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Friday, November 29, 2013 

Does DC want Aquaman to be a bigger name, or is it really Geoff Johns who does?

Variety reported that DC and Warner Brothers want to make the Sea King a bigger name in pop culture. But if Johns has any connection to whatever plans they have in store, I'd say they're looking for trouble. What this article tells is:
Despite his long tenure in the pages of DC Entertainment’s comics, the sea-soaked adventurer has, over the decades, seemed all wet. While Aquaman is recognized as king of the undersea country of Atlantis, writers have had problems dealing with him when he’s asked to take part in land-based adventures with the publisher’s vaunted Justice League of America, of which he’s a charter member. And despite a multitude of page-turning exploits – he’s had part of his arm amputated and, in a family tragedy rarely seen in the four-color pages of the comics, lost a baby son to villainy – Aquaman is still viewed as decidedly second-tier.

Is it his odd orange-and-green wardrobe? A writer’s fear of the water? Telepathic fish-commanding powers that are difficult to depict on the printed page? It’s hard to know. But while other DC heroes like Superman, Batman, and Green Arrow have enjoyed heady success at the movies and on TV, Aquaman has not: In recent years, his attempts at stardom include a failed pilot at The CW (network insiders say it was awful) and status as a long-running gag on HBO’s “Entourage” (where the central character played Aquaman in a fictional blockbuster).
Honestly, it's a shame that the execs at HBO, to name but one showbiz outlet, are wasting their time making jokes instead of discussing what could be done to better Aquaman's adventures. To be fair, some of the plots of yore, like Arthur Curry losing his infant son in the late 70s, do seem like a case of trying too hard, and the more recent tales where his hand was amputated were a notorious case of going overboard (I believe Kevin Dooley, the editor who ruined Green Lantern in the 90s, was behind that move). But whether they fit the bill of artistry or not, it's not the fault of the character, but the writers/editors.

And some of these past plots with Aquaman could just as easily have taken place in other superheroes' books too. Thus, I suspect the alleged disdain for Aquaman is not based so much on story quality, but on his ocean-based origins alone, to say nothing of an inability to look past the premise of talking to animals. It's just a childish, pre-determined opinion, and no matter what they do with Aquaman, there's always going to be a certain crowd that will not yield their biased perception.
At DC, efforts have been afoot for months to help Aquaman, well, catch a wave. “He’s a priority character for the company,” said Geoff Johns, DC Entertainment’s chief creative officer.

Already, the company has announced plans for an animated Aquaman tale to be issued soon via DVD. Sales on Johns’ “Aquaman” series have remained steady, according to data from Diamond Comic Distributors, and the title routinely places in the top 50 comics sold each month to comic book specialty shops. In October, “Aquaman #25” sold about 42,248 copies, according to Comichron, a web site that tracks comic-book sales. That’s a few thousand more comics sold than Marvel’s cult-favorite archer “Hawkeye” and even more than former Batman sidekick “Nightwing,” but fewer than those notched by Batman, The Avengers or The X-Men.
First, if Johns has any connections with what they're doing, then I wouldn't buy. Even if he doesn't, the comics are bound to sink into a state of disinterest now that he's leaving the series. Indeed, some of the books he'd written years ago, bad as they were when he helmed them, have become progressively worse after he'd left, with Teen Titans a notorious example. Even Hawkman has long lost significance, and you know there's trouble when Rob Liefeld gets the writing gig in the New 52 era. Second, do they realize what a laugh riot they've cooked up with those paltry sales numbers, some of which may already be headed for the bargain bins? Why expend so much energy on a report like this instead of an op-ed that argues what could be done to make comics available and appeal to wider audiences?

They quote a writer making a very big boo-boo:
“Aquaman’s root problem is that he’s boring,” said Peter Coogan, author of the 2006 book “Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre.” Plotlines that might drum up new interest, he said, come with limitations. Playing up the character’s royal heritage might set him at odds with surface governments, potentially turning him into a villain. Setting him up as an advocate for the oceans could also draw him into conflict. “In many ways, he suffers from the problems that plague King Arthur as a main character,” said Coogan, including being too fraught with responsibility, “which is why most Arthurian stories are not about Arthur but about his knights.”
Coogan's root problem is that he resorts to the classic cliche of writing the character off right on the spot, and unless Variety omitted something, he fails spectacularly to criticize any assigned writer for goofs they've made. As for royalty, if that's such a problem, then geez, why not a story where he works with his fellow Atlanteans to develop a democratic parliamentary system? Regardless of that, it's the fault of the writers for failing to come up with story that catches the fancy of the public for the right reasons. If only Coogan would ponder that.
If nothing else, Aquaman is durable. Aside from Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Arrow, only Aquaman, who debuted in 1941, has appeared continuously throughout DC’s history, and in the same costume and likeness (characters like The Flash, Green Lantern and the Atom were reworked entirely from their original incarnations as part of a movement in the 1960s). And Johns has quietly worked to shore up cracks in Aquaman’s famous orange tunic.

When penning an earlier DC miniseries, “Blackest Night,” in 2009 and 2010, Johns turned a large spotlight on Mera, Aquaman’s wife, giving her more presence and personality than she’s had in decades. “What I wanted to do was establish Mera alongside Green Lantern and The Flash in a very big way,” Johns explained, noting that he derived inspiration from the Queen Gorgo character in the 2007 Zack Snyder movie, “300.” Rather than playing up Aquaman’s Atlantis connections, Johns said he deliberately focused on developing his personality, supporting cast and enemies like Black Manta and the Ocean Master.
What a mistake to cite Blackest Night as a perfect example of "making improvements" in past storytelling. The picture on the side is from one of the tie-ins (possibly Green Lantern), and here we see what appears to be a zombified Aquababy getting obliterated a second time. One of the crudest crossovers Johns worked on, with nothing but contempt for all characters involved; a sick excuse for turning them into zombies. And any claim he makes that he's developed personality makes about as much sense as saying he developed personality for the Flash or Teen Titans as a solo writer. When he initially began co-writing with David Goyer and James Robinson, the resulting stories were decent enough because they may have kept his really bad elements out of the mix. But as a solo writer, that's where he tumbled downhill, and still is. Not mentioned here is how pre-New 52, Johns soaked Mera's background, and now, their marriage has been quietly omitted. That's possibly worse than a stunt where the marriage is erased publicly, like Spider-Man's. Stealth tactics can be one of the most awful tools used to insult an audience.
For many, Aquaman remains a figure from Saturday-morning cartoons, like ABC’s 1970s and 1980’s “Super Friends” or CBS’ “Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure,” which ran in 1967 and 1968.

Those memories may hurt the character in his current incarnation, said Brad Ricca, author of 2013’s “Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, The Creators of Superman.” In the 1970s cartoons, he said, “Aquaman smiled and looked perfect while riding a giant seahorse and mentally bossing around happy whales. He was, quite plainly, just not as cool as Batman.”
Perhaps Ricca should consider that between 1955-69, many Batman adventures used a pretty tongue-in-cheek approach with slapstick, until Denny O'Neil restored the more serious tone it originally used. Or maybe Ricca's suggesting a bright, optimistic vision was bad? I disagree.
DC’s Johns believes a better structure is now in place. “He became a little bit of a joke,” the comics executive said. “Suddenly, he was nobody’s favorite super hero.” Now, DC has set up major storylines in coming months that will cross his comic with its “Justice League” and has given the character prominent placement in videogames. And his comics contain jokey references to the hero’s past portrayals. “He’s a character that we talk quite a bit about.”
No better structure can come from crossover tie-ins, as proven by monstrosities like Blackest Night. So, no "better" structure is there at all, only worse. And as mentioned before, those jokes about his past depictions are no substitute for character focus. I don't think making Arthur Curry a prominent part of video games does much to bolster the quality of stories back in the comics either. If they think they're doing favors for Mort Weisinger's creation, they're not.

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