Saturday, March 07, 2015

Aquaman and the Others

Well, Aquaman & The Others has ended.

Prisoner of War must smell like a platoon of dead guys.

No one is more interested in Aquaman getting his due than I.  So I was very excited for him to get a second title.  He'd never had a second title. Heck, usually he doesn't have a FIRST title.

There are many ways they could have gone with a second Aquaman title.  It could have been an extra-continuity anthology title or an alter-continuity 'for-fun' title; that's worked well, for example, with Wonder Woman, who has one of each (Sensation and Wonder Woman '77).  Imagine a title where you could still read stories about Sub Diego, or Thanatos, or even A.J. Curry; imagine a title where you could watch the Marine Marvels  and Tusky take on Queen Vassa or the Lizard People.  


But DC is interested in consolidating Aquaman's brand, not diversifying it.

That's why they choose an actor who looks as much like Aquaman as possible. 

So it makes sense that they would try to establish him as a leader on his own, independent of his royalty.  One can only suppose the model for Aquaman & The Others was Batman & The Outsiders: iconic hero leading a loose group of new or secondary characters with no common background.  It probably wasn't the best model to choose...

The Outsiders were not there to make Batman seem cool or become popular.  Batman defines both those terms already.  He was there to increase their visibility and street cred.  And even that didn't work well.  Metamorpho and Black Lighting, both of whom had history, power, and pedigree to be on better teams (such as the Doom Patrol or the Justice League) always seemed like they were slumming.  Halo? Looker? Geo-Force? Yes; well, we can see how well they've done since then.  

It's the Trinity of Fail!
P.S. Did Looker always fly with her arms and legs spread, crotch/boob first? Because that's a bit on point, even for Looker.

Only Katana seems to have stepped to a new level (specifically, "The Level Where You Can Be Used After the Next Reboot or in Another Popular Medium Rather Than a Forgotten Character Forever Tied to a Well-Meant Experiment of a Previous Era").  

Aquaman & the Outsiders gave Aquaman no pre-established heroes to lead; it wouldn't have worked with with the new continuity.  But it posited that Aquaman, when he found out he was the real King of Atlantis, said... "Hm, no, thanks."  Kind of makes Orm seem like less of a jerk, doesn't it?  Instead Arthur went off wilding around the globe with a disparate band of adventurers whom he met by..
whom he met at...
whom he met when.. .

Okay; I give up. Are we supposed to know or even GUESS how a Brazilian jungle woman, a cosmonaut who lives on the moon, an aged American super-spy, a middle eastern prophetess, and Hispanic Ragman all met and became colleagues? Let alone why? 

Sure, the same could be said about the Scooby-Doo Gang, but it's easy to figure it out:
they all live in the same bus.
And what a generic group they were.  I'm fond of them as individuals and grew to (mostly kinda) like them in the series.  Their ethnic diversity was nice, but they were pretty clearly a half-baked boy band of stock figures: Jungle Woman, Superspy, Soldier Man, Cosmonaut, Seer Lady, and Mystic Girl.  Not an A-List boy band, either; the Others are more like "O Town".  Nobody seemed care to enough to give them more imaginative names than 'The Operative" and "Prisoner-of-War" (or, for that matter, "The Others").  But what do you expect from Dan Jurgens, the man who created Doomsday The Living Plot Device?

Not that there was anything wrong with O Town, mind you.

Somehow through Aquaman's royalness, this group discovered ancient relics of Atlantis missing for some 10,000 years and then... divvied them up and kept them.  I guess that's how The Law of Sea Salvage works but, those things really clearly belong to Atlantis. Specifically, to its king: Orm.  I guess you can say that since Arthur is really the king, they are his to do with as he sees fit on behalf of Atlantis. But giving them away to auslanders really shouldn't be one of his choices, particularly once he does return to take the throne.   

Perhaps then it's just being consistent when he gives each of the objects to the person who can use them least.  The guy who already lives in space gets the helmet that lets him live in space; the spy who can espionage into anything gets a key that lets him do the same; the lady who has visions gets the widget that lets her see them in HD; the close combat soldier gets shackles that let him force blast everyone away, and the jungle woman who hates ever leaving her jungle gets the amulet that lets her teleport anywhere in the world (or the moon).  Oh, and the king of Atlantis gets the trident that lets you be king of Atlantis.  

It's never really explain, that I could tell, WHY those relics were made and in that form. Okay the key is a key, the trident is a scepter slash magical bazooka; some make sense.  But why did Atlan make chained shackles that go boom? Pretty convenient for a character named "Prisoner of War" to come along, eh?  Why make a helmet that lets you breath in space or underwater?  Neither of those things were really much of an issue, I should think.  I wanted to read the story where Atlan enacted his master plan that involved using each of those items to retake the throne of Atlantis; did someone forget to tell it?

Then at the end of the series, after they have all proven they don't really need the devices to do their thing, and about to go their separate ways again, Aquaman lets them keeps the relics of Atlantic (which, as the series took eleven issue to show, are NOT safe in their hands).

Perhaps at some future point, the Others will blossom again, and more fully.  Many characters and groups have short, inauspicious beginnings that laid the groundwork for later comebacks and revisions.  The original run of Firestorm was just five issues (not counting the story in Cancelled Comics Cavalcade); now Firestorm's on live-action teevee.   


John said...

I still hold a grudge against the Outsiders, since DC canceled The Brave and the Bold for that nonsense...

(Don't count out a DC-TV Geo-Force. Remember that Markov provided the quake device that drove the first season's back half on Arrow. It'd be pretty easy to dump him into Firestorm and His Amazing Friends.)

While I haven't noticed "Aquaman and the Others," for some reason, what you're describing sounds a bit less like the Outsiders than the New Guardians: A pro-diversity team of normal-ish (some might say stereotypical...OK, everybody would say that) people with wacky powers, headlined by someone the publisher considers somewhat embarrassing, on a quest to...Do Things(TM). Important, mature things! Like finding out that they're not actually the New Guardians at all and the whole series was just a scam.

(And seriously, has anybody at DC even seen a movie? With the stories they're able to tell on TV, I find it hard to believe.)

Chad Walters said...

I was really on board with the idea when it was first announced...until they revealed the characters' names. This team could've very easily been made up of pre-existing characters that just haven't worked together before. The space guy could definitely have been Adam Strange, the jungle girl could've been Rima, etc, and that would've been more interesting to me.

Anonymous said...

"But what do you expect from Dan Jurgens, the man who created Doomsday The Living Plot Device?"

I don't want to be unduly mean to Dan Jurgens; he's a terrific penciler and he tells a coherent story (something that, say, Ann Nocenti cannot do). But god damn, Dan Jurgens really, really knows how to take the zing out of any story or opportunity. And when he's starting out with a mixed bag uncohesive clump of heroes, well.

Post-Convergence, can we finally give Aquaman some of that "The Brave and the Bold" flavor? Hercules did pretty well over at Marvel the other year (and he's really done all right for decades in a support capacity), Aquaman could be the rightful king of Atlantis who stepped down because there are wrongs to be righted and adventures to be had.

We can keep much of Geoff Johns's revamp, but make the tone fun. And he's never more fun than when he's commanding sea animals to do ridiculous stuff.

SallyP said...

Aquaman and the others always makes me think of Gilligan Island... when they list everyone as "the rest".

Also Geo-Force just gives me the pip.

Steve said...

I'm afraid you lost my attention after that pic of O Town. Can't name a damn song they did but they'd sure look good starring for Bel Ami!

Scipio said...

heh, it IS very Bel Ami (except for the one goatee).

CobraMisfit said...

Aquaman absolutely deserved better. Having bought into the New Arthurian Legend from Issue #1, I was excited to see him finally take the reigns of his own group. And while I applaud DC for the effort, The Others felt more like JLI-Lite or Captain Planet than a team worthy of The Eventual King of Atlantis.

There was a sense of forced irony with The Others, too. After refusing to lead the most non-integrated species on the planet, Arthur then "forms" the most culturally diverse super-group possible. Sadly, their personalities were too bland and too stereotypical. The fiery Jungle Girl, the All-Business Old Spy, the Snarky Grandson of Spy, the Tortured War Vet, etc. Maybe the goal was to show just how magnificent Arthur truly is by making him the leader of a milktoast bunch of heroes. Even that could have worked as a prequel series with Early Arthur learning the ropes of command. Instead, they offered up a "not bad" plot with "okay" characters. That's a tough sell, especially when his main title has him taking over Atlantis and being with the legend that is Mera. Heck, she's a super-group in her own right.

Aquaman deserves a second title, but one that reflects the sheer magnitude of how far DC has brought the character in the past few years. With his main title hitting on all cylinders, he has the momentum to expand and, for the first time in forever, the room to diversify his mythos*. I have no doubt he'll get it someday. In the end, Aquaman didn't need The Others and the title spent 11 issues proving that.

*If DC ever finds the stones to go the Batman '66 or WW '77 route with him, I'll be the first in line to subscribe to that title.

Bryan L said...

I simply can't believe DC didn't mine the Brave and Bold Aquaman. He's just perfect, and gives the character a much-needed differentiation.

Wait, no, I can believe it. This is the Geoff Johns era, where fun is outlawed and everything must be grey and bitter.

"and the rest" -- Sally P, you crack me up.

Dara said...

"But what do you expect from Dan Jurgens, the man who created Doomsday The Living Plot Device?"

To be fair, The Others were created by Geoff Johns over in Aquaman #7.

For the sake of diversity, I'm glad that Jurgens found a way to re-introduce the Iranian character to the team, after her death in the very same issue she was introduced in.

Scipio said...

Good point, Dara.

Anonymous said...

"Wait, no, I can believe it. This is the Geoff Johns era, where fun is outlawed and everything must be grey and bitter."

I don't know what to make of Geoff Johns these days. He does have the gift of zeroing in on what makes a given hero cool, but then it all tends to go south in a swirl of violence and daddy issues.

I like a lot of what Geoff did in rebuilding Aquaman -- un-murdering Aquababy was long overdue -- but he never quite got Aquaman to the point where he could shake the stigma of being a poorly-received hero. That's the problem with outlawing fun, I guess. Aquaman can't fly, but he has seen things that almost nobody else has. Aquaman can't outrace a bullet, but bullets can't really hurt him either. Aquaman is the strongest guy you'll meet who can't claim divine or alien parentage, and if anything he should radiate confidence, not humility.

The doings in Atlantis are always a dud, though. Don't go there.

Bryan L said...

Violence and daddy issues are a good way to describe Johns. And I'll second staying away from Atlantis -- it's always more fun to watch Aquaman be a literal fish out of water. That's one of the reasons I had high hopes for The Others.

And as you point out, Anon, Arthur's finally getting his due power-wise these days. At least Johns did that much.

I never understood why he was so often depicted getting knocked out by human thugs and so forth. I've always understood him to have super-strength, dating back to when I watched him casually catch a bulldozer blade tossed to him by Superman on Super Friends. And that was when I was a wee lad watching it on Saturday morning.

Anonymous said...

Random thoughts...

I really wish DC and Marvel had a reality show where they show comic creators pitching ideas and the editors talking about what they pick and what they turn down. They turn down ideas that seem like no-brainers and greenlight a book like Aquaman & the Others, which seemed dramatically inert from day one. Neither the characters, the concept, nor the issues from the main series that introduced the Others felt creative or exciting.

I am always surprised when comic fans point to animation as a template. Producing 1 TV show with a limited # of episodes, breaks between seasons, and a singular creative POV isn't the same thing as an on-going line of monthly books with dozens of creators across multiple titles. And let's remember a lesson lots of sitcom supporting actors have forgotten - something that works well in small doses doesn't necessarily translate when bumped up to the lead.

As for Johns approach - he's basically the best X-Men writer who has never worked on the X-Men. Pretty much every single plot he has written over the last 15+ years involves a threat to the heroes themselves (or a plot that uses the heroes). Basically, if the heroes weren't around no one would be in danger. He's like Claremont but without the compulsive need to exposit.

Aquaman has the same problem as Hawkman but it's one comic fans don't like to acknowledge because of our bizarre belief that everything we read as a kid was good. The DC icons work best when they evolve over time - incorporating new elements, shedding old elements, adapting to changing time. But Aquaman had the whole "King Arthur of Atlantis" thing just tacked on in a burst of Sub Mariner envy. Admitted it is less egregious than when they took the Golden Age Hawkman (look, name, weapons, occupation) and then just tacked on a sci-fi origin creating a character with no internal coherence (but that is a different subject). It's now a catch-22: comic readers won't accept an Aquaman not tied to Atlantis but the connection to Atlantis is a constant narrative drag. It's the same problem Wonder Woman has with the Amazons. There is nothing there - Atlantis and Paradise Island are just concepts that don't support storytelling. The same thing is true with Krypton but the planet was blown up. So writers can hint and suggest and occasionally revisit Krypton as they see fit without hijacking the main character's narrative. And it isn't the same thing as Thor and Asgard. Writers get to draw on a rich vein of mythology and use those characters as metaphors. It isn't Asgard - it's Odin and Loki and Sif and all the personal connections associated therewith (father/son etc). Wonder Woman could do the same thing but not when her primary emotional attachment is to the Amazons (who are treated like a generic template). Aquaman doesn't even have that template. And the writers that have tried to develop Atlantis to complicate the narrative - telling stories about Atlantis rather than using Atlantis to tell stories about Aquaman.

Final tangent thought - what is it about superhero monarchs that they don't believe in democracy or even a constitutional monarchy? The whole "enlightened despot" thing went out of fashion a few centuries ago.

Anonymous said...

"I never understood why he was so often depicted getting knocked out by human thugs and so forth. I've always understood him to have super-strength, dating back to when I watched him casually catch a bulldozer blade tossed to him by Superman on Super Friends. And that was when I was a wee lad watching it on Saturday morning." -- Same thing for me: I remember that scene and thinking, "whoa, this guy can do more than swim".

"dramatically inert" -- great phrase, it works in a couple different ways.

"I am always surprised when comic fans point to animation as a template." -- Aquaman is a special case in that nobody's really been sure what to do with him in decades, so when someone stumbles upon a version that works in whatever medium, ya take notice. You're right that different media have different demands, but the main thing that B&B Aquaman introduces is a fun tone, and I don't see that it couldn't translate to comics.

I have to give some thought to the Johns / X-Men observation. I will note one place it for sure holds up: "Blackest Night" wouldn't have happened if Geoff's favorite hero / villain, Sinestro, hadn't deliberately done the one thing the prophecies said not to (i.e., create non-green corps and have everybody fight). No Sinestro trying to prevent Blackest Night, no Blackest Night.

"Aquaman has the same problem as Hawkman but it's one comic fans don't like to acknowledge because of our bizarre belief that everything we read as a kid was good." -- I'm not sure I'd frame it that way, so much as using the elements other writers have been struggling with, but expecting different outcomes. Agreed about Atlantis and Themiscyra being narrative drags, and the simple solution of staying away from them. I say to writers, think of three things you enjoy seeing in a story about _____, and try to include those things often ... I can't imagine the person who finds Atlantean court intrigue interesting.

Howzabout if Aquaman gave up the throne in favor of a democratic system, and got voted out of office? I honestly don't think that most readers are wedded to the notion of a royal Aquaman, it's just that writers feel obligated to give that. It's like the extra-large portion of Veg-All that mom somehow thought you enjoyed.

John said...

Anonymous, I think you hit the nail on the head, regarding Wonder Woman and Aquaman. The writers and vocal fans love the idea of loitering on the old homestead, but no, that's not interesting at all. I think they serve the narrative fear that the characters aren't as strong as their peers, so they're forced to be--so to speak--big fish in small ponds, a lot like the occasional urge to either divorce Batman from the DCU and limit him to Gotham or repeat that he's "the most dangerous man in the world" in...some abstract way that often seems to involve his ownership of kryptonite.

I had an existential crisis, by the way, sometime in the '90s, when I realized that most of the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid were about monarchs keeping their world under their thumbs. The Thundercats were even trying to rebuild their damned empire! But yeah, an Aquaman that said, "thank you, all, as my first act as king, I hereby dissolve the monarchy. Meet me in the royal dining room so that we can write a Constitution and get some lunch," would not only be amazing, but very much in line with Aquaman's classic "bringing civilization to the high seas before riding off into the sunset" premise.

If Atlantis must remain in the picture, at least Aquaman can be cast in the role of muckraker and peacemaker, protecting his people from corruption and separatists.

On the grimness, don't forget Didio. I can't find the original article, unfortunately, but somewhere around 2006 (I mentioned it in an e-mail to a friend, but don't have the earlier message with the URL), where he said "fun books don't sell."

I always thought that was telling: Not funny, fun. At least at the time (and not much published since contradicts this), he apparently believed that readers didn't want to be entertained.

Anonymous said...

Has anybody been following Jeff Parker's run on Aquaman? His Maelstrom arc has been particularly fun so far. I'm looking forward to his conclusion by the end of the month and I'm sad to see him depart from the book so soon just after he took up the reigns from Geoff Johns last year.

In my opinion he just gets Aquaman. I'm especially a big fan of Aquaman #28, the high school reunion issue. It's a great one and done story where we get to see Arthur Curry as more than just a king or even a super hero. His more human side really shines particularly well in this comic book.

Unknown said...

I would most definitely be on board for an e-comic of Aquaman from the Filmation Universe!! We never got to see that world's version of Ocean Master!

Slaughter said...

Gotta agree with Anonymous there - Jeff Parker's Aquaman is really great, its a pity he's leaving. He should've remained for at least one or two years further. Maelstrom is fantastic.

I dsagree with the idea that Atlantis and Themyscira are storydrags. Might as well say Metropolis and Gotham are storydrags. They're places. The key is to make it so that these places change and become more interesting and dynamic over time.

Also, as a monarchist I don't see why Aquaman has to abolish the monarchy. Its called lack of good writing. Besides, we all know republics are dumb, long live The King!