Thursday, October 06, 2011
One of comics' great lost opportunities
So last week I noted how much Geoff Johns’ Aquaman went out of its way to address the widely held perception that its title character was lame. This is a stigma that has been attached the character since Superfriends. And creators have tried to address it in a multitude of different ways – playing up his royal heritage, making him a bad ass with a hook for a hand, writing a first issue that did nothing that talked about how cool he was, etc.
I think what disappointed me about Johns’ first issue was how much he drew attention to the character’s negatives. What really frustrates me about this isn’t just that he is accentuating the character’s biggest weakness, but that it reminded me of one of comics’ greatest lost opportunities – Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo’s Aquaman.
In 2003, the creators who had amazing runs together on the Flash and Fantastic Four pitched DC on a new Aquaman book. It was a soft reboot, but it aimed to make the character cool again and move past the stigma of Superfriends and the efforts of the 90’s, namely exactly what Johns was trying to do. We never saw an actual issue of this, and we never will as Waid has said he won’t do it without the deceased Wieringo, but man this looks incredible.
Reading it is incredible, if only because Waid paints such a vivid picture of what the book would be like, but also because 8 years and 3 reboots ago DC was trying to address the same issues with Aquaman they’re trying to address today.
Anyway, here it is in full, Waid and Wieringo’s Aquaman pitch, one of comics’ great lost opportunities. Note in particular the final paragraph.
"I am so sick of people making fun of Aquaman that I’m beginning to take it personally. For the last ten years or so, the way we’ve been scrambling to combat Aquaman’s “Dork of the Sea” image--and I’ve been guilty of trying this, too--is by making Aquaman increasingly darker, grittier, and tougher, the brooding, angry king beset with trouble. Each incarnation of the character seems grimmer than the last, to the point where all that’s left for us to do is give him two hooks. And a peg-leg.
OR--here’s ANOTHER thought. Yes, the seas can be turbulent and stormy, but y’know what? Far more often, the ocean is a universal symbol for peace and contentment. It’s a calming influence. If it weren’t, Bermuda would be deserted and Hawaii would be an industrial trade port. It is most people’s “happy place.” Yes, the ocean is the set piece for “A Perfect Storm,” but it’s also the world of “Finding Nemo” and “The Little Mermaid.” I have never yet met anyone of any age who didn’t come away from Sea World envying the guides who swim with the whales and porpoises. I propose we turn this “grim Aquaman” paradigm around for a one-shot and see what happens. “Test the waters,” if you will. I know, I slay me. Anyway....
Our POV character in this story is a female marine biologist--and since Aquaman’s turf covers the world, there’s no need to make her American. (In fact, Russian is preferable--I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the culture of Russian courtship, and that could really play in nicely.) At any rate, our biologist--let’s call her Yelena for now--may have heard the name “Aquaman” here and there, but to her, he’s about as real and significant as, say, German football stars are to you and me.
Yelena’s work is done with grungy old equipment and spit-and-bailing-wire technology, the best she has to work with. Her whole world has a gritty feel to it--
--so when this bright, blond, shining knight of a man pops out of the water and into her life, she’s addled simply by the contrast.
Their paths cross, she’s drawn into an adventure, and to Yelena, this “Aquaman” is, yes, mysterious like the sea--but in a warm, enticing way. To Yelena, he is otherworldly, like a fairy tale character come to life. He rarely speaks (though when he does, he’s staggeringly charming), he lives in the water, and he smiles. Constantly. In fact, at first, Yelena has a nearly impossible time taking him seriously. He’s like a walking cartoon.
And yet...the more she gets to know him, the further she’s drawn out of her world and into his, she’ll come to realize that there’s something going on behind those wide eyes of his. Looking in them, she sees peace and confidence; looking through them, she’s gradually introduced to an underwater world of absolute wonder, a place that is far more colorful and in tune with nature than is her own gritty lifestyle. Once she surrenders to the implausibility of it all, she’s rewarded a thousandfold, and so are we. Aquaman’s joy becomes her joy becomes OUR joy.
There will be no mocking. NO jokes about how “dumb” talking to fish is. Anyone with a keyboard can make cynical jokes. That’s easy. What’s harder is reminding you why, when you were a kid, you thought the idea of living underwater or commanding the creatures of the sea WAS cool. We can do that. We can remind you, and Yelena’s awed voice will be there to back us up."