Aquaman #1Aquaman

(1989 - 5 issues, published by DC Comics)

Story/layouts: Keith Giffen. Artist: Curt Swan. Script: Robert Loren Fleming. Inker: Al Vey.

Aquaman arrives at Altantis only to find it invaded by an army ruled over, unbeknowst to the Atlanteans, by hyper-intelligent jellyfish intent on wiping out all humanoid life in the oceans. Aquaman joins the underground to overthrow the invaders, and also must confront Mera, his wife, who's gone completely insane and blames him for the death of their son.

Starting out, there were confusing spots for me, being unsure of just what had, and had not, been changed in Aquaman's mythos following the various "retcons" DC indulged in in the '80s. I'm not sure why Aquaman was away, or for how long, or other background details. This despite some neat editorials by Mark Waid detailing Aquaman's publishing history. Ironically Waid states Aquaman has remained physically unchanged in almost fifty years -- ironic, because in just a few years Aquaman would undergo pretty startling changes. But this series is about the traditional, orange and green suited, Arthur Curry. It helps if you can pick up The Legend of Aquaman special (by the same creative team) which was published just prior to this, re-telling Aquaman's history. I found it after first reading this mini-series, and it helped orient me a bit better for a second reading. Although The Legend of Aquaman, though well drawn by Swan, and with some nice moments, was surprisingly dull at times, and never did answer questions about why Aquaman has abilities that other Atlanteans don't!


This, the second eponymously titled Aquaman mini-series (there have been, I believe, three), isn't bad, but it's seriously flawed.

I'm not sure how Giffen achieved the kind of power he clearly had at DC at the time, being credited with the story and layouts -- in other words, he didn't write it and he didn't draw it, but still he gets top billing. It's the same position he held on Invasion and Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn, with equally problematic results. The story just isn't well developed, as an adventure, a human drama, or even technically. Supporting characters are undeveloped and characters introduced in the first few issues don't even appear in the last two, and vice versa. It's almost like two separate stories, though with the same villains, and both plots are awfully thin. The jellyfish are never explained or fleshed-out (frankly, they seem almost like a joke), and the blatant Nazi Holocaust metaphor (the jellyfish even refer to their "final solution") isn't handled with any depth or sensitivity, and Aquaman's final strategy against the invaders...well, it's not clear why he couldn't have done it an issue or two earlier! And the fact that Aquaman acknowledges as such doesn't forgive anything. I didn't like the treatment of Mera, and there's precious little real emotion at work (save one genuinely nice scene where Aquaman breaks down remembering his son). There's also some truly disquieting "morality". To whit: a scene where a doctor, secretly with the resistance, murders helpless invader patients in her care. Yup. No hippocratic oath for this lady. I mean...ugh!

So what's to like? Well, Curt Swan's art helps a lot. His clean, under-stated style (the only time I've seen his work on a solo Aquaman story) forgives a multitude of sins. Every review I've read of this comments on Swan's work...and this isn't even his best stuff! And just to be fair, maybe Giffen's layouts help. The milieu is appealing. This isn't a superhero story, per se, but a kind of SF saga set in the ocean's depths. It's fun and atmospheric on that level alone. There's a relaxed pacing that's kind of nice at first, though the final couple of issues drag. This is a five issue mini-series that probably could've been four or even three without any loss of story or nuance.

Bottom line: if you can collect it cheap, it'll certainly help kill a few hours, but nothing more.