torsdag 24 juli 2014

Yves Sente & André Juillard: Blake & Mortimer – The Oath of the Five Lords

Are you familiar with those classic British detective series on TV – Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Inspector Lynley etc? Of course you are. (And if you aren't, that doesn't really matter; it was more of a rhetorical question.)


The standard plot for one of these whodunits starts out with introducing the main protagonists or the problem the detective has to solve – or a very old event that sets the stage for what is to follow. If the latter case, it is usually not entirely clear exactly how this will affect the present-day crime riddle, but solving that riddle is often dependent on the detective realizing how those old events are connected to it.

We then have a crime, usually a murder, which gets the detective(s) involved in the case. While trying to  understand that case, and perhaps feeling that he/she/they is/are getting a grip on it, another murder is committed, which makes it obvious that that is not the case at all. Digging deeper, the detective(s) a) encounter some red herring(s), b) find a crucial bit of evidence that is frequently not understood properly. Suddenly, perhaps from a comment by his/her partner, the detective realizes exactly what has happened and why, and who the guilty party is, and rushes to – in the very nick of time – stop the murderer from killing another victim.

The end.

This is a rather stereotypical way of structuring your plot, and the reason it is so stereotypical is of course that it works. People – readers and viewers of criminal fiction – love it, and faithfully follow well constructed series in the genre. It offers tension, the challenge of oneself making sense of the various bits of information revealed during the investigation, some "aha!" moments, and the satisfaction of seeing justice enacted. Who could complain? As long as it's well done, of course. Stereotypical plots enacted badly are just terrible, whether in book or film/TV format.

(As you may already have guessed, the plot of Blake & Mortimer – The Oath of the Five Lords conforms to this basic structure.)

Blake & Mortimer is a comics series created by writer-artist (and Hergé collaborator/assistant) Edgar P. Jacobs, combining elements from detective stories and science fiction. Several albums were published in Swedish when I was a kid – and I would dearly like to know where the hell the albums I bought then have gotten to, because I can't bloody well find them today. 

From what I recall, though, the panels were usually a bit too text-heavy and the storytelling a bit too cumbersome for me to really appreciate it. Much later, however, something happened. First, in the nineties French publishing giant Dargaud decided to revive the series, with some top contemporary comics creators doing the honors as Jacobs passed away in 1987. Second, British Cinebook started translating all B&M albums, publishing them in English.

(Now, I can read French, but I do need to have a dictionary on hand, so it's easier for me to read the stories in English. Also, I can buy them cheaper and easier via my comics dealer. Thus, I'm thankful to Cinebook for making these and many other French/Belgian comics easily available as there are very little French-language comics published in Swedish these days. The notable exception, small-press publisher Albumförlaget, can only publish so much.)

Anyway, this particular story starts out in 1919, depicting how some MI5 spook with a grudge against Lawrence of Arabia has a manuscript stolen from the war hero. We are then transferred to the fifties, when a masked figure burglarizes a museum to steal a violin. Coincidentally, scientist Philip Mortimer – half of Blake & Mortimer – has been invited to that very museum to hold a seminar on science and archaeology. Meanwhile, his old friend Francis Blake, head of the MI5, hurries off to the funeral of an old Oxford chum. Turns out the old friend was murdered… And some other old friends from that Oxford circle are then murdered, one by one…

From there on, it's basic traditional British whodunit; following leads, some of them red herrings, and gradually discovering how the two cases are connected – and how they are connected to the scene depicted in the prologue. Both Sente and Juillard are old hands, so they know their craft, and they do it well. I'm a bit annoyed at the way Captions are handled, as they sometimes give redundant information and are lettered in all caps while the speech balloons are in lower case, giving the impression of a narrator speaking in a RATHER LOUD VOICE. But the overall work is solid, with a complicated plot that is gradually revealed to the reader, skillfully weaving in some real-life connections and an interesting episode from Francis Blake's past, adding some dimension to the character and a reason for him to take a special interest in the case. 

There are also some nice bits of characterization showing the reader what incredibly Britishly polite people Messieurs Blake and Mortimer are. As an example of that, please listen to the head of the MI5 asking the person at the front desk of a hospital to make a life-or-death phone call: "I don't want to impose on you, miss, but could you place another call for me?" 

Overall, the positive aspects of the story compensates for the actual solution to the case being not all that special and somewhat predictable. (Only "somewhat", though, because if you're familiar with the genre, you're not particularly surprised by it, but Sente does keep his options for tying the whole thing together open for most of the album.)

Also, occasionally it becomes almost a bit too "let's do a really, really British whodunit", but overall, it's enjoyable like a good Midsomer Murders or Lewis episode. Worth your time.


Here's an enthusiastic review with some art samples.

måndag 14 juli 2014

Azzarello, Jones & Bermejo: Before Watchmen – Comedian, Rorschach

Count me among those who felt it was a bit silly of Alan Moore to have a hissy fit about other people doing Watchmen prequels when he's made a whole career out of taking characters created by others and remaking them.

However, even though I still feel that way, I also feel that Brian Azzarello botched his takes on Comedian and Rorschach; these stories do not add positive value to the Watchmen saga.



The problem with the Rorschach story is that Moore's ruthless, efficient, crazy-but-cunning character here has been transformed into, basically, a sadistic but well-meaning klutz. He starts out torturing a drug dealer/user to learn where a drug gang's HQ is, goes there and is promptly defeated by the gang and beaten to death. No, wait – the drug lord has cooked up a grand scheme to catch and kill Rorschach, but doesn't bother with actually killing him. Instead, he's beaten to within an inch of his life and left for dead in the sewers. Right there, the gritty "realism" (actually "detailed, sadistic depictions of violence") of the story loses its believability.

Meanwhile, a serial killer called "The Bard" is mutilating and murdering women in the city. Also, a kind waitress befriends Rorschach's secret identity, the down-and-out loser Walter Kovacs, and tries to help him. (You just know, reading it, that it's not going to end well.)

Anyway, Rorschach searches out one of the gang members who nearly killed him, and tortures him (in graphic detail) for information – anybody recognize a pattern here? – and then barley escapes with is life as the rest of the gang turns up. Opting for an ironic twist to end the story, Azzarello then has bad things happen to the waitress in connection with the aforementioned serial killer, and has Rorschach murder "The Bard", who gets off on some unexplained technicality, three years later. The end.

This story reminded me of Tamburini and Liberatore's RanXerox – violent to the point of being sadistic, with excellent art and a not particularly good writing. Azzarello gets lost in his own violence-feast, and even Bermejo's brilliant art can't save him. Tamp down the sadism, and you'd have a story that would work with the ironic ending, but not with Rorschach. Moore's Rorschach simply doesn't work in this story – in fact, it's hard to understand how a Rorschach this bumbling would have survived long enough to even be a part of Watchmen.


The Comedian story in this volume is somewhat better, in that it doesn't do too much damage to the character. However, it delves way too deeply into conspiracy theory territory for my tastes – having a cold-hearted Jackie Kennedy conspire with Eddie Blake (the Comedian) to murder Marilyn Monroe, FBI higher-ups conspire to keep Eddie from Dallas to save President Kennedy from being murdered, the army conspires to smuggle drugs to fund the nascent Vietnam War, and the CIA conspiring to assassinate Robert Kennedy. It gets somewhat tiresome.

Anyway, Eddie Blake comes off as a somewhat more fully-developed character here than in Watchmen (as well he should, of course, having a whole mini-series to himself). He's a close friend to the Kennedy family, and he takes President Kennedy's murder very hard. Lyndon B Johnson's administration then sends him off to the budding Vietnam war where he's supposed to be merely a PR figure, but instead he infuses a fighting spirit into the lackluster American soldiers he encounters. (Of course, the notion propagated in this comic that all you need to win battles is to be sufficiently bad-ass is something I sorely doubt; but perhaps things like fire, movement and cover aren't as visually exciting as standing upright in full view of the enemy dressed in a gaudy costume and going full rock'n'roll with your machine gun.)

The war and the politicking back in the US takes its toll on Blake, and he gets more and more unhinged and cruel, until nobody wants to have anything to with him anymore – including his old friend Bobby Kennedy who decides that enough is enough, and America needs a leader who'll say no to war crimes and massacres, and Eddie Blake needs to be held accountable for his crimes. Of course, Eddie Blake can't allow that… Exactly how he goes about to try and stop it, I won't reveal, as I try to stay away from spoilers as much as possible.

This is a better-written story than the Rorschach one, but like I said, I'm tired of Kennedy conspiracies. I also think that the Vietnam war has been somewhat overused as an excuse for craziness. If you feel your story needs somewhere where there's no rules and you can do anything, no matter how crazy, the Vietnam war is always there, waiting for you. But even if your story is a well-crafted one, I'm likely to have read or seen it before, just because it's so easy to put people into that environment and go "anything goes, and look how this drives ordinary men crazy".

So even though this is a better story than the Rorschach one, it still doesn't get me very emotionally involved, because I've already seen so much of it before. Had Azzarello concentrated more on Blake's  relationship with the Kennedys, or on actual politics instead of conspiracy theories, or the actual Vietnam war instead of the readily-available stereotypes, I might have been more interested. OTOH, if you haven't already seen or read too many Vietnam movies, documentaries, stories or books, you might get more out of this story than I did.

Not recommended, even though J. G. Jones does a credible job on the art. Alan Moore made his career – heck, his superstardom – taking characters others created and doing something special with them, so it's perfectly reasonable that "his" characters should also be available to others. But do something special with them then, for crying out loud!

lördag 12 juli 2014

Batgirl: The Greatest Stories Ever Told

Well, this is quite the mix of well-known – even classic – comics creators, starting with Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino (and inker Sid Greene) for the very first Batgirl story (from 1967). Barbara Gordon, prim librarian daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, creates a tight-fitting, bat-themed masquerade outfit that'll show everybody that she's more than just a brilliant brain, but on the way to the big party encounters a crime in progress and decides to break it up. With her brown belt judo skills, she accounts herself well, attracting the interest of Batman himself. Accidentally interfering in Batman and Robin's handling of a case, she nevertheless perseveres and proves herself to be a crime-fighting force to be reckoned with. (I will mention, however, my disappointment with scriptwriter Fox for his apparent belief that a laser beam works much like a jet engine.)

The excellent (of course) Alex Ross cover.
Then follows a couple of stories penned by Frank Robbins; typically for his bat-stories, they're pretty decent detective yarns. The first Robbins story, from 1970, is drawn by Gil Kane with inks by Murphy Anderson. While I don't think Anderson is the best inker for Kane, he's competent enough and Kane's dramatic storytelling still comes through. Don Heck's the artist for the next couple of stories (from 1972), and I was unfortunately never much of a fan of his art. The scripts are weaker, as well, with Robbins trying to put some social significance into them by having Barbara go into politics to improve society.

That sad trend continues in an Elliot S! Maggin-Mike Grell overly patriotic and fantastic story from 1975 celebrating the US bicentennial, marred by Maggin's use of magic, the Devil (yes, sadly), and a syrupy sentimental speech before Congress by Rep. Barbara Gordon in his script. Grell's art is also weak; illustrating the story but adding neither elegance nor power to it. Next, an apparently intended-to-be-in-good-fun 1977 Bob Rozakis story about Two-Face's daughter pretending to be the daughters of the Penguin, the Riddler, the Scarecrow and the Joker which doesn't work either, partly because too much focus is on Robin instead of Batgirl, but mainly because it's just pointless. Instead of whimsy, we get dull. Old pro Irv Novick does the art but wasn't really suitable for something so light-weight – especially not with the inks of Vince Colletta.

These two stories shouldn't have been in this volume; they're just not good enough to deserve it – especially in a book called "The Greatest Stories Ever Told".

Then things start looking up again. In a post-Crisis story from 1997, Devin Grayson and Duncan Fegredo depict Robin and Batgirl's new first meeting, two kids who're trying to learn the ropes of superheroing and who also have to learn how to work together as a team on the fly as they pursue a hostage-taking burglar. It's a cute story where Grayson's fun, lively script works well and establishes a pleasant but not rivalry-free relation between the two. Fegredo's elegant and dynamic art makes the story even better.

And speaking of elegant, the last story (from 1998) is inked by Kevin Nowlan, who has one of the most beautiful ink lines ever. (Script is by Kelley Puckett, and pencils by Terry Dodson.) "Folie A Deux" nicely tells of how Commissioner Gordon took care of Barbara after her biological parents died in a car crash, and how a newly minted Batgirl blackmails Batman into training her when he tries to stop her from risking her life fighting crime. It uses some advanced storytelling, but loses a bit when it tries too hard to be clever when depicting Gordon being saved by Batgirl after trying to stop a robbery – if you can't get your point over without making too-improbable jumps in logic, perhaps you should rethink how you intend to make it. But the inks are by Kevin Nowlan, and the Barbara-Gordon relationship is very well depicted, so this is still worth your while.

I'm rather disappointed with DC for including those two weak Maggin and Rozakis stories; they've both done better, and certainly there are better Batgirl stories around that could have used. In fact, there's a whole Batgirl Showcase volume chock-full of Batgirl stories, most of them better than that (and many of them drawn by Gil Kane). This collection is still worth reading for getting a sense of the character's history, some beautiful art and decent-to-good stories, but it's not a must-read.

söndag 29 juni 2014

Sage Stossel: Starling

Well, I've been busy.

Work, other stuff, and I've been reading a bunch of comics that have been just filling out shelf space as I didn't quite  have the time and energy to read them when I bought them. (There's a lot of those, I'm sorry to say.) And since I'm currently on "DC: B", ploughing through a big pile of pre-52 Batman TPB's, there hasn't been much that has been interesting enough to want to blog about -- DC killed a lot of the energy inherent in the Batman character when they a) made him way too one-dimensional, b) started having the plots run through all the various bat-titles; the synchronization necessary always seems to take a big toll on the creativity of the writers.

Oh, and c) replaced the "detective" part in "the  world's greatest detective" with "will torture people to get information whenever the writer can't think of actually interesting and not disgusting ways to move the plot forward".

However.

Thanks to the kindness of the people at the excellent Uppsala English Bookshop, I recently got a copy of Sage Stossel's Starling, which tells the story of Amy Sturgess, marketing person and superhero, and which is far more compelling than tired superhero stories trying to replace actual drama and quality storytelling with big "events" like earthquakes etc. So here's Starling:


Amy discovered her powers while a kid in school, and in her teens gets recruited into the government's superhero program. Whenever there's a crime for her to stop, she gets a text message, and has to make up some excuse to leave whatever she's doing to change into her superhero garb and fly to wherever she is needed. To explain her many and sudden disappearances, she has to pretend having an embarrassing medical condition, which does not help her already somewhat awkward social situation.

Anyway, Amy's already somewhat hectic and unpredictable life becomes even more hectic and unpredictable as a quick succession of events occur:
- She gets responsibility for a big contract at the bureau where she works – actually, her boss was supposed to fire her for her unpredictability and absences, but he's completely exhausted from having a newborn baby at home, so he gives her one last chance – she gets to take over the contract he should have been doing;
- Some creep at the company where she works is ripping off her work, and she's not assertive enough to put a stop to it;
- She meets an old college sweetheart who wants to rekindle the romance, which she would like to do as well, but he's engaged to a very nice woman who, it turns out, is very helpful to Amy in her work;
- Her ex-druggie brother turns up at her doorstep, in big trouble.

Watching Amy/Starling juggle all these problems – along with her regular superhero/secret identity troubles and tribulations – is like reading a very well written and charming Spider-Man adventure. Stossel's art style is cartoony, but the writing is, well… I could call it "realistic-ish", I guess. Part of it is actually about "real" problems, like Amy's romantic and work problems, and some is a pretty good take on what problems actual super heroics would entail in the real world. Like I said, a good Spider-Man story, minus some of the melodrama.

Finally, all threads converge. Amy has her big presentation at work (and since her focus group was sabotaged by the guy angling for her work, she's had to make do with asking guards, police officers etc. at various crime scenes what they would like in the finished product) but at the same time has to save her brother and make right a crime he committed without getting him implicated. She also gets shot with an assault rifle (and she is not invulnerable), and since she's running late, the presentation is taken over by the guy looking to steal the contract from her…

This is a funny, intelligent and engaging superhero story, and I'll repeat the word that I think symbolizes it best: charming.

In fact, utterly charming. Warmly recommended.


Here's an interview with Stossel. And here is an excerpt (which I don't think does the story full justice, actually).

lördag 15 mars 2014

Aquaman: Death of a Prince

There is a certain plot structure in superhero comics that can be taken as a pretty certain indicator that you're reading hack work. …All right, there are several, but the one I'm thinking of right now is this one: The hero has a confrontation with a villain, and loses. Basically having the hero at his mercy, the villain then retreats, shouting a threat – something like "you stopped me this time, but next time I'll finally succeed in killing you!". Subsequently, the hero searches out the villain and defeats him. The end.


There's plenty of that in Aquaman: Death of a Prince. To be honest, the whole collection sort of sucks.

Plenty of creators worked on the stories in this collection – mainly Mike Grell, Jim Aparo and Don Newton & Dave Hunt on the art and Steve Skeates, Paul Levitz, Paul Kupperberg and David Micheliene on the writing. The Grell part seems to be very early in his career and the figure drawing and inking fell a bit awkward IMHO; the Don Newton chapters suffer from him not being really suited to action stories, he was far better at mood, and the Dave Hunt inking doesn't convey the elegance of Newton's shading that I've seen in some of his Batman stories; and the Jim Aparo chapters (the main part of the book) are gorgeous, and practically the one redeeming feature of this collection.

The writing, as hinted at above, is pretty terrible. Apart from the villain-has-hero-at-his-mercy-and-flees scenario, there's also plenty of that perennial favorite, the-supposedly-inescapable-trap-that-the-villain-leaves-the-hero-in-and-leaves-because-he-has-"better"-things-to-do. Finally, the writers also kill off Aquaman's son in more or less a throwaway story arc, which ticks me off in more ways than one.

First of all, I think it's a sign of lack of respect towards one's characters to casually throw enormous tragedies their way. They're not real people, I'm well aware of that, but just using them as playthings still rubs me the wrong way. If you don't have any respect for your characters, why should the reader? Second, if you do subject them to horrible tragedies, you owe it to the reader to explore the consequences of that. Here, Aquaman looks sad for a couple of panels, then goes back to fighting bad guys with just occasional thoughts about how sad it is to have lost his child and occasional stereotypically depicted outbursts of anger. The deep grief displayed on the (Jim Aparo) cover? Well, that's the sort of characterization writers like Michelinie or Kupperberg are really capable of; they're better at glib dialogue and stock plots. (Yeah, that's kinda harsh, but that is basically all they deliver here, as in most other stories I've read by them.)

Oh, and I don't like the depiction of Mera, Aquaman's super-powered wife, either; she's way too much of the stereotypical, wide-eyed, near-helpless girl. (Until her son is killed and she starts hating Aquaman in a sort of crazy manner, of course, but that's not really an improvement.)

So is this a terrible book? No, not entirely, and that is all thanks to one man: Jim Aparo. His very clear, very strong and muscular (I almost typed "virile", which still wouldn't have been wrong) artwork saves this from being a total disaster. He can't save it from being bad, but he can actually make it worth your while to suffer through the bad writing, just to marvel at the power and clarity of his art. This is Aparo at the top of his game. Much like another old pro, Joe Kubert, he could make bad stories – well, not good, but let's call it aesthetically enjoyable. And plenty of today's comics artists could learn a thing or two from guys like Aparo on how to combine power, excitement and clarity of storytelling in one fine package.

So, not recommended. This is not good comics. But if you want to enjoy some very good comics artwork, you can get this one just for Jim Bloody Amazing Aparo.

(Second opinion: A far more positive review than mine can be found here.)

tisdag 11 mars 2014

OK, so I created this comic, see…

Art by the excellent Carlos Pedrazzini.
Mildh & Fromm © Göran Semb, artwork © Carlos Pedrazzini.

… and it took a while. I'm not exactly what you'd call a professional comics creator – I make roughly half my living from the comics business, but that's mainly as a translator – so I've never been pushed to produce comics on a regular basis. (Well, except for during a rather cash-depleted period around the year 2000, when I wrote one or two 91:an stories per month because I absolutely had to. Fortunately, I got a job that eliminated that need just about when I ran out of ideas.)

Anyway, several years ago, I had this idea for a comics character after a run-in with a bunch of, shall we say, somewhat intoxicated youths. It didn't turn violent, but it felt like it easily could have, so I – being something of a neurotic – started thinking of what I could have done had it actually turned violent.

The answer I reached was, not a whole lot.

But my imagination had been kick-started, so I started thinking of things you could do if you were, well, the sort of person who could do those things. And then, having grown up on a steady diet of adventure comics (and similar stories in the film and TV series formats), I let my imagination run with the concept. Turned out I felt I had a potential hero in the works, and it also turned out there were more situations I could imagine him in. However, only delivering his tough-guy lines to crooks and the occasional police contact started getting tiresome pretty quickly, so I teamed him up with an older, more experienced partner so's he'd have somebody to talk to – which would also help me with exposition.  As it turned out, the older agent was a natural choice for those cynical lines, leaving the original hero as more of a straight man in their banter.

Anyway, this changed the dynamic of the situations I imagined my by now two heroes in. One concerned gaining entry into an apartment when two armed bad guys tried to stop them – first by subterfuge and then, when that doesn't work, through violent means. (Fortunately, there wasn't a large window by my door, so the neighbors couldn't see me when I acted out the scene by myself to check that it actually worked.) The experienced agent immediately took the lead, leaving the "junior" partner somewhat shocked by his capacity for rather ruthless violence.

So I now had one working action scene. What was missing was a story to put it in. I started thinking about reasons why the pair of heroes would need to gain immediate entry to the apartment, and picking from a wide range of stock situations from the world of action/thriller/adventure stories that exist in the world of fiction, I picked "kidnapping". From there, I had to work out who was kidnapped, why, by whom, how my team of heroes got involved and how they found the place where the kidnap victim was held, and how it all would end. Somewhere along the road, my original hero had a sex change.

See, looking over the story, I suddenly realized that I had exactly one (1) woman in the story, and that was the kidnap victim. Now, I'm not a fan of the Bechdel rule; I think a work of narrative art stands on its own merits regardless of the genders of the characters, but I'm also not a fan of too stereotypical story structure, so I made a few changes. I could have made the older, more experienced agent female, of course, but I felt it more likely that the more experienced agent would be male; after all, traditionally, women have not participated in actual fighting to the same extent as men – and as the adventures of my heroes, Monica Mildh and Erik Fromm, will involve quite a bit of, shall we say… probability-bending, I think it's important to base as much as possible of it in an at least seemingly-realistic world, not straining the reader's credulity except when you really have to. (And yes, Erik's name is indeed inspired by the late, great psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm. It is also a pun, though: "mild" means mild in Swedish, just as in English, and "from" means pious.)

Anyway, to cut to the chase, I solved the various problems that had to be solved to make the story work (which doesn't make it a great story, of course; it just means that it doesn't fall apart at first glance like a standard Hollywood action movie) and wrote a script, and set about finding an artist. That wasn't exactly easy, and in the end, I had to go outside of Sweden's borders to find the skillful and very professional Carlos Pedrazzini. I sent him the script, he sent me his pencilled preliminary pages, I put in the text so's he'd know how much space the speech balloons would need (and occasionally asked him to change something) and he produced inked and colored finished pages. Finally, I lettered the whole thing in Swedish and sent it over to the Swedish Fantomen (The Phantom) comic book, where it is just now being published, in issue #6-7/2014.


Now, my hope is that Mildh & Fromm will be sufficiently favorably received by the readers that the editor will buy more of their adventures, as I have 6-10 more stories about them in various stages of readiness, from finished script to rough plot, but you never know. Nevertheless, it has been exciting to try and create my own comic, and I'm grateful to Carlos Pedrazzini for partnering with me to make it a reality.

onsdag 12 februari 2014

Aquaman: Time and Tide by Peter David, Kirk Jarvinen & Brad Vancata

I've always liked Peter David's stuff, ever since he burst on the Marvel scene with some brilliant Spider-Man stories way back when I was still buying single issues. He started out funny (extremely funny, in fact) and then went on to prove (in The Death of Jean DeWolff) that he could do the serious stuff as well, so I had high hopes for him. Time passed, and he turned into (for me) a reliable-but-not-quite-brilliant superhero scribe who didn't get the greatest characters and artists, but still turned out solid material – if not as brilliantly funny as those earliest efforts that, for example, placed Spidey in the high-rise-less suburbs for one memorable issue with beautiful inks by, IIRC, Bob McCleod.

Anyway, apparently David has an affinity for the Aquaman character and did not only a massive history of it called The Atlantis Chronicles, but followed it up with a 1993 four-issue mini-series, Aquaman: Time and Tide, which details Aquaman's personal history. It is also the title of this collection of those four issues.


In the first chapter, we witness Aquaman's first encounter with surface-dwelling super-heroes (the Flash) and -criminals (the Trickster), eventually making him a hero with the surface world, as well as making him realize he doesn't like the surface world. Next chapter, David shows us how Aquaman grew up with a herd of dolphins (well, they're really called "pods", but I'm not going to pretend that I knew that without checking on Wikipedia), although they're initially reluctant to take him in. (Yes, there's a bit of a Tarzan vibe to this part of the origin.) Third chapter details his first solid, teenage encounter with the surface world, including a love story with a young Eskimo (Inupiat) girl which ends badly because, well, Arthur is fundamentally bad luck for people getting close to him – a theme developed in earlier series with the death of his son, resultant insanity of his wife, and alienation of his young pal Aqualad, and now solidified by David.

The fourth chapter of the collection is a bit of a letdown as a finish to the series, actually, as it's mainly the Ocean Master turning up to do battle with him and being defeated, plus dark hinting about much worse things to come. Basically, it's a cliffhanger that doesn't really have you all that acutely worried; it's more depressing than actually tense or exciting. The Jarvinen-Vancata art team shares a bit of the blame with David for the lack of drama. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a 1993-94 comic, there is a strong hint of Image Comics in the art, mainly of the Erik Larsen - Rob Liefield variety – as in "cartoony but not elegantly cartoony", which doesn't lend itself easily to either exciting action or strong drama.

There are a couple of strong points in the script, though. Many think that it defined the character, and I guess it probably did, but it doit in a way that really drew me into the story. Like The Atlantis Chronicles, it comes of a bit too much like a, well, "history" rather than "story". The best chapter is the second one, where we can observe how important "the Way" is to the various denizens of the ocean. If something is a good thing or not to do is very much decided by whether it's their "Way" or not. Different species have different Ways, and, as the young Arthur learns in this story of love and death, if you want others to respect your Way, you're going to have to respect their Way as well. It's a very solid, well-crafted story – and it would have been more poignant with more theme-relevant artwork IMO.

Anyway, with only four chapters it's not a thick collection and it only costs ten dollars (or did when it was published in 1996), so it's worth a read even though I wouldn't call it a major work. Like I said above about much of Peter David's other work, it's certainly competently told and with some good bits, but never really exciting – at least not to me.

Sorta so-so recommended.