Review: Aquaman Vol 1 – The Trench (The New 52) by Geoff Johns & Ivan Reis

The TrenchWhen I think of Aquaman, I think of Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s JLA run from the 90s; the bearded Aquaman, gruff and abrasive, with a hook for a hand. Like the Batman of the sea, he didn’t take stick from anyone. But to the wider public, Aquaman is a punchline: the gold-vested fish-talking king of the sea, who rides seahorses and beds mermaids, right? Easy fodder for any two-bit comedian. Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis tackle this head-on in the first volume of the “New 52” series; but it’s a little too on the nose, very heavy-handed, and detracts from an otherwise superb new introduction to the character.

In AQUAMAN, VOL. 1: THE TRENCH, the King of Atlantis is widely disrespected; mocked and pitied, and laughed at by criminals, the police, and everyday citizens. When the story opens, Aquaman halts a bank heist – brutally, effectively, and wonderfully illustrated as he careens his trident into their vehicle and flips it over spectacularly – but moments before, the robbers are referring to him as “tuna-man,” and the chasing cops are wondering what he’s going to do: “we’re not in the ocean and I don’t see any fish around…” Later, a blogger refers to Aquaman as “nobody’s favorite superhero,” and ridicules Arthur. It’s all a bit much, and unnecessary. Want to demonstrate how cool Aquaman is? Show us Aquaman doing cool things. Which, thankfully, Johns and Reis eventually do, when a new threat arises from a trench at the bottom of the sea; flesh-eating monsters have surfaced, and have attacked the people of Beachrock, forcing Aquaman and Mera into action.

The Johns / Reis creative partnership came to life in the pages of Green Lantern, and they continue their fine work here. There aren’t enough superlatives for Ivan Reis, suffice to say he’s secured a position in the “Top 5” artists working in comics. He nails the underwater scenes, perfectly capturing the terrifying creatures from the trench, and his depiction of Aquaman and Mera is fantastic. There are some striking double-page spreads in AQUAMAN VOL. 1: THE TRENCH – the image of Aquaman standing tall in Boston when he stops the bank heist is appropriately iconic, and deserves to be a poster.

Johns is heavy-handed with the Aquaman-loathing, but otherwise his script is fine-tuned and perfectly paced. The creatures from the trench aren’t particularly memorable, but such opposition was the right choice, as it keeps the spotlight on Aquaman and Mera. Johns’s decision to flashback to moments between Arthur and his father are particularly nuanced, and add real emotion to a tale that’s otherwise void of it. I don’t say this as a slight; THE TRENCH is designed as a blockbuster comic to entice readers to its pages; heavy on the action, sparse on the exposition. Perfect for new readers, and the doubters.

Aquaman has always been cool. But in case you weren’t sure, Johns and Reis clarify the status quo with AQUAMAN VOL 1: THE TRENCH.

Review: Forever Evil by Geoff Johns & David Finch

Forever EvikFOREVER EVIL is the equivalent of a Michael Bay blockbuster, and I say that without a trace of contempt. There’s nothing subtle about it. There’s no real emotional hook. It’s crude storytelling – but it’s rollicking. If you’re after non-stop action, double-crosses and lots of explosions, look no further; FOREVER EVIL is a heck of a ride.

The Justice League is dead.

Of course, they’re not, and veteran readers don’t expect that to last, but that’s the status quo introduced by Geoff Johns and David Finch, and things immediately get worse from there. The Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 have arrived on Earth – evil analogues of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman – and are intent on ruling it through violence. With the Justice League out of the picture, there is no one to stand in the way of them – except for Lex Luthor, who bands together a motley crew of villains and becomes Earth’s only resisting force. The Injustice League is the planet’s only hope.

FOREVER EVIL is very much a Lex Luthor story. In his mind, the arrival of The Crime Syndicate validates his incessant claims that humans can’t reply solely on aliens and super-powered beings to save them. Luthor doesn’t see himself as a villain; he’s a proponent for humanity, whose advocacy boarders on the insane. Teamed with his imperfect clone of Superman, Bizarro, as well as Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, Sinestro and more, Luthor combats his superior foes with gusto, which leads to some iconic moments, many of which fall into spoiler territory; suffice to say, the battle between Sinestro and Power Ring will live long in the memory; so too Ultraman’s fight with Black Adam.

While I’ve never been a great admirer of David Finch’s artwork – entirely artistic bias rather than a slight on his ability – he is a fine artist for this project, and John plays to his strengths, allowing Finch to dynamically display the countless skirmishes. Character expressions rarely vary beyond furrowed brows, but hey, it’s the end of the world, they’re entitled to be stressed. Inker Richard Friend, colorist Sonia Oback and letterer Rob Leigh all collaborate nicely to make FOREVER EVIL altogether very pleasing on the eye.

Johns leaves several threads hanging, plots that’ll undoubtedly be picked up on moving forward – but FOREVER EVIL wraps up with closure rarely evidenced in an ‘event’ series. Again, no spoilers, but the looming status quo will be very interesting indeed following Luthor’s decisions here. That’s the thing about comics – they are fluid. There is never time to enjoy what was; we’ve already moved on. FOREVER EVIL is a fun romp, which won’t resonate eternally, but is a thrilling ride while it lasts.

My thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing a review copy.