Friday, 26 March 2010

Poll: When Aquaman returns which origin would you prefer him to have?

Most superheroes have one origin story. Sure, there are different versions and interpretations of that story but for the most part it remains pretty much the same no matter the era. Superman was rocketed from the doomed planet Krypton, Batman witnessed the murder of his parents, Spider-Man was bitten by a radioactive spider, the Whizzer recieved a blood transfusion from a mongoose (it's true!) and so it is and ever shall be. But some heroes are lucky. Some heroes get more than one origin to choose from. For example, our underappreciated underwater pal Aquaman gets at least three! But which one is best?

Golden Age Aquaman

Aquaman debuted in More Fun Comics #73 (1941) and during that story he gives a pretty good account of his origin:
"The story must start with my father, a famous undersea explorer — if I spoke his name, you would recognize it. My mother died when I was a baby, and he turned to his work of solving the ocean's secrets. His greatest discovery was an ancient city, in the depths where no other diver had ever penetrated. My father believed it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis. He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race's marvelous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift. By training and a hundred scientific secrets, I became what you see — a human being who lives and thrives under the water."
This must be the ultimate example of pushy parenting. Geoffrey Rush thought he had it bad in Shine. He was just being pressured to play the piano really well. Aquaman had to actually learn to breathe underwater in order to win his father's approval!

"Hey Dad, I commanded a giant squid to destroy a Nazi U-boat today!"

"Just one U-boat son?! You'll never be as good as Namor the Sub-Mariner at this rate! Now go stick your head in the fish tank and study!"

That's messed up.

Silver Age Aquaman

Aquaman's Silver Age origin is a lot more pleasant. Daddy was a lonely lighthouse keeper called Tom Curry who fell in love with Atlanna, a former occupant of the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Together they had a son, Arthur Curry, who grew up to be Aquaman. Arthur eventually returned to his mother's home and became King. It was this version of the character that gained a kid sidekick in Aqualad and, after meeting Mera, also became the first superhero to get married. Aaww bless.

The Silver Age origin remained relatively untouched for decades, even after the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985 tweaked the origins of most DC heroes. In the 1986 Aquaman mini-series by Neil Pozner the origin is told once more and it's largely the same as it was in 1959. This mini-series is a great read and I urge all Aqua-fans to track it down. It features Aquaman sporting a brilliant new blue costume that was later used as the inspiration for Tempest's costume.

Nineties Aquaman

In 1989 the origin received a reboot in Robert Loren Fleming, Keith Giffen and Curt Swan's The Legend of Aquaman. This origin was later expanded upon by the brilliant Peter David in The Atlantis Chronicles (1990) and Time and Tide (1993/94). Aquaman was now the son of Atlanna, a fully fledged Atlantean queen, and Atlan, an ancient Atlantean Wizard. He was abandoned as a baby to die on a coral reef because of the Atlantean belief that people with blond hair were cursed. He survived (obviously) and was adopted, first by a dolphin named Porm and then by a human lighthouse keeper named Arthur Curry.

This origin has stayed with Aquaman right up until the last time he died and it's now tied pretty firmly to the character and his world. However, things seem to have changed once more. In Blackest Night #2 the late Aquaman is resurrected as a heart chomping zombie Black Lantern. Before he attacks Mera and Tempest he refers to himself as "your King who would rather be buried in the mud next to his human father than his own people." This would seem to indicate that DC Comics are returning to the Silver Age origin, especially considering that Blackest Night writer Geoff Johns will also be writing Brightest Day, the comic in which the fully restored Aquaman is scheduled to appear.

So, is this a good move? I'm undecided. I love the idea of Aquaman being tied to the surface world by blood. I mean, if both his parents are Atlantean does he really have a strong enough motive to bother with the Justice League and all the other landlubbers? On the other hand it would be a shame to jettison all the rich Atlantean history documented in Peter David's Atlantis Chronicles, a history that's firmly attached to Atlan and the Nineties origin. Geoff Johns is generally pretty good at wrapping conflicting interpretations into one neat little package (see his Return of Hawkman arc in JSA for evidence of this) so we may end up with the best of both worlds.

What do you think? Take the poll below and let us know. One thing's for sure though, no matter what his origin may be it'll just be good to have the fishy bugger back in action!

When Aquaman returns which origin would you prefer him to have?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Superman and New Krypton: My tuppence worth

There's been a lot of criticism of the recent direction of the Superman titles flying about online. For the past year Metropolis has been guarded by Superman's pal from the planet Daxam, Mon-El, while Superman has been on New Krypton serving in the Kryptonian Army as Commander Kal-El. Superman has had to temporarily abandon Earth in order to keep an eye on his old enemy General Zod, who just so happens to be in charge of the Kryptonian Army. So, for the past year Superman's books Superman and Action Comics have seen very little of their lead character, who has been headlining the twelve part World of New Krypton. Cue moaning aplenty from certain sections of the internet, "Superman's not in his own book! It's a travesty!" "Why does Dan Didio hate Superman?!" "James Robinson must die!" Blah, blah, etc, etc.

Mon-El, Guardian, Nightwing and Flamebird

For the most part I've found the story very enjoyable. The current star of Superman, Mon-El has proved a tremendously interesting character, being both a stranger to our world and a man on borrowed time. Action Comics has featured the Kryptonian heroes Nightwing and Flamebird and while I haven't really warmed to them I've enjoyed both the extra attention Lois Lane has been getting and the appearances of the wonderfully evil Kryptonian scientist, Jax-Ur. World of New Krypton has successfully fleshed out General Zod into an intriguing and sympathetic character. He's single minded and ruthless but it's all driven by his passion for Krypton and the shame of his failiure at the hands of Brainiac. Supergirl has probably been the best of the lot, with Supergirl's clashes with her super bitch mother and Lana Lang's illness providing plenty of soap opera action.

Commander El on the cover of World of New Krypton 2

It has been revealed gradually over the past year throughout the Super-books that several members of the futuristic Legion of Superheroes have been hiding out in the present day. It has been very satisfying to watch this particular plotline unfold. The surprise reveal of Mon-El's pal Mitch as Matter Eater Lad in Superman #694 was one of my favourite moments of the whole New Krypton saga. We've also seen Jimmy Olsen get a plot thread of his own. It was genuinely exciting to see Jimmy investigate the mysterious Project 7734, and his apparent death did have me wondering, and worrying, for a few issues. It would actually have been nice to have seen more focus on Jimmy. Of course the whole arc has also had an excellent baddie in the form of General Sam Lane, Lois Lane's dearest dad.

Mitch chews his way into my heart in Superman 694

I have to admit however that although the storyline has definitely picked up a lot of pace since January, I do feel that around the time of the Codename: Patriot storyline the plot was plodding along a bit and very little seemed to be really happening despite the super-powered assassins and exploding sewers. To be honest, as much as I was enjoying the story I began to miss seeing Kal-El in costume doing his thing in true Superman style. This very week, any frustration I may have felt with the length of the storyline was rendered totally and utterly worth it with the following few panels.

These panels were from Superman: Last Stand of New Krypton #1 and I think they illustrate quite elegantly the sheer punch-the-air-awesomeness of this issue more than anything I could write.

Apparently the next few months of story will lead into War of the Supermen, one final battle between Earth, New Krypton, Brainiac and Luthor and Superman and his buddies. Then in July things get groin-grabbingly good as the super-genius behind Babylon 5, Amazing Spider-Man and Thor, J. Michael Straczynski starts writing Superman regularly! So even if you really hate this whole New Krypton lark, not to worry. When Superman returns to Metropolis he'll have one of the best writers in comics guiding him. But, honestly, how could you hate the New Krypton arc? I mean, look......

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Greg Rucka's Ruin Arc Is Better Than Sex

A while ago I devoted a blog post to my Top Ten Favourite Superman stories. I've recently read a story arc that was so mind blowingly awesome that I'm rethinking the whole order of my list. The arc I'm referring to is Greg Rucka's Ruin saga that ran through Adventures of Superman in 2004-2005. It's collected in three trades, Unconventional Warfare, That Healing Touch and Ruin Revealed and it's one of the best Superman arcs I've ever read.

She gets better

One of the great things about this arc is that Rucka has a go at involving Superman in something resembling world politics. Whenever this has happened before writers have created fictional Middle Eastern countries for Superman and his buddies to meddle in, for example Qurac, Syraq and Kahndaq. This story is no exception, only in this story Made-Up-istan is represented by Umec, a name Rucka cleverly created from the acronym for Unnamed Middle Eastern Country. Rucka manages to show us in a very powerful way why a being like Superman can't interfere in foreign affairs, no matter how much he'd like to. Lois Lane gets shot while reporting on a war in Umec. As soon as Superman hears the shot he flies across the world and it isn't long before Lois is being nursed on the Justice League Watchtower. However, as a result of Superman's brief presence in the country the Umecis surrender to the opposing side. Just by showing his face Superman can decide the outcome of wars and change a country forever and so he has to think very, very carefully before he goes sticking his nose in.

Superman's daughter?

Rucka doesn't just write a brilliant Superman. He writes a better Clark Kent than practically any other writer. Clark finds himself demoted at the Daily Planet thanks to Lex Luthor's final actions as President of the U.S.A. He's confronted by an up and coming young journalist who wonders what happened to the award winning journalist who wrote "the piece on 21st Century slavery and tried to take down the President"? These glimpses of Clark's talent as a journalist are balanced nicely with some bumbling klutz moments as Clark does his meek and mild mannered thing. At one point Clark falls out of a helicopter and into a skip in order to be able to turn into Superman. There's also a lovely moment where Clark sticks a bit of toilet tissue on his face with lipstick in order to pretend that he's cut himself shaving. With so much debate on the 'net about how Clark should be portrayed, Rucka shows that Clark can be meek and endearingly clumsy as well as a respected and accomplished journalist.

Lupe nuzzles the 'S'

Clark's not the only one who's written well. Lois is consistently written as a believable character, whether she's experiencing life as a journalist embedded in the midst of an armed conflict or discussing whether to start a family with Clark. Jimmy Olsen gets plenty of attention as he begins a relationship with Geraldine Frank, the aforementioned reporter that gave Clark a hard time. Also, Clark gets caught in the middle as Pete Ross and Lana Lang's marriage falls apart. As well as the old favourites Rucka makes some interesting additions to the Super-cast. For example Lt. Lupe Teresa Leocadio-Escudero, the new leader of Metropolis Special Crimes Unit. Rucka realises that for a cop to want to be leader of the Special Crimes Unit in a city where "Special Crimes" means rampaging alien monsters, they'd have to be at least a little unbalanced. Lupe is one of the most interesting supporting characters that Superman has had for awhile. When she's not trying to get Superman to join her in the bath Lupe's beating up suspects to avenge her fallen officers. As much as I'm enjoying the Guardian's current stint as leader of the SCU, it would be nice to see Lupe return.

Mxyzptlk in Adventures of Superman 634

Mr Mxyzptlk also pops up in this story, however rather than just being used as a magical pest he takes the role of a sort of guardian angel to Superman, warning him of upcoming trouble. There's also some funny moments where Mxy visits the DC Comics offices in a photo strip. So often such fourth wall breaking can seem smug and self indulgent but Rucka pulls it off. At one point Mxy also provides a treat for fans of Bill Watterson's legendary Calvin and Hobbes strip as he shows Clark and Lois what life would be like for their child utilising a variety of different artistic styles.

Mxy crashes the DC office in Adventures of Superman 634

This arc also contain some wonderful cameos from other DC heroes. There's a great moment where Lois asks Wonder Woman to keep an eye on Clark while she's away in Umec. The Flash also makes a great cameo as he shows up in a Umec hospital disguised as a U.S. soldier in order to help Superman move the wounded Lois to the JLA Watchtower. The fact that Wally West is still wearing his Flash ring while in disguise says a lot about the Wally's sentimentality, as well as providing the reader a visual clue to his identity.

Superman continues to feel the effects of Identity Crisis

The way the JLA rally 'round to help Superman while Lois is wounded is touching but it also demonstrates how the heroes have organised themselves since the events of Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis, in which the loved ones of our heroes are targeted by a mystery villain. Rucka also ties the stories in nicely to Geoff Johns' Infinite Crisis without disturbing the flow of his own story. For example Superman's horror at Wonder Woman's murder of Max Lord ties in with the climax of the story (spoiler alert) in which Superman finds an alternative to killing Ruin. "I told you. No dies, not even you." Brilliant.

Clark and Lois debate Wonder Woman's actions in Aventures of Superman 644

And what about Ruin? I won't reveal his identity here as I hope this blog post has inspired people to go and check out these books for themselves. I realise that most people probably already know who he is since the story is a few years old, but I'll keep shtum about it just in case. Suffice to say the identity of Ruin is a satisfying pay off, especially for longtime fans of Superman. Also, Ruin is a villain motivated by hate, and as fans of Star Trek's Khan, Doctor Who's Master and Lex Luthor himself will attest, hate is the most interesting motive for a villain.

The Parasite Twins

The story also contains two new Parasites, the tragic return of an old Green Lantern villain called Replikon and some of the best art you'll ever find in a Superman comic. Some of the covers in particular are gorgeous. So, please, I urge you. Check out Unconventional Warfare, That Healing Touch and Ruin Revealed. You won't regret it!

Buy it, it rules!