glowers at him, but calmly informs the man that he doesn’t talk to fish. The blogger’s lunch companion butts in, insisting “Aquaman talks to fish. Everybody knows that.” A comment like that is tantamount to spitting in Arthur’s face. Referring to him as if he wasn’t there and correcting him about his own powers is nothing short of dehumanising. That, coupled with accusations that he is wearing his “orange shirt” for attention and questioning the existence of Atlantis, is disrespectful whether it was intended to be hurtful or not.

Johns is fully aware of Aquaman’s reputation–mostly resulting from his goofy portrayal in the Super Friends cartoon–and by lampooning it here, he gives the character a fresh start. We get to experience how much crap Arthur puts up with on a daily basis and see his underlying bitterness as completely justified. He is a sympathetic character and seeing him hassled at every turn makes me wish he would just punch one of these guys square in the nose. But Arthur takes the high road and never flies off the handle. When the situation becomes too much for him, he simply leaves.

The restaurant scene serves a dual purpose: In addition to showing how Aquaman is regarded by the general public, it also serves to explain a little of his history and powers for new readers. This is precisely why Aquaman #1 is everything a first issue should be–it isn’t bogged down by exposition, but rather weaves important background information throughout the current story, making it accessible to everyone while not being a boring retread for those more familiar with the character.

“Someone has to watch the shores. It’s called responsibility.”

The issue wraps up with Arthur standing on a rocky outcropping by the edge of the water, recalling a memory of his father explaining why he was a lighthouse keeper. Despite the events of the day, this memory leads Arthur to decide that he should forgo returning to Atlantis and stay on the surface to make a new life with Mera because it’s the right thing to do. And if the final pages are any indication, the surface dwellers are going to need all the help they can get…

Though a bit light on action, Aquaman #1 is a solid issue and has a lot to recommend it. Geoff Johns knows how to write well-rounded characters and I’m fairly certain that this is going to be story worth sticking with.