From the D List Comes… Aquaman!
Many years ago, John Peters and Peter Guber approached movie studios with the idea of doing a Batman movie. They were promptly laughed out of the conference room. The idea of a Batman film seemed ridiculous, not to mention financial poison. As one exec remarked, “We envisioned Superman, only in grey underwear and he couldn’t fly.”
This exec probably had a point. He also probably promptly got in his Saturn and listened to Right Said Fred on his eight track while driving to Circuit City to buy the Microsoft Zune.
Meanwhile, two Batman movie franchises were launched, as well as a succession of popular animated series and video games. Jack Nicholson’s career was given a booster shot. Christian Bale became a household name. Heath Ledger became a legend. Joel Schumacher’s career skyrocketed. Joel Schumacher’s career plummeted. Alicia Silverstone’s career plummeted. George Clooney… remained completely unaffected.
Yes, Batman was already hugely popular with comic fans. But there was a time when “Batman” was synonymous with the campy Adam West series. There are many franchises that are muddled in ridicule and lack of respect till a radioactive spider or other bit of luck jolts them with a few cases of serious cans of whup ass.
Infinite Ammo is going to look at franchises, in comics, video games, popular culture, whatever, that have been unfairly ignored, and might be coming back to prominence. Today we’re going to look at Aquaman.
Yes. The guy in the orange shirt and green pants. Special powers? He could breathe underwater and talk to fish. It’s not like anybody hated him. They just didn’t take him seriously. In a universe with magic hammers, repulsor rays, heat vision, and super strength, how threatening exactly is a school of guppies? Aquaman’s highest claim to fame was as a running joke on Entourage.
There were some attempts to make him current and compelling. At one point he grew out a beard, went shirtless, and replaced his hand with a hook. While they were at it, they might as well have had Aquaman buy a bright red Corvette with a vanity plate that read “TRY2HRD.”
Then something interesting happened. The creators of Smallville decided to make an Aquaman pilot. Then something really interesting happened. It didn’t suck. Although it was never picked up, the pilot was released on iTunes, and became one of the most downloaded videos in history.
The pilot is still available, and it does show some legitimate promise. There is a thrilling opening, and a haunting image of a ten year old Aquaman lost among a group of whales. There is a particularly thrilling sequence where the older Aquaman races against a fighter jet, just because he can. Unfortunately, the CGI for the scenes is terrible. But it also shows a lot of fun, a kinetic joy and freedom as he speeds through the ocean at top speeds. The Aquaman pilot isn’t perfect. The acting is laughably stiff, made worse by lines such as, “You remember it was ten years ago that Mom disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle?” And my favorite, “You know why I freed those dolphins? I felt like they were calling out to me.” There was one point where Aquaman gets hypnotized (don’t ask) and I literally could not tell if he was being hypnotized or if his acting was just that flat.
But one thing the show accomplished was it showed that Aquaman could be fun. And now, his time may have come with the massive DC reboot.
Aquaman #1 has been the sleeper success of DC’s relaunch, surprising even the creators of the new series. While other titles have met with mixed, and sometimes controversial, results, the underwater and under appreciated hero is a breakout hit. I suggest your read Chaos Mechanica’s review to get a comprehensive run through of the issue.
Part of the success is no doubt a result of lowered expectations. But there are other reasons as well.
They played down the sillier aspects of the character. Aquaman makes a very big point that he does not talk to fish. He can still control them, but he doesn’t talk to them. He’s not DC’s answer to Doctor Doolittle. Similarly, writer Geoff Johns plays up the strengths of the character. As an underwater dweller, Aquaman has superb strength and resilience.
He looks great. One of the more impressive things about Ivan Reis’s artwork is he didn’t change Aquaman’s look at all, and yet the hero looks incredible. The orange top is now highly polished, reflecting the sunlight brilliantly. The outfit is highlighted by a massive and very menacing looking trident. Accessories matter, don’t forget that. And when Aquaman is in action, his movements are violent, forceful, yet fluid. And finally there are his facial expressions. Reis does a great job of communicating Aquaman’s reactions and feelings perfectly.
Everything takes place on land. It is possible to relate to a fantastical, underwater kingdom, and to feel sympathy when the citizens are threatened. It’s been done. Just not in this title. The new Aquaman fights bank robbers in the first few pages, and declares that he’s going to stay on land in the final pages. This just makes his story more immediate and relatable. I’m sure at some point he’ll go back to Atlantis. But for now, his story seems more compelling among skyscrapers and concrete, saving everyday people.
Geoff Johns plays on Aquaman’s underdog status. This is probably the most brilliant move by Geoff Johns. A nerd/blogger interrupts Aquaman’s lunch, rudely asking questions. In the process, he gives the same critiques that comic readers have for years. Aquaman responds politely, firmly, and sometimes sarcastically. He does not talk to fish, he does not ride sea horses. He does not cavort with marine animals. And then there is a poignant panel where Aquaman flashes back to being a boy, eating with his dad. It’s a nice touch. The knock out blow comes when the blogger asks, point blank, “How does it feel to be nobody’s favorite super hero?”
And there it is. Aquaman is an underdog, disrespected and dismissed. Kind of like… most everybody I know who grew up reading comic books. Geoff Johns manages to take everything about Aquaman that made him silly, and turn it into something that makes him compelling.