Hype can be a terrible thing sometimes when it comes to mass media, as fans of Peter Molyneux can probably already tell you. While it does usually lead to greater turnouts, profits and first-day collections whenever a big movie or TV show comes out, more often than not it can end up going on to dashed hopes, unfulfilled expectations and the innate desire to throw rocks at the creators’ cars. Look at The Last Airbender – advertised and hyped up the wind-twiddling butt, and yet turned out to not only be a major disappointment to fans but also signposted the moment when M. Night Shyamallama finally jumped that bloated, nadir shark.
Comic books are no less a victim to the same hype syndrome, and it’s entirely possible even for characters like Batman to suffer the same fate as a Michael Bay movie. So it was with what some might say was trepidatious enthusiasm that I approached Aquaman: The Trench after enjoying the underwater adventurer’s exploits in Brightest Day, being under the impression that it might live up to its status as a new Geoff Johns treasure to sit beside his acclaimed runs on Green Lantern and The Flash.
Unfortunately, what we end up with is a meandering, rather abruptly-ending narrative that starts off a new arc-based story in the vein of Swamp Thing and Animal Man, yet doesn’t have any of the grand, epic scale of the former or the smaller, interpersonal nature of the latter.
Aquaman as a character has received a lot of stick for his rather lacklustre powers, appalling characterisation and a slew of hilariously awful quotes, mostly ripped from Superfriends, and it seems the inhabitants of DC’s new universe are fully aware of this. Throughout The Trench the eponymous hero gets a lot of “help” from local law enforcement who really just like taking the piss out of him, even when he’s bleeding after beating the everloving crap out of a bunch of underwater fish-people with a trident large enough to make even a Viagra addict go floppy in shame. While it is nice to see a bit of a meta-example of sticking real world dispositions in the comic book world, it does get a bit tiring when all we see is either Aquaman killing things or people telling Aquaman he sucks before he goes off to kill more things. If it weren’t for the established reputation as a Justice League member, you could easily confuse him for a befuddled serial killer.
The plot, such as it is, deals with recent landowner Aquaman and his wife Mera (do not call her Aquawoman) taking on a bunch of aforementioned fish-people who emerge from the eponymous Trench, an area deep under the ocean. Once that’s all sorted (which happens alarmingly fast) there’s a bit of an interlude where Aquaman gets lost in a desert and Mera buys dog food – then there’s a haphazard link between the end of this book and the start of the next title, which promises an arc to answer the question of who sank Atlantis.
I’ll be up-front – I was left disappointed by this book. It’s not because Aquaman’s a useless, schmaltzy hero – if anything, his recent outing in Justice League showed he’s more than capable of being a badass – or because we like to take the mickey out of him. It’s because there’s almost nothing relatable about his character, besides some quick slivers of backstory about his human dad that are inserted as a smoothly into the narrative as an obese man in a swimming pool, and because the plot goes in a bunch of different directions without settling on anything interesting or coherent. The enemies from the Trench don’t seem like that much of a threat – especially given the alarming ease with which they are dispatched – and are about as complexly layered as a cockroach. On top of that, almost every human character is presented as a quasi-racist asshole whenever the underwater superheroes are around, as if to highlight how put upon Aquaman and Mera really are.
This isn’t helped by art that really misses the mark visually and stylistically – the veteran team of Ivan Reis and Joe Prado do some good visuals here and there, but for the most part it’s pretty uniform. Where it majorly falls down is in the underwater scenes; almost every one of them is confusing, poorly drawn and muddled. The final confrontation between Aquaman and the Trench-people was a messed-up, incoherent blob of black and blue that more closely resembled the hair of that girl from The Grudge with bits of orange dandruff thrown in for good measure. Also, everyone in this story has really, really weird eyes – especially Mera, who wouldn’t look out of place in a Roswell conspiracy theory piece.
As the final nail in the coffin, the dialogue is plain – not great, not awful, just plain. There’s none of the really dry wit that pervaded Johns’ runs on Flash and Lantern, and as stated previously none of the characters have relatability the way those heroes did. Aquaman and Mera always seem wistful and two-dimensional while the humans are one thinly-veiled insult away from seeming like Klan members. There were one or two moments here and there that made me giggle, but on the whole it’s nothing special.
So in the end, I’m left wanting more. If there’s one thing the New 52 has done really well, it’s reinvigorate older heroes or teams and make them more interesting – like the Teen Titans, but I’ll get to that later – so I was expecting, especially with Johns at the helm, that I’d get something great here for the sea-dwelling superhero. Instead, Aquaman: The Trench just goes for a plain, bland, unappealing setting with boorish characters and a flimsily-written plot.
But hey, at least it’s not a Tony Daniel book.
BEST QUOTE: “Bad food.” – Trench-person.