web stats

CSBG Archive

Comics You Should Own flashback – Aquaman #0-25

Is this my most controversial selection ever for these posts? It just might be …

(I’ll point out that I posted this originally in May 2005, as I’ve been pointing out all along with these “flashbacks.” Blame 2005 Burgas if you don’t like these comics! Also, some of this has been edited, as I mentioned the “current” Aquaman series, which of course no longer exists. But the essence of the original post is still here!)

(Oh, and some SPOILERS, as usual. Not too many, though. At least I hope not.)

Aquaman by Peter David (writer), Martin Egelund (penciller, issues #0-4, 6-8, 11-14, 16, 18-20, 22-23, 25), Jim Calafiore (penciller, issues #5, 10, 15, 17, 21, 24), Gene Gonzalez (penciller, issue #3), Casey Jones (penciller, issue #8), Joe St. Pierre (penciller, issue #9), Alan Caldwell (penciller, issue #20), Derec Aucon (penciller, issue #23), Brad Vancata (inker, issues #0-2), Howard Shum (inker, issues #0, 3-9, 11-14, 16, 18-20, 22-23, 25), Craig Gilmore (inker, issue #8), Rodney Ramos (inker, issue #9), Peter Palmiotti (inker, issues #10, 17, 21, 24), Mark McKenna (inker, issue #15), Charles Barnett (inker, issue #15), Tom McCraw (colorist), Dan Nakrosis (letterer, issues #0-22), Kevin Cunningham (letterer, issue #4), and Albert de Guzman (letterer, issues #23-25).

DC, 26 issues (0-25; the zero issue comes after #2), cover dated August 1994-October 1996.

In the last flashback installment, I told you that you really ought to go out and buy Atlantis Chronicles, Peter David’s history of Atlantis. As a continuation, I now give you Peter David’s Aquaman, the only Aquaman series I really like. Bill Reed will tell you that the good Aquaman series is the McLaughlin/Hooper/Dvorak run of 13 issues from December 1991 to January 1993, and he blames DC for shoving that out of the way so they could get David. Well, that might be true, but Atlantis Chronicles finished in September 1990, and David’s first Aquaman story, Time And Tide, didn’t come out until December 1993, many months after McLaughlin’s run got cancelled, so I don’t know what the machinations at DC were like in the early- to mid-1990s. However, McLaughlin’s run, though decent enough, isn’t really that good. Making Arthur the ambassador to the UN is a neat idea, and issue #8, with the disciple of the NKVDemon from the Batman books, is a very good issue, but overall – meh. Even David’s “Year One” story, the aforementioned Time And Tide, isn’t that good, largely because David goes way too far with the clever humor he enjoys. He’s good at it, but a little goes a long way, Mr. David. When he took over the Aquaman ongoing (with yet another issue #1), he really hit his stride, and the first 26 issues of his run form a coherent and fascinating story.

You don’t really need to read Atlantis Chronicles to enjoy Aquaman, but it wouldn’t hurt. That’s why I looked at that one first, even though I do these comics in alphabetical order (I’m anal – sue me). David continues the themes he laid out in the Chronicles book – mainly brother fighting brother for the future of Atlantis, but also the idea of curses and never escaping the past. As I mentioned in my review of Atlantis Chronicles, this is all very Shakespearean and Greek tragedy-esque, and if that’s the kind of stuff you like, this is a good read. I do like it, so this is right up my alley.

The most famous thing David did, of course, was chop off Arthur’s hand. This event may have been a “let’s make Aquaman mean” marketing ploy, but in the hands of a good writer like David, it becomes a symbol of both sides of Arthur’s nature – his underwater and land side, a duality that all writers of Aquaman ought to bring up, since it’s such an interesting part of his personality. Arthur uses the hook to spear shrimp in one scene, and he spears a person in another, and wonders at the implications of it. The fact that hunters use similar harpoons to spear dolphins in issue #4 (guest-starring Lobo!) is a subtle reminder that Arthur is both an Atlantean and a surface-dweller, even though David has changed his ancestry so that he’s not descended from a light-house keeper anymore.

After getting rid of Arthur’s hand (though the machinations of a global terrorist named Charybdis, who only lasts two issues but is extremely creepy – and has apparently come back from being eaten by piranhas, a nifty trick), David slowly introduces the plot elements that will form his grand narrative. It’s all about uniting the seven lost cities of Atlantis, of which Poseidonis is only the capital. It’s also about the real reason for humanity’s presence on Earth, as slaves for intergalactic scavengers who are returning to reap their harvest. Only Aquaman can save us!!!! It’s not the greatest plot, but plots are a dime a dozen – what matters is how David pulls it off, and his narrative is full of realpolitik, and stands as an interesting take on what it means to be more than a hero, which, after all, Arthur is. He’s not necessarily always the “good guy,” because he is doing things for the greater good and doesn’t have time for legal niceties. David puts it in our minds that maybe Arthur is insane, or maybe he has lost touch with reality, or maybe he’s just not that nice a guy. When Garth goes missing (we think he’s dead, but he’s not), Arthur doesn’t go and look for him, believing that Garth is an adult and can look after himself. Arthur is often petulant and confused, not like a hero at all, and, especially in the early issues, we find ourselves wondering why anyone cares about this guy, especially Dolphin, who is a major player in the title and gets busy with Arthur about halfway through the run. This crankiness might put off Aquaman purists, but for someone whose only experience with him was from the SuperFriends and some of the stuff from the ’40s, I liked what David was doing – he was humanizing Arthur, and making him less a heroic figure and more of a man who wants to do the right thing but can’t always figure out how because of his stubbornness. These kinds of people are much more interesting than people who always do the right thing.

Arthur finds out he has a son, and the Atlantis Chronicles theme begins again. You may think that David isn’t being terribly subtle, but he is: he doesn’t beat us over the head with the fact that Arthur, like his own father (Atlan the wizard) is an aloof, mythical figure to Koryak (his son). We’re allowed to see how poorly Arthur relates to Koryak, even though he tries, and how Koryak rejects him not because of who he is, but because of who Koryak thinks he is. Arthur’s poor parenting skills are evident when he confronts Arthur Jr., who has been living in Thanatos’s dimension with Mera. He tells him, “Pray you’re not my son. Because if you are, you’re caught up in a prophecy that will doom you to a life of conflict.” (To which Mera replies, “Thank you, dear. Very inspiring.”) The point is – Arthur tells the kid the truth, but he’s not terribly nice. This sort of thing makes his growth throughout the title, to where he can reach out to Garth and try to make amends with Koryak, nice to see and more believable. He’s learning how to be a father, and he’s also learning how to be a son (in his interactions with Atlan, when he shows up). He’s trying to break the Atlantean curse the only way he knows how.

Koryak, of course, gets caught up in the curse, when he allows King Thesily to die and leads the Poseidonisians (?) out of the city after it’s shaken by earthquakes (all part of the old prophecies about Atlantis rejoining the surface world – see how David ties everything together?), eventually breaking Tritonis’s law about the tunnels between the cities and meeting Kordax, the blond scaly monster dude from Atlantis Chronicles. Kordax uses his mental powers to enslave the refugees, and this leads to a fight between Koryak and Garth, a battle between Arthur’s “sons.” The twists and turns that the story takes to get all the principals in one spot are what make reading a long David run so fulfilling – individually, the issues have action and humor and fun stuff, but over the long haul, it all fits into a longer story, even if you didn’t see it coming. By the final few issues of the run, Arthur has united the various cities of Atlantis (and again made some hard choices about his loyalties), recruited many of DC’s underwater heroes, including the Sea Devils and Power Girl (she’s related to Atlan somehow), and fought off the Justice League, Lobo, Green Lantern alone, lost to Thanatos (!), and finally, thwarted an alien invasion not by using his fists (although there’s a lot o’ fighting) but by using his brains and his political skills.

There’s plenty of David humor, as I mentioned, and the best issue of the run might be #14, the Underworld Unleashed crossover with the new and improved Major Disaster. This issue is dripping with irony, and it has one of the better “butterfly effect” stories I’ve seen. It’s really neat to see all the elements come together, especially because you’re not totally sure where it will lead. Arthur fights plenty of powerful monsters and bad guys, and although Manta doesn’t show up, Thanatos and Ocean Master do. It’s action-adventure on the grand scale, and coupled with the humor, makes it a fun read despite the dark undercurrents. Even the most gruesome scenes (when Arthur loses his hand, for instance) are laced with dark humor.

Many people might get caught up on the art. I happen to like Egelund and Calafiore, but Egelund especially typifies mid-1990s “Image” art. His women are petite except for the gigantic breasts, and occasionally border on the grotesque (check out Wonder Woman on the cover to issue #16). His style flows well, however, and despite some of the contortions he puts the characters through, it’s never that distracting, like some artists – *coughLiefeldcough* – I could name. Calafiore’s underwater scenes are wonderful, and he has a real talent for drawing sea life – a must in a comic like this. As I am not an art critic, most of the time I can live with unspectacular art if the story is good, and although the art on Aquaman hasn’t aged well, it’s still pleasant to look at.

David wrote Aquaman for another 20+ issues, but the remainder of his run wasn’t as strong as these issues are. His run also ended sloppily, as he had a falling-out with DC. This incarnation of the title lasted until issue #75, and the character was given yet another series that didn’t last too long (and Arthur is currently dead, if I’m remembering correctly). The aforementioned Mr. Reed said that he reads Aquaman as an Arthurian hero, which is not a bad way to put it. That being said, I’m not sure what his objection with David’s run is, especially these issues, which seem to me to be the epitome of an Arthurian Grail Quest. David’s Aquaman is a powerful story that gives us many facets of Arthur’s personality and also examines what it means to be a king even when you’re not ruling anything. None of the run has been collected in trades, but I can’t imagine the issues are that high-priced. Check them out next time you’re browsing!

And here are the archives! Aren’t they cute?

26 Comments

I haven’t read these, but it is interesting that your analysis illustrates the continuing Peter David trend: he does wonderfully with a niche character until he seems to run out of ideas. Did the decline on the book also coincide with the decline on Hulk? He was working on both series at the same time, but I don’t know the exact overlap.

I gotta ask: CYSO next cover Supergirl and Young Justice? :)

occasionally border on the grotesque (check out Wonder Woman on the cover to issue #16).

No, you misunderstand. Wonder Woman was undergoing treatment for leg cancer over in her title.

” This crankiness might put off Aquaman purists, ”

Such a thing exists?

” This crankiness might put off Aquaman purists, ”

Such a thing exists?

Well, my gut reaction is to say yeah, I’m one. But I liked both Peter David’s Aquaman and Kurt Busiek’s Sword of Atlantis one, so maybe not.

I wish someone would take a swing at the kind of Aquaman proposed by Mark Waid and the late Mike Wieringo a while back. THAT would have rocked.

I loved this run! I read/pulled a good chunk of it. People focus too much the harpoon-hand. Wow, I thought Jim Calafiore pencilled a lot more. He was my favorite artist on this book. The only other Auquaman run that could rival this one is if the Waid/Weringo run had been greenlit. And why the f#@k wasn’t it?

Why is it that so much of Peter Davids Dc work is not collected in Trade paperback?

Loved this stuff. It was the first time I really started to think of Aquaman as a king, with all that implies, instead of just another vigilante.

I loved this run. I didn’t know much about Aquaman (or comics in general) when I started reading it. To be honest, I picked it up because he looked different (the beard, the chest armor) and fell for the story. One of the challenges writers face with him is deciding just WHO he is. David’s playing with his ‘I’m the king of everything under the surface” made a lot of sense to me. The idea that Aquaman isn’t just ‘the guy who needs water every ten minutes in the Superfriends…oh, and he talks to fish. Weeeee.”

This was a great run I gotta say. Peter David made Aquaman a fully fleshed out character and it never really seemed like a typical superhero book. It was a brave, sprawling series that was pretty consistent entertainment.

I came in late on Peter David’s run on the Hulk. but I loved it. I gotta read those earlier stories someday …

But I can’t stand that whole harpoon-for-a-hand bit he did with Aquaman. It was just the most illogical decision ever. When fans complained Peter said it was because they’re so resistant to change but … PETER. COME ON NOW. You go replace your hand with a sharp knife and tell me what it’s like after a week. For someone who’s such a brainy and entertaining writer, that one little decision stood out like one big sore thumb. I mean harpoon.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

September 5, 2009 at 5:51 am

I think the idea behind Aquaman taking and keeping the harpoon-hand was almost entirely that he was going a bit crazy in the early part of the run.

What I found interesting was that David didn’t fall into the trap of having Aquaman become Stabby-Man even with the harpoon. Instead, it was a way to first bring in some versatility — the STAR labs gadget-laden version — and other than that it was what kept him at a distance from everyone around him, that distancing being one of the major character flaws on display in the run.

#14 is one of my favorites; it’s a shame only David and Mark Waid seemed interested in writing this version of Major Disaster, a human butterfly effect who could topple the world if he weren’t a fundamentally lazy and unambitious punk. I suppose the contrivances his new, less physical powers relied upon were too much for most writers, because he was back to a diluted version of his old powers rather quickly as I recall.

The Ocean Master stuff deserves some special mention, too, given how well David uses the character as a dark mirror for Aquaman, in such a way that we see a lot about Orin/Arthur because the story’s telling us all about Orm. Like Aquaman, he’s become a ruler when we see him; he even has a dangerous, distancing accoutrement in the form of a magic staff that fries everything around if he loosens his grip on it. But Orm’s taken that burden on entirely by choice, and he’s singularly incapable of the responsiblity of dealing with it.

As a king, he has no answers when his people are threatened; as a man, he foolishly enters a relationship with one of his subjects and constantly ignores the dangers of his new mystical abilities, scarring hismelf and her physically and metaphorically. And finally, when Aquaman shows up with real and global problems in search of help, Orm’s pettiness and irresponsibility end with his blowing up his own kingdom, his lover, and his subjects as he snaps under that pressure.

It’s telling us, in effect, what Arthur/Orin might become, is close to becoming, and ultimately can’t become…far more than the Kordax stuff in the same run, as Orm is closer to what Orin is than Kordax. It’s a clever use of the “dark mirror” kind of character, by ignoring the parallels but lettinbg the reader see them, and then by focusing on Orm and letting that focus suggest — but never explicitly state — the brighter parallels in Aquaman at a point in the narrative when the hero isn’t displaying much of that underlying “right stuff.”

I should note that Neal Pozner deserves a lot of credit for introducing some of those character ideas in the great little 1987 mini he did with the gorgeous Craig Hamilton art. (Peter David explicitly references that with his take on Ocean Master and Hy-Brasil, even allowing a little violation of the Pre-Crisis memories ban just to give us some flashbacks to it.)

Omar: Yeah, if I had written this today, I would have focused more on Ocean Master, because you’re spot on with the analysis. These have gottten longer over the years, and back then I was writing a lot less about each book I spotlighted. And David dedicates one of the issues to Pozner (I’m fairly certain it was right after he died), so he, at least, was aware of the debt he owed.

Adam: David’s decline on this book, I think, has to do with DC editorial more than anything. The post #25 issues are certainly not horrible comics, but they lack the overall unity and energy that these do. And toward the end of his run, he started pitching ideas that DC didn’t want to do, until he just ditched the book. Much like the Hulk! I think David would be perfectly happy writing these comics until he dropped dead, but whenever the Powers-That-Be start dictating to him, he takes his ball and goes home. Nothing wrong with that, actually. But that seems to be the only way to get him to leave!

Only thing I disagree with is that my favorite arc on this book was issues 28 (or thereabouts) through to around issue 37, the whole “mutating aquaman”” story through to his battle with Poseidon (that issue, by the way, turned me into a Calafiore fan). Otherwise, yeah, awesome run.

Well I guess I’m in a minority but I liked the McLaughlin run better. I also liked the 70 series better. I’m not saying PAD’s run was bad, but at times I feel like he was trying too hard.

I do love sticking up for the McLaughlin series, mostly because so few people remember it existed– and because it served as my introduction to the character way back when, and now I won’t shut up about Aquaman without a sedative.

I’ll be honest when I say I haven’t read too many consecutive David issues; I pick up pretty much all of my Aqua-books out of the cheapie bins, so what I get is what I get (and that practice has given me a bit of a renewed appreciation for Busiek’s Sword of Atlantis series). David likes to change things, usually in an organic manner, and once you buy into his portrayals of the characters and his revamped environment, you really start to see all the cool stuff. I still resist the uber-90s-reworking of Aquaman here, though; the long hair, the beard, the constant irritability, the harpoon (I don’t think piranhas should even be able to pierce Aquaman’s skin, dammit!) It feels like overkill. It feels like Namor. But, you know, it was the longest-running Aquaman series and the height of his post-Superfriends popularity, so what are ya gonna do?

The Comic Treadmill just put up <a href="http://www.comictreadmill.com/CTMBlogarchives/2009/2009_Individual/2009_09/001987.php"a post on the early part of David's Aqua-run this week, as well. Synchronicity!

Hurm, my reply’s not showing up for some reason. Did the spam filter eat me? Well… eat me, spam filter!

It was the spam filter. Wish I could un-spam my own posts. I blame the URL HTML. Anyway:

I do love sticking up for the McLaughlin series, mostly because so few people remember it existed– and because it served as my introduction to the character way back when, and now I won’t shut up about Aquaman without a sedative.

I’ll be honest when I say I haven’t read too many consecutive David issues; I pick up pretty much all of my Aqua-books out of the cheapie bins, so what I get is what I get (and that practice has given me a bit of a renewed appreciation for Busiek’s Sword of Atlantis series). David likes to change things, usually in an organic manner, and once you buy into his portrayals of the characters and his revamped environment, you really start to see all the cool stuff. I still resist the uber-90s-reworking of Aquaman here, though; the long hair, the beard, the constant irritability, the harpoon (I don’t think piranhas should even be able to pierce Aquaman’s skin, dammit!) It feels like overkill. It feels like Namor. But, you know, it was the longest-running Aquaman series and the height of his post-Superfriends popularity, so what are ya gonna do?

The Comic Treadmill just put up a post on the early part of David’s Aqua-run this week, as well. Synchronicity!

The Peter David Aquaman run is something I’ve always wanted to read but none of it is in Trade!! Sometimes I dislike being a DC Fan…..

Dang, the Comics Treadmill post is pretty harsh. I think the problem some people have with this run is that, like H, they didn’t think Aquaman was very “heroic.” My point is that Aquaman isn’t necessarily a superhero, he’s a king. Yes, he’s cranky in this arc, but I read this as a man who has lost his kingdom and is trying to regain it against several odds. That’s what makes it interesting. Aquaman as superhero CAN be done well (Morrison’s take in JLA, for instance), but that’s not really what he cares about. He cares about being a king.

I own this run and I have to say I wasn’t very taken with it. Admittedly I had limited knowledge of the character beforehand, but David’s take seemed off-note to me, like a forced attempt to give him some “edge.”

Vincent Paul Bartilucci

September 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I’m an Aquaman purist and I didn’t care for PAD’s take on Aquaman at all. The idea that McLaughlin’s wonderful run on the Sea King was cut short for this extended “Aquaman has a mid-life crisis” riff really, really, really bothers me. Really.

Well I loved PAD’s run…I also liked McLaughlin’s. I like Superheroes in government stories (like Rucka’s Wonder Woman and Priest’s…everything)

An interesting comparison to make is PAD’s Aquman as King not hero to Priest’s Panther as King not hero.

[...] Aquaman #0-25 by Peter David, Martin Egelund, and Jim Califiore. [...]

1) Why wait for the trade? This Aquaman run is available for LESS than a trade. I find lots of’em, esp. on eBay, for a buck apiece. (Since many were after the collapse, and had much lower print runs, that should tell you something…)

2) I remember the McLaughlin run. It seemed mediocre, until PAD took over. Suddenly it seemed like the greatest run ever.

3) I hate every page of the PAD run. The changes to the character were absolutely unnecessary. Just another crappy trendy change in an era overrun with crappy trendy changes. Bah.

4) With all the robotic/cybernetic technology in the DCU, it is IDIOTIC that Aquaman wear a frickin harpoon.

5) Which is only slightly more pathetic than depowering Aquaman just so pirahna can chew off his hand (for the purpose of the aforementioned idiotic harpoon).

What was Waid take on the character?

Leave a Comment

 

Categories

Review Copies

Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.

Browse the Archives