Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Trouble With Aquaman

Pin-Up from Justice League Quarterly #17 by Chris Batista & Joe Rubenstein.

Both at the Aquaman Shrine and Newsarama I read the following about DC big dog Dan DiDio...

"Asked about Aquaman, DiDio asked the fan back who is Aquaman now, to which the fan answered, 'I'm not sure right now.'

DiDio took a poll of the audience to see which Aquaman was the crowd's favorite, which showed the audience to be split among the different versions. DiDio said that it's something they're trying to figure out--which Aquaman should be the Aquaman to bring back.

DiDio said that while the Jim Aparo version is most recognizable, the 'harpoon hand' version is also well recognized in the media. All in all, DiDio said, they're taking their time to bring Aquaman back."

So basically, one of the biggest decision makers at DC Comics doesn't even know who Aquaman is, much less what to do with him. It's actually a pretty common problem with the character, seeing as despite being one of the most recognizable super-heroes in the world, he's a constant bottom feeder in sales and the butt of many jokes. I like to think I could help, and offer the following advise...

Adventure Comics Weekly, written by me, and guaranteed better than "Countdown" (even if I had to draw it by myself.) Oh wait, that's an utter fantasy. Let me start again.

  • Aquaman is not Batman. There are, to my knowledge, no such things as seabats. Yes, he did have an Aquacave at one time. Yes, he also had a kid sidekick. Yes, Aquaman's son was tragically murdered. This was all true, thirty years ago. Aquaman has been a brooding bore for nearly as long as I've been alive, and I just keep getting older. Let it go.
  • There are people who know and like Aquaman with the harpoon hand. Some toys were made of that incarnation, and it figured into his appearances on "Justice League." However, those people represent a fraction of the public who know the classic Aquaman, so catering to the minority only alienates the majority. Also, that incarnation is associated with one of the worst video games ever, and in fact the cable channel G4 awards equally wretched fare a "Golden Mullet" in Aquaman's dishonor. This is what is commonly known as "negative association."
  • To 95% of the people who have ever heard of Aquaman, he's the guy in orange and green who talks to fishies and rides giant seahorses. No amount of tough guy swagger, hair, or pointy objects will ever negate this fact. Also, his name is "Aquaman," which will never sound "edgy." Work with the character you've got, or else you're only undermining his strengths.
  • People expect Aquaman to smile. He's blonde and handsome. Girls and certain guys should want him, while the rest of us should want to be him. The people I know who want to mope or grimace constantly, develop unfortunate grooming choices, and are attracted to impractical prosthetesis are neither my dear friends nor my heroes. They are the people I avoid as much as possible.
  • It's okay for Aquaman to be funny. He doesn't have to be a joke, but his powers and surroundings are quirky, and it's okay to acknowledge that.
  • Puns are not funny, especially fish puns with an aquatic character. Neither is referring to fat people as either "slim" or "hefty." It's obvious and irritating.
  • Don't be ashamed of having adventures in or near water. "Pirates of the Carribean" and "The Little Mermaid" have earned billions off it. The ocean is a cool, scary, mysterious, fun place to be.
  • If there's an attention-getting event or a major new super-team, maybe allow Aquaman a prominent role in there somewhere. He's famous, you know. Might be a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
  • There does not have to be an ongoing series titled "Aquaman," especially by editorial decree. That leads to books by great names in comics talent, like Gary Cohn, Dan Mishkin, Paris Cullins, Neal Pozner, Robert Loren Fleming, Marty Egelund, Kirk Jarvinen, Yvel Guichet, and so on. Worse, it leads to "bold new directions" by actual names defaming themselves and the character, like Keith Giffen, Peter David, Erik Larsen, and Rick Veitch. The British have this wonderful notion of television where they stage a brief "season" whenever they have the talent and a story they feel is worth telling. This is preferrable to shoveling as much crap as possible to hit the magic 100 episodes for syndication.
  • Regardless of how well the revisionist "Trials of Shazam" sells in the direct market (re: not very,) Jeff Smith's concurrent mini-series that remained true to the Captain Marvel character and his audience will sell longer and stronger in wider circulation. If creators like Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo approach you with the idea of a nice little one-shot with the first classic take on Aquaman in eons, you damned well ought to say, "yes.
  • When you're constantly trying to reinvent a character, you're telling fandom you don't have confidence in your own property. When you tell a roomfull of people you don't know what to do with Aquaman, or even who that character is, you devalue him in reader's eyes, and poor sales become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Under those circumstances, you have to wait for someone with a vision and understanding of the character to come along and make the property work. It seems based on track record and the guy's own interest Geoff Johns is that person. Next time the question comes up, answer "When Geoff's ready, he'll take care of Aquaman, and you will all be thrilled with the result." If Geoff is never ready, make a mental note of who the next best option is on the list, and insert their name until something comes to fruition.
  • A.B.C. Dan: Always Be Closing. If you can't make the sale now, make sure that door remains open for later. Otherwise, Joe Quesada is just going to sell them more Marvel. The man who answers "I dunno" does not get the Glengarry leads.


Luke said...

While I agree with a lot of your points here, I think Didio was just being coy. The last part of his statement was that they are taking their time bringing him back, which says to me that they want to let things settle down a bit before bringing him back. Not entirely like what they did with Hawkman, and honestly, considering the state that character was in, I'd have to call Johns' revitalization of him a complete success. I was in the minority who actually enjoyed both the Aquaman feature before "One Year Later," and wouldn't have minded if that had stayed his status quo.

Diabolu Frank said...

It's a minority of two, at least. I started buying "Aquaman" again when John Arcudi came aboard as writer, and it became my favorite monthly comic up until all the "Infinite Crisis" tie-ins derailed it. Too late, I suppose. I also liked some of the Tad Williams stuff, despite hating that it continued any of Kurt Busiek's awful direction.

Enrique Acosta said...

All good points but something is overlooked both by you and by DC in general. HE'S A KING! He rules all the oven floor which is most of the planet. His territories are so vast he shouldn't just be a major player in the super hero world he should be a major player on the world stage. You want to ship something you have to go through him. And his adventures shouldn't even be crime fighting. It would be more like West Wing meets Lord of the Rings. The minutia of government meets grand battles and court intrigue.
This is what Aquaman should be if you're going to be true to his core concepts.

Diabolu Frank said...

Enrique, I both agree and disagree with you:

I've never liked the royalty angle, as I've heard the "ruler of most of the Earth" line many times, and no one's buying it. Aquaman ruled Poseidonis, an Atlantean city/state, and he wasn't particularly good at it. In fact, that aspect was grafted onto the character midway through the Silver Age, never worked very well, made him more derivative of Namor, and has had creators backpeddling from it since the '70s. Aquaman needs a better hook than that, because it's too dull to reel anyone in. No one cares about the king of boring merpeople.

On the other hand, the vastness and mystery of the deep would make excellent fodder for dark fantasy, and Aquaman would be brilliant as a roaming knight/ranger protecting others from its terrors. That would be closer to the original Aquaman premise, but rejiggered for modern audiences. Aquaman needs less King Arthur and more Lancelot.


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