Saturday, April 28, 2007

Aquamanifesto


To my readers,

I apologize now for that the fact that I am about to rant. Rant, rant, rant!

Comments will not be turned off for this post, but I would prefer your comments be directed somewhere more useful than to me...

Specifically, to Dan Didio. [That, by the way, is a link to the Aquaman Message Board; I don't know how else to contact him.]

First, some disclaimers. I really like Dan Didio; he's the best thing to happen to DC in decades. I
love what Dan Didio is doing. He's showing what a company can do with an actual editor at the helm, and, in my lifetime at least, DC has never been better. There will always be stumbles and fumbles, particularly when a company is doing so much on so many fronts. I understand that and I think that I am, on average, much more forgiving than most fans. If a book's not perfect, I'm fine with that; lord knows, the comic books we grew up with were actually pretty crappy, but we learned to love their characters anyway.

I also understand that he and his crew are not going to refit the DCU in exactly the way I would want it, jot and tittle. There are plenty of characters and situations I'd prefer were being handled differently (Donna Troy, the Outsiders (past and present), the Flash, and, of course, Vibe); that's always going to be the case. I also realize that the way you want things isn't always what's best for you!

That said, I have also learned that DC is responsive, on the whole, to feedback from its readers, and is charmingly willing to cheerily admit when it's made a mistake and then fix it. I've also learned that, in life generally, you can't expect to get things you want unless you're willing to ask for them or work toward them. And so....


Dan Didio, I want Aquaman back. The real one.
I joke a lot on this blog. So much so, that sometimes people can't tell whether I seriously like/dislike something, or whether I'm just taking a position for the sake of argument. Have no doubt, I'm thoroughly sincere about this one. If this be "fan entitlement", then so be it. But I must correct my friend and colleague the Fortress Keeper; I didn't complain loudly because Kurt Busiek tried to revamp Aquaman; writers do that all the time, and I only started to like Aquaman so much because Will Pfeiffer was allowed to revamp him. I've complained loudly because Kurt Busiek replaced Aquaman.

As I've argued before... On the whole, replacements do not work.
Sure, I liked Kyle Rayner. But Hal Jordan came back, and needed to. For that matter, Alan Scott came back. While DC continues to burn through Flashes, Jay Garrick remains popular and (as everyone knows by now) Barry Allen is coming back. Connor Hawke, Artemis, Azrael--the DC Encyclopedia is littered with the evidence that replacements do not work long-term. Sure, some good can come of them eventually, but often than not they become awkward baggage, the red-headed stepchildren of their respective dynasties.

You (or, rather, DC) is going to bring him back anyway.
Let's see ... when hasn't DC brought back the original version of a character? Green Arrow, after he died? No. Superman, after he died? No. Batman after his back was broken? No. Wonder Woman (pick up a time!)? No. Green Lantern, after he died and became a different freaking replacement character? No (and see "Alan Scott" above). The Flash? Well, there's a reason that stores are being told to order extra copies of an upcoming issue of Flash and that they're doing a two-month Flash promotion and publishing a "Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told", and I kinda doubt its for Wally. Hawkman? No. The Atom? Well, I adore Ryan and he doesn't seem to be going anywhere, but dont'cha think "The Search for Ray Palmer" is gonna find Ray Palmer? Blue Beetle? Ah, Blue Beetle doesn't count, because there was no Blue Beetle is DC's comics of the Golden, Silver, or Bronze Ages. The Doom Patrol, the Legion, the JSA? No, no, no. Thank god no writer ever had the bright idea to replace the Phantom Stranger with a hip, young, inexperienced version of himself or I'd be listing him here, too.

The real Aquaman will be back and it's only a matter of time. Stop wasting our time and get to it.

Replacing Aquaman with an even weaker character is a stunningly bad idea.
Look, I'm well aware that different people prefer different takes on Aquaman. But the Pfeifferites, PAD People, the Veitchians (are there any Veitchians?), the Finny Friends, the Sub Diego Lovers, the Pro-Atlanteans-- I daresay there's one thing that all the fish-schools of thought on Aquaman would agree on: his problem has never been that he's TOO powerful.

"Yeah, the ability to control fish is way too daunting,"
all the writers never say, "I just don't know how to write an Aquaman who can survive outside of the water for over a hour. Please, Dan, let me replace him with a weaker knock-off. I can't handle a guy who used to punch holes in battleships during WWII; I'm sure what readers really want in a hero is a kid who seems continually lost, needs a sword to defend himself, and is weaker than the ever-popular Neptune Perkins."

Wasting character recognition is a bad idea.
I really don't care who chooses to mock Aquaman; his classic version is an extremely recognizable character / commodity. Iconic status, Q rating -- these are cultural and marketing gold, and anyone willing to throw them away is a fool. This kid with black eyes, shoulder pads, and a sword? He ain't going on anybody's Underoos (and all that that implies). Or, if he does, those Underoos will wind up in the same warehouse where DC stores its excess "Superman Blue" t-shirts.

Distancing Aquaman from the heroic model is a bad idea.

I'm not just talking here about my pet theory, the Dynastic Centerpiece Model. I'm talking about what I -- and I think most readers -- want: not heroes who spend all their time trying to "find themselves" and "understand the role", but ones who are secure in themselves and know instinctively that their role is to use their abilities to help and protect others and society as a whole. I mean, if that weren't true, DC's most popular character would be the Martian Manhunter. I'm not a big fan of Alex Ross, but if DC has forgotten (after the depredations of Conway, Peter David, McLaughlin, Veitch) how to depict Aquaman as a real hero, all they have to do is ask Ross, co-author of Justice. For that matter, they could just watch a couple episodes of the '60s Filmation cartoon of Aquaman.

Wandering too far from a character's original conception is a bad idea.
Another comic fan, an old friend, taught me this important lesson: The answer to most problems with a character almost always can be found by going back to the original conception of the character (which is what caused the character to become popular and iconic in the first place). Kurt Busiek tried to do this but focused on the first origin of Aquaman: that he was raised on land, not in the sea. Yes, that is better than the silliness of being raised by porpoises. But you can't just replace Aquaman with a different character with the same name and the original origin.

Why? Because the origin of a character is not the same thing as the original concept. Though we make a big deal out of origins now, they started out simply as tools to get the hero as quickly as possible to his status quo.

"Oh, uh, why is Superman super? Well ... he's an alien! And they were all super! Okay, maybe they weren't; maybe it was just because their gravity was heavier! No, no... okay, maybe it was because of ... a difference in solar energy! Yes! That's it!"

The reality is, Superman is not about his origin. He's about his original concept, that is, what he can do and what his job is. Superman's slogan isn't "On Earth as it was on Krypton!"; it's "This looks like a job for Superman!"

When Superman became "Superman Blue" his origin didn't change, but he was taken away from the original concept of the character. So, naturally, the change failed. No one cared that it was still Clark Kent; it was no longer Superman. In fact, Superman Blue failed so spectacularly that when Superman was returned to his original concept, no one cared that the whole thing was never explained, so relieved were they to get back the hero's status quo.

Simply giving us a new version of Aquaman with the same origin as the first version is not going back to the original concept of the character. Painting with a broad brush, I'd have to say that the original concept of Aquaman is:
"Superstrong, supertough, really fast-swimming guy who controls sea creatures. Though he lives underwater, his work focuses of the interface of ocean and land, like beaches, islands, and the surface of the sea. There he keeps people safe and fights crime, with the approval of society."

Basically, Aquaman is a superlifeguard, a super-marine. With really fabulous hair.

Wandering away from this concept -- keeping him underwater all the time, weakening him, depriving him control of sea-life, portraying him as a Namorian crabby foe of surface-dwellers, giving him a Silver Age-y "one-hour weakness", giving him magical powers -- waters down the simple power of the original concept: a man who is a powerful master of the sea-going environment.

Why is this simple concept so powerful? First, because it IS simple. The most powerful concepts -- literary or not -- usually are. Second, it's powerful because it's about being powerful. People sometimes deride comic books as "power fantasies", a criticism I find laughable. "Power fantasy" is essentially redundant. People don't generally fantasize about being less powerful or less competent, now, do they?

Fantasy provides relief from things that make us feel powerless in our daily lives and (one hopes) inspires us to become less so. Things like, say, urban crime (Batman), an uncaring society (Superman), war and aggression (Wonder Woman), the sky (Hawkman), the pace of events (Flash), larger forces (the Atom), ceiling tiles (Green Lantern), and the sea (Aquaman). Not only are they not made powerless by such things, they are sometime empowered by them. Batman uses darkness and fear to his advantage, for example, and Aquaman is not merely at home in the sea, he is more powerful there than elsewhere. This "Arthur Joseph" fellow seems less at home in the ocean than Judy Walton, and it kind of goes without saying that the real Aquaman would kick his butt in about 4 seconds (Judy Walton, 30 seconds; Marsha Mallow, holding her breath, 60 seconds).

Can we please forget about this character who's supposed to have the "right origin" and get back to the character who personifies the original concept instead?




Dan Didio; it's pretty clear that Tad Williams wants to do you a huge favor and bring back the real Aquaman for you. Heck, in issue 51, he has Mera and Wonder Woman basically state that.

Please do US a favor:

let him.

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Comments:
Doesn't it seem likely that the new kid was a magical creation of Orin's transformation into the Dweller, and that somewhere along the way he'll be merged back into the Dweller, recreating Orin?
 
I agree.
But I have to know, how long have you been saving up that wonderful post tile?
 
This is thoughtful and masterfully written. You never cease to impress.
 
Whatever goodness DiDio brought, he killed by the 4th issue of Infinite Crisis. Right now, the DCU sucks VERY HARD. Nothing is working; sales are dropping across the board. The pre-IC storyline was incredible, an unprecedented crossover based on a moral argument (not a bad guy). Then it turned into a bad guy story. Wrecked the whole thing in one issue. Now we're seeing the fallout.

I have stopped buying DC (except for Green Lantern and JUSTICE) because of all the pointless changes. Aquaman is just one of many.

Aquaman is more than just a vague concept and a logo. DiDio thinks he is. Same with Atom and everybody else. Well, it's no coincidence that sales are plummeting at a time when half the DCU is a bunch of strangers.

Say what you will about Sub Diego, but it DID feature the "real" Aquaman. And that's what mattered most.
 
I agree with most everything you wrote, Scipio. Though I do think there's a place for "Silver Agey" weaknesses. People like Green Lantern are way too close to omnipotent without that weakness to yellow and ceiling tiles.
 
Your's, Mr. Garling, is such a well-written and thought-provoking post that it almost tempts me to buy and then read an Aquaman comic.

Almost.

I mean, you're good, but you're not that good.
 
I liked Aquaman's Sub Diego time mostly because the writer completely forgot about his water hand and just had him be Aquaman, which is pretty badass when you think about it. It was there, the hand, but he never did anything with it. As far as his one hour weakness, I think that is a bit stupid. Maybe just having him be stronger when fully immersed or healing faster in water, but to say he's going to die if he stays out of water for sixty minutes makes it seem like he has to wrap up every problem in fifty eight minutes than jump into a pool.
 
I'm all for bringing back the real Aquaman. I love the guy, but if they do, I sure hope they don't get rid of Topo. Man, I LOVE that little squid.
 
"how long have you been saving up that wonderful post title?"

Actually, I said it by a slip of tongue when I was trying to tell someone I was writing an "Aquaman manifesto", and it just stuck.
 
"Doesn't it seem likely that the new kid was a magical creation of Orin's transformation into the Dweller, and that somewhere along the way he'll be merged back into the Dweller, recreating Orin?"

That probably wasn't the original intention in creating the character(I apologize to Kurt if it was), but it strikes me as a reasonable way to resolve it.

I mean, reasonable in "something best resolved quickly through weird magic" kind of way.
 
"This is thoughtful and masterfully written. You never cease to impress."

Thanks, Ben. But you've never seen me before the morning's coffee...
 
I like Aquaman, I always have. I still love the JLA: Year One series with Mark Waid, which has Arthur mumbling in his classic orange and green. I didn't really care for the long hair, beard and harpoon hand.

Let's bring back Aquaman, Barry, Ted Kord AND Wally while we are at it. Heck, they've brought back Ice!
 
I also love the idea that Aquaman has to humiliate his foes, laughing as he abuses them with fish. Dang, imagine Garth Ennis writing a series? This strip needs more joyful cruelty.
 
Mmmm, so Didio also tortures his supporters?
Also, if Ennis wrote Aquaman, he will be killed by the Punisher. Somehow.
 
*applause*
Regarding the Dweller/new guy merge thing, I've suspected if something like that wasn't on the cards with the introduction of that Narwhal guy. He seems kinda like the powerful aspects of Aquaman, he seemed right off the bat to be a likely candidate for a merge with the new guy (his "good" aspects), maybe with some Dweller loving thrown in there too. I wish they'd hurry up though.
 
Don't TPTB realize that Aquaman is probably the 7th most recognizable comic book character to non-fanboys? (After Hulk and before Archie.)People who have never read a comic in their entire life know who Aquaman is. You'd think that the folks in the merchandising department would be insisting on a return to the Superfriends look.
 
Hear hear.

Great stuff. I agree with everything you've said.

Now if only DC would aswell.
 
Hooray for Scip!
I love the title and I've always wanted to see Aquaman restored to his original concept-glory. Heck..even Aquaman's villains (e.g., Black Manta) have MORE automatic name recog value than most super heroes!!
I think that Aquaman fits into that cadre of Golden Age DC superheroes, such as Captain Marvel (Shazam), for whom it is difficult to find a way to re-invent or reinvigorate because the original concept is dated and difficult to pin down (and often interpreted differently).
I don't understand those who think that we need MORE moral ambiguity in the DCU. Actual villainous "Bad guys" are the whole POINT of the wonderful black-and-white world of the DCU. If you don't like it...the Marvel side is all about Superheroes killing each other all the time. Do Marvel characters EVEN fight super villains any more??

Aquaman is one of the Golden Age archetypes. Bring him back to his glory done by somebody who loves him.

Hell...as a marine biologist, I would be happy to consult!! There is so MUCH potential....

heh..all this being said, let's be careful what we wish for..we may get it. :-)

Chris
 
A hearty seconds to all your points. It's worth pointing out that from a pure business standpoint, teh Alex Ross version of Aquaman sells like gangbusters (maybe Justice doing so well has to do with the painting or the 900 other superheroes in each issue too, but still, Justice = One of DC's top-sellers, Aquaman: SoA = One of it's worst-sellers.

For the record, I'm a Davidite (and Morrisonite and Rossite) on Aquaman, but I didn't mind the "Sword of Atlantis" angle at first because it seemed like it was temporary and there was a plan in place to bring about a different, more exciting status quo closer to the original concept.

Of course, that was a year and a different writer ago.
 
I agree with most of your points, except for the Flash and GL. Wally was the Flash for twenty years. Many readers (i.e. me) feel that Wally IS the flash, and Barry Allen worked better as an inspirational dead guy than he did as a character. I became a DC fan during the 90's when nearly every character was a replacement, and dammit, I still prefer Kyle to Hal!
 
I am really enjoying the new Aquaman series, (I mean, the Tad Williams issues), but yeah. I am assuming that one day we will see the real guy again. It's the same reason I enjoy the All New Atom. I read because I know Ray Palmer is going to show up again. But I'm really enjoying the ride in both those comics for now.
 
With regard to the central core of the Aquaman character, I agree with most of your prescription - strong, fast, tough, amphibious, talks to and controls sea life. However, where you say no magical powers should be added, I would add one caveat - they can usefully add direct control over water itself, even if that's conceived of as a magical connection, and not violate the core of the character. I'm not talking 'hard water' creations like Mera and later Tempest used; I'm thinking that everybody remembers the 'water balls' he'd throw in the Filmation cartoon, and they recently reintroduced those for the version of Arthur brought in to guest star on Smallville (I also get the sense that the Smallville AC is using some sort of supercavitation effect to swim so fast - telling the waters to part before him and the waters behind to push him forward, in other words).

And of course, he needs to be heroic and kingly, rather like Alex Ross portrays him, not regal and pissy like another aquatic hero we could mention.
 
I started reading Aquaman back when McLaughlin wrote the series and I've always found, usually pretty quickly, something to like about each creators take on him, even the Erik Larsen take. I've had a real tough time since the "Sword of Atlantis" stuff happened. I know Williams has only been around for two issues, but he already took away the thing that was my focus to really enjoy the book, and he re-characterized Arthur.

Do I want the original Aquaman back? Yeah, but do you think that someone could punch the walls of reality again to do it?
 
"I'm thinking that everybody remembers the 'water balls' he'd throw in the Filmation cartoon, and they recently reintroduced those for the version of Arthur brought in to guest star on Smallville"

I agree wholeheartedly! Aquaman needs those 'water spheres' to throw. After all, Koryak had to get his powers from somewhere....
 
Well said!

Now if only DC will listen . . .

-Sidume
 
I'm thinking that everybody remembers the 'water balls' he'd throw in the Filmation cartoon

Everybody being whom? Crotchety old fans like us? Those cartoons have been off the air, not even in syndication (except maybe some little local affiliate in Duluth) for decades. The mere handful of them released on VHS 22 years ago are long out of print. They're not on DVD. So just who among today's audience, other than 45-year-old collectors, is getting their vision of Aquaman from Filmation?
 
Those cartoons are CURRENTLY being aired on the Cartoon Network's Boomerang Channel, Dale. You may not get it, but hundreds of thousands of people do.

Dale, have you noticed almost all your comments on this blog are negative?


I have.
 
An outstanding piece of writing there, and I agree with you every step of the way. I can't wait until they bring back an Aquaman I can brag about again. :)
 
I'm going to throw in another HELL YES, on the notion that 1) you said everything that needs to be said on the matter clearly and concisely and you're absolutely not, 'fan entitlement' or not. and2) should Mr. Didio see this, he should see scores of positive feedback and know what the right thing to do is.
 
Dale, have you noticed almost all your comments on this blog are negative?

No they're not.

Seriously, I hadn't noticed that. Thanks for pointing that out. I was also unaware that the cartoons were running on Boomerang, as Comcast doesn't offer it. Three home shopping channels but not Boomerang.
 
Scip,

Good stuff, as always. I honestly don't feel strongly about Aquaman one way or another, but as a younger fan I have NO knowledge of The Superfriends, and most new fans don't either. And that's not going to change.

A recent look at a day of Boomerang programming has the show coming on only one time, and that's at Midnight. I don't think any kids are going to be watching it then.

I honestly just can't see the appeal of The Superfriends. The little I've seen of it looks simply moronic. Of course I suppose I didn't grow up watching it, so I'm not quite in the right mindset, but still.

But as for your Aquamanifesto, love the title by the way, what you say makes sense. I personally don't despise hookhand Aquaman, but I know I'm in the minority on that one. But really, like I said, I'm not really passionate in either direction. I just mostly wanted to comment on Superfriends.
 
The appeal of the Superfriends may be aimed at a younger, less sophisticated audience, but isn't that the way we all started our interest in comics? I know my four-year-old son is currently hooked on Superfriends (through DVDs). I hope they release the Filmation Aquaman on DVD very soon; he's recently discovered my old "Super Powers Collection" VHS tape and it's in a clear and present danger of being worn out!
 
Hello, Daniel,

I wasn't referring to Aquaman as he was in the Superfriends; in fact, the show is responsible for much of the scorn currently heaped upon the characters.

I'm referring to Aquaman from the Filmation cartoons that were before the Superfriends. They were made about the same time as the Adam West/Batman show. Filmation did many cartoons of Batman & Robin, Superman, and Aquaman, and a few of other characters such as the Atom, Hawkman, Green Lantern, and the Teen Titans.

In the Filmation cartoons, Aquaman rocked. He was confident, clever, heroic, and a great leader. His powers were cool and he used them well.
 
"I don't understand those who think that we need MORE moral ambiguity in the DCU. Actual villainous "Bad guys" are the whole POINT of the wonderful black-and-white world of the DCU."

Countdown to Infinite Crisis did not introduce moral ambiguity to the DCU. That was done almost 40 years ago with the "relevance" run in Green Lantern/Green Arrow. The question of social responsibility for superpowered beings is an intriguing one. On the other hand, how many ways Superman can fail to put an end to an ill-tempered CEO's scheming is not so intriguing. If anything, it's a merry-go-round that has gotten very old.
 
1) I want the real Aquaman back, as well. This Arthur Joseph guy isn't cutting it. But, hey, that poser "Orin" didn't really do it for me either. What? That WAS the real Aquaman? Could have fooled me ...

2) Aquaman's Filmation cartoons did indeed rock! They are probably the primary reason Aquaman is my favorite character.

VBTusky@aol.com
 
Anyway, on the water balls - even if lots of people have never seen the Filmation cartoons, it's clear that the creative minds on Smallville, a reasonably popular TV show and therefore immediately a wider audience than currently exists for most comics, did see them, and took a page from them for their version of Aquaman. He was more than a little too surfer dude, but he's been shown to be able to literally blow Kryptonians out of the water, and easily lay out multiple guards even when not submerged.
 
Well said.

I loved the initial issues of Kurt Busiek's Aquaman because his depiction of the post-IC seascape was fascinating and offered plenty of opportunities for great stories.

(Plus, Sub Diego was still out there ...)

But, you're right. Those stories could have been told with the original Aquaman as well. The "replacement" aspect was ultimately window dressing, a sop to the "heroic journey" so many writers love to use as an excuse to drag iconic characters through the mud.

And when Kurt left the book and his vision ground to a halt, well what was the point of all that in the first place?

So let's bring back the original Aquaman - although I have a feeling something may be in the works considering that Orin's heroic sacrifice was the best thing about World War III.
 
Hey Scipio --

Not sure if goes for or against your quest for the return of the "real" Aquaman, but I thought you might like to see my new review of the first Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis trade paperback. Let me tell you, I loved, loved, loved this story, a lot more than I thought I would, even as I realize that AJ's a poor stand-in for the real thing--though maybe some good Aquaman is better than no good Aquaman. Take a read and let me know what you think. -- c.e.
 
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