I want to like Aquaman. Despite the fact that he’s the laughingstock of the superhero world, and he seems like the most ineffectual member of the Justice League, I’ve always felt that Aquaman had the potential to be cool. Sure, he’s had his moments in the sun with successful story arcs such as Peter David’s runs in the 90’s, but Aquaman has always been afflicted with a certain stigma that marked him as the most laughable of DC’s superheroes. Even when he had his golden hook and bearded “Warrior King” look, it still came across as posturing. Although he’s been the long suffering joke of the superhero community, there’s tremendous potential for Aquaman to be cool. He rules 70% of the world, and he’s sovereign of undiscovered depths that mankind has yet to explore. Geoff Johns’s first issue of Aquaman looks like it may finally tap into the character’s huge potential for awesomeness, and I’m excited at the prospect of the Gordian Knot of superheroes finally being cut.
This issue opens on a new enemy called “The Trench”. This creepy race of monster people live in the deepest and darkest ocean depths, presumably in one of the oceanic trenches that they’re named after. I like the idea of a race of aquatic beings that dwell in the lowest points on Earth where no sunlight can reach them, and Ivan Reis’s style is perfect for illustrating this grotesque race. These creatures, like the fish found on the ocean floors, have luminescent skin to provide light in their abysmally dark habitat. The Trench is not only a scary and visually appealing antagonist, but it’s also based on the very real idea of sea life that thrives in the most remote and harsh environments.
Johns cuts from The Trench ascending from the depths to a high speed chase in Boston. We see a group of ski mask clad and AK-47 toting criminals fleeing the police, and they’re confronted by Aquaman who now seems to be able to leap incredible distances. Johns acknowledges Aquaman’s reputation as the least powerful and most ridiculed superhero by having both the criminals and the police poke fun at him.
Right off the bat, Johns is intent on making it clear that his Aquaman is not to be laughed at. Aquaman flips the get away car with his trident, and when the criminals open fire on him, the bullets bounce off him and barely scratch his skin. This Aquaman appears to be substantially more powerful than he’s traditionally depicted to be. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he’s super-strong to the point of being able to effortlessly lift a van, and he’s semi-invulnerable (although the bullet that struck his forehead did make him bleed a little). This power boost emphasizes that Aquaman doesn’t just talk to fish and swim really fast; he’s a formidable metahuman whose power should be respected and not mocked.
In the following scene, Aquaman sits down to eat at a booth in a local seafood restaurant. Here, Johns plays up Aquaman’s otherworldly and out of place nature as the restaurant patrons are shocked that he just strolled in for a bite to eat. This scene works as both comic relief and exposition. When Aquaman orders the fish and chips, we see that everyone in the restaurant is humorously surprised that he would eat fish, and we also learn that he doesn’t “talk to fish”. He telepathically forces sea life to help him, he doesn’t engage in ridiculous conversations with anchovies.
A somewhat rude and intrusive blogger forces an interview out of Aquaman, and again, we are given a little humor and exposition. We learn that Aquaman gets his money from treasure chests, and also that the general public doesn’t believe in the existence of Atlantis. The blogger even goes so far as to ask Aquaman what it’s like to be “a punchline” and “a laughingstock”, which causes the superhero to indignantly walk out of the restaurant. Johns is heavily emphasizing the fact that Aquaman isn’t taken seriously, even within the DCU, and it seems like he intends to change that perception with this series.
Johns rounds out the issue with Aquaman telling Mera that he is going to abdicate the throne of Atlantis. Aquaman wants to live on the surface and embrace his human side. This is an interesting direction for the character, but Johns concludes the comic with The Trench surfacing and about to commence an attack, so we can assume that Aquaman’s responsibilities will most likely prevent him from relinquishing the crown. While I think it’s relatively obvious that Aquaman will continue to be king in this series, it looks like Johns is setting up an entertaining antagonist with The Trench, and also a compelling moral conflict. Aquaman will be forced to choose between living as one of the humans that think he’s a freak, and the responsibility he has to the Atlanteans that refuse to truly accept him as one of their own.
The problem of how to make Aquaman cool has always seemed like an unsolvable equation. In Aquaman’s debut in the DCnU, Geoff Johns attempts to finally free the character of the ridicule that has plagued him since his inception. I think he’s made a promising start towards accomplishing that almost insurmountable feat by making Aquaman substantially more powerful, and by directly addressing the cliche jokes within the comic. Instead of ignoring his status as the butt of endless jokes, this comic openly acknowledges the fact that people don’t take Aquaman seriously, and it urges the reader to realize that Aquaman is in fact awesome. Only time will tell if Johns will be able to tap into the fathoms of Aquaman’s potential for awesomeness, but this was a very strong first attempt, and I’m on board for this series.