In the course of talking to comic creators this year, I started to think about their unique talents and what I think they would be best suited to. Inspired by all kinds of wonderful ideas I’ve seen online and heard from creators, I’ve put together my New 52. These are the 52 books I would publish if DC’s offerings were up to me and, as my friends and I have had a good time discussing them, I thought I would share them with you.

I tried to consider the actual feasibility of these titles, not only in the sense of immediate sales but in their ability to expand DC’s brand long-term. I also recognize that this is a dramatically simplified version of what DC actually has to do. As such, I made a couple of rules for myself.

First, as I don’t have the same knowledge of the creators’ availability and timeliness as an actual editor, I decided that I would allow myself access to any writer currently working in comics, but that I could only assign a creator to one book. Second, I tried not to put a writer on the same book that they’ve already worked on, though some were moved to similar concepts or allowed to expand short work they’ve already done. Finally, while an actual relaunch might do well to include some new books, I limited myself to preexisting titles and IPs for this project.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, on why I’m right, why I clearly screwed up, who should be illustrating the series, etc. But, regardless, I hope you enjoy.

Though DC has made admirable strides in rehabilitating Aquaman’s image since they revived Arthur Curry, the King of the Seas remains a point of skepticism for many comic readers. But despite that bad reputation he’s been saddled with, Aquaman remains a personal favorite of mine and, as one of DC’s oldest heroes and a founder of the Justice League, I consider it something of a duty to give Aquaman a place at DC befitting his stature. So if that duty fell to me how would I go about carrying it out?

Well, it would take something big. And it would have to be something lasting, something that would really demonstrate the character’s potential rather than just a flash in the pan. But after three years of Geoff Johns, what writer could handle that responsibility?

 

AQUAMAN BY BRIAN K. VAUGHAN

One of the great problems for Aquaman has always been that he’s been unfairly judged based on his powers. Admittedly Aquaman’s abilities are a lot cooler than people give him credit for but attempts by writers to prove that he’s tough enough have woefully missed the point. You’re never going to fully convince the public that Aquaman’s powers are awesome, people still wonder why Superman needs a Justice League, but, if you look at DC’s most popular hero, the only hero they have who can match Superman, you’ll find that the answer is somewhat obvious. Batman has long since proved that any character, no matter how laughable, can be loved and respected if you let them be competent and invest readers in their inner lives and those of their supporting cast.

To me, Aquaman’s comparatively limited powers are kind of a blessing. People ask how he can stand alongside the rest of the Justice League but I look at that and see a question waiting to be answered. I think the answer is experience.

Aquaman is the worldly superhero. Unlike Superman, who spent his life in Smallville, or Wonder Woman, trapped until recently on an island, or even high-flying Hal Jordan, working 9 to 5 as a test pilot or locked into military regimentation, Arthur Curry spent years exploring the world’s oceans, finding himself, becoming a king. By the very nature of his origin story, Aquaman should have a wealth of knowledge and skills that would allow him to do things that his fellow heroes simply can’t.  It’s a strategy that worked for Batman and made Kaldur’ahm a hit on Young Justice. I see Aquaman’s adventures being less about what powers he has and more about how the writer can think to use them – it’s not the size of the boat, it’s the tidal wave of fish Aquaman sends after you, as it were.

Aquaman is at once the most worldly superhero and one of the most relatable. He never asked to be a hero and he’s never felt comfortable being called one, he just acted the part.

I also think that we would need to clearly establish what the series was aiming for. More than most heroes, Aquaman has access to quite a few different worlds. Arthur has been a king, a traditional superhero, a defender of the seas, a mythical guardian, a sword and sandals barbarian, and more. I think there’s a benefit to seeing Arthur in his capacity as King of Atlantis, but there’s long been tension between the idea that Arthur is both monarch and adventurer and the faintest understanding of what a half-way decent king’s responsibilities are and the only things I think could be worth prioritizing over the strength of the writer’s narrative are the ability to put the book out on a reasonable schedule and the ability of future writers to tell their stories. I don’t see the point in asking Brian K. Vaughan to write a mainstream superhero book if you’re just going to strangle him in red tape.

Brian K. Vaughan is a very interesting guy and the creator of some of the most beloved comic runs of the past fifteen years. His credits include Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Ex Machina, and Saga, all fantastic and critically acclaimed, among a host of others. Vaughan’s work is literary without trying to run from comics and features both meticulously planned interconnected plots and startlingly realistic character beats. It sounds hyperbolic, but Vaughan really is just that good. I recently sat down with the first trade of Ex Machina again for the first time in some four years and it’s amazing just how well it holds up, especially for a book that I’ve found is often overshadowed by Y: The Last Man.

Vaughan’s work is great at mixing the grand and base into a real and sincere whole. I think Aquaman, with its epic fantasy and self-aware protagonist needs both.

Right now there’s essentially no book I know of that as many people are as excited about as Saga. Whenever a new issue comes out it is an event. I came to the book ready for it to be overhyped and, while I suppose anything this well regarded is to some degree, I was blown away by how much it held its own. And though Vaughan has been honest about his understandable preference for creator-owned books, he has contributed some incredible work-for-hire stories, including Green Lantern: Circle of Fire and Runaways.

What I’ve just mentioned of Vaughan’s works tells me that he’s adept at writing engrossing stories about politics and has a wildly successful science-fantasy comic starring a heroic yet awkward adorable married couple. That’s Aquaman, I just described Aquaman.

Vaughan has said that most of his stories are expressions of what frightens or depresses him. While that’s obviously a personal question, I think Aquaman is a relatively rich property in that regard. Themes of isolation, destiny, futility, the sacrifice of the individual, and cosmic unfairness have been central to the Aquaman mythos since at least the Bronze Age and the Ocean itself is one of mankind’s archetypal fears.

Aquaman has frequently been used to deconstruct standards of the superhero genre. I admit, he’s still a little prickly here, but the self-awareness really works for me.

I also think that the Aquaman I connect to, one based heavily but definitely not exclusively in and around the Peter David era, suits Vaughan’s style excellently. Not entirely dissimilar from Mitchell Hundred or Marko, Arthur Orin Curry’s outward demeanor is somewhat stoic, a feeling of disconnect he’s learned to project as nobility, but like Vaughan’s earlier characters there’s a rich inner life and sharp sense of humor that he shows to the few who gain his trust. I see in Arthur a deconstruction of and, to some degree, a harsh critique of modern masculinity that allows him to pass himself off as a paragon of strength in exchange for the very human closeness that he so craves. It’s a modern spin on that kind of ‘fantasy masculinity’ that allows Aragorn and Boromir a touching farewell in a manner that would be almost unthinkable in most other media, save war stories. I may be projecting, but that feels very Vaughan to me.

There’s also the fact that Vaughan has a long history of writing strong, well received women in his comics. Aquaman could be rebooted to be single, but I think Mera is a fantastic part of Arthur’s world and a character deserving of Vaughan’s attention. It admittedly runs the risk of repeating elements of Saga, but I think that it’s interesting that Aquaman is one of the only superheroes who’s married to another superhero.

Saga, in particular, has shown that Vaughan is a veritable wellspring of strange and wonderful worlds. I’d love to see what he’d do with Poseidonis, but that would only be a small part of Vaughan’s value on this title. Atlantis’ ‘real world’ history makes it an important part of the DC Universe. Atlantis has, at various times, been connected to innumerable staples of the DCU. Its Greek origins have led it to be connected to the Amazons of Themyscira and the abundant magic of the continent led it to be labeled the birthplace of the Homo Magi and as such is the source of the peoples of Gemworld and Skartaris. There have even been rare implications that some Atlanteans escaped earth’s atmosphere and their genetic lineage explains the human-like physiology of Rann, Thanagar, and even Krypton.

Aquaman has always been about hybrid identities, it’s just a matter of how we want to portray them.

Though it holds a particular resonance with the debut of Jason Momoa as Aquaman approaching, I think that, regardless, there is a strong case to be made for portraying a rebooted Aquaman as a person of color, likely a Pacific islander. Aquaman has always been a character torn between two heritages and the Post-crisis Aquaman’s back story explicitly writes him as an outcast shunned for the color of his hair. That’s some pretty blatant coding, even if it takes the least controversial route imaginable by making the (white) Atlanteans racist against blondes. Both elements would make a lot more sense with a person of color in the lead role. It also provides natural representation for a group that very rarely gets to see themselves in media, especially not as a founder of the Justice League.

I admit that part of me is hesitant to change Aquaman’s race. Those of us that love the character fell in love with him this way and, silly as it sounds, Aquaman’s orange, green and yellow color palette is one of the few things that people generally agree works for the character. I wouldn’t force the change if Vaughan or the editors came to me with a good reason not to, but I seriously doubt that they would be able to, nor might they even want to. It would be odd to some, at first, but I think history would vindicate the decision. Unfortunately when Aquaman debuted in 1941, though we had accepted that men and women of color were people, they weren’t quite people the way their white brothers and sisters were. World War II, the war that gave us Aquaman, was a big part of the building momentum towards greater civil rights but it would be another decade or two before most of America was even willing to acknowledge the plight of African-Americans, much less consider Pacific Islanders. What I’m saying is that the decision to make Aquaman white was very likely not a conscious one, but rather a product of the 1940’s views of acceptable protagonists. From this point of view, recasting Arthur as a person of color is essentially the modern equivalent of making him blonde and, honestly makes more sense for the character.

Aquaman remains one of DC’s greatest characters and I think Vaughan has the potential to finally bring him into the same tier as his Justice League teammates. Vaughan is an incredibly talented writer whose work actually makes an incredibly complete picture of the skills necessary to write an amazing Aquaman. Vaughan’s fame and credibility would ensure that essentially everyone willing to buy an Aquaman comic would, and I expect that the resulting run could easily stand among the character’s best. It might not be easy to convince Vaughan to work on the character, but if there was ever a time when it made perfect sense, it would be after a reboot, when fans are looking for a story to define the character for the new continuity.

I’m more than a little biased towards Aquaman, but Vaughan seems a perfect fit for the character and his world. Aquaman fans wish they could read this series. I’m afraid I don’t have the power to make it happen, but know that, in the world of the New Year’s 52, it is so.

Tomorrow… Superpower to the people!

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