Aquaman Time and Tide 1

One of DC’s four Golden Age heroes to survive to the modern-day, Aquaman is undoubtedly the one that gets the worst rap. The legacy of the Superfriends remains strong and most people still think of him as a joke. But for all the bad press he gets, Aquaman has endured for over seventy years, often well received even during periods that his Justice League comrades would rather forget.

In the mid-nineties, DC was chasing the dark and gritty trend. Superman died, Batman was broken, Wonder Woman replaced, the Green Lantern fell from grace, Wonder Woman flipped burgers, the Titans fell apart, and Wonder Woman received many a wedgie. And though Aquaman was hardly immune to the fashion of the day, quite appropriately, he found a way to swim with the current.

While Batman was bogged down in an endless series of crossovers and Superman wandered through every hairstyle, color scheme, and state of being that the writers could think to give him, Aquaman was given to Peter David, who began the longest run of Aquaman comics to date.

Today we’ll start examining the second underwater mini-series that David penned, and the first to feature Aquaman in a starring role: Time and Tide.

In short, if you thought Geoff Johns was the first one to make Aquaman cool, it’s about time you took a look at the history of Atlantis.

I mentioned before that this was Peter David’s second mini-series. The first was a seven issue event called The Atlantis Chronicles. The Atlantis Chronicles tells the story of DC’s Atlantis from its ancient history up until the birth of Aquaman, taking the form of archival records kept by the various leaders of the sunken continent.

Time and Tide picks up right about where The Atlantis Chronicles leaves off, opening with Aquaman finishing the Atlantis Chronicles and choosing to take on the responsibility of writing the next chapters.

David starts breaking down the traditional superhero conventions pretty quickly as a present-day Arthur Curry puts down the warrior’s weapon and takes up the historian’s to write about how he never felt comfortable playing superhero. It might be jarring for readers who expect Aquaman to essentially be undersea Superman or a Superfriends joke to see how serious Arthur is. Rather than patrolling the oceans for all manner of maritime crime, Aquaman is presented as a proud, reclusive figure repeatedly pulled into the public eye by fate.

David gives Arthur a very comic-booky eloquence in his narration. It might bother some, but David’s take on Aquaman is very much in the tradition of high tragedy and the heightened language suits the story he’s chosen to tell. It also highlights Arthur’s terseness, giving us a sense of Aquaman’s introverted nature when he switches from the poetic to the minimal, usually around people he doesn’t trust.

Still, for all of Arthur’s moodiness, the book is hardly grim. There’s plenty of that Peter David humor, even if it tends to run a little bit sardonic. In fact, though the humor can be dark, this is an extremely colorful issue. David introduces his deeply modern Aquaman alongside the quintessential Silver Age hero, the Flash, and with him comes all kinds of colorful craziness.

The Flash heralded the beginning of the Silver Age, with its forward-looking sci-fi optimism and strictly enforced happy endings. While Silver Age characters like Green Arrow have changed with the times, there’s something about Barry Allen that never gave up on being friendly and decent. From this perspective, it makes perfect sense to use him as a foil for Aquaman. I mean, Barry’s origin is that he was in a chemical accident and that made him want to be a hero. Arthur on the other hand, was born with his powers but he’s not even entirely sure what species he is.

The scenes of Arthur musing on his history are probably the best written, but they can’t match the portion on dry land for excitement.

Time and Tide - VodkaI can’t help but wonder how Aquaman would have been different if this had always been his origin. Would people have liked this sour version of the character? Would he have seemed innovative or annoying to the general public? It’s interesting to read the story knowing that our protagonist will have to mellow out enough to evolve into the silver age Aquaman, even if he would soon return to his brooding persona for much of the 90s.

Kirk Jarvinen’s artwork is definitely a product of its time. Sharp angles and hard lines dominate the page. The style generally suits Arthur’s powerful jaw and physical powers, but occasionally it ekes into the realm of ridiculousness. There’s more than one panel where Aquaman just looks simian and blocky. The Flash and Trickster also suffer, as their designs are less angular. The excesses of the style are much more prevalent in Arthur’s reminiscences than in the present sequences, but that’s a majority of the issue.

Still, I can understand the old excuse that this style is more evocative. Motion and strain come across clear as day and Jarvinen has a talent for framing. Your enjoyment of the art will probably be dependent on personal preference. If you’re interested in strong silver-age stylings through the prism of the era of Liefeld this is for you, but otherwise it may not be to your taste. Either way, Jarvinen’s work will be stronger on the next two issues.

It’s interesting that the subsequent issues of this mini-series are in chronological order but that this one is not. The opening sequence takes up a chunk of the issue and, while it’s kind of clever, it’s hardly essential. All this adds up to the unavoidable conclusion that this was a story told for its  tone. It’s not a bad issue by any means, but, once you read the rest of the mini, I think you’ll agree that this is more of an opportunity to dip your feet and get used to David’s brand of aquatic adventure than an equal partner.

Still, this is the beginning of Peter David’s tenure with Aquaman, the first interpretation of the character to find traction since the 70s, ending the numerous stops and starts of the 80s. The mini-series would be incomplete without this issue, and as we’ll see, it was really something special for the character.

Aquaman: Time and Tide #1 may not be the strongest of Peter David’s efforts with the character, but it’s a highly enjoyable issue and a marker of an important shift in Arthur’s history. Geoff John’s has done an excellent job of portraying Aquaman as something of a fish out of water, but if you want to see that theme taken to its fullest extent, this issue did it first and did it better (though we’ll actually see the reverse next issue). If you’re tired of heroes with simple morality or you’ve been wondering what’s actually up with that freaky fish guy people are always joking about this is an issue to track down.