A year ago this month, when DC Comics rebooted its entire line of comics as "The New 52," some heads might have turned when superstar writer Geoff Johns and hot artist Ivan Reis—coming off the mega-successful Blackest Night crossover—took the reigns of a book starring Aquaman, the perpetual butt of jokes in the superhero world. Why waste such A-list talent, some no doubt wondered, on a guy who talks to fish?
The brilliance of Johns and Reis' take on Aquaman is that they knew you would think exactly that. That's why Aquaman is probably the single-best relaunch—not the best series, but the best new conception of an existing character—in all of DC's new universe. The book is predicated on you knowing exactly what you think you know about Aquaman: he wears a gaudy orange shirt. His best friends are fish. He claims to come from Atlantis, although no such place exists, obviously. He's "nobody's favorite superhero." These are all just givens about Aquaman, right?
Wrong. But much like us people in the real world, even individuals living in Aquaman's world consider him a clown, the great joke of the Justice League. And Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and the trident-wielding King of Atlantis are out to prove them (and you) all wrong.
In this volume, collecting the first six issues of Aquaman, Johns turns his writing magic—known for reinventing or reinvigorating characters like Hawkman, Flash, and Green Lantern—squarely on this presumably goofy superhero, and in the process he shows just how compelling Aquaman can be. What we're given here is a story about a really serious guy that doesn't take itself too seriously. Aquaman's a hero who stands toe-to-toe with Superman and Wonder Woman, but he wishes he could get just a little respect (watch what happens in the first issue when he tries to eat at a seafood restaurant). Despite his status, he's dedicated himself to cleaning up the surface world as much as possible. In fact, he and his bride, Mera, have more or less forsaken Atlantis for the world of humanity. Even if their new home doesn't always understand them, Aquaman and Mera are going to make themselves its champions.
But the underwater world just doesn't want to leave Aquaman alone. In this first volume, an ancient, lost species of predators rises from the depths looking for one thing: food, which means, in this case, people. Even the super-strong Aquaman's going to have a tough time putting down these powerful hunters who may have unexpected ties to Atlantis' past.
Basically without fail, Aquaman vol. 1 is a fantastic read. Johns' script is smart and fast-paced, balancing quieter character moments with raucous action. Most importantly, you'll walk away with a strong sense of who Aquaman is and why he should be respected. This is Johns at his very best. The script stands alongside the dark, detailed, and excellently defined art of Ivan Reis, who's certainly become one of the masters of action-packed comic art in recent years. The quality of the volume only dips a little in its final chapter, a break from the action in which Mera goes into town to buy food for her dog. If you couldn't guess from that description, this issue suffers from a bit of a stagnant plot, as well as fill-in art by series inker Joe Prado that isn't quite up to Reis' standards.
Still, Aquaman is an incredibly fun and engaging read, made moreso because it's almost unimaginable that this character would pop off the page like this. By incorporating what we all think of Aquaman in these pages, Geoff Johns both includes and subverts our expectations. That's sharp writing, and the finished product speaks for itself. Though still not all comic fans are sold on DC's reboot, Aquaman fans have got to be giddy—Johns and Reis have given their guy a must-read book again. A-