Friday, February 20, 2015

Where's the Trade? Aquaman (1991) #s 1-7

While the 1994 Aquaman series by Peter David deservedly gets credit for updating the hero for the 90s & beyond, the seeds for that successful run are firmly planted in some earlier, and as yet, uncollected issues. Released on the heels of 2 mini-series and 2 Specials, the 1991 Aquaman ongoing series, though short-lived, helped define the character for the remainder of the decade. 

Written and drawn by then comics newcomers Shaun McLaughlin and Ken Hooper, inked by Bob Dvorak and colored by Tom McCraw, this series, especially in its 1st story arc from issue #s 1-7, did a few things very well. McLaughlin began to explore the character of Aquaman to some depth - at this point, the character was dealing with the grief of a lost child, and more recently, with the loss of his spouse - the hero, wracked with guilt & indecision, enters the story listless and in need of direction.  Accustomed to being alone and having his own way, it's interesting to see the hero of a book almost burdened by needs of the community he 'serves.'

Kevin Maguire (+ a variety of inkers) helped define the early look of the title with these outstanding covers
The abilities of the undersea hero are also more clearly defined than ever before.  Aquaman is forced to combat threats which push him to (and beyond) his physical limits - yes, he can confront a fleet of enemy submarines - but he'll pay for it; no, he cannot 'command' sea-life, he can only 'suggest' things; yes, those fins on his calf are part of his body, not his costume (this was a particular revelation for me, reading these issues 25 years ago).

This series also reintroduced Aquaman to the larger DC Universe - it was this version of the character that made guest appearances with Superman, the Flash and The Suicide Squad, among others, as well as joined (for a brief time) the Justice League.

The cities of Atlantis - the world which Aquaman inhabits - gain some definition in the early issues of this series.  Never before had the Atlantean cities of Poseidonis and Tritonis seemed so real.  McLaughlin & Hooper engaged in some real world-building, here - a war with the fictional surface country of Oumland provides the backdrop to the undersea people's relationship not only to the surface world, but also to each other.  Families squabble, officials debate, and communities unite in facing adversity behind the symbol of their protector, Aquaman.

Ken Hooper's Aquaman doesn't fly through the ocean, he swims - from issue #s 2 & 3
The look of this comic was pretty special.  Underneath some attractive Kevin Maguire covers, the Hooper/Dvorak art team made Aquaman and his undersea realm their own.  Aquaman, wearing his hair longer (and it would continue to grow for a few more years), was depicted as muscular but agile - the artists took care to make Aquaman look as if he's swimming through the water, not flying through the air.  The muted colors of Tom McCraw (which strangely looked better in the first 3 issues on poorer quality paper, before DC changed printers) lent a palpable moodiness to the ocean depths.

Sarcasm, Black Manta-style - from issue #5
And apart from all of this, the first story arc of the series is just a kick-ass, classic Aquaman v. Black Manta story, on par with the very best of such confrontations.

One of many examples: Ken Hooper often put small figures on large splash pages - emphasizing the vastness of the ocean
With Aqua-mania due to hit over the next couple of years due to appearances in animated and live-action films in various stages of development, these issues, a great read on their own, deserve a dusting off and would make a nice 'get-in-on-the-ground-floor' bookshelf collection.

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