Aquaman. Simply speaking his name inspires a laugh or smirk from those that don’t respect this classic, regal character. Over the years he has, unfairly, been horribly teased by the popular culture. Writer Geoff Johns has a love for this character and is on a mission to change Aquaman’s standing in the world. In the first issue of this series, Aquaman is ridiculed by the police after apprehending criminals who had hijacked an armored car. One of the cops asks jeeringly if Aquaman needs a drink of water. His face, beautifully drawn by Ivan Reis, is priceless when he responds with the firm response of, “No.” Johns, right from the beginning, sets up Aquaman, whose given name is Arthur Curry, as a character who does not command respect from the surface world. Over the course of the first six issues in this series, the people occupying Aquaman’s book, as well as the reader, will gain a respect and budding love of a character that is deserving of his membership in the Justice League.
As the story begins, sea creatures from the deepest corners of the ocean have traveled to the surface world in order to capture humans as their food for themselves and their queen. For some unknown reason, their food supply has been wiped out. These beasts attack a boat off the coast of Aquaman’s hometown of Amnesty Bay, Maine and then proceed to storm a dock. They encase their human prey in cocoons in order to bring them back alive to their home, referred to as the trench. It is a mysterious place that seems to play an important role in the history of Atlantis. Aquaman is called upon by a local deputy to assist the police, battle then ensues, and he and his wife Mera descend to the murky depths of the sea on a mission to rescue the captives.
Geoff Johns, with the ongoing “Aquaman” book, displays a deep respect for the character and depicts Arthur Curry as a compassionate and heroic character. Johns does this by building Arthur’s story slowly, having the reader get to know the character through interspersing small character-defining moments, as well as flashbacks. The intimate moments, such as poring over old photo albums with Mera, help flesh out the character between the battles and massive set pieces that make up the book’s first arc. Through sparse dialogue, Johns is able to create an Aquaman who the reader cares about by working in expert tandem with artist Ivan Reis, inker Joe Prado, and colorist Rod Reis. By going from the present time to occasional flashbacks, the story gains impact. The reader grows to love Aquaman and become invested in his personal journey. It’s a way for Johns’ to entice the reader to come back for more issues so they can discover and build a bond with Arthur.
Aquaman’s character is fleshed out by his expression of intense emotions, using little to no words at all in several scenes. In one of these scenes, a blogger asks Arthur how it feels “to be nobody’s favorite superhero.” He grabs his trident and the look on his face is smoldering with anger. Everywhere he goes, he is reminded that respect eludes him. Also, at one point, Aquaman is utilizing his powers to listen for any sea creature that might be heading for the surface world. His intense concentration is expertly rendered on his face, demonstrating, again, the power of the marriage of art and writing. Aquaman is a composed individual in these two scenes and, with the brilliance of the art complimenting Johns’ plot and words, can show so much in facial expressions and body language. Arthur is someone who may seem stoic, but is a well of complexity and emotion.
The art style for the flashbacks differs from the book’s main look, with these scenes looking as if they were done in breathtaking watercolors. Pencils, inks, and colors portray, through this style, a time of innocence and wonder for a young Arthur. We see his father, who is human, wistfully looking off toward the sea for Arthur’s long-lost mother to return from Atlantis. Arthur has two worlds in his blood, but neither seem to want or appreciate him. Humor is also shown in one flashback when he is asked how he pays for things. He answers, “I get by.” The next panel is a flashback of him going through a treasure chest on an island. This scene is just one of many humorous ones throughout the book.
Humor plays an important role in this book and Johns presents a knack for humorous dialogue and moments. The humor is a wink to the reader that, yes, Aquaman has been a figure of ridicule in the culture at large. However, that isn’t the only reason. The ridicule pushes Aquaman to prove that, yes, he is a superhero worthy of respect. After experiencing so much contempt, everyone who doubted him end up looking like fools. Many in the populace of Amnesty Bay and the reader become cheerleaders for Aquaman as a result of the barrage of humorous comments.
Panels in the book are usually epic in size, emphasizing the regal nature of Aquaman. The panels that are especially large also convey his imposing physicality, demonstrating that this Aquaman is not one to be intimidated or ridiculed. When Arthur opens the door to his home for a cop, he stands shirtless and is depicted with an immense chest and muscles. The inking by Joe Prado is especially effective in this scene because the shadows conveyed around his body and muscles make him seem even more massive of a figure. This is a handsome man who deserves the title of king. When he appears with Mera at the dock after the trench creatures have attacked, both, but especially Aquaman, overpower the large panel with majesty and authority. The coloring by Rod Reis is adroitly used in this scene, as well as others, with the green and orange of Aquaman’s suit brightly portrayed. Not only are the panels large in scope, but so is the coloring. Aquaman looks resplendent in his outfit, with the hues of the colors conveying a royal air about him.
Panels are also large in scope and scale when battles are being fought between Aquaman and his enemies. A breathtaking splash page is shown with Arthur and Mera gracefully (like fish) swimming downward toward battle, with the faint light of the surface world sending rays toward them. Another splash page has one of the trench creatures lit up, with Prado’s inks and Rod Reis’ colors making it seem as if he is electrical and about to pop off the page to electrocute the reader. These large panels can also impart heartfelt feeling, as the scene with Arthur and the creatures communicating with a language that each does not understand. Arthur is attempting to make them stop and asking their reason for attack, while the creatures repeat the need for food. It’s a heartbreaking scene because they simply are seeking sustenance in order to survive, while Arthur is haunted by having to attack sea life that he cannot communicate with.
One particular scene in the fourth issue epitomizes the character of Aquaman and the craft of this book. After Arthur has saved his mother, a young boy says, “You’re my favorite superhero.” Aquaman’s face is composed of so many emotions in response to the child’s statement. Arthur is genuinely moved and speechless, seeming close to tears. A smile is evident from a face that is conveying a wealth of emotions all at once. Mera is seen behind him, looking lovingly at her husband as if to say, “I told you so. You are a hero, no matter what any surface dweller may say.” Expert writing and art convey this scene that reveals a character with much depth and pathos. The compassion that defines a hero dwells within Aquaman and is expressed in another adept scene. Mera says that the trench creatures must be sealed off in a watery tomb because they “do nothing but harm the world.” Aquaman, though, says, “That’s what Atlantis says about humans.” Arthur has integrity and cares for all life. He has empathy for the persecuted and considers himself to be one among them. Geoff Johns and the exceptional artists on this book have proven that Aquaman is a hero and worthy enough to be many people’s “favorite superhero.”
Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench
Written by Geoff Johns
Pencilled by Ivan Reis
Inked by Joe Prado
Colored by Rod Reis
Lettered by Nick J. Napolitano
Published by DC Comics