Aquaman is, without a doubt, one of the most underrated superheroes of all time. He is part human, part Atlantean royalty, telepathic, able to withstand the pressures of the ocean, super strong, extremely resistant to physical damage, fast on land and faster in the water, has super-hearing, and can command almost any form of sea life. And if all of that fails him, he is still fully capable of stabbing enemies with his trident. In the hands of a competent, well-versed writer, he is an engaging superhero and a compelling character, but due to a combination of prior bad stories, poor use of the character, and plenty of parody, Aquaman has gotten a bad reputation as nothing more than “that guy who can talk to fish.” Interestingly though, during the superhero relaunch of 2011’s “The New 52,” the creative team recognized Aquaman’s floundering reputation. Rather than fighting the tide of negative opinions surrounding the character, they chose to incorporate that into the story and highlight the fact that no matter how much good he does, Aquaman gets no respect in his universe either. “Aquaman: The Trench” dives headfirst into the DCnU’s reimagining of Aquaman and introduces both the characters and the readers to the hero the world always seems to forget.
The story is simple enough. Aquaman, known to the few who care enough to ask as Arthur Curry, is in the process of establishing himself the city of Boston, trying to protect it even with the residents all but laughing at him along the way. He has arrived with his wife, Mera, another denizen of the sea who stays with him even when he decides that he will not be starting a new life on the surface instead of returning to Atlantis as its king. A short time after Aquaman starts settling into his new home, creatures from the ocean that look like some strange hybrid between humans and deep sea fish rise up and begin attacking the citizens of Boston. Aquaman and Mera are summoned and the two of them fight the creatures back into the sea. The two of them take one of the creature’s bodies to a marine biologist named Stephen Shin, who tells them that the creatures are likely from one of the ocean’s deep and dark trenches and were probably searching for food on the surface. Aquaman concludes that a species living at such depths would only come to the surface in a desperate attempt to prolong their survival. He and Mera go down to the colony and find cocoons full of people captured from the surface. They break off the wall of cocoons and Aquaman reluctantly fights the creatures to give Mera time to escape. Ultimately, he is forced to use a volcanic vent to collapse the trench on the creatures, presumably killing them all, but he and Mera do manage to save most of the people who were captured and wind up taking in a dog whose owner did not survive the attack.
Soon after the attacks, the authorities start investigating an artifact that was in the cocoons. They are interrupted by a group of mysterious soldiers who attack the investigators and steal the artifact. Aquaman grabs onto their plane as it takes off and discovers the soldiers are Atlantean right before the plane explodes and leaves him stranded in the desert. After the artifact plays a recorded transmission about the sinking of Atlantis, Aquaman is rescued by the Navy and returns home. Mera, meanwhile, tries to get food for the dog but winds up at odds with some of the townspeople. After saving a few people and being thoroughly confused by human nature, Mera returns home with mixed impressions on humanity and she and Arthur set off to answer a new question: who sank Atlantis?
This comic is a lot of fun, if confusing at times. The writer and artists do a great job of taking the reader through Aquaman’s journey, making them feel his frustration at the people who constantly misunderstand and demean him while showing readers his pride, nobility, and drive to do right despite the ridicule that seems to follow him everywhere. The citizens who underestimate him work well with most readers’ impressions that Aquaman is nothing special and the story does a great job of slowly but surely subverting that belief. The artwork does a great job of sucking the reader in as well, with a particular emphasis on shadows and facial expressions and shadows that add emotion and mystery to the adventure. The art is realistic and visceral for most of the books, but the misty, golden look of the flashbacks provides a nice break and draws the reader into Aquaman’s nostalgia. The writing, the art, the setting, and the characters really combine to make splash for Aquaman’s solo introduction to the rebooted universe. His interactions with others, be they civilians, enemies, or his wife, are realistic and understandable. The revelations and discussions of his and Mera’s past are sometimes confusing, especially to new readers, but such things are to be expected when details are revealed in more of a chaotic story format instead of an expository monologue (though it is funny that a reboot designed to appeal to new readers is so confusing for them initially).
The strength of this comic really lies in its main characters, who are both very believable, if initially a bit one-dimensional. Aquaman is painted as the tragic hero, soldiering on through tragedy and ridicule to continue being a hero, even if he knows that he is not anybody’s favorite and he spends a great deal of his time proving his doubters wrong, even when nobody is watching. Mera is portrayed well as a fish out of water, a woman who spent most of her life in the sea but has given up almost everything to stay with her beloved Arthur and who will continue to follow him, even when she cannot understand why he would sacrifice so much to protect the frustrating “surface-dwellers.” However, her interactions with Aquaman clearly show that she thinks for herself and does not trust him blindly and her dealings with others make it clear that while she is proud of her association with him, she is much more as a person than just “Aquaman’s girl.” The two are memorable, fun, and perhaps most importantly, imperfect. Character flaws and secrets are hinted at many times in this book, making these somewhat alien characters much more human to the audience. Overall, this comic tells a good story and does a great job of setting Aquaman up to make some serious waves in the new DC Universe.