Monday, September 8, 2014

Waiting for the Trade Aquaman & the JLA


 

Aquaman (vol. 3): Throne of Atlantis
by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Paul Pelletier and Pete Woods
collects Aquaman 0, 14-16 and Justice League 15-17


Why I Bought This: I liked the first volume of New 52 Aquaman quite a bit. While volume 2 was not nearly as good, I still bought volume 3 on preorder from Amazon because of the quality of the first one. But even if I hadn’t read the other volumes I likely would have picked this up to see a JLA story with Aquaman in the lead.

The Plot: Atlantis declares war on America leaving Aquaman caught in the middle.

 (spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – In a flashback issue we see young Aquaman at his father’s deathbed six years ago and he tells him his Atlantean heritage. In his grief he dives into the ocean and gets into a fight with a shark. He rescues two people on a boat, tells them his story and they just happen to know were another Atlantean lives. This turns out to be Vulko, who informs Arthur that his mother is dead. He also lets Aquaman know he has a younger brother Orm, who may have murdered their mother and then exiled Vulko 10 years ago. Vulko takes him to Atlantis.

Chapter 2 – In 1820 some sailors are torturing an Atlantean until the Atlantean army surrounds their boat. In the present Aquaman sends his fish to arrange a meeting with his brother Ocean Master. Meanwhile in jail the government attempts to recruit Black Manta to the Suicide Squad but he turns them down. Aquaman asks his brother if he was involved in the one-off Atlantean attack in the first trade and with hiring Black Manta in the second trade and he denies it. In Norway Vulko finds a dead Atlantean warrior and dives into the ocean. Ocean Master tells Aquaman the story of the 1820 boat—it ends with all the sailors drowning. His point Atlantis could sink every boat on the ocean if it wanted to and yet they don’t. He says whoever hired Manta is trying to make Aquaman think Atlantis is to blame. In the cliffhanger the Trench monsters from volume one are freed by an unseen person.

Chapter 3 - A battleship is in the Atlantic Ocean when its systems are taken over and it launches all of its missiles on Atlantis. Cut to Smallville where Superman shows Wonder Woman how to assume a secret identity. In Gotham Batman is fighting some of the Scarecrow’s minions on a boat when Aquaman arrives to lend a hand. He is there to warn Batman that he thinks the Trench monsters are heading to the East Coast and he will need the League to stop them this time. Mera has come with him and reports fish are fleeing from the area. In Metropolis Clark and Diana are on a date until the city is hit by a tidal wave. They suit up and save those they can as Lois gets herself in danger only to be saved by Vulko. We also learn Boston was hit with a tidal wave and another wave is heading towards Gotham. Aquaman realizes these are the Atlantean war plans to invade the surface world that he himself wrote when he was king. 

Chapter 4 – Batman and Aquaman save who they can but a lot of people die. Mera manages to push back some of the wave until she passes out. Mera, Aquaman and Vulko are all concerned about what Atlantis does next if they follow the plan but no one says it out loud. Aquaman tells Batman the Atlantean army will hit whichever city was hit hardest. He also believes Atlantis would not attack without provocation so the missiles must have detonated in the city. Aquaman then recounts how he first claimed the Atlantean throne and accepted their superstitions about the surface world until the Darkseid attack that formed the League made him see things differently. Batman says there is no justifying the attacks on the cities and the League has to bring Ocean Master in. The Atlanteans shoot down the Batplane but the heroes are okay. Aquaman says Dr. Shin will be targeted next. The League regroups at the watchtower with Vulko. The Trench monsters are getting closer. Aquaman & Vulko want to reason with Ocean Master, let him know the missile attack was a setup and avert a war; but Superman says Ocean Master must answer for his crimes. Batman offers Aquaman one chance to talk peace with his brother. Ocean Master emerges in Boston and demands two civilians take him to their king. They wonder if he means the president, but Ocean Master assumes Aquaman is king of the surface world. Aquaman shows up and Ocean Master is agog that he does not rule the surface world if he gave up the Atlantean throne. He tries to explain the surface world does not even know Atlantis exists. Ocean Masters notes he has grieving Atlantean citizens to answer to and refuses to stand down. He promises to sink Boston. The League teleports in on that line. Aquaman asks for more time. They refuse so Aquaman attacks Superman.

 Chapter 5 – Cyborg is sent to protect to Dr. Shin. Aquaman tries to get the league to back down before the Atlantean army arrives but the big three won’t listen and so after a brief melee the Atlanteans emerge from the ocean. Cyborg teleports Shin to the Watchtower. Back at the main event where we see Ocean Master has magic weapons that let him live up to his name as he controls the ocean water as a weapon. When Superman evaporates the water with his heat vision Ocean Master also takes control of the weather and uses lightening to KO Superman (???) and Wonder Woman. He then takes the captured League including Aquaman below the ocean. Cyborg sees this and asks his father to replace his lungs so he can breathe underwater. He also sends out a general alert to recruit 10 new heroes to the League.

Chapter 6 – While Cyborg undergoes surgery he is also running a program to find out who hacked the battleship’s missile system to start all this. The four leaguers are locked in pods at the bottom of the ocean. Aquaman breaks out of his and establishes contact with Batman, who is awake and has a radio and sonar on him but can’t be freed since he would be instantly crushed at this depth. Aquaman is attacked by two Trench monsters. He slays them but realizes they don’t have much time before the entire horde arrives. In Boston we see Hawkman leading the new recruits against the Atlantean army. They include Firestorm, Black Lightening, Vixen and Black Canary. The Atlanteans meanwhile are detonating bombs in Boston with the intent to sink the city. Cyborg is awake and Mera joins him in a rescue mission. Aquaman and Batman are in the trench and find ancient ruins showing an Atlantean king controlling the Trench monsters with a magic scepter. They also find Superman and Wonder Woman held hostage by a giant jellyfish. Aquaman attempts to free them only for the Trench monsters to attack. Mera and Cyborg arrive just in time to save Batman. As the heroes regroup the Trench monsters emerge in Boston and attack the Atlanteans. In the cliffhanger we learn Vulko is controlling them and orchestrated the attack on Atlantis.

Chapter 7 – The heroes learn the truth about Vulko. Everything is chaos in Boston as Orm assumes Aquaman is controlling the Trench monsters but he still manages to defeat the League reserves (in part because they don’t work well together as a team). The League’s A-team teleports in and begins disabling the bombs and clear a path for Aquaman to take on his brother one-on-one. Orm is a given a real nice monologue during the battle on how he loves Aquaman and why he hates the surface world and then seems to win the fight. The League destroys the bombs so Orm goes back to summoning tidal waves. Mera halts the wave long enough for Firestorm and Element Girl to freeze it. Aquaman recovers, defeats his brother and reclaims the Atlantean throne. Vulko surrenders without a fight. The League and Atlantis unite to fight the Trench. Vulko tells Aquaman he did all of this for him so he could be king again and Aquaman decks him. With Vulko’s scepter he gets the Trench monsters to go home. Vulko is arrested by Atlantis and Ocean Master is arrested by the League. Orm is stunned that Aquaman would let this happen to him when he was acting to protect their people; and because Arthur knows how much he hates and fears the surface world but nevertheless we end on Orm alone in a cell. In the epilogue Mera tells Aquaman she will not live with him in Atlantis but this time he will not relinquish the throne. As Aquaman descends into the ocean we see the everyman’s opinion of him has changed to fear. A final epilogue shows both the League and Suicide Squad intending to use this event as a reason to increase their membership.
 

Critical Thoughts: I really liked Ocean Master’s characterization in this story and he’s not a character I’ve cared about before so that is really well done. The rest of this not so much.

First off the League comes off like A-holes in this story. Like I get people died and their upset but they refuse to let Aquaman deal with his brother and refuse to accept his explanation on how Atlantean politics and culture work annoyed the heck out of me. Indeed the whole treatment of Ocean Master in this story annoyed me. He’s not a super villain. He is the leader of a sovereign nation and his nation was attacked first: his capital city in fact and civilians died. So he’s perfectly entitled to go to war to defend his country and that does not make a villain or a terrorist that belongs in prison. Indeed the League members are having the exact same furious reaction for the cities being attacked and people dying yet somehow they’re rage is justifiable and Ocean Master’s is not. And Aquaman turning his brother over at the end to sit alone in prison in a foreign land makes him a jerk. Especially since Orm was following war plans the Aquaman wrote himself! So yea that whole dynamic annoyed me.

Furthermore if the goal of this story is to make the general public now hate and fear Aquaman moving forward wouldn’t that work better if he grants his brother diplomatic immunity and takes him back into the ocean rather than he turns him over for a prison sentence?

I hate that they made Vulko a villain. Why can’t supporting characters just be supporting characters anymore? Why do they all have to become heroes and villains themselves? This is sort of an industry-wide problem but it does annoy me and I’m tired of perfectly good supporting characters being altered for no particular reason.

On the other hand I will say Mera remains an interesting supporting character. She’s consistently portrayed as strong with a unique perspective. Her relationship with the lead adds to the title’s drama; while her powers also compliment his without being redundant.

Also from chapter one I’m just not a big fan of Aquaman’s New 52 origin. I much prefer the Peter David version from Time and Tide. The flashbacks here make no sense. Aquaman was raised in America in a lighthouse with no clue about his powers or heritage. Then after the death of his father he finds Atlantis. And upon assuming the throne he just forgets his entire childhood and fears the surface world and writes these plans of destruction. But then fighting Darkseid makes him change his mind again. What a ping pong of characterization.

Not a complaint I care much about, but why is Superman hurt by lightening and a giant jellyfish? And why can Wonder Woman breathe underwater? I know Superman is always problem of how do you find enough villains who can be a threat to him but lightening, really? Because electricity is a fairly common power in comic books so I feel like this is a big step down for Supes’ invulnerability. 

As for the Justice League portion of the story, I thought the League calling in the reserves via a general SOS was a nice moment as was the fact that the new members didn’t know how to work together. Hawkman’s New 52 interpretation is sort of interesting so I may grab one his trades if I can find it on the cheap.

Finally I will say the art is pretty good, particularly the splash pages.

 
Grade C+.  Ocean Master’s dialogue in the final chapter and his sailor story in chapter 2 are pushing this up from C- to C+. Otherwise the only other positives are Mera’s role, the Trench monsters are still visually interesting and some of the mystic mythology could have potential down the line. Beyond that I disliked most of this to the point that I am now on the fence on whether to drop this title or not. Also as far as being a crossover there is nothing here that makes me want to start picking up Justice League again.

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