Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On the many faces of Aquaman, and the importance of keeping Batman clean-shaven

On the DC blog-site The Source, Dan Didio writes about the recent Kevin Smith miniseries "Batman: The Widening Gyre". 

Which I REALLY enjoyed.  When he's stayed responsible and gets the scripts written on time, Kevin does really good comics work.  This and the previous mini Cacophony (the pair making the first two thirds of a trilogy) are really fine "possibly in continuity" stories, with the kind of just shy of filthy humor that kevin does expertly.  The story he's building is very interesting, and the third chapter will be interesting indeed. I'll go so far as to say that his "Batman and the Joker" scene at the end of cacophony can stand toe-to-toe with the end of Killing Joke in the fight best "masks off, hearts on sleeves" scene between those characters.  And Walt Flanagan, a man best known to fans of the Askewniverse for having a fast dog, and who we met while he was working in Kevin's comic shop (he always remembers his friends; gotta give him that...) has a very different style, one that might not work for a regular monthly but worked perfectly for this very uniquely themed story. (END TANGENT ALERT)

In said piece, he discusses a sequence from the book which, as originally written, was hilarious, and could never be published.  The scene involves Aquaman misunderstanding Bruce Wayne's cries of private interpersonal communication (AKA Making The Beast With Two Backs) with cries for assistance.  The scene was still damn funny as published, but allegedly they were SCREAMINGLY funny as first handed in. And Dan knew they could never see print.

(TANGENT ALERT PART DEUX) Which right there is an argument for a Mature label for DC titles.  Like any character, there are stories that can be written for DC characters that might not be suitable for every reader.  Very good stories, stories that might attract new readers (I know, the semi-mythical "new reader" argument again) but since DC makes books for kids, they're loath to do "mature" stories with those mainstream characters for fear of Mommy or Grandma buying one for junior by mistake and starting a shitstorm.  The Vertigo line, originally intended to be the place for those kind of stories, has become its own successful and separate fiefdom, where characters go and (until recently,at least) don't return from.  If I may make a comparison to the films, DC has a "G" line (The exemplary Johnny DC books) a "PG" line (The mainstream DCU) a per se "R" line (Vertigo) but no "PG-13" line where slightly more mature (In the complexity and dramatic sense, not necessarily the salacious "boobies and poo-poo words" sense) stories can be told with an opportunity to give fair warning that the title "might not be for everyone".  The first of Kevin's minis danced controversially close to that line, to the point that some claimed it "went too far" for a DC book.  People were REALLY put off by the idea that the Joker even MENTIONED Batman's junk, let alone saw it.  The editors were cool with everything that got into the book, but (according to Kevin) had problems with the idea of Batman having stubble, something I find a great example of counting the pennies and letting the nickels fall where they may.  Anyway, If DC had a sub-imprint for the more adult-y stuff, such complaints could be addressed before they start.  MOST mini-series and one-shots are of questionable continuity already.  Implicitly suggesting that these "DC-13" books are slightly more questionable in their timeline placement is not going to make too many heads explode.  And the more mature reader is likely not going to want to worry (or care) about which two issues this story shoehorns into anyway, so BFD. (END TANGENT ALERT)

At first read, it seems Kevin wrote Aquaman in that slightly naive, "new to the surface world" mindset that Mark Waid experimented with in "JLA Year One", where Hal Jordan gets him to scour the Secret Sanctuary for a bulb wrench.  But in some Q&A sessions, he revealed he was basically writing Aquaman as a surfer/stoner, one who's not quite in phase with the world of the dry-legs.  (The result being that when I re-read the scene, I hear Jason Mewes in my head reading Arthur's lines)  This of course upset hard-core Aqua-fans, claiming that that's "not what the character's about".

(And this is not a Tangent alert, because it's what I actually planned to write about)

Interestingly enough, there have been SO many different interpretations of Aquaman in recent history, in many different media.  In addition to this "Hang loose" one, there's the "OUTRAGEOUS" version on B: B&tB, a version that, before he re-appeared in Blackest Night and Brightest Day, I'd have happily read comic books of.  Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner's included him in their Supergirl strip in Wednesday Comics, where Jimmy described him as "The Denis Leary of the Sea". His take was that Aquaman's zone of patrol is the ENTIRE OCEAN, so naturally he was gonna get a little testy.  Again, great idea; how well you could use it in a continuing story, who knows, but perfect for that moment at that time.  Even the Young Justice preview played him more in the regal sense, more than we've ever seen him played in the comics.  And I'm not even COUNTING the older animated versions, voiced by (variously) Marvin Miller and Norman Alden.

Now each of those interpretations, especially the ones for the cartoons, are all perfectly valid.  But as a rule, when you see that many interpretations of a character, it's because they don't have a personality to speak of, or at least not one that everyone identifies.  Aquaman is one of those characters that has gone though so many iterations, both subtle enroute changes and radical revamps, that he's one of the biggest messes DC has.  Dan would regularly ask at conventions "What's 'the Right' Aquaman?  Is it the green and orange suit, the more tied to Atlantean myth version Peter David wrote, the water-hand guy, which?" It was only after the vast majority of answers he got was "The orange-and-green-suit guy" did he start to have a course to pilot for a return.

Right now, the best solution DC has for sorting out a character is Let Geoff Do It.  That's not a dig - his work is spectacular, he hits all the points, and come up with a version of the character(s) that respects  the previous iterations, explains (or explains away) the less successful ones and results in a strong "first position" character that he or any other writer can then move forward with. Nobody's going to please everyone (especially comics fans) but his versions provide the greatest good-enough for the greatest number.  And now he's addressing Aquaman in Brightest Day.  He's bringing the character back to a recognizable state, while simultaneously making wholesale changes.  Mera is now a kickass warrior, though not from the extra-dimensional race she once was.  There's a new Aqualad, and his story is still unfolding.  And the Aquacave is back.  If Storm and Imp show up, I may lose the ability to digest food for a brief period.  The reaction to Tusky the Walrus is too horrifying to imagine.

But again, we're not getting the return of a past version of Aquaman, we're getting yet ANOTHER iteration, but one with enough similarities to the past ones it seems familiar enough not to inspire (much) controversy.  And that's the right way to go; namely, forward.  Flash, Green Lantern, Toyman (I've talked about that one before) nothing was un-done, just addressed, and moved past.  When we see  the much rumored and prayed for Captain Marvel fix (I'm invoking personal opinion and choosing the term "fix" over "revamp" on purpose), I imagine we'll see something the same.  Much of the previous versions (hopefully the best bits) will remain, with re-told version of other bits, forming a new paradigm intended to appease, appeal, and attract the various audiences.

Let Geoff Do It.

Aquaman currently appears in Brightest Day.  The TPB of Widening Gyre is out now.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Aquaman seems to have more incarnations than Doctor Who and chameleons combined! My favorite version was the Denis Leary-esque version. :-) Great blog post, as always!