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.