Retro Review: Aquaman Vol. 4 #1-13 By McLaughlin, Hooper, Giarrano & Others For DC Comics

Aquaman Volume 4 #1-13 (December 1991 – December 1992)

Written by Shaun McLaughlin

Pencils by Ken Hooper (#1-8, 11-12), Vince Giarrano (#9-10), Chris Schenck (#13)

Inks by Bob Dvorak (#1-8, 11-13), Vince Giarrano (#9-10)

Coloured by Tom McCraw

Spoilers (from twenty-six to twenty-seven years ago)

I had decided a little while ago, while I was rereading Peter David’s X-Factor run, that I wanted to take a second look at his Aquaman.  I remember jumping onto it mid-stream (I’m going to try to minimize the water puns) and really enjoying it, and set out to gather up the few issues I was missing.  When it was time to excavate his run from my longboxes, I noticed his Time and Tide miniseries, which set up his run, and pulled it out too.  I also noticed that I had this series, which preceded Time and Tide, and saw that I had the entire run, except, for some reason, for issue number three.  

The thing is, past immediately recognizing the cover to the first issue, I have no memory of these comics.  I’ve read every book filed in my collection, but I’m drawing a complete blank when it comes to this one.  I was never a big Aquaman fan (I think Namor is a lot cooler, and should probably read John Byrne’s run with him again sometime soon), so the knowledge that I collected this title for a year surprises me.  I decided it might be interesting to give it a new look, and see if I can figure out why I don’t remember it.

Let’s look at who turned up in the title:

Villains

  • Oumlandian Prime Minister Stom (#1-2)
  • Black Manta/Richards (#1-2, 4-6)
  • Jordan/John Wylie (Merrevale Oil; #2, 4, 9-10)
  • Queequeg (#2, 4-5)
  • King Firtf (of Tritonis; #3-5, 12)
  • Thanatos (#7)
  • Nicodemus (#8)
  • Peri (underwater dinosaur; #11)

Guest Stars

  • Blue Beetle (Ted Kord; #1)
  • Martian Manhunter (#1-2, 5)
  • Troia (Donna Troy, New Titans; #5)
  • Pantha (New Titans; #5)
  • Changeling (Garfield Logan, New Titans; #5)
  • Red Star (New Titans; #5)
  • Aqualad (Garth; #5, 8)
  • Mera (#7)
  • Batman (#8)
  • Biff Bailey (formerly of the Sea Devils; #9-10)
  • Nickey (Sea Devils; #9-10)
  • Judy (Sea Devils; #9-10)
  • Dane Dorrance (Sea Devils; #9-10)

Supporting Characters

  • Vulko (#1-4, 6-7, 10-12)
  • F’ancha (#1-6, 10-11)
  • King Thesily (#1-4, 6, 9-12)
  • L’Par (Poseidonis child; #1-3, 5-6)
  • Tyrn (#1-3, 5-6, 11)
  • Echison (#1-3, 5-6, 11)
  • Porm (porpoise; Aquaman’s adopted mother; #1-2, 4-6)
  • Richard Mission (#1-2, 4-5, 8-11)
  • Dr. Diade (#2-4, 6-7)
  • Lord Iqula (of Tritonis; #3-6, 12)
  • S’ona (Iqula’s wife; #3-5, 12)
  • Keerg (Minister of Defense; #3-4, 6)
  • Derea (of Mertu; #11)
  • The Scavenger (#13)

Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:

  • The first issue opens with an establishing shot of Poseidonis, the domed underwater city of the Atlanteans.  Why would water-breathing people choose to live in a domed city?  We on the surface don’t live in a domed city.  Does this cut down on wave action?  Is it to filter out toxins and pollutants?  I don’t know.  A bunch of submarines open fire on the dome, cracking it.  We learn through the narration that Aquaman is alone after separating from his people, following the death of his son and his wife leaving him.  Aquaman helps a beached whale that is grieving the death of its son.  The people attacking Poseidonis, from the nation of Oumland, continue their siege of the city, while the King, Thesily, and his advisors Vulko and F’ancha, debate how to respond, seeing as they don’t have Aquaman to protect them.  The King orders that Aquaman be found, so Vulko sends people to go to the places he may be.  Aquaman is brought by Porm, the queen of the porpoises, to try to save some of her kind from refusing to save themselves when caught in trawling nets.  The people of Poseidonis continue to be attacked.  The UN debates these attacks, but since Poseidonis is not represented there, there is nothing to be done.  In Oumland, the Prime Minister, Stom, meets with a shadowy figure who is really behind the attack, which is itself a reaction to some kind of attack that we are told nothing about.  The shadowy guy orders the start of “Act II”.  Aquaman and Porm talk about Arthur’s grief.  He goes to the site of his son’s burial, where he is found by an Atlantean.  Vulko delivers a soliloquy about how his city needs Aquaman.  In New York, someone named Mr. Mission tries to get in touch with the Justice League, with the goal of helping the Atlanteans.  I have no clue who he is.  Blue Beetle wants to help Aquaman, but Martian Manhunter refuses it.  Beetle storms off.  Aquaman punches his way into the lead Oumlandian sub, and tells the commander to back off.  He starts to pull rudders off the other subs, while the people cheer.  He sends a messenger to tell the Oumlandians they can have safe passage if they leave.  They withdraw.  The people cheer some more.  Aquaman notices that Vulko lies injured, but as he goes to him, a large explosion caused by another sub buries him in rubble.  This is Act II.
  • Okay, this title has some serious issues with transitions and clear storytelling.  Issue two opens with Aquaman still trapped in rubble, with a torpedo jetting towards him.  The woman who found him and brought him back to Poseidonis gets in front of the torpedo, sacrificing herself for Aquaman.  A doctor rushes to him, while another goes to Vulko.  Coming around, Aquaman rushes to his friend, and then turns his attention to the two remaining submarines.  He summons giant squids to attack them, which angers Prime Minister Stom in Oumland.  We learn that the shadowy guy pulling his strings is named Richards.  Aquaman threatens to destroy the subs over a captured radio, and they withdraw.  Aquaman (no one calls him Arthur or Orin in this book, which is kind of weird) refuses to enter his former city, so the King comes out to thank him.  The mother of the soldier who sacrificed herself is angry, and interrupts their conversation.  The King tells Aquaman that they were previously in talks with Oumland, and makes Aquaman feel bad for not being there.  There is a family that keeps getting used as everymen to represent life in Poseidonis.  Echison (the man) and Tyrn (the woman) discuss whether or not Poseidonis provoked Oumland into war while they pick through the wreckage of the city.  Their son, L’Par, wants to see Aquaman.  Some unnamed Atlantean watches the soldier’s mother depart and thinks about how he should comfort her later.  Aquaman swims off.  On TV, a reporter questions why the Justice League didn’t get involved in the conflict, which is weird, as they don’t usually do that when other nations make war.  That Mr. Mission guy, who despite looking like he’s in his forties has been working for the US for fifty years, wants to help Poseidonis, and thinks the Justice League is his way to do that.  Aquaman approaches the shore of Oumland, where soldiers man defenses.  They attack him, despite the fact that he keeps stating his wish to talk in peace.  He keeps saying things in English, which a reporter claims is being translated into statements of aggression.  A businessman at Meerevale Oil, named Jordan Wylie, phones someone named Ernst to discuss what Aquaman is doing on TV.  Aquaman keeps fighting his way through the Oumlandian soldiers, and approaches the Prime Minister’s castle, which is near the coast I guess, and Stom asks him in.  He points out that Poseidonis fired on one of his vessels, and Aquaman walks away from him, and gives a one-panel interview with a reporter.  We see that Martian Manhunter is talking to Mission, telling him that Poseidonis will let him represent them.  Someone (Richards?  Wylie?) orders someone to kill Aquaman over an intercom.  At the UN, the Soviet Union is unhappy that they don’t know what kind of weapons that Poseidonis has.  We see a couple of gunboats in water somewhere.  Guards are needed to keep sharks away from Poseidonis (and now I know what the dome was for).  The doctors work on Vulko.  A WNN boat tries to approach Aquaman as he swims on the surface of the ocean (I guess that wasn’t WNN he was talking to before) just as the gunboats approach from a different angle and start shooting at him.  Another man, wearing a striped shirt and with a topknot is upset to see that someone is after “his target” but I have no idea who that is supposed to be.  The gunboats get shot at (by striped shirt guy?), and then they shoot at the reporters, who Aquaman goes to.  In Poseidonis, the King asks that his council trust Mission, and is annoyed that he is asked by his minister about keeping Aquaman around.  Porm tells Aquaman to stop helping people so much (he keeps musing on how he always uses violence to solve his problems).  He swims towards Poseidonis, where some children come out to greet him.  He realizes that there is a swarm of sharks behind him that are ignoring his mental commands to disperse.
  • I had to read issue three online, which I always hate doing, although the colours are nice and crisp.  Aquaman finds himself surrounded by sharks and small children, so he leads them to his former Aquacave (even some of the kids think it’s a dumb name), and then he goes to try to stop the sharks from ravaging the exposed city of Poseidonis.  In the city of Tritonis, which must be kind of close, a shark attacks a couple of men swimming around (everyone in Tritonis is a merman or mermaid, it seems), and they are saved by the super-strong Lord Iqula.  Aquaman gets bitten on the leg by a shark, and F’ancha seems intent on annoying King Thesily by narrating everything Aquaman does.  In Tritonis, the King, Firtf, wants to talk to Iqula about Poseidonis.  King Thesily and his retinue attract the attention of sharks, but Aquaman saves them, even though it takes him near his ruined former home, which makes him sad.  F’ancha points out to himself that Aquaman didn’t notice him (this happens twice in the issue, so it must mean something).  Aquaman gets some sole to emit natural shark repellent, which drives some of the creatures away, while Vulko, in recovery, keeps referring to Arthur as his king, which bothers the doctor some.  Iqula does not like that he is being sent to conquer Poseidonis under the guise of aiding them, but his wife, S’ona, supports the idea.  Aquaman is tired, but figures out that he can use the electrical current made by one of the Poseidonis military vessels to draw away the rest of the sharks (since they use electrical currents to find mates or something), and luckily, since Arthur is so tired, the Minister of Defense Keerg shows up to pilot the vessel.  Our everyman citizens give the King grief because there are missing kids, and no plans to rebuild the dome.  Some citizens attack a harmless nurse shark, and Aquaman lectures them, invoking God, but it sounds like he’s talking about the Christian concept of God, which is weird in that setting.  S’ona speaks to her cousin, the King of Tritonis, and we learn that she carries a curse of some sort.  We see that the kids have returned to their families, and Aquaman looks to rest in the Aquacave for a bit, but after seeing a picture of his wife, instead starts pacing and arguing with himself until Doctor Diade interrupts him.  She wants to treat his injuries and take him to see Vulko.  F’ancha is clearly trying to drive a wedge between the people and Thesily, and is excited to see that a statue is being built in the city (which should be the top priority in a place that just got bombed to bits – it’s like learning Syrians are erecting a statue of Donald Trump in Aleppo right now).  The Tritonis folk (Tritonians?) are marching/swimming.  Aquaman puts on a clean shirt, and Keerg comes to tell him that an invasion is imminent.
  • As the Tritonians (that’s confirmed) advance, Queerg and Dr. Diade try to hold Aquaman back.  Aqula declares that they are there to protect Poseidonis, but Aquaman fights his way to him, and Iqula mocks him.  King Thesily speaks to Mission about finding someone to represent Poseidonis at the UN.  Keerg tells him about the Tritonians, and he orders that they rally the troops.  Iqula challenges Aquaman to a fight, and Aquaman summons some fish to help him.  The Poseidonian soldiers attack, the Tritonians fight back, and Aquaman gets angry, punching Iqula.  One of the Tritonians doesn’t want to fight the fish Aquaman summoned, calling them “little brothers”, yet when we saw them before, they were fighting sharks.  As Iqula starts to best Arthur, he worries about how he has too many expectations placed on him.  His anger, and Iqula invoking something called “The Curse of Kordax” gives him the strength to defeat his foe.  As they fight, we see that the statue that is being built is of Marin, the woman who saved Aquaman’s life in issue two.  At the UN, the Soviet ambassador suggets that Aquaman represent Poseidonis.  A shadowy figure who is probably Black Manta leaves Oumland, claiming he’s hunting “mermen”.  John Wylie, who was called Jordan Wylie before, is on the phone hiring someone to do something to Aquaman.  The Tritonians are almost back at Tritonis when they see a dark submarine approaching them.  Aquaman thinks about his losses again, and how unhappy he is.  Keerg sees him and reminds him that he was headed to the hospital.  He checks up on Vulko, who doesn’t remember that Arthur is not the king, or that his wife and child are gone.  Arthur wants to speak to Thesily.  In the old city of Poseidonis (where apparently everyone went between panels), we learn there has been a vote.  Aquaman continues to doubt himself, and approaches the king.  They argue about the attack on the Oumlandians.  Thesily tries to make him feel bad for not being around again.  The striped shirt pirate dude sales around spouting nonsense about how Aquaman is the “false prophet of envrionmentalism”.  In Tritonis, we see that the King is in a meeting with Black Manta (although it’s not confirmed as being him yet).  Iqula and S’ona talk about how King Firtf’s plans are bad for their city.  Thesily makes clear that Aquaman is to go speak to the UN.  Later, he talks to Porm about how he is from two worlds.  As he approaches the UN building through the East River, he is fired upon.  As he surfaces, the striped shirt pirate guy, who announces his name is Queequeg, yells more nonsense about techno-sonar militarism, and the dark forces of anti-whalism.  It’s weird.
  • This Queequeg guy keeps yelling in weird pseudo-intellectual nonsense while shooting at Aquaman, who avoids his cruise torpedo, and breaks through his boat to punch him out.  King Firtf makes a deal with Black Manta, agreeing to send five of his mermen with him in return for ruling Poseidonis.  Aquaman emerges from the East River to a meeting with Mission and a UN official, but collapses.  Firtf recruits a couple of mermen to help him, and to stick it to Iqula.  Aquaman wakes at STAR Labs, where he’s being treated.  Donna Troy, in her Troia phase, comes to get him, taking him to another part of the lab, where Aqualad is injured in a tank after the New Titans, who are also there, fought the Wildebeest.  They want Aquaman to help him protegé, and he agrees.  He decides to take Aqualad to his people, the separatist Idylists.  Porm helps him.  In Crastinus, the city of the Idylists, someone named Selani agrees to look after Garth, but it sounds like it’s more of a religious thing than medical.  Aquaman returns to New York, where he is met by Mission and the Martian Manhunter.  J’onn wants to talk to Arthur about his telepathy (when he collapsed, a ton of fish turned up in the East River).  Iqula finds out that Firtf intends to break his arrangement with Aquaman, and wants his wife to join him in moving to overthrow him.  Mission takes the heroes for lunch, and J’onn and Arthur have trouble communicating with each other, which continues as they go to buy Arthur a suit (his costume is getting tattered).  In Poseidonis, the statue of Marin, the woman that saved Aquaman, is unveiled, but the city is still in ruins.  Tyrn decides she wants to run for a spot on the presiding council.  Aquaman sees his new apartment, and J’onn tells him he’s leaving for a while, after Aquaman’s induction ceremony.  When Arthur holds a press conference outside the UN building, Black Manta shows up with some mermen.  Arthur and J’onn start to fight them, and are joined by Iqula, who is angry at the Tritonians.  Arthur leaves to go after Manta, who takes off in his sub.  Arthur strips down to better follow him, and Manta fires a torpedo at some rocks.  We learn that it’s actually the reef where Arthur’s son was buried.  He yells out that he’s going to kill his enemy.  The letter’s page reveals that it was Manta who was working the Prime Minister of Oumland in the first couple of issues.
  • In the ruins of Mercy Reef, Aquaman reflects on all he’s lost.  Manta approaches Poseidonis with a troop of Tritonians.  The King wants to bring out their weapons, but they have none left.  Aquaman approaches, and Manta manages to fire some kind of headband at him, that electrifies his mind.  Manta then sprays an underwater version of Scarecrow’s fear gas that affects the Poseidonians, making them fight one another.  F’ancha, who is an Idylist, is not affected.  Manta questions himself, while Aquaman fights the headband thing, and F’ancha goes to the Aquacave, using a large letter A to rally the people against the invaders.  Manta is surprised to see them turn against him, so he flees, seeking revenge (it’s not clear how) just as Aquaman gets the headband off.  Iqula shows up to help defend Poseidonis against his own people, and tells Aquaman that he’s started a revolution against his own king.  As Aquaman pursues Manta, and evades his torpedoes, Manta reflects on his hatred of the sea, caused by being forced to work on boats as a youth, until he killed the mariners who press-ganged him into service.  Aquaman thinks about how Manta killed his child and caused Mera to leave.  He punches Manta’s vessel, and then calls in some whales to help him destroy it.  The whales get electrocuted, and we learn that one is the whale Aquaman saved in the first issue (I guess for added dramatic effect?).  Aquaman pulls a hatch off Manta’s vessel, and they begin to fight and yell at each other.  Aquaman is shot in the shoulder, and begins to drown Manta, but he causes Aquaman to think that it’s actually his own fault that Mera left him.  When he’s distracted, Black Manta fires a knife from his helmet into Aquaman’s chest, and escapes.  As Manta begins to swim to the surface, Aquaman summons some surgeonfish to rip holes in his outfit.  It looks like he won’t make it.  Manta’s vessel teeters on the edge of an undersea cliff.  Aquaman calls Porm to his side, and says he can’t swim.  As he gives up, we see a crazed looking version of him (also glimpsed last issue) saying that Aquaman is now his.  That’s confusing.
  • I’ve never liked comics where the main character spends an entire issue battling stuff in his mind.  This is one of those comics.  It opens with a monstrous version of Aquaman, in his blue 80s outfit, fighting with our Aquaman, before our guy gets into it with the original Justice League, thinks he’s killed Hal Jordan, and has to watch them sing and dance.  In the real world, we see that Doctor Diade has saved Aquaman from his injuries, and that he has to figure out how to survive.  In his dream, he sees his child and Mera, who is angry with him, and they fight.  In reality, we see that all of this is being orchestrated by an older villain of his called Thanatos, who looks like him (if he had a mullet, although in his dreams he kind of does have one) and is wearing that 80s outfit.  It also looks like he’s got Mera with him, and that she thinks he’s Aquaman.  In his dream, Arthur fights Garth, and in reality, Vulko comes to see him.  Back in his dream, Mera basically wants Arthur to choose between her and their son.  His refusal upsets Thanatos, and the scene drags on for a while, until ultimately, while being squeezed by some tentacle monster, Arthur rejects anger.  Real Mera watches Thanatos watch this through a “mist-scene” and starts to question her reality.  Dream Aquaman refuses to fight, even when Dream Mera and Artie start hitting him.  When Dream Aquaman tells them to kill him, Thanatos gets angry and loses his control over Arthur’s mind.  Aquaman wakes up, and talks to Vulko about his relationship with his family before going back to sleep.  The issue ends on a hopeful note for Aquaman, and a bitter one for Thanatos.
  • Most of issue eight is narrated by Nicodemus, the student of the Batman villain NKVDemon, who has become an assassin for hire.  He watches Aquaman on the news and begins to plan his assassination for that Wylie guy.  In Crastinus, Aqualad and Aquaman argue some, because Garth is unhappy that Arthur dumped him back with the religious nuts that rejected him as a child, although it did allow Garth to recover from his injuries.  Arthur is honest about what’s been happening with him, and they reach a new level of friendship.  Aquaman returns to New York where he meets with Mission (who now has a first name – Richard).  At the UN, Mission insists that Arthur wear a bulletproof vest.  Arthur flirts a little with the Russian ambassador before going to deliver a speech to the General Assembly wherein he sort of apologizes for Poseidonis’s actions against Oumland, but also asserts Poseidonis’s right to defend itself against incursion.  He also talks about the damage being done to the environment and how that affects his people.  We see that Nicodemus has set up a sniper rifle outside, and is waiting for Aquaman to come out and immerse himself in water (he believes he has a 60-minute limit on land).  When the press conference after his address focuses on meaningless things, Aquaman gets angry and ends it.  He and Mission come outside, as it begins to rain, and Aquaman senses that Nicodemus is going to shoot him, getting out of the way in time.  He goes after the shooter and they begin to fight, with Aquaman taking some shots in the vest.  Batman shows up and begins to fight Nicodemus while Aquaman recovers.  Nicodemus takes off, and the two heroes speak briefly.  Batman provides information, but Aquaman insists on dealing with this problem his way, and goes after Nicodemus.  He hurts his leg and pauses, again sensing that Nicodemus is going to shoot him just before it happens.  He catches him, and they begin fighting hand-to-hand.  Nicodemus tries to escape, and Aquaman finally takes the time to take off his suit, revealing his usual costume, before pursuing again.  He manages to take him down just as the police arrive.  Batman, disguised as a detective, talks to Arthur.  The next day, Mission talks to Aquaman about what happened, and on Riker’s Island, a guard shoots and kills Nicodemus for Mr. Wylie and the Exchange, whatever that is.
  • In the country of Bogatago, in South America, the Sea Devils attack an oil platform on a river.  Their former member, Biff, happens to be working there, and he warns them off, but the well explodes, spraying oil everywhere.  Aquaman is en route to Bogatago, flying in the UN’s Secretary General’s plane.  We learn that King Thesily had chewed him out for acting as a hero in the Nicodemus affair.  After that, some US State Department types asked Aquaman to go help protect the oil well from the Sea Devils, who have been actively interfering with companies in the region, in exchange for the Secretary General helping Poseidonis with its upcoming vote.  Flashback over, Aquaman dives from the plane into the area near the oil platform.  Judy (one of the Sea Devils) finds Biff, who we learn took a job with Merrevale Oil after his relationship with her fell apart.  Aquaman is angry about how much damage the spreading oil is causing.  Biff and Dane fight and argue until Aquaman stops them.  He uses his telepathy to warn all creatures, land and aquatic, away from the spill, but their fear begins to infect him some.  He takes his anger out on Dorrance, and then they make a plan to try to stop the oil from spreading, especially since it is headed towards a city.  The Sea Devils go off to try to slow the spread, while Aquaman and Biff work to seal the well.  They manage this using an empty air tank (which doesn’t make sense) and along the way find proof that perhaps the well was sabotaged.  At the UN, Mission learns that Oumland has gotten the vote on Poseidonis moved up.  The Sea Devils work to freeze the oil, but Nickey falls off his jetski and gets covered in oil.  The Merrevale Environmental Response Unit arrives (conveniently quickly), as does the media (even more convenient).  A Dr. Melvin Percy claims to have experimental microbes that will harmlessly eat the oil in the water, and Aquaman gives permission for it to be tested.  At Merrevale HQ, Wylie makes it clear that all of this, except for Aquaman’s presence there, was planned.  He tells a guy on the scene to use something called Force One.  Dr. Percy spills the microbes and they start foaming, which is supposed to be a good sign, but when Aquaman releases a bird he had rescued, and it flies into the water where the microbes are, it immediately starts screaming in pain.  Aquaman jumps into the water and starts to drown.
  • Aquaman, still unable to breathe in the water, fears he is having a heart attack, and is pulled out of the river by Bif.  The Sea Devils keep trying to stop the spreading microbe, now being called the Eaters.  One of the Merrevale guards relays what’s happening to Wylie, who orders the deployment of Force One, which is a bunch of guys with guns in high-tech dive suits.  The Merrevale guys on the boat attack Aquaman, Biff, and the doctor, and Dane decides to do something about things.  Aquaman, holding his breath, shakes Merrevale’s boat, and then sees Force One, who he identifies as Oumlandian shock troops, even though they look nothing like the ones we’ve seen before (this is the second of Vince Giarrano’s two issues, and maybe he never read the earlier issues – he also draws Aquaman’s hair much longer than Hooper was).  Aquaman fights Force One (I guess while still holding his breath), and after dispatching his foes, see that others are on the Sea Devils’ flying boat thing.  He calls in some local birds to help out.  Dane is captured by Merrevale people, who are about to shoot him when he is saved by Biff, who found a rifle on the oil rig.  Dane smashes the thing that is blocking the hovering news helicopter from broadcasting, and back in the States, Wylie is upset to see the carnage his company has caused being broadcast.  Aquaman has rounded up Force One, who deny being from Oumland, and bombs in their helmets kill them all.  Still worried about the spread of the Eaters, they come up with a solution that involves vacuuming sand from the river bed and spreading it on the microbes, which causes them to starve to death in seconds.  That’s way too neat.  Aquaman sees the floating skeleton of the bird he saved.  Aquaman and the Sea Devils talk.  Aquaman returns to New York (it is implied that he swims there from South America, which is impressive normally, but even more so when he can no longer breathe underwater), where he learns that the UN vote is about to happen.  Unexpectedly, Oumland votes in favor of Poseidonis.  Aquaman gathers a news crew and pays a visit to Wylie at Merrevale, where he gives him the bird skeleton and makes clear that Wylie is behind environmental destruction and sabotaging the oil platform.  He also points out that he has diplomatic immunity.  Biff decides to return to the Sea Devils, and they more or less agree to operate democratically.  The Exchange, a shadowy group, meet to discuss what to do with Wylie.  We discover that the Oumlandian ambassador is part of the group.  Back in Poseidonis, King Thesily is upset that Aquaman confronted Wylie, and wants to deal with him.
  • A giant plesiosaurus, or some other underwater dinosaur, swims around the wreck of the Titanic thinking about how hungry it is.  Aquaman and Mission are at STAR Labs, where Arthur has been receiving a checkup.  He’s in bad shape after all the blows he’s taken, and the doctor suggests he take a sleeping pill and rest.  Mission walks him home to his sleeping tank, and he gets some rest.  The plesiosaurus has come close to the city and emerges near a tourist-filled ferry.  An off-duty cop shoots at it, and it capsizes the ferry.  Mission and his assistant see this and rush to get Aquaman.  By the time our hero arrives, the dinosaur has just been pulling people out of the water to rescue them.  Aquaman uses some acrobatics and a police helicopter to draw it out to sea before jumping into the water to interact with it himself (his telepathic attempts to calm it just made it more hungry).  Back in Poseidonis, King Thesily recalls Aquaman, and Vulko’s feelings get hurt because his counsel is ignored.  Aquaman continues to try to figure out where the dinosaur came from, while trying to avoid getting eaten by it.  This goes on for pages.  Just as he’s about to get eaten, and is trying to hold the beast’s jaws open, he notices that it has a filling in its tooth.  At that point, a telepathic woman named Derea of Mertu shows up.  The dinosaur is her companion, Peli, and we learn that Aquaman called it with his telepathy while he slept.  While she knows who Aquaman is, he clearly doesn’t know her or her people.  She gives him some things to think about, challenging him to face what binds him to find freedom.  Later, Mission tells him he has to return to Poseidonis, but doesn’t tell him why.  Echson and Tyrn get robbed in Poseidonis by some tough guys.
  • As Aquaman returns to Poseidonis, he immediately has to break up a fight between three people who were accusing a man of hoarding coral.  King Thesily shows up, and expresses (in thought bubbles) his jealousy of how people listen to Aquaman, and tells him he is no longer ambassador.  Aquaman quits, and then finds Vulko packing to leave.  The old man was kicked off the council, and has decided to go stay in Tritonis.  Aquaman decides to accompany him.  Iqula is fighting a faction of King Firtf’s supporters; Aquaman intervenes to help him, which is against Iqula’s wishes.  The fight is put on hold according to Tritonian rules, and S’ona asks Aquaman questions about his telepathy.  Iqula explains the layers of rules by which Tritonians live.  The king, upon discovering that Aquaman is there, has his men prepare to kidnap S’ona, which is against the rules.  S’ona and Vulko are talking about the cult of Kordax, and the curse that Poseidonians once thought Aquaman suffered under, when they are attacked by Firtf’s men, who kidnap them.  Iqula and his people learn of this, and Iqula rallies his troops.  They attack in a beautiful double-page spread, while Aquaman has to sit out.  One of Firtf’s people holds a Poseidonian gun on S’ona, and he pulls off her headdress revealing that she is blonde – the symbol of the Curse of Kordax.  Iqula’s faction decides to not give in to superstition and the fight continues.  When Iqula is shot, Aquaman joins in, although S’ona stops him and uses her heretofore unknown telepathy to summon a pair of sharks.  Seeing that the fight is going well, Aquaman leaves to look for Vulko, and finds Firtf holding a knife to his neck.  This is basically what happened with Arthur’s son, as Vulko reminds him, so Aquaman distracts the king and Vulko kicks him.  Aquaman punches the king out, and they go outside to see that Iqula and his people, joined by the previously neutral women, have been victorious.  Later, Aquaman prepares to leave, sure that Vulko is safe there, and the older man gives him the Atlantis Chronicles (Peter David’s history of Atlantis ran before this series).  Aquaman leaves.  The next issue box announces only one issue remaining before the upcoming “Year One” Time and Tide miniseries.
  • The last issue of this series is really just a filler.  A young boy named Tony, who has an incurable disease, sneaks out of the hospice where he is staying to go find his hero, Aquaman, in Lake Erie.  He gets picked up by a truck driver who tells him a story about Aquaman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter being fakes performing at a circus.  The kid then gets picked up by a rich woman who buys him dinner, and tells him a story about Aquaman using powers of flight and hand-blasts to stop some undersea whalers.  The kid points out the inconsistencies of her story, and she leaves him at a truck stop.  He then gets picked up and offered a ride by a third person (did this seem as sinister in 1993 as it does now when I read it?).  This person tells Tony about a fight between Aquaman and an undersea villain called The Scavenger, who had raided a shipment of medicine from a sunken freighter in Lake Erie.  As they fought, Aquaman told him that the medicine is needed to stop a measles outbreak in Toronto and the Scavenger decides to help him distribute the meds.  Aquaman introduces him to a local bigwig as his partner, and this turns the Scavenger around in life.  It turns out that the narrator is the Scavenger, and he takes the kid to his place by the lake, explaining that Aquaman sometimes comes to visit.  Just then, Arthur walks in, and the kid hugs him.  Together they sit on a dock.

The letters column in issue thirteen explains that the series has now ended, but that a four-part miniseries written by Peter David, Time and Tide, is coming soon.  I’m guessing that DC figured that a new number one by the new writer would be more marketable than continuing this series, and that was that for Shaun McLaughlan’s story.  With this abrupt ending, we are left wondering how the ongoing issues between Poseidonis and Oumland will be resolved, whether or not King Thesily will ever earn the regard of his people, and just what it is that F’ancha was planning or why he didn’t want Aquaman to see him.  Also, we don’t know what the deal is with Aquaman’s telepathy problems, or what the Exchange has in store for him.  

Reading these comics again, I still don’t really remember them at all.  And I can understand why that’s the case.  These are not memorable comics.  They aren’t bad – McLaughlin’s writing improves a lot, and Hooper’s art is very nice, improving with each issue – but they don’t really do much new with the character (aside from give him longer hair and wreck his city once again).  

Shaun McLaughlin did not have a very long career in comics, but I feel like he had some serious ambitions for this book.  It seems like he was trying to build a title that encompassed geopolitical and environmental themes, while also working to rehabilitate a character the often vacillated between silliness and mean-spirited plotting.  

He took an often-exiled king who was a source of both worship and superstitious distrust among his people, who has been through a series of personal tragedies, and put him in a few unwanted positions.  His Aquaman questions his motives and responses to problems, and continues to grieve for his son.  While this is happening he has to try to protect a people he wants little to do with, and to manage the ambitions of the king that replaced him.  It’s interesting, but none of it is given enough room or time to develop fully.  Maybe it’s just more than a comic was able to accomplish in 1992?

McLaughlin’s pacing is terrible at the start of the series, with rough jump cuts to other scenes that totally destroyed the flow of the comic, but with time, he got a lot better.  He integrated the larger DCU into this comic well, considering the difficulty of always finding something for Aquaman to do in land-based scenes, and I was curious to learn more about the interactions between the Poseidians, especially the everymen Echison and Tyrn, who was planning on running for the ruling council.  

Ken Hooper’s art started off nice, and got nicer as the book progressed.  I found that by his last issue, #12, he reminded me a lot of Rags Morales during the same time (look at the fight between the Tritonians), and I like that.  I also liked the way that Arthur’s hair seemed to grow in real time, suggesting changes to his character.  

As I said, these weren’t outstanding comics in any way, but they were good and were getting better.  With more time, this could have been a solid series, but I can also see why a Peter David-helmed series would be more attractive to DC.  Next time, we’re going to be taking a look at David’s “Year One” miniseries.

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Aquaman (1991-1992)

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