Comics / Back Issues

In Deep: Peter David’s Aquaman Part 2 of 5

By Josh Dean
August 5, 2011 - 21:08

Aquaman #2, 0, 3-12

Last time, I looked at David’s work on the Atlantis Chronicles series as well as Time and Tide. Using these two episodic formats, David was able to lay out large amounts of backstory and make some entertaining reads at the same time. Now, his trick was launching a successful ongoing Aquaman series. This was a task at which many had tried and failed.

David (ably assisted by Martin Egeland on pencils) was very savvy in his approach to building an audience. I would argue there were three key ingredients here. The first is Egeland. His art is clear and clean while being imbued with a real sense of movement. Unlike the Arthur Adams-lite approach of Time and Tide or the fantasy epic feel of Atlantis Chronicles, Egeland made the ongoing a real superhero comic book. Jim Calafiore ends up filling in for Egeland on occasion and he is better suited to the mythic aliens and sea beasts that dominate the second year of the title. Egeland is one of the better artists one could hope for in drawing a wide variety of guest stars, super-villains and facial expressions.

Speaking of the heroes and villains, year one of this series was also successful in that David really worked overtime to set the action firmly in the DCU. Aquaman sometimes feels cut off from the rest of the shared universe but David made sure to pull in Deadline, the Deep Six from Apokolips, Superboy, Lobo and Kyle Rayner as Green Lantern. Sure, all these detours sidelined some epic plot developments he had simmering, but I think they were needed to pull in readers and invest them in the title. Aquaman “matters” because he is part of a larger picture.

The third way in which Peter David brought in readers was through that most 90s of gimmicks, catastrophic injury to the hero which changes them for the deadlier. In issue 2 (almost 20 year old spoilers ahoy), Charybdis (a formidable villain introduced in issue 1) feeds Aquaman’s hand to some piranhas. When Aquaman pulls nothing but gnawed finger bones out of the water at the end of the second issue, that is quite the cliffhanger. In the following issue 0, more about which in a moment, he decides to replace his lost hand with a harpoon. Still later, the harpoon is replaced with a cybernetic implant that can stab, spin, act as a line and retract. Aquaman always had a 90s attitude, now he had the means to be a pointy butt-kicker in the Wolverine mode.

Ironically, for such a 90s type of character development, David spent most of the first year demonstrating how Aquaman was apart from the more brutal and “extreme” comics landscape. Superboy is portrayed as a buffoon in issue 3. Lobo is an ally and not an automatic confrontation in issue 4. Green Lantern starts as headstrong as Superboy but ends up proving he has more potential by letting Aquaman teach him a lesson. The message is clear, while Aquaman can hang with the new breed of DC hero, he is still a moral person at heart. He is still opposed to killing and stands by his beliefs.


The Zero issue is kind of fascinating in that, the idea behind them for the rest of the line was to present either the first issue of a new series (like Starman or Fate) or to provide jumping on points for new readers by maybe recapping origins or just having stand alone adventures. Peter David completely ignored this idea and had his Zero issue just contain whatever #3 was supposed to contain. I think someone says the word “zero” in the issue and that is the only passing reference to even the concept. It was far too early to do a jumping on point (as the series was only 2 issues old) and, since it was already going, it didn’t really need to start over. There was pretty much no concession made to the mega-crossover. And this is why I like Peter David.

All the gimmicks and guest stars aside, David did move some plots along. The traitorous Admiral Strom appears (he will be a major player in year two), Aqualad is apparently consumed by a flesh eating whirlpool (we see his bones stripped of meat and tied to two stakes in the ocean), Dolphin becomes a love interest for Aquaman and, most importantly, Koryak (Aquaman’s illegitimate son) first appears. Now, if one had not read Time and Tide, the identity of Koryak’s mother and the circumstances of his birth would be fairly confusing. Koryak demonstrates hard water powers (like Mera) and is the mover behind some massive subplots like the citizens of Poseidonis abandoning their city due to mysterious earthquakes that are pushing Atlantis back towards the surface. King Thessily is killed off and replaced by Koryak. The intrigue and political struggles that are strong themes of the Atlantis Chronicles live on in the first year’s background but they never overpower the main mission of meeting and reacting to a variety of DCU guests. Although, to leave the Aqualad death hanging for over a year seems cruel.

Although the presentation was changed around, the two-part Justice League animated episodes where Aquaman loses his hand and is attacked by a super-villain assassin (Deadshot in the show, Deadline in the comic) are all based loosely on this first year of David’s Aquaman. I would like to think Bruce Timm and his associates only drew from the best sources and their inclusion of this run doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

In part 3 (Aquaman ongoing year two): I will look at the multiple payoffs to antagonists created for the Atlantis Chronicles, figure out that there is still lots of Aquaman continuity I know nothing about and a great big honkin’ epic sci-fi fantasy story is presented very subtly with a great big payoff. Bring your swim trunks and your flippy floppies.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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