In Deep: Peter David’s Aquaman (Part 4 of 5)
By Josh Dean
August 8, 2011 - 19:54
Writer(s): Peter David
Penciller(s): Jim Calafiore, Martin Egeland
Aquaman #25 to 36
We left our aquatic champion in issue 24 of his ongoing series with a small army of the DCU’s water-based heroes and a mission to put down an alien invasion. Issue 25 wraps things up very well with a showdown between Aquaman and Kordax as well as the final repulsion of the alien invasion. This is grand-scale comic book action in the best tradition.
It leaves the overall story in a new place with Aquaman as the new king of the unified cities of Atlantis. Personally, I think this is probably the best year of the run and the issues with the strongest thematic impact. Throughout the run, David had been naming individual issues after books of the Bible. At first, I assumed this was due to epic feel of the storyline and the clever play on words that David likes to employ. However, when reading these issues consecutively and in close, temporal proximity, some other readings emerge.
It could be that the Biblical reading is all in my mind but the third year of David’s run seems to clearly have the darkening of the character as a central theme. Aquaman is granted access to the ability to control the minds of other men just as he does fish. He almost immediately begins abusing this power (during run-ins with a mutated Black Manta, The Shark and a cyborgified version of the dolphin hunter he and Lobo jacked up back in issue 4). Aquaman’s dolphin mother (seen in Time and Tide number 2) is killed and, even with a guest appearance by Martian Manhunter, Aquaman almost crosses some lines. The Final Night crossover and Aquaman’s battle with Black Manta literally drive him further into darkness than he has ever gone as a character.
I can’t help but read this storyline as David’s explicit rebuke of the grim and gritty 90s. Aquaman begins turning scaled and green like Kordax the more he abuses his power. Also, of some importance is the stacking of an Animal Man and a Swamp Thing guest appearance very close in this run. These were both Vertigo characters at the time and seemed to represent the more “adult” form of storytelling that DC was trying to pursue. David, in these issues, seems to be making a point that any hero can be used to express issues of psychological complexity as well as action/fun.
I think this third year of Aquaman was a pretty bold experiment on David’s part in regards to sneaking meta-criticism and pathos into a mainstream superhero book. You can still read individual issues and arcs for pure entertainment but, when taken together, you can’t help but see some deeper ideas at work.
Next time, the really strong run loses some steam and kind of peters out (no pun intended) as Genesis and the Millennium Giants overtake the narrative. In fact, the last issue with David’s name on the cover isn’t even written by him.
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Aquaman Annual #1