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Can Geoff Johns Save Aquaman?
An Unenviable Task Falls Into the Perfect Hands
By Chad Derdowski
April 06, 2011
Ahhh, Aquaman. The Dweller in the Depths. The Sea King. The most maligned do-gooder to don tights outside of Squirrel Girl. And hell, Squirrel Girl probably gets more respect than Aquaman. Much like the Canadian rock group Rush, Aqauaman seems to be either reviled beyond measure or loved unequivocally with little middle ground.
It’s been a while since we’ve discussed ol’ Arthur Curry and with the recent announcement that following this summer’s Flashpoint event, Geoff Johns will be penning an ongoing monthly series starring Atlantis’ favorite son, it seems high time (and high tide) that we weighed in on the subject yet again. Most comic fans fall into one of two categories: those who think that Aquaman is a joke whose only power is “talking to fish”, better left forgotten to the sands of time; and those who feel that he is a wealth of untapped potential, one of the legendary heroes of the DCU who need only find the right writer with the right pitch to finally take his place in the pantheon of greats. (And of course, there’s that third category, the folks who don’t really have a solid opinion on the guy but just get a kick out of mocking the King of the Seas ‘cause it’s the cool thing to do, but honestly – those people don’t count.)
For our money, we’ve said it time and again: there are no bad characters. Given the right treatment, and the right amount of care and attention, any hero can have a great story and go from a one-dimensional cliché to a fully-rounded character. And we won’t deny having a soft spot for Aquaman based on the simple fact that we grew up seeing him on the Superfriends cartoon. Sure, even as kids we recognized that he might not be quite as impressive as Superman or Wonder Woman when it came to superpowers, but it’s long been cemented in our minds that he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the big guns and deserves to be there. If the heroes of the DCU are supposed to represent modern myths, as so many have suggested, then Aquaman plays the role of Poseidon or Neptune, the god of the sea.
All that being said, water-based heroes have never been given the same due as those who fight on the land or in the sky, and there’s a certain stigma attached to Aquaman. His downfall goes hand-in-hand with his upside: the aforementioned Superfriends cartoon. Aquaman is one of a handful of heroes who has become a household name. One of those guys that your mom and dad have probably heard of, even though they always told you that comics were for kids and you probably ought to give them up. But with that fame has come a horrible notoriety. Because of his position and his perceived shortcomings when compared to his peers, he has been the butt of jokes for so long now, the guy faces an upstream swim that would give pause to even the bravest of salmon.
But you already know all that and its likely you’ve already formed an opinion regarding the value of Aquaman. And then those two magic words come into focus: Geoff Johns. The golden boy of DC comics. A man that has long been lauded in print and online as one of the finest writers of this era. We’ve sung his praises time and again right here in Comicscape. The guy is good and his track record speaks for itself. Whether its his work on the Flash, Justice Society, Action Comics or Green Lantern, Geoff Johns is the go-to-guy when you want a good old fashioned superhero story. He’s a writer who understands the basic dynamics of how a superhero universe works and can implement that knowledge with modern sensibilities. He understands what makes superheroes fun and somehow finds a way to incorporate what may have previously been perceived as goofy Silver Age story elements into a current storyline and make it work. Long story short, he’s a guy who clearly grew up with the Superfriends and if anybody is going to convince skeptics that Aquaman can work, it’s gonna be Geoff Johns.
But we didn’t come here to toot Geoff Johns’ horn (though admitedly, we’ve done a fair job of it); we actually came here to wonder if even he can salvage Aquaman’s career from the depths. Is Aquaman too far gone? Has he become too much of a joke for even Johns’ to raise to prominence? At this point, can anyone write an Aquaman comic that people want to read? Even the venerable Geoff Johns?
In recent years, we’ve seen Johns (along with DC and Warner Brothers’ considerable marketing machine) take a character like Hal Jordan and raise him from B-lister to the head of the class. Previously, he’d taken a bunch of old fogies in the Justice Society and ensured that they be given the respect that they’re due from readers and the denizens of the DCU. Though it’s been a slow start, he’s working on doing the same with the Flash (something Flashpoint will hopefully accomplish). Essentially, Johns has made it his business to ensure that DC, like Marvel, has more than just two or three big guns to form the foundation of their shared universe. He’s spent the past few years bringing the Superfriends back to prominence and Aquaman, perhaps the biggest challenge of the Superfriends, is next on his list.
Is he up to the task? We tend to think so. We’ll be the first to admit that Brightest Day has been hit-or-miss since it started (and some folks would say we’re being generous in saying that), but the Aquaman story has kept us captivated since the first issue. So it’s clear that he can make Arthur Curry interesting. He’s updated the status quo with Mera and introduced a new Aqualad. And we certainly can’t complain about his use of Black Manta. So far, so good. More importantly, Johns cares. The man seems to actually have a vested interest in the preservation of these characters and if he treats Aquaman with the same level of respect he’s given other characters he’s written, ol’ Arthur Curry’s gonna be okay.
We’ve always enjoyed rooting for the underdog. Sure, Aquaman’s always been laughed at and made the butt of many jokes from both fanboys and non-comic readers, but that just makes us like him more. And don’t forget: it takes a thousand or so heroes to protect the surface of the earth, but Aquaman’s protecting ¾ of the planet all by himself. That’s the definition of a badass as far as we’re concerned. We’ll be there for the first issue and even though it might be hard to turn the pages, we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that Johns has Apache Chief in his sights as the next member of the Superfriends to bring back to prominence.