DC Comics – Will Pfeifer (w); Patrick Gleason (p); Christian Alamy (i)Ah, Aquaman. Monarch, superhero… subject of more failed relaunches than just about any other hero imaginable. At this point, there’s not much DC hasn’t tried with their resident king of Atlantis (including doing away with the whole king bit).
So, after Rick Veitch became the latest victim of the Curse of Aquaman (as I call it), DC editorial replaced him with rising star Will Pfeifer, of HERO fame and critical acclaim. Pfeifer’s take on the character, at least based on interviews he’d given in the run-up to this issue’s release, was a sort of “back to basics” approach, complete with a requisite amount of stories that illustrate what makes the character cool by throwing out situations that only he is properly suited to handle (which, by definition really, means they all deal with water, a fairly limited concept).
The cool part is that while most writers would have eased their way into it by having Aquaman deal with an oil spill or a storm (see issue #13, natch) or even a supervillain, Pfeifer charges in full force by sinking part of California (all of San Diego, to be exact) and sending our hero to search the newly expanded sea floor for survivors.
That’s a quarter of the issue, seriously. Pfeifer devotes a fair portion of the book, in the beginning, to panels of Aquaman despondently drifting through the sunken ruins of a Left Coast metropolis, searching for any sign of a survivor. He emerges only to pronounce dead the city and all its inhabitants. After Pete Ross delivers a speech explaining that a month after the disaster the American government still has no answers for the public regarding who or what is responsible for the destruction of San Diego, the body of a young boy is found on the beach near the site. With evidence of drowning apparent, but no logical explanation for how his body could have lasted a month without decomposition, the doctor prepping for the autopsy calls in Aquaman to serve as an advisor on the matter.
The first major problem of the issue (and this one isn’t Pfeifer’s fault) is that it spoils what is presumably a fairly important plot point for another DC book that will remain nameless (I’ll say this: it’s selling really, really well and it’s not Batman; there aren’t many other books it could be). I’m not sure whose fault a slip-up like this is, because I don’t blame DC editorial for not wanting to delay one book until another is released, and it’s certainly not Pfeifer’s (because the spoiler he uses will be common knowledge in all DC Universe books shortly). All the same though, there was a jarring moment where I just stopped and said to myself, “Hey, wait a minute…”
The other problem lies in the inconsistency of the art. Gleason does nice work in the aquatic cityscape portions of the issue in particular, definitely unsettling stuff. As well, there is a nicely decompressed moment immediately prior to Aquaman’s declaration of the city as a complete loss. However, Gleason’s rendition of Aquaman himself looks drugged or drunk more often than not, with a heavy-lidded, slack-jawed expression on his face. It makes sense when he’s sifting through the wreckage of San Diego that he would be dumbfounded, to say the least. It does not, on the other hand, stand to reason that he would still have the same expression on his face a month later at the autopsy.
On the other hand, I’m basing my opinions of the art on black-and-white photocopies (from DC’s B&W Advance program), so there’s certainly some room for error, I think.
All in all, it’s a nice change of pace from the pseudo-mystical version of the character that Rick Veitch had produced for the past year (which I think people were overly harsh on; it wasn’t THAT bad for all twelve issues, though some of them were definitely lousy). I’m not sure that enough happened to cover the $2.50 it costs you to try it out, but then again, I didn’t think HERO took off quick enough and that seems to have turned out just fine. It seems that Pfeifer-penned books just take a couple of issues to get things rolling along, so I have faith that the book will pick up steam over the next few months.
It’s definitely worth a look though, as it’s a solid jumping-on point for new readers and an above average issue overall. I’ve got faith in Pfeifer’s abilities as a writer to make this exceedingly difficult character interesting and I’m genuinely curious to see where he’ll take him in the months to come.