Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Aquaman Flops Around, Gasps, Dies

Booze ‘n’ Comics
Volume 1, Issue 2
!Dia de los Muertos Edicion! (early November)
This issue brought to Gordon’s Dry Gin. Gin: Keeping the poor too drunk to organize and the rich too drunk to care since 1640!

Ratings System:

Single Malt Scotch: A perfect recipe. A generations-old process. Makes me feel warm inside.

Four Whiskey Sours: Oh yes. Just enough. This is a classic. I feel good.

Three Vodka Collins: Tasty! I’d like to have some more of that.

Two Cups Gin & Juice: Inoffensive, yet afterwards I only feel sleepy.

One Shot of Bacardi 151: Pffft! What are you trying to do, kill me?!

Aristocrat Tequila: I have nothing left to live for. Self-destruction is my only remaining goal.

Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis #50-57
Written by Tad Williams
Drawn by Shawn McManus

No… NO! They blew it up! Damn you all to hell… it was Aquaman!
Charlton Heston aside, I do kind of feel like I’ve been stuck in the middle of a society of apes whenever I read an Aquaman comic. No one believes what I say, I have to walk around in someone else’s furry underwear, I get beat up a lot, and usually I end up crying and beating my hands against the ground, or else someone’s telling me they’d kiss me if I weren’t so damned ugly.
In March of 1960, legendary Silver Age writer Gardner Fox introduced the Justice League of America in The Brave and the Bold #28. And sometimes even I, diehard Aquafan that I am, start to wonder if Fox wasn’t overselling the King of the Seven Seas by lumping him in with Superman and Wonder Woman. I’ve loved him since the Zero Hour reboot in the mid-‘90s, and as my tastes matured and I got past the gimmicky cybernetic arm, I realized he was one hell of an interesting character. Here’s this guy with no huge emblem splayed across his chest, one arm and a crappy haircut, yelling at everyone else in the JLA and what’re his powers? He can breathe underwater and talk to fish. Oh yeah, and his other, lesser known power, which is why he yells at everyone else in the JLA: Tremendous, Death-Star-sized balls. I used to wonder, why does he always have to deal with all the trouble going on in Atlantis practically by himself? Can’t Superman hear what’s going on under the ocean? Then I realized: he tells all the other heroes to get bent and stay off of his turf. Because his balls are the definition of enormous. In all honesty, I wrote a sixteen-page paper for my Advanced Non-Fiction class called “The Case for Aquaman” that revolves around this very claim. If you want to read it, email me at king dot aquaman at gmail dot com. Yeah. That’s how big of a fan I’ve been.
So anyway. The new series is technically Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis. Basically, a bunch of crazy idiotic crossover stuff happened, and now the old Aquaman is this amnesiac prophet guy with tentacles for a face called The Dweller in the Depths, and the new Aquaman is a mutant kid, born of surface-dweller stock, named Arthur Joseph Curry. (Arthur Curry was the first Aquaman’s landlubber handle. Kurt Busiek is known for his style, not necessarily his originality.) The two are joined by the King Shark, a big, humanoid… shark, who’s the son of the god of… sharks. You don’t really need to know much more than that. Anyway, Kurt Busiek was off to a good start for his post-Infinite Crisis Aquaman reboot. Atlantis in ruins, new hero righting wrongs, Cthulhu-esque powers of the Deep threaten us all, blah blah blah. Not Of Mice and Men, but not bad.
Enter Tad Williams, writer of such sci-fi/fantasy series as “Otherland” and “Memory, Sorrow and Thorn” …yeah, I’d never heard of him, either. That doesn’t mean he sucks! Far from it, actually. He has a very DeMatteis, X-Factor/Booster Gold type sense of humor that permeates his run—a sort of self-awareness that, yes, he’s being an even bigger dork by writing comics, but he’s having fun. He never quite overwhelms the (rather serious) plot with humor, but he definitely dabbles very close to the line. But you can tell he’s used to writing prose—the whole run is about as verbose as, well, me, for starters. And the minute Williams starts, the supporting cast is expanded so that he’d have needed three times the length of his eight-month run to flesh everyone out as well as I’d have liked. Clearly he was building towards something big, but DC didn’t want Aquaman cluttering up the monthly checklist when they could bring in some more guaranteed winners like Countdown to Mystery, Amazons Attack and Metamorpho: Year One. There was this big bad group called the Deep Church who worshipped a (yet again) Cthulhu-esque “sleeping god” called Urlok the Awaited, who could apparently only be stopped by Orin, the original Aquaman. Whom Williams conveniently “killed” in issue 50. Yeah, like I believe that for an instant. After he died, the Justice League basically showed up to go, “huh. I guess he’s dead.” This is how seriously the writer himself took it. I suffer no delusion that my favorite superhero may be dead forever, like Jean Grey or Captain America (please God). It’s just a stupid ploy to motivate the new Aquaman to greater heights. Or would it be depths? Whatever. You know.
The aforementioned supporting cast isn’t bad, it’s just big. Arthur befriends a humanoid octopus kid named Topo; he fights Krusivax, the son of the legendary Kordax (basically evil cousin of the royal family that Orin came from); old Orin is killed by Narwhal, the new identity of the brainwashed Koryak, Orin’s own son; and after the big battle with Krusivax and Vandal Savage and their plan to sink every city on the Pacific Rim, Arthur and his friends are menaced by Clownfish, a water-breathing man who was dosed with Jokerfish-toxin underwater, making him as crazy and dangerous as the real Joker. The series was running up to a confrontation with Urlok’s Deep Church in the city of Dyss, which apparently was at war with the other-dimensional city of Viatha, which was where Tempest, Orin’s old sidekick, journeyed at the end of issue 55 and… are you pissed off yet at having to keep so much in your head just to read one freakin’ issue of Aquaman? Now you get the picture. I appreciate Williams’ gusto, but his eyes were apparently bigger than DC’s mouth, and they spat him back out. (That’s a crappy metaphor, but I’m drunk and this rag is free. Sue me.) Speaking of gusto, the artist, Shawn McManus, didn’t seem to have much for this comic. I hope this isn’t the best he could do. Butch Guice’s sketchy, heavily-shaded drawings were replaced by McManus’s cartoony style, which, the writer’s sense of humor aside, just feels kind of out of place in what’s supposed to be an epic, if an underrated one. (Not to say that cartoony can’t be epic: see, uhm, anything drawn by Michael Avon Oeming.) That said, for such a wordy comic, McManus does a great job of depicting the fight between Arthur and Vandal Savage in issue 55. Fast-paced with lots of small panels, each one like half a second of film in an action movie. Well-done there.
When read all in one go, the last eight issues of volume four of Aquaman (yes, this is the fourth time since 1986 they’ve given him a monthly only to take it away again) make a compelling, if confusing, drama which ultimately falls short not due to the writer, but the editors. Read month by month, it’s just not worth it. C’est la vie. How can I be so nonchalant about the death and cancellation of my favorite character? Welcome to comics, kid. It’s a tough old world.
Dang it… now I’ve gotta subscribe to Outsiders.

Rating: Two Cups Gin & Juice.