“The Trench, Part One”
Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Ivan Reis
Inks: Joe Prado
Colors: Rod Reis
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Ivan Reis & Joe Prado
Editor: Patrick McCallum
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
I’ve often had a problem with various Aquaman comics over the years, and I think I know why: Aquaman is DC’s counterpart to Marvel’s Thor. Both characters come from mythic cities hidden away from human eyes, and both travel to Earth (or in Aquaman’s case, earth) to come to the rescue of mortal men and women. They both hail from societies defined by ornate and antiquated decor, purple prose and the ways of the warrior. In other words, I’ve often found both super-hero characters to be haughty, unrelatable and, well, boring. Sure, there have been stories that have stood out, series stints that drew me in, but that was appreciation for the work of comics creators rather than any kind of affection for or attachment to the character. The premise for this new Aquaman series is the title character’s decision to leave behind the stilted, stoic world of Atlantis and to live as a man rather than as a merman. I’m intrigued and thoroughly interested in the possibilities.
A violent armored car heist in Boston is thwarted by a colorfully clad figure, and it’s… Aquaman? Both the crooks and police are in for a surprise when they underestimate the Justice Leaguer, who’s recently relocated to Massachusetts. Aquaman finds his effort to reconnect with his human heritage to be a bit of a challenge — actually, a major pain in the ass, but it’s what he wants. Meanwhile, a race of unknown merpeople emerges from the deepest, darkest, hidden depths of the Atlantic Ocean. They seek to explore… and to feed.
Ivan Reis and Joe Prado’s collaborations have grown more and more popular over the last few years, aided in great part by their teaming with DC’s most popular writer, no doubt. It struck me some time ago the former Green Lantern art team boasted a style that reminded me a great deal of another GL artist’s work — that of Mark Bright, who’s perhaps best remembered for his work on Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn years ago. Of course, Ivan Reis brings a greater level of detail to his linework to achieve a more photorealistic look. A Neal (Batman: Odyssey) Adams influence often shines through in his work, and I was also put in mind of Bryan (Captain America: Reborn) Hitch’s style here. I find it interesting how he seems to aim for a much more youthful look for the title character. This is no weathered, sage king of the seven seas. This is a young man who feels he’s been shackled by one parent’s heritage and is seeking to live life for himself and his family rather than for the masses. The younger, fresh-faced look plays into that theme nicely.
Reis’ designs for the monstrous mermen — a race dubbed “the Trench,” according to promotional material for this series — is a bit over the top, but at the same time, I like how he’s incorporated genuine ichthyological traits into the design as well. These villains look like the weirdest, ugliest fish that lives in the deepest, most inaccessible part of the ocean — you know, that weird fish that grossed you out in that documentary that one time — and it went and grew legs. Rod Reis’ colors really pop in this issue as well, adding a brightness and energy that tempers the moodier and darker elements of the story. I especially liked how Aquaman’s tunic gleams in the sun in this issue.
The metafictional aspect of this book is far from subtle, but it’s nevertheless effective. Johns states outright what his main challenge is when approaching this property: the world thinks Aquaman is a joke. From The Daily Show to The Big Bang Theory, Aquaman has been used as a punchline, and Johns’ mission with this new series is to make him cool — or explain to the world he was always cool. I appreciated the commentary, not because I think it’s accurate, but because it opened the door to some decent characterization. We have a man who’s just lived a life in which he was a king, in which everyone around him either treated him with reverence or wanted to kill him to take what he had. On land, that respect and sense of importance is gone. His irritation is easy to relate to, and getting the audience to connect with who’s lived his life underwater in a kingdom of magic, tradition and an almost medieval atmosphere is an accomplishment.
As I read the restaurant scene and saw Aquaman’s annoyance with how people spoke to him and viewed him, I couldn’t help but wonder if Johns was drawing from his own life. The blogger’s intrusiveness struck me as the kind of encounter at a comics convention about which we’ve seen some pros lament (justifiably). Furthermore, the patrons’ erroneous impressions of who Aquaman is and what he does might also parallel the skewed perspectives some people might have of him as a comics professional. My bet is there was a personal connection for the writer in that scene, because it’s a convincing and uncomfortable one (albeit in an entertaining way).
As I neared graduation from university (almost two decades ago, yeesh!), my parents were pushing me to go to law school. Like all parents, they wanted me to be successful, but I ended up going into journalism. It was a point of contention for a little while, until the day I was talking to my father on the phone about the kind of day I had at work. After I excitedly told him about a great day and how much I enjoyed what I was doing, he said he was proud of me — not for the work I was doing, but for sticking to my guns and pursuing the career I wanted instead of the one he’d envisioned for me. And that’s why I enjoyed this issue so much. The real strength of Johns’ story isn’t how he worked to portray Aquaman as cool or badass. It isn’t the creepiness of the Trench. It’s the simple and down-to-earth story about a man’s effort to be who he wants to be instead of what others want him to be. 8/10
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