For years, Aquaman has been a character ridiculed by comic readers, in no small part thanks to his portrayal in the Super Friends television series. In fact, the television series Robot Chicken recently put out a DC Comics special, which featured Aquaman, after he was the butt of too many jokes made by the Justice League. So when DC Comics announced the new Aquaman ongoing series as part of the New 52, it was clear by their choice of creative team that they were serious about making the book a hit, and taking the character more seriously so that readers would as well. To this end, Geoff Johns took the writing chores, and Ivan Reis, his collaborator from Green Lantern, joined him as the artist on the book. The result is not just a great-looking Aquaman book, but also one which confronts head-on some of the stereotypical Aquaman jokes, and turns them on their head. The book is self-aware of how readers might view Aquaman, and to this end has a variety of characters in this book address those opinions.
This new volume collects Aquaman #1-6, part of the New 52 relaunch that started in September 2011. The main plot in this book isn’t necessarily all that complex, but it sets the stage for future Aquaman stories, firmly roots the character in the New 52, and strips the character to his bare essentials. Arthur Currie is the son of a human lighthouse keeper and an Atlantean princess, born with powers and abilities that set him apart from the rest of humanity. In this book, Arthur struggles with his sense of identity, or relative lack of one, as he searches for a place to call his own, as he’s abdicated his throne in Atlantis, and is often ridiculed by other surface-dwellers. The main antagonist in this story is a race of primitive ocean-dwellers from the deepest part of the ocean, in the Trench, as they come to a harbour near Amnesty Bay to feed on local denizens. Aquaman and Mera must fight off the creatures, and pursue them to their home so that they can try and stop the new threat. The last two issues spin out of the first adventure, first with Aquaman finding himself a literal fish out of water, as he ends up in the middle of the desert, and the second focusing on Mera, as she goes downtown to pick-up dog food, and becomes embroiled in a violent series of misunderstandings.
As good as Ivan Reis’ artwork is, the main reason this collection is as readable as it is is the writing by Geoff Johns. It’s clear that he’s taken it upon himself to prove that Aquaman can be really cool, if written in a certain way. This isn’t to say that Aquaman hasn’t been written really well in the past, but that despite some great writing in the past, Aquaman isn’t often thought of as being a top ten character or book. But here in this relaunch you have two excellent creators, with a good history of collaborating together behind them, taking on a character who is often thought of as a joke, and managing to succeed. Part of what makes this work this time around is that Geoff Johns is not trying to pretend that Aquaman’s unpopularity doesn’t exist, instead he makes it part of his character, something that he has to deal with and put up with. He doesn’t play it for jokes, but instead turns it all around, as Aquaman is stronger for it. Everyone has to deal with what other people perceive of them, for better or worse, and this is how Aquaman deals with it. The art is absolutely gorgeous, as Ivan Reis makes Aquaman look extremely regal, yet at the same time imbuing him with a sensitivity, as he deals with his internal struggles of identity and his place in the world. The Trench look satisfyingly creepy, Mera looks wondrous and regal in her own right.
This is a great looking book, which reads extremely well by not trying to reinvent who Aquaman is, but instead embracing who he is and what he is at his core. I never thought that I could enjoy an Aquaman book this much, but it’s incredibly fun and engaging. If you’re not sure if you could be an Aquaman fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this up and give it a shot. If you enjoy this volume, just wait until the next collection comes out, as it’s even better than this one. Recommended!