Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Justice League of America's Vibe #2 (May, 2013)

"You are going to get eaten! Or stabbed. Or blown up. Or erased from time. Or, if you're really lucky, just plain old-fashioned gut shot... Why else would they have you in the Justice League of America other than cannon fodder? You're the red shirt, man. They can throw you at super-villains, and while they're distracted debating on how to kill you, the JLA can swoop in and save the day." Clearly, Dante Ramon wasn't supportive of his brother Cisco becoming a super-hero, especially on a JLA "b-team" whose other members had yet to be revealed to him. Vibe was showing off the costume he'd been given by A.R.G.U.S., including the glasses that were only supposed to record his activities while on duty, but through which Amanda Waller and Dale Gunn were viewing this breach of confidentiality.

Vibe heard a call for help and went out on patrol, and in a scene paralleled in another comic, caught a little boy who had merely stolen a candy bar. "Look... um... Promise you'll never do it again and it'll be our secret, okay?" Dante questioned whether the League had confused Cisco with another, more competent Vibe, and worried about losing "the only brother I've got left." Cisco paid the shopkeeper for the candy bar. Agent Gunn was dispatched to confront Vibe about his frivolous use of power when he was desperately needed to protect the Earth from invasion, and dressed him down for confiding in his brother, a designated "unreliable factor." Vibe put Dante's question to Dale, who explained "you have a power no one else does." Dante continued to mock the "Vibe" moniker and teased tattling on Cisco to their father.

On the streets of Detroit, an odd looking alien was roaming the streets menacingly. A television in a store window discussed a terrorist situation involving the terrorist Sons of Adam taking hostages at Stagg Industries, and the alien reacted badly when possible intervention by A.R.G.U.S. was mentioned. Vibe sensed the creature's presence, and A.R.G.U.S. asked him to track it. Dale referred to it as a "breacher," referring to "interdimensional beings that breach our world." The breacher had taken a cop hostage, turned invisible, and scaled a building. Vibe used his powers to knock over a light pole and scale it to the building's roof. Vibe zapped the breacher, who promptly surrender and tried to give Cisco a document written in an alien language. Agent Gunn shot the breacher with an energy weapon, claiming it was still a threat, and that his message was a declaration of war.

At the Circus, Amanda Waller had the document, and gave it to one of her prisoners to translate. "...It has your name on it, doesn't it? Written in your language. It's a letter. Someone went to a great deal of trouble getting this to you..." The prisoner asked after the fate of the courier, and explained that the letter was a request from her father to come home. "You seem to prefer a more nomadic existence. That makes you something of a trans-dimensional... Gypsy." Waller wanted the girl to tell her father that she was safe and well cared for, but if he decided to try to take his daughter back, he'd share her "accommodations." Gypsy felt that Waller had no right to keep her, and Amanda agreed, but also noted that some of her superiors would prefer that her holding facility become an abattoir. "I want out! I'll take my chances out there! Please..."

A day later, Cisco was the first member at the new Justice League of America headquarters in Washington, D.C. In a phone call, Cisco was debating quitting before proving himself "a sucky Justice Leaguer," but Dante finally supported him. At a press conference before the Capitol Building, President Barack Obama introduced the press to Katana, Vibe, Stargirl, Martian Manhunter, and Hawkman. Cisco whispered to Courtney that he wished his brother could have been there, then Colonel Steve Trevor told him to "Can the chatter." Steve confided to Waller that Vibe was wide-eyed in awe of the spectacle, and worried for his safety in times to come. To better vet the kid, Director Waller informed Agent Gunn that she wanted to see how well Vibe could establish a connection to the Speed Force...

"Why Me?" was by Geoff Johns & Andrew Kreisberg as writers; Pete Woods & Andres Guinaldo on pencils; Sean Parsons, Pete Woods & BIT on inks. The issue felt very much like a placeholder or series of deleted scenes, weaving in and out of sequences from Justice League of America #1 & 2, advancing subplots without a true core story of its own to tell. Woods' art improved, but since he was sharing chores with so many other hands, the overall quality of the book was inconsistent. I'm not at all keen on Gypsy's new backstory, Cisco remains a calculatingly inoffensive bore, and how many reminders do we need that Amanda Waller is in a shady business?

New 52's Day

Sunday, July 28, 2013

2007 Black Manta color art by Terry Huddleston

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"Black Manta. Bar-nun, the creepiest DC Villian."
The Great Wall of Villains

Monday, July 22, 2013

Aquaman #16 (March, 2013)

After the U.S.S. Mabus fired on Atlantis, Ocean Master declared war against the surface world. The Justice League fared poorly in their initial confrontation with him, as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were sentenced to death in the Trench. Meanwhile, Cyborg underwent voluntary surgery to replace his lungs in order to carry the fight under the sea. Silas Stone initiated the procedure, though his associate T.O. Morrow argued "We wouldn't have to subject your son to this horrific operation if you'd just agreed to letting me activate the android... the Tornado could--" Thomas was cut off as Cyborg's idling mind went to work on the mystery of the missile strike.

With the League overwhelmed, reserve heroes were called in by Cyborg to stymie the Atlantean offensive, including The Vixen, Firestorm, Black Lightning, Black Canary, Element Woman, Hawkman and a concealed Tiny Titan. The heroes were not used to one another though, which caused problems. Mari demanded "Watch where your (sic) flying Firestorm! We need to get better organized, Black Canary. Where's Batman? ...All I can smell is seawater." The reservists were then knocked out by an explosion.

Cyborg received his upgrade and joined Aquaman and Mera in rescuing the DC Trinity. Victor Stone also had a lead on who was behind the Mabus attack... Aquaman's old advisor Vulko!

"Throne of Atlantis, Chapter Four" was by Geoff Johns, Paul Pelletier, and Sean Parsons.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Brave and the Bold #51 (December, 1963-January, 1964)

A rogue narwhal (a violet color whale-like creature with a long horn on its snout) began battering the glass dome over Atlantis. Aquaman couldn't control the creature, so he had an undersea bullfight with the narwhal until it became fatigued enough to respond to telepathy.

A giant toad-like creature with massive bird wings on its back was afraid that might happen, so he left the sea to take to the air. It traveled to the Golden Cliffs, where the giant condor Lokir guarded the Pipe of Quixtol, a horn that could command all birds. Dragged by combat into the sea, Lokir had to abandon the pipe and survive another day. Lokir flew to Midway City, where museum curators Carter and Shiera Hall tended to the condor's injuries. Able to speak to birds, Hawkman and Hawkgirl learned Lokir's story, and suited up to pursue the Pipe of Quixtol.

Aquaman and Aqualad visited the cave where The Old Man of the Oceans could be found. A survivor of the sinking of Atlantis, the Old Man explained that their foe was surely The Outcast of Atlantis. Long ago, Tyros tried to become dictator of Atlantis, but was defeated, exiled, and by now presumed dead. Also, Tyros was the only Atlantean to share Aquaman's ability to command the denizens of the deep. The Old Man vanished, but before the aquatic heroes could act, they were pulled into the air by an "upside-down waterspout" created by countless birds circling above at top speed. Meanwhile, the creatures of the deep renewed their assault on the dome over Atlantis.

Aquaman and Aqualad were rescued by the Hawks, who fought for control of the birds with the Pipe of Quixtol. The attacks of the creatures relented, but Tyros kidnapped Hawkgirl. Returning to the cave where Tyros had been mutated into his current state, Hawkgirl's exposure to the strange gem within turned her into a harpy. The disturbing transformation of his wife caused Hawkman to recoil in horror and return to Midway City... but not before working out a plan of action with the Sea King.

Aquaman was forced to reckon with a sunken ammunition ship that had broken loose, not realizing that it was a trap set by Tyros. An explosion nearly killed Aquaman, and in his absence, Atlantis was given over to Tyros. In Midway City, Hawkman hatched a plan, literally from an egg.

Aqualad recovered from the explosion, and used stinger fluid from an Atlantean Spiny-Fish to revive the ailing Aquaman. However, the spiny-fish came into contact with the transformative gem, and grew to giant size. Far enough out from Atlantis, Aquaman simply commanded the fish to settle down. Aquaman took the gem carefully, then met with Hawkman to launch a two pronged plot against Tyros.

Using a secret entrance known to royalty, Aquaman and Aqualad invaded the throne room. While Tyros slept, shelly mollusks were used to pump out all the water in the room, depriving Tyros of his aquatic guards. Meanwhile a Thanagraian Mytrus bird, artificially hatched and immune to the Pipe of Quixtol, was set upon the Hawkgirl-Harpy. Hawkman used the distraction to defeat his bride and claim the pipe. Through a plastic tube to Atlantis, the Winged Wonder commanded an army of birds against Tyros, while Aquaman saw the strange gem crushed by a giant clam. Everyone, including Tyros, were returned to their natural selves. The heroes congratulated one another, while Tyros returned to exile.

"Fury of the Exiled Creature" was by Bob Haney and Howard Purcell.

DC Comics Presents

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

King of the Seven Seas: Hooks for the Aquaman Movie

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Whatever peoples' misgivings about Man of Steel, it's made a lot of money, and the Marvel Studios model has made very much more money. Warner Brothers wants to cash in, and recent reports suggest they're looking into doing so with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Now, I'm a fan of the Sea King, but I'm not sure this is the right time for a solo motion picture. Like Green Lantern, Aquaman is popular in comics currently, but that doesn't translate into a public demand. I believe people actively want the DC Trinity in cinemas, whereas Green Lantern had to be sold to the public in 2011, and the result was at best breaking even on the budget. Aquaman is a better known property, but that familiarity comes in part from being an easy punchline, and the property as a whole is more problematic a transition to live action. I think the failed Mercy Reef pilot did a decent job of cracking the Aquaman story for general audiences, but an "alien" refugee on our world hunted by his own people was already used in Man of Steel, so writers need to start from scratch with Aquaman. I have some suggestions on how to go about that...

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1. Royalty is unsympathetic.

Superman is already the messianic Aryan figure sent by a heavenly father to lead mankind by his glorious example and willingness to level a populated area if it gets in his way. Wonder Woman as an Amazon princess is also a given. If Marvel get around to doing the Sub-Mariner, his regal bearing is an integral part of his character, and ditto Black Panther. In the United States, rebels are valued a lot more than kings, and I'm not too sure the monarchy is all that popular abroad anymore.

Aquaman managed to last a couple of decades in comics before being crowned a Sea King, and to some degree it dropped off his head and hung around his throat. Aquaman's recent return to popularity can be partially credited to his being treated as a more straight-ahead super-hero in a conventional costume with a bit of an attitude problem, making him an edgier, angrier protagonist. Regardless of the Nolan-y title of this piece, we should see less King Arthur and more Robin Hood if Aquaman means to stand out in the company of the JLA.

2. The right origin can be very sympathetic.

In his first origin, Arthur Curry was a surface dweller whose scientist father injected him with some Atlantean goo that gave him his powers. In the Silver Age, Arthur was raised in a lighthouse by his normal father after losing his Atlantean mother, and his resentful stepbrother grew up to become Ocean Master. Haven't we had enough of super-heroes being defined by their daddies, surrogate or otherwise? Jor-El, Pa Kent, Uncle Ben, Alfred... it's played out patriarchy.

Personally, I think Aquaman needs more of his Post-Crisis origin to make a dent cinematically. Leave out the Atlan part and just have Aquaman born with some ominous physical aspect among a merciless, superstitious people. Go back to Mercy Reef and see this infant left to die for the sin of being different, only to miraculously survive due to genetic variances known to turn up in the royal family and a mystical destiny to be revealed later. Do the whole Tarzan of the Dolphins thing, with Aquaman raised as a noble savage, belonging to no people while forced to confront all of them. I'm telling you, the girls hearts will go out to him and the boys will respect him as an embattled loner. He'll go from a spare smelly Superman to the team's Spider-Man or Wolverine without compromising the character.

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3. Steve McQueen > James Dean.

What DC needs on the Justice League is a wild card... a bad boy with heavenly looks. The role of smirking anti-authoritarian ladies' man is more predictably applied to Green Arrow, but for television that character has returned to his roots as a Batman stand-in, which has worked for an established audience. Aquaman may not be allowed to be jubilant and grin unironically, but the next best thing would be a troubled loner covering for his private pain with a smirk and a bit of flippancy. The DC heroic pantheon suffers from an excess of self-centered pathos on a textured sleeve between the movie Superman and Batman. As heartening as it may be to see the financial success of Man of Steel, it'll still run a distant second to Iron Man 3 at the box office. The Justice League could use some Tony Stark mojo. Let Aquaman be the cool, fun, enthusiastic, "outrageous" alternative to three dour Captain Americas in the DC Trinity. If he must be a king, make him a reluctant, defiant, progressive one.

4. We don't need a four-color family.

You know what I dread the most about Superman movies? The obligatory presence of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, and sometimes Lex Luthor, all hanging out at the Daily Planet. It's one thing if a creator really needs some of those characters to tell a story (even if it was as unfortunate as babymama Lois in Superman Returns,) but quite another when you're sticking Margot Kidder in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace where she doesn't belong. A selling point for Smallville was that it featured underrepresented classic characters like Lana Lang and Pete Ross, new takes on relationships like Clark & Lex's, and the breakout character was still the wholly invented Chloe Sullivan.

I think steering clear of an extended Batman Family has only helped that franchise's vitality. Focusing on the always agreeable Alfred, offering supporting roles to guys like Lucius Fox, altering cinematic relations with the likes of Harvey Dent and providing closed arcs for key inventions like Rachel Dawes all bolstered the Dark Knight after Robin and Batgirl weighed the guy down. With the exception of Mercy Reef, every Aquaman to cross over into the media has been shown as a mid-career family man, the adventures of AquaDad. Save rescuing and mentoring Garth for later films. Let Mera come along when the franchise needs a reboot. For now, make an Aquaman movie work unhindered by add-ons and allow the screenwriters the room to plot a course for their own supporting cast that does not require biblical fidelity to past representations.

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5. Who to punch? Who? To? Punch?

Aquaman has exactly two villains, Black Manta and Ocean Master. One is basically the Darth Vader of the deep, but a lot of his rep came from murdering Aquaman's son. His most recent origin is very similar to how things played out between Jor-El and General Zod in Man of Steel, and it requires going back to Aquaman having daddy issues that will make him derivative cinematically. Black Manta is your Joker... your Mandarin... an ace in the whole to hype a sequel. Wait until there's room for a better, filmic origin story to tell about him.

Option #2 is Ocean Master, who isn't very interesting, doesn't have a fraction of Manta's fan base, and meanders into the same patriarchal concerns. If you want to use him, make Orm either Aquaman's father or further estranged brother. Maybe he thrived in Atlantis in Aquaman's lifelong absence while practicing ancient, evil magic that may have tied into our hero's "affliction" and very late term attempted abortion. At least that would be a twist on samey-same cinema. Alternately, have his mother be the evil sorceress, to further shift the script away from well trod ground.

Evil king, evil queen-- it puts Aquaman in the right position to be a populist hero instead of snooty noblesse oblige to be resented. Let Aquaman overthrow a monarch instead of serving as one. Maybe he even brings democracy to the sea as a rebel leader, and objects to Superman's more overbearing, unilateral approach to heroics? If the Atlanteans are as big a bunch of ignorant stubborn jerks as they are portrayed in the comics, you create a whole new conflict where Aquaman is forced to look after their obvious best interests in opposition of their loudly protested wishes.

Of course, Atlantis & magic equals an effects budget along the lines of Green Lantern, which should be saved for when it's been earned. In a first film, there's plenty enough story in the origin and development of Aquaman as a hero of two worlds without literally rendering one of them in full CGI glory at feature length. Let Aquaman save surface dwellers from horrors out of the deep like the Trench, which could blend practical and digital effects with a Cormanesque economic use of shadows to keep costs down and tension up. If Aquaman can't come across to audiences on his own, Black Manta and Ocean Master will be about as much help as Mark Strong's Sinestro or John Malkovich's Quentin Turnbull.

5. Be funny. Be scary. Be different.

Is Nolan's Batman is Coca-Cola Classic and Snyder's Superman is (let's be honest) Diet Coke, don't treat Aquaman like Royal Crown. Aquaman has brand recognition, but not a rigidly defined formula, so Do the Dew with the dude. Dark fantasy is big right now, so go all Game of Thrones with Atlantis, or focus on scary sea creatures like The Host or Aliens. Pillage the Marvel movie feel by allowing Aquaman to have fun as a hero, or the Sony scene of heavier soapy romantic elements. Don't borrow from Fox, because you've got enough problems. The heavy hand of the Nolan aesthetic would suffocate Aquaman, and viewers will resent it for not being another entry in the Superman/Batman series. The pedestrian hand of the Green Lantern crew would fare even worse by pleasing no one. A project isn't visionary if it's the same vision recycled since 2005, so find a creative team with something fresh to say about super-heroes while still honoring Aquaman's strengths and gelling with the DC cinematic universe.

If Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling are looking to reteam for a more commercial project than their norm, take a chance. If Wes Anderson wants to get all quirky and twee with Paul Dano, give it some thought. Who else is up for David O. Russell and Bradley Cooper offering oceanic adventure as serio-comic commentary on self-determination vs. social obligation? If David Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen have an angle completely out of left field, it's worth considering for Aquaman. If the super-hero genre can't be expanded, and more adaptable heroes like Aquaman can't be used to push those boundaries, the countdown begins on the death of a fad. Give the Sea King an opportunity to rule.