Aquaman 26

As part of a rare breed of comic nerd, I will happily take any opportunity to proclaim my love for Aquaman. Sure, the world thinks he’s the worst member of the Justice League, but Aquaman’s awesome, capable of all the depth and power of the sea itself.

So I was torn when the New 52 launched the first new Aquaman comic in years. On one hand, I was particularly tired of Geoff Johns’ style of storytelling at the time and his villains bored me to death. On the other, here was a writer who not only loved and understood Aquaman but propelled him to the top of the sales charts. For the first time, the word got out that it’s ok to like Aquaman. That’s why I felt so weird dropping the series.

I may go back and read it in trade (the way it was meant to be read), but with a tight comics budget, I just couldn’t justify picking it up every month. Perhaps, I thought, I’ll return to Aquaman someday, some day when the currents change.

Well that day is today.

After twenty-five issues, Geoff Johns has finally moved on from the King of Atlantis, leaving the title open for Jeff Parker to take the reins.

Parker definitely brings a new perspective to the series. The issue’s full of interesting ideas, but much is built on elements of the previous run. Mentions of the Trench and Arthur’s true lineage tie the story into what’s come before. Even so, Parker’s version of Aquaman definitely feels different from Johns’. Gone is the stoic nobility that defined Johns and Peter David’s interpretations of the character in favor of a gentler, more accommodating monarch. I rather like the idea of Aquaman being the socially challenged member of the Justice League, but I imagine that there are plenty of fans who welcome an actually heroic character helming a DC comic. That said, this is only the first issue, and it may not be a reversal of character, but merely a softening.

One thing that definitely bodes well is the thought that Parker has clearly been putting into Aquaman’s powers. Defining the ability to move between drastic changes in pressure safely as an Atlantian characteristic is actually quite brilliant and the issue seems to imply that it may have significant implications for the story. Parker also does a great job of emphasizing Aquaman’s often mercurial telepathic abilities, providing them with a great specialized word balloon.

The idea of pitting Aquaman against a kaiju is an interesting and increasingly popular one. For all our scientific advancement, the ocean remains a fairly mysterious place for us. Perhaps that’s the draw of Atlantis, a familiar location in one of the last unknown settings on earth. Regardless, Parker does a fine job of justifying his behemoth and uses it to tell a fun story while clearly setting up several upcoming plotlines.

Though the plot is interesting and multi-faceted, I wasn’t bowled over by Parker’s writing. Some scenes, like the opening in the sub, seem a bit too straight forward while others lack the naturalism that Parker seems to be aiming for. Twice in the issue a character trails off before uttering the name Aquaman in a caption box and twice in the issue this feels hokey and uninspired.

Overall the writing isn’t so much bad as lethargic. Despite a diverse plot, Parker’s opening arc fails to elicit excitement. Say what you will about Geoff Johns, but one thing he definitely brought to this title was the sense that every adventure could be an event. The Trench were some of the least interesting villains I’ve seen in some time but the stakes always felt high. Even though this is the start of a new run there’s no sense that Parker made hooking his readers a priority. That’s a big part of a writer’s responsibility but hopefully the ideas will speak for themselves as the story rolls on.

Though Paul Pelletier gets first billing, judging from the cover it seems that Netho Diaz is handling the first few pages of the book, as well as a couple of pages through the rest. Diaz shows a rare talent for drawing scenes of underwater calamity, handling bubbles, tfanged monstrosities, and underwater volcanoes with ease. However, for all his skill in depicting the setting, there are some problems with his characters. There are a number of instances where Arthur’s expressions become stiff and exaggerated and his representations of Mera are generally poor. That said, there are a couple of great panels of Arthur that manage to convey the dueling pressures he finds himself bearing.

Pelletier delivers a bolder style that better suits both hero and antagonist. The rounder faces and more cartoony expressions give a greater sense of superhero wonder. Pelletier’s layouts also have a definite energy. Pages rarely slip into a single mold, shifting as the story demands. Use of vertical compositions, an effective sense of scale, and frequent and detailed reaction shots help to establish Pelletier’s storytelling credentials quickly and clearly.

The colors are a mixed bag. There’s some great use of greens and purples, but much of the book, particularly Diaz’ sections, looks very washed out and the scenes in Atlantis have hard, monochromatic lighting that severely limit what’s possible for the colorists.

Parker’s run on Aquaman opens about as quietly as a story about a horrific crab kaiju could have. The writing leans towards plot rather than dialogue and the story wastes no time in getting started. Parker may yet prove himself, but he’s chosen a risky strategy.

Netho Diaz does a fine job with the underwater setting but he doesn’t seem quite ready to helm a founding Leaguer’s title.

Paul Pelletier is the real star of this issue, delivering a lovely seaside battle and helping to highlight the interesting ground that the issue covers. He gives the title the a-list look that DC’s final Golden Age hero deserves.

If nothing else, the fallout of this story already seems interesting, but Parker missed an opportunity to grab his readers right away. There are just enough hits towards greatness to make me think that Parker has things under control, but with a character like Aquaman you run the risk of readers jumping off if the first issue doesn’t impress. This issue feels like a modern take on a great Silver Age adventure, what with its giant monsters, earnest heroes, and wild ideas, but those looking for a great modern Aquaman story will have to judge whether potential is enough to overlook a merely decent opening issue.

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