THIS WEEK:  Aquaman’s new creative team has left its mark on the once and future king. Also — Year of the Villain…why?

Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict. 

Aquaman 51 coverAquaman #51

Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Pencils: Robson Rocha
Inks: Daniel Henriques
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

One of the coolest things about a mainstream superhero comic like Aquaman is how it gets handed down from creator to creator, over the span of decades. It’s (usually) fun when a book gets a brand new creative team, don’t you think? Each new writer or artist that joins the book adds her own perspective and influence, basically recreating the characters into fresh versions of themselves each time.  It’s like the start of a new Doctor’s run on Doctor Who. Sure, you know Aquaman. But not THIS Aquaman, not exactly. 

With not quite ten issues under his signature monogrammed belt, it’s time to get to know this new version of Aquaman. This time around, Arthur Curry is more playful, not the stuffy king he’s been portrayed as for so long. He’s got just a tinge of a Hawaiian surfer dude thing going on. Relaxed. Flowing with the waves now that the heavy crown lies on someone else’s head for a change. He’s Jason Momoa in vacation mode.

Aquaman 51 page 2But at the same time, he is an Aquaman who is fearful and guilt-ridden. He’d rather not deal with the heavier stuff in life, like fatherhood. Not while he’s on vacation. Right off the bat, this creative team has imbued the title character with a depth that the sea king honestly hasn’t had in a while. He’s spent so long fighting for the throne — to secure it or claim it or overthrow it. Now that the throne is stable and in good hands, the story calls for a deeper look at the man from two worlds and how he handles the quieter moments.

The other half of the Aquaman equation, Mera is an artist and a fighter. She’s not afraid to give orders or manipulate a situation to her highest advantage. She speaks in the royal “we” and always looks amazing. She doesn’t shy away from emotional outbursts if the situation warrants it. No one can make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. You know, a redhead.

Aquaman 51 page 3If the relationship between Arthur and Mera seems drastically different than we’ve seen before, it’s because the characters themselves have been reborn (in Arthur’s case, quite literally). There is a flirtatious romance and a safe space for cutting loose between them. They know each other intimately and approach each other with honesty and compassion. It might get loud between them, but the fighting stays above the (signature monogrammed) belt and there’s no doubt in your mind that they will work it out and everything’s going to be fine.

I’d suggest this as the most interesting relationship in comics, when written well. There has always been a feeling of inevitability between Arthur and Mera, but also a sense of unfortunate destiny that keeps them apart. I’m not sure if they have ticking clocks in Atlantis, but it seems an appropriate symbol for their love. Now isn’t the right time, but if not now, when?

It’s all very compelling storytelling. This is the part of Aquaman I dig.

Aquaman 51 page 4I also dig all the ocean mythology that’s been included since this creative team took over at issue #43. The stories of creation and religion are different in Atlantis than on the surface world, and Aquaman is steeped in that dark lore. The old sea gods have reasserted themselves and now have a relationship with our somber surfer. The old lighthouse keeper used to rave in fear about monsters coming from the sea to swallow him. Before he suddenly disappeared. There’s a definite Lovecraft horror vibe building in the background of this series.

It’s a shame that this Year of the Villain marketing nonsense is infecting this book, along with so many others. Lex Luthor’s “Mecha Manta” isn’t what’s bringing me in here, DC. But what this creative team does with it could definitely keep me around.

Verdict: Buy

YotV Black MaskYear of the Villain: Black Mask #1

Writer: Tom Taylor
Artist: Cully Hamner
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Wes Abbott

Look, this book is solid. Tom Taylor and Cully Hammer are two dudes who obviously know what they’re doing and they deliver another nice product here. If you’ve got $5 and want a retelling of Black Mask’s origin story, look no further. They’ve even thrown in some sweet, quiet moments between Kate Kane and Renee Montoya, and miraculously avoided having Batman in the story altogether. High marks for a job well done.

But seriously, is this the book any of us wants? We’re a couple of months into this “Year of the Villain” event and the whole thing feels icky. It’s difficult to even use the word event when describing this, because there isn’t an awful lot to it. So far, YotV falls squarely into the category I think of as “window-dressing campaign” which is where there’s a catchy gimmick but no real story (Every hero gets Thor’s hammer! Every League member gets a Batman version!). Clearly spearheaded by an overactive marketing department, it’s an event that plays out mostly on the covers of the monthly books and then only gets a brief nod stuffed into a two-page epilogue inside each issue, because the creative team was ordered to do so. Storytelling as afterthought.

Again, I don’t fault the creative team here. This is a fine issue of a comic. They make Black Mask moderately interesting, which is a monumental success. They hit all the required beats here and make the best of the one-shot format. But it’s clear that the team was assigned first and bolted on their artistic vision later. It’s not like Tom Taylor came to the DC offices to passionately pitch his game changing Luthor-powers-up-Black-Mask story. The concept had lost me before I got to page one. I am already wondering how long this Year of the Villain is going to last (please don’t say a year).

I just can’t help but think we’ve seen this trick before. It was called Last Laugh. The Joker ran around infecting the heroes and villains with his signature toxin, creating “Jokerized” versions of them. It was called Underworld Unleashed. A powerful bad guy made an offer to rogues across the DCU to level them up in their fight against the heroes. It was called Forever Evil. It featured a slew of villain-centric one-shots across the month of September. There’s absolutely nothing new here. There’s no joy or energy behind it and it shows. Frankly, I’m bored.

I don’t begrudge a publisher trying to squeeze some extra money out of the rapidly drying well. But isn’t there something more creatively enriching we could be pouring all of these marketing dollars into? Did nobody have a better pitch than “let’s spotlight our awesome villains again”? The great shame is that this issue is well written and also destined to be quickly forgotten.

Welcome to the year of halfway paying attention to comics. Wake me when someone comes up with an actual story idea. Until then I’ll be reading DCeased.

Verdict: Browse

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  1. I totally agree with your assessment of Year of the Villain. I’m currently working on the assumption that their squeezing as much money out of the readers in order to pay Bendis to write the like 10 titles he’s currently tied to in one way or another

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