NEW 52 REVIEW: Aquaman #1

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In recent years, there have been numerous efforts to inject the character of Aquaman with some chutzpah. Arthur is the King of Atlantis, one would think he’d be entitled to some dignity. Instead, he’s been the brunt of ridicule for a long stretch of his career. But this is a new universe, offering the titular hero one last opportunity to be embraced by comics fandom. Does this first issue simply tread water?

AQUAMAN #1
Writer: Geoff John
Penciller: Ivan Reis
Inker: Joe Prado
Colorist: Rod Reis
Letterer: Nick J Napolitano
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99

Previously in Aquaman: Aquaman is the King of Atlantis and has been a member of the Big Leagues for many years (Justice League of America). Born from the forbidden love between an ocean-dweller and a human, Aquaman has struggled with his place in the world, since he’s somewhat of an outsider to both. He’s been subject to physical trauma (such as losing his hand and being a biology research project in Justice) and despite the efforts of some of comics most gifted creators, Aquaman has been relegated to being the punch line of jokes.  But this time, that’s all about to change.

A Man of Two Worlds

A couple different plots are set into motion in Aquaman #1. Some formidable looking sea creatures have found a pathway to the light, electing to abandon the deep-sea trenches and head towards the surface. This will clearly culminate in an epic battle in the issues ahead. The primary storyline focuses on Aquaman’s return to his human roots within the city limits of Boston, Massachusetts. We learn that this is where Arthur spent his formative years with his father. As Aquaman looks to resolve an inner conflict of his place in the world, Boston makes for a great anchor, allowing him to sort through his thoughts and interact with the citizens of the city.

Arthur’s presence in the city is a surprise to everyone. Law enforcement appreciates his assistance in taking down some criminals, yet lament the ridicule they will later face from their associates. After all, it’s Aquaman who helped save the day.  Similar challenges face Aquaman when he visits a seaside restaurant, looking for respite and reflection. We learn that this is the place that his dad would take him when he was a boy. Unfortunately, the fashionable orange armor and huge trident preclude him from achieving any semblance of anonymity.

GOODBYE LAZY WRITING

Aquaman is one of the only books within the 52 relaunch that forgoes blocks of intrusive exposition. Instead, writer Geoff Johns invokes an elevated storytelling technique that actually shares historical context and characterization through organic developments within the story. ‘Show don’t tell’ is clearly embraced by Johns within the pages of Aquaman #1.

Public perception has not been kind, and his power-base has been significantly diluted by popular society as well as the more niche comics marketplace. He talks to fish and gets less powerful when he’s out of water. Of course, this is a gross simplification of the character that’s equitable to saying that The Flash is a dude who runs really fast.

LET’S BOOST THAT Q RATING

Aquaman #1 lets the reader share in Arthur’s lot in life, being acknowledged by the public at large as being lame. During several encounters in the book, jokes are made at his expense and people’s general misperceptions are addressed. Publicly acknowledging that Aquaman is a character with a low Q Rating Score is an unusually effective approach to typical modernization efforts in comics. Rather than come out the gates with a ‘New Grim and Gritty’ Aquaman, Johns opts for a slow build towards redeeming the strength of people’s perception of the character.

THE BEST INTERIOR ART OF THE RELAUNCH

The real hero of this book is artist Ivan Reis, whose pencils give Aquaman #1 real gravitas. If he can turn out a book of this visual quality every 30 days, I will be quite honestly, be shocked. The details in the linework, even with backgrounds, are astounding. This is without a doubt, the best looking title in the DC 52 Relaunch event.  Page after page literally took my breath away. Reis does have a bit of a reputation for stepping into the realm of gratuitousness with his compositions, but nothing like that stood out for me in this issue.

BOTTOM LINE: Buy it…buy it NOW. SERIOUSLY.

While Johns is certainly not the first creator to make a good Aquaman book (Peter David, Will Pfeifer), he’s certainly the highest profile writer to throw his hat in the ring, endeavoring to make Aquaman an A-List character. This has all the makings of a juggernaut, and for that reason, Aquaman #1 earns a very rare 5 out of 5 stars. 

Rating: ★★★★★