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Saturday, September 07, 2013 

Another juvenile pan made against Aquaman

I found an item on Comics Alliance from earlier this year where the writer slams a fictional character, once again failing to recognize the writer's faultiness, and even takes the wrong approach to criticizing the old Super Friends cartoon that ran between 1973-86. When a questioner asks, "Why is it that despite the fact that every other character was portrayed as completely useless on Super Friends, people still hold onto the idea of SuperFriends Aquaman as being regular Aquaman?" so he replies:
Because Aquaman is basically terrible. Okay, okay, maybe that’s not entirely fair. To be honest, a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that for Aquaman, Super Friends was his only real presence in pop culture until Brave and the Bold made him a breakout star in 2008. With the exception of the Wonder Twins, who are also pretty commonly (and accurately) regarded as being dumb as all hell, almost everyone else on the show had something else to balance things out. Superman was a more-or-less constant fixture in pop culture from the beginning through the radio show, the George Reeves show, the movies and so on, Wonder Woman had the Lynda Carter show, The Flash eventually got that show in 1990, and Batman is Batman and needs no justification for his actions. Or at least, he had Batman ’66 in syndication, and even though that show was frequently as silly as it could possibly be, it also had a charm that Super Friends most definitely did not.

Which is another big point: Super Friends is f**king terrible. Seriously, this was a show that frequently forgot whether or not the Flash could fly, with animation that was only slightly better than a flip book and plots that seemed like they were written, edited and approved in about the time it took to watch an episode. I realize that a lot of us look back on things fondly through the lens of nostalgia, but if you can honestly watch an episode of that thing and think that it is in any way well-made or enjoyable, those aren’t lenses. Nostalgia has you in a blindfold and may have slipped a roofie into your drink.

So really, it’s kind of unfair that a character like Aquaman, who has such a long history as a DC mainstay, has that show as his one major exposure to the world outside of comics. It’s one of the worst possible portrayals of all of those characters, but for Aquaman, it’s his only portrayal to a wider audience. That’s a huge part of why his reputation is so bad.

But like I said, the other part is that he’s not very good, and never has been.
Sigh. And I guess he thinks the same about Sub-Mariner, eh? So on the one hand, Mort Weisinger went to all that trouble to create an amphibious superhero for nothing. On the other, the writer of this piece doesn't have the courage to say he thinks Weisinger did a lousy job putting Arthur Curry together in the Golden Age, nor can he offer any meaty reasons why (was it poor characterization? Lousy powers? Crummy costume? Sloppy slapstick? None of that figures in here).

And the weirdest part is how he hints at the logical fault here he should've saved his misgivings for, yet squanders elsewhere: the writing and editing on Super Friends, the real reason it was such a terrible cartoon. It's nothing new; commercial television is replete with examples of cartoon series lacking an intelligent side in writing, whose voice acting was cruddy, and the artwork dismal, because most TV animation producers don't care about quality writing, and aren't even paid to do it (in fact, from what I've read over the years, the wages in that industry are horrible, so at least the animation contributors could have the excuse of doing it badly in revenge for the bad pay they get). This holds true even of Wonder Twins Wendy and Marv; why else does he think they were so repellent? Because poor writing rendered them so, and the animators didn't even care about their own creations. Animators like TV pioneer Jay Ward of Rocky & Bullwinkle fame are few and far between, because we basically allow the bad ones to get away with their duds just by letting our children watch these sloppy cartoons and boosting the Nielsen ratings sky high.

Yet even the realization the Super Friends cartoon was bad as a result of terrible writing seems to escape him, and certainly does with the comics of Aquaman.
This, incidentally, is an argument that I have at least once a week with comics writer and occasional contributor to this column Benito Cereno, who loves Aquaman and cannot understand why I have nothing but disdain for the character when I am thoroughly enamored with Silver Age Superman, weird old Batman comics and other things that are a hell of a lot sillier. But really, it’s not the silliness that’s the problem. And despite what you may have heard, there’s nothing wrong with the powers, either.

Look, we’ve all heard the constant jokes about how Aquaman sucks because he talks to fish lol, and I will 100% agree with you that they are terrible, lazy gags that have been beaten so far into the ground over the past three decades that I’m amazed nobody struck oil. Worse, they became a shorthand for superheroes as a whole, so that anyone who wanted to look down on the entire genre of superhero comics — and frequently the entire medium — could smirk their way through repeating them ad infinitum as a way of alienating readers. They’re persistent and annoying, and while they’ve gotten less so now that we live in a world in which everyone you know has seen a movie with Hawkeye in it, I still wince every time I run across one.

But the thing is, they’re not exactly crafted from whole cloth. The thing that really makes them sting, that made them the ultimate superhero reader put-down for so long, and the thing that Aquaman’s ardent defenders don’t want to admit is that they’re true. At least, they’re true in part. The problem with Aquaman isn’t that he talks to fish — telepathically communicating with animals is actually a pretty cool power, especially when they’re sharks and deep-sea fangly fishes and whatever Finding Nemo was — it’s that he doesn’t do a whole lot with those powers.
I have a hunch that if Aquaman did, he'd say that was the problem with him, turning this into a whole damned-if-you-do/don't affair, by changing his argument to a claim that the Sea King is just a childish creation. What I would care about is whether Arthur Curry uses his superhumanoid strength and other abilities that don't involve telepathy, to fight baddies like the Ocean Master and Black Manta, along with any pirates littering up the waterways.

And that would be in past stories, from the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages, when writing was considerably better and more readable, unlike today's embarrassments, Geoff Johns among them.

Oh, and what does he mean is "true"? That Aquaman sucks, or that the writing does? I'm not sure. But if it were the latter, that would explain why he doesn't use his telepathy with sea creatures enough times to satisfy a columnist who can't decide if he likes slapstick or seriousness more. What was he expecting?

The only thing we "ardent" defenders of Aquaman might be guilty of is something he may not have done either: we didn't lobby DC to make more use of the powers I assume he'd like Arthur to use more often. Yet maybe it's better if they weren't. Not today, anyway. So long as DiDio and Johns are running the store, it's too late to ask when any such request is bound to be accompanied by the gruesome violence that's been a staple of Johns' work.

Now here's where it gets surprising: he does acknowledge that Aquaman had writers/artists...but not well enough:
That’s what makes Aquaman such a lackluster character for me: He’s barely a character at all. He’s a set of powers and an environment with the seeds of an interesting backstory that have never really sprouted into anything worth reading. I like Silver Age comics a lot, but while Superman stories from that era have an undeniable charm and a boundless sense of imagination coupled with a bizarre and often arbitrary set of rules that the writers are constantly trying to get around with dream sequences and Red Kryptonite, and Batman stories have these bits and pieces of a unique character and world evolving as they go, Aquaman comics just tend to be bland.

Bob Haney and Jim Aparo are two of my absolute favorite creators of all time, and one of the best teams to ever make comics, but even they couldn’t do an Aquaman story that I liked. There’s none of the incredible personality that Haney brought into Metamorpho (and that bled over into his jive-talking, adventure-loving Batman), and in its place is just a bunch of generic stories that take place in or near the ocean, with a generic do-gooder using swordfish and sawfish in a way that is not even close to scientifically accurate. If you want a fun project, grab an old issue of Aquaman, take it to an aquarium, and see how fast your local marine biologist has an aneurysm at the sight of a sawfish cutting a hole in the hull of a ship full of “modern-day pirates.”
I disagree with what he says about the old Aquaman tales. They had their charms, especially Mera, and it was a shame when the marriage was broken up in 1989. And Haney/Aparo did a good enough job building Atlantis for the Sea King in the Silver Age, along with the creation of sidekicks like Aqualad and Aquagirl (who unfortunately never had much use made of her after 1975, and when she resurfaced in 1984, it was only briefly in the New Teen Titans. She was poisoned to death in Crisis on Infinite Earths). In fact, while Haney could use slapstick and weird science just like his other fellow writers at DC, his style was a bit more restrained, and if he didn't depict Aquaman talking to animals much, that might actually be a good thing.

And just why must Aquaman have a jiving, wisecracking personality like Metamorpho? I think that would be a bit superfluous, like trying to turn Superman into Spider-Man. Or Martian Manhunter into the Thing. The Man of Steel's had plenty of good wisecracks to dish out by some of the best writers over many years, but if they tried to make him sound like Spidey, it would actually diminish Superman's uniqueness, by reducing the mentor-like image he has. The same goes for Aquaman.

Furthermore, the writer of this piece doesn't even mention the most important connection to Aquaman: his creator, Mort Weisinger, even as he does mention Haney and Aparo. If he's got such a problem with the Sea King, why doesn't he just say that Weisinger conceived a big waste of time? Weisinger was a very reputable guy in his time, but if he really, truly thinks the late DC editor didn't come up with a worthy addition to the DCU, all he has to do is say so, and it's not wrong to say the old folks goofed.

Amazingly, he does have a legitimate argument about how the post-New 52 Aquaman is portrayed:
Aquaman’s reintroduction in the increasingly inaccurately named “New 52″ is just mind-blowing in how little sense it makes, because it is nothing but a reaction to the Aquaman Sucks joke. Everyone in that comic who is not Aquaman or sleeping with Aquaman is constantly telling Aquaman how awful he is, despite the fact that there is absolutely no reason for them to think that. Aquaman is presented as a superhero who is reasonably capable, but he’s constantly being reacted to by people who apparently have the same jokes in a world where Aquaman actually exists and helped save the world from an alien invasion by brutally stabbing Parademons with a trident as we do in a world where Aquaman was a character on a stupid cartoon thirty years ago.
Well at least now we're getting somewhere! Well...almost. Because now, Geoff Johns is the writer's name missing from the whole argument! I tried using the CTRL+F option to find his name in the paragraphs too, and came up empty. Granted, this pan in itself has legitimate grounds, since taking a dopey joke and hammering it over everybody's head at the expense of the story's impact does nothing to change people's perception, and only hints Johns, as a writer and alleged fan of Aquaman, has set out to do nothing else but seek revenge against anybody who doesn't know how to judge by story value, without even making a distinction between who does or doesn't.

And yet, if there's anyone who gets off scot-free from any blame in this article, it's Johns himself, even though he's the writer responsible for much of the current Sea King's rendition! How can any problems involving Aquaman be solved if the writers responsible aren't even clearly taken to task for their errors? Oh wait, I guess the article writer doesn't want to solve any problems, because for him, Aquaman is already written off as worthless.

What a pity. On the one hand, he dismisses some of the best Golden/Silver Age stories with Arthur Curry as limp, and on the other, he can't do it from an objective viewpoint that acknowledges the writers' responsibility for any stories he considers weak, and criticizes them for failing his expectations. Once again, an opportunity to be straightforward has been missed.

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"Super Friends" was what it was -- a superhero cartoon tailored to young kids. Hence, Wendy and Marvin, and then the Wonder Twins. You make the plots too complicated, you're gonna have kids changing the channel.

Exactly, Hube. I honestly think people were a bit hard on the show and forget that it was meant for kids. The last couple of seasons, though, were pretty good and had some pretty good writing for a kids' show, especially the Batman origin episode.

And I'm surprised that the author of the Comics Alliance article actually enjoys a few Silver Age comics, since two years ago he panned the Silver Age DC heroes as being "racist." I don't know how this guy came to be considered an expert on comics to begin with, because he's a total idiot.

The same could be said of the entire CA site, populated by so-called comics "experts" who really don't know a damn thing about what they're writing.

Speaking of Geoff Johns and Aquaman, did you see this?

http://www.ign.com/articles/2013/09/09/geoff-johns-leaving-aquaman

I would say I'm glad that he's leaving, but at today's DC that's very little consolation considering that he's just one of several hacks working for them.

You're right. Even when a bad writer leaves, the realization another bad writer will take his place is exactly why it's no longer cause for celebration.

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