When 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.