Retro Reviews: Aquaman: Time & Tide By David, Jarvinen, Vancata & McCraw For DC Comics

Aquaman: Time and Tide #1-4 (December 1993 – March 1994)

Written by Peter David

Pencils by Kirk Jarvinen

Inks by Brad Vancata

Coloured by Tom McCraw

Spoilers (from twenty-four to twenty-five years ago)

Shaun McLaughlin’s Aquaman series ended with the promise of this four-part “Year One” style series coming soon, but it took a year before this one was seen by the world.  I vaguely remember getting this book and liking it, so let’s see what I think of it now.

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

Villains

  • Trickster (#1)
  • Nuliajuk (#3)
  • Ocean Master (Orm; #3-4)

Guest Stars

  • Flash (Barry Allen; #1)
  • Aqualad (Garth; #4)
  • Aquagirl (Tula; #4)
  • Mera (#4)

Supporting Characters

  • Porm (#2)
  • Kako (#3)
  • Orm (#3)
  • Arthur Jr. (#4)
  • Vulko (#4)

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

  • Issue twelve of the last run ended with Vulko giving Aquaman the Atlantis Chronicles, which was the name of an earlier miniseries by Peter David that I read as a kid, but have no desire to return to now, as I remember them being a little dull.  After an opening sequence involving a dead goldfish journeying from a toilet to the ocean, we join Aquaman sitting in a nicely decorated underwater cave, finishing reading the Chronicles, the conclusion of which was written by his mother Atlanna.  He then picks up a pencil and begins to write, talking about his family’s connection to the ancient monster Kordax, and claiming that his mother was insane.  He also claims to have thought his father a surfaceman, but mentions that his mother claims that his father was an immortal wizard.  Aquaman thinks about the meaning of the word hero, and then flashes back to his first escapade as a superhero.  The rest of the issue is told in flashback.  The Trickster robs a bunch of cops on a boat, which just happens to be hosting Barry Allen.  The Flash chases him as he runs on air, but is interrupted by Aquaman’s arrival (he was told what was going on by sharks).  The Trickster snags Flash, causing him to lose his momentum and fall into the ocean.  Aquaman gets rid of some rather stupid sharks that came to eat him, and takes Flash to a cave with oxygen in it.  They talk for a bit, and Aquaman introduces himself as “Curry”.  We learn that Aquaman doesn’t trust land-dwellers, but Flash convinces him to help him catch the Trickster.  They do this by getting whales to knock his mini-sub around, and then they apprehend him when he emerges.  Flash gives Aquaman his name, and then convinces him to take in some appreciation from the people of Crescent Shore, the city they took Trickster to.  They learn that Trickster has escaped, and while Flash rushes off to catch him again, Aquaman is left with some PR types who want to turn him into a superhero.  Aquaman doesn’t like their ideas and storms out of the limo they were talking to him in, creating a scene.  Trickster runs by, but when Aquaman gets annoyed by the crowds yelling at him, he decides to just return to the water.  Trickster keeps trying to get his attention until Aquaman decks him and then yells at the bystanders.  Flash catches up to him before he dives into the water, and tells him he’s a good guy.
  • We watch as a dolphin is born, and almost immediately caught, alongside his mother, in a net.  These dolphins are dragged into a trawler, where they are saved from being bludgeoned by Aquaman, who threatens the sailors until they let the dolphins go.  Later, writing in the Atlantis Chronicles, he muses on the duality of his life.  This causes him to narrate how, when he was born, he was left on Mercy Reef to die by his people, due to his blonde hair.  His telepathy and ability to breathe air when the tide receded protected him, until Porm, another dolphin (although the last series I read called her a porpoise) found him and protected him.  She gave birth to her own son, Drim, just afterwards.  After this, Porm and her family continued to look after Baby Aquaman, raising him despite his clear disabilities in their eyes.  At one point, he managed to protect a young dolphin named Nera from a shark, and at the same time, learn how to use his fingers to grip things.  Later on, as a young adolescent, Tween Aquaman develops feelings for Nera, as does Drim, and they begin to argue.  The dolphins bring Tween Aquaman to a vessel to show him his own people, and he is upset by this.  Showing off, Drin ends up running into the side of the vessel and getting ripped up by the ship’s propeller blades.  Tween Aquaman tries to save him from the crewmen who want to kill him out of mercy, and the sharks that want to eat his dying body.  After he dies, the shark that Aquaman blinded as a youth convinces him to let them eat his dead adopted brother.  Upset, Tween Aquaman tells Porm he doesn’t like her kinds’ ways, and she suggests he leave to find his own way.  This memory is sad for present-day Aquaman.
  • Issue three opens in the Arctic, where a polar bear chases a teenage girl.  Teen Aquaman, wearing only a pair of cut-off jeans, shows up and starts to fight the bear.  With the girl’s help, he is able to kill it before passing out.  In the present, Aquaman looks at a scar on his forehead and, still writing in the Atlantis Chronicles, makes reference to being abandoned by Arthur Curry, the lighthouse keeper, and then traveling north to avoid people.  In the past, an old man fishes in the traditional way, while his grandson taunts him from a fishing boat.  Aquaman, in his narration, refers to these people as “Eskimos” and then immediately mentions that they don’t like the term, but continues to use it.  The old man, referred to as grandfather, is described as steadfastly adhering to  his traditional lifestyle.  He returns home to the news that his granddaughter, Kako, has brought Teen Aquaman into their house.  Teen Aquaman dreams of being confronted by an undersea demon type that gives him a choice – he can either give himself to her or agree to sacrifice a loved one.  He wakes in the Grandfather’s home, where we learn that he learned to speak Inupiat from his father (who is that supposed to be?  Did he just learn it through his telepathy?  That is confusing).  The family tells him a story about the first time their people met white people, and tell him he can stay with them.  In another home, the fishing grandson, who we learn is named Orm, angers his mother.  Teen Aquaman and Kako play baseball on the tundra and then have sex, observed by Orm.  Later, Teen Aquaman wakes up and finds Kako lying beaten and naked in the snow, unconscious.  He takes her home, where they watch over her.  Teen Aquaman has another dream where he’s back in the presence of the demon, who has Kako captive in her castle.  He kills the demon’s underwater dog, and when she attacks him with eels grown from the stumps of her fingers, he uses his telepathy to turn them against her.  He escapes with Kako, and the demon warns that she will ruin the rest of his life.  Both teens wake up, and Teen Aquaman relays his dream.  The Grandfather recognizes the demon as Nuliajuk, and fears that his family has now been cursed.  He suffers a heart attack and dies, and his wife chases Teen Aquaman from their home.  We learn that he went back six months later, but the family was gone.
  • The last issue of this series opens with Aquaman and Aqualad tied up and hanging upside down, with Ocean Master pointing a gun at them.  In his cave, Aquaman is writing about this event, and having a hard time figuring out how to tackle Ocean Master’s story in the Atlantis Chronicles.  He begins to narrate a time when he was king (it’s not ever made clear that we are in Poseidonis, but I guess that’s to be assumed.  Aquaman is sitting on his throne, next to his queen, Mera, with their infant son, Arthur Jr. between them.  To one side stand Aqualad and Aquagirl (Tula).  Aquaman introduces his son to a crowd, and has a chat with Vulko.  At that point, a costumed figure calling himself Ocean Master walks into the throneroom.  Aquaman can tell he’s a surface man, and when Ocean Master says he wants to challenge him to be king of all the oceans.  Aquaman, mockingly, tells him he can have the title and suggests he begin touring ¾ of the planet, and introduce himself to every fish.  This annoys Ocean Master, who attacks him but is quickly beaten and sent walking away.  Everyone’s a little surprised by Arthur’s arrogance, but return to their party, which involves a lot of dancing.  Later, Aquaman sleeps, Mera feeds the baby, and Aqualad and Aquagirl make out when Garth sees something and calls for Aquaman.  A massive sub has appeared outside the city’s dome, and fires a torpedo.  Aquaman and Aqualad rush out and stop a second torpedo, using it to punch a hole in the sub.  Entering, they find themselves facing Ocean Master and a crowd of his goons.  Ocean Master rants and Aquaman mostly ignores him, until he realizes that Ocean Master was the guy who hurt Kako last issue, when they were all teenagers.  He also talks about how his father claimed that he was really fathered by an undersea wizard, which makes present day Aquaman realize that there was something to the story that his mother had always claimed about his parentage.  He gets upset.  In the past, Aquaman busts out of his chains, and attacks Ocean Master.  At the same time, outside the sub, Mera attacks using her hard water powers.  The sub explodes, because it appears Ocean Master had set it to self-destruct if it was interfered with.  His goons all float around, having drowned, and Aquaman acknowledges that Ocean Master was able to somehow breathe underwater.  In the present, Aquaman, who has a lot of stubble on his face, thinks about the fact that Ocean Master is actually his half-brother, and he worries for his sanity.

I think that Aquaman was one of the last of the major DC heroes to be given a post-Crisis makeover, as everyone else had their stories ironed out back in the late 80s.  It does look like he needed a little bit of clarifying, as various stories had piled up making the character’s past a little confusing.  The thing is, I’m not sure that this four-issue series did much to help.  It definitely didn’t live up to its stated purpose as serving as a “Year One” story, jumping from Arthur’s first meeting with the Flash back to his early childhood and teen years, before showing him married and a father before meeting one of his more pivotal foes.  Clearly, it’s not even likely that issue one and four took place within a year of one another.

Anyway, while completely avoiding telling us how Aquaman got the name Arthur Curry, learned English, or ended up on the throne of Atlantis or Poseidonis, Peter David did create some mystery around Aquaman’s true parentage.  I don’t know enough about the older Aquaman comics to guess at this, but I suspect that the connection to Inuit culture was retconned in, and I feel that the coincidence that Aquaman would come across Orm as a teen, and also be his half-brother, is pretty far-fetched, even if you leave out the eternal sorcerer angle.  Whatever though, that’s comics.

Peter David’s writing is always nice, and this miniseries works as a series of flashbacks, although I kind of wonder why Arthur wouldn’t be writing his life story in chronological order in something so historically pivotal as the Atlantis Chronicles.  

My issue with this series is largely based on the art.  Kirk Jarvinen clearly owes a lot to the influence that Erik Larsen had on him, and there are many places where I would have sworn this was a Larsen comic.  I’m fine with that, but he falls into the trap that I’ve seen too many artists, whether they be drawing Aquaman or Namor, get caught in.  The underwater scenes, especially in issue four, only look underwater because there are random air bubbles in the art.  

I doubt very much that a society that has developed underwater would function exactly as ours does.  They wouldn’t walk on the ocean floor or even in royal throne rooms.  I would think that sitting on a throne would be difficult, as would keeping sheets on you when you slept.  I know that the city has a dome around it, keeping it safe from ocean currents, but still, there would be shifts and motion that would make being still difficult.  When I read comics like this, I become obsessed with thinking about the physics of the scene, and scenes like when we see Ocean Master first fight Aquaman make no sense at all.  Shaun Hooper did a much better job with his undersea scenes in the last run.

Anyway, this series was designed to whet readers’ appetites for Peter David’s ongoing Aquaman series, so that’s where we’re headed next.

If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.

If you’d like to read this series, you’ll probably have to dig in some back issue bins, but you can try here:

Aquaman: Time and Tide

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