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Geoff Johns

Aquaman: The Trench & The Others

Geoff Johns take on Aquaman is an absolute winner! He crafts the often maligned superhero into a charismatic and appealing champion of the people, that, dare I say, is now my favorite DC hero!

Volume One: The Trench

Straight off, Johns takes Aquaman’s reputation by the horns and addresses how many people perceive him as a joke. Poor guy- he’s been mocked on SNL and his abilities to communicate with sea animals is ridiculed. Despite his rugged good looks, powerful physique and amazing powers, he is often looked down upon.

But as the story progresses we get to know Arthur the man, not just Aquaman the hero. We are introduced to Mera, a princess of Xebel (which is a breakaway nation from Atlantis), who has joined Arthur on land. I adored their relationship; it was balanced, loving and free of drama. I’m warning you DC, don’t ruin this relationship! The two of them fight some aquatic monsters that come out of a deep trench in the ocean and are terrorizing Amnesty Bay. Their decisions on how to deal with the monsters help with character development, and this first volume ably gives you enough flashbacks and insights to Arthur’s past for readers to understand who Aquaman is.

Volume Two: The Others

This second volume tries to give more of Arthur’s backstory, and we find out that before Mera met him, he was part of a motley group of second-tier heroes called The Others that discovered, and subsequently protected, Atlantean weapons. Black Manta, Arthur’s arch enemy, tracks down some of these members to steal these artifacts to use against Aquaman. We also get to know marine biologist Dr. Stephen Shin, who helped Arthur develop his powers as a child, but betrayed him and his father, hoping for recognition for his work.

This story was more convoluted, and I had to refer to the website Comic Vine to keep track of The Others and their powers. Plus, there was one member, Ya’Wara, a sexualized hottie who wore a string bikini in Siberia. Come on now. It made me yearn for Arthur to become involved in the Justice League and for him to become a member of that team.  Still loving on Mera and Arthur in this volume!

Now let’s talk about the art. It’s fantastic! Ivan Reis impressively draws Arthur and Mera. The seascapes are beautifully rendered and richly colored in. He includes many one or two page spreads and drew the ocean creatures with precision. While the story line redeemed the character of Aquaman, it was the drawings that upgraded the story as a whole and made me fall in love with Arthur and Mera.

Johns was the perfect author to develop Arthur’s story. Kathleen’s review of the movie Aquaman showed that Johns’ screen-writing contribution to the movie elevated it above many of DC’s preceding disappointing adaptations of the DCEU (except for Wonder Woman -that was beyond good!). Johns has a handle on the DC characters and has penned previous novels such as Green Lantern, The Flash: Rebirth, Batman: Earth One and Forever Evil (although in this event book, Johns did not include Aquaman!!!).

I like how DC is developing both versions of Aquaman in books and on screen parallel to one another. Although Aquaman is now often portrayed with a beard, illustrators aren’t trying to make him look like Jason Momoa. Fans are intelligent enough to accept this, and one version doesn’t have to subvert the other. And while I truly am a fan of Momoa, I’m glad the comics are keeping Arthur as the blonde version that has been around for decades. I hope between this new adaptation of Aquaman’s story, along with any stories found in the Justice League comics, he gets the recognition and respect he deserves.

-Nancy

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Aquaman

***Contains spoilers for Justice League and Aquaman***

A lonely lighthouse owner in Maine named Thomas Curry is strapping everything down before a storm, before something down on the coast catches his eye. A woman has washed up practically at his front door. He takes her in and nurses her back to health. She reveals herself as Atlanna, Queen of Atlantis, the nation under the sea. She was attacked while escaping Atlantis, and the arranged marriage that awaited her there. Eventually, Thomas and Atlanna fall in love, and they have a son they name Arthur.

Eventually, the Atlanteans come for her.

Atlanna fights them off, but realizes this is just the first wave of the army that is sure to come after her. She decides to go back to Atlantis and give herself up, in order to protect Thomas and baby Arthur. She sends the royal vizier, Nudius Vulko, to help raise Arthur and train him in the Atlantean ways. As the boy grows, so too do his questions about his mother. Eventually, Vulko reveals that Atlanna was sacrificed to the Trench for treason – falling in love with a surface dweller and having a half-breed son. Arthur, sixteen by that point, decides he wants nothing more to do with Atlantis or his mother’s heritage.

In the present day, a year after the Justice League defeats Steppenwolf, Arthur continues to use his Atlantean powers for good. He stops a pirate attack on a Russian Naval submarine, though he causes the death of the leader. His son, David Kane, vows revenge against him. An Atlantean named Mera comes looking for Arthur, pleading for him to return, dethrone his villainous half-brother, Orm, and reclaim his mother’s throne. Orm is marshaling all the forces under the sea to attack the surface world, and must be stopped. To do that, he must find and retrieve the mythical trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis. But it’s just a fairy tale, impossible to be true… isn’t it?

Will Arthur claim his heritage? Can he gain the trust of the Atlanteans, who view him as little more than a half-breed? Can Orm even be stopped?

DC is getting steadily better with their movies… hopefully, they are learning their lesson! I let this one sit for a few days before starting to write so I would be able to think about it more critically.

Overall, the tone was much better than past DC movies. Aquaman has very little of the doom-and-gloom of past DCEU installments. It struck a good balance between serious and goofy. There are moments of suspense, urgency, tragedy, and passion – but they are lightened by cheesy one-liners and Jason Momoa’s roguish smile. The bright color palette did wonders as well, especially in some underwater sequences.

Speaking of Jason Momoa… he is an excellent Aquaman. It’s true the man is VERY easy on the eyes, and it’s easy to just go in and just… stare… (not that I did that) but hear me out!

Aquaman has a history as the joke hero of the DC Universe. Though the character debuted in 1941, his appearance in the 1960’s animated Super Friends show did him no favors. He was portrayed as a lovable goofball with the weakest powers of the bunch. He became infamous for these reasons, leading DC to try rewriting the character multiple times to change public perception for the better. Thus, his arcs are convoluted… which also didn’t help much. Today, Aquaman is still a bit of a joke.

Jason Momoa has a presence about him. He’s a physically imposing dude with an intense stare. He’s best known, of course, for his role in Game of Thrones as Khal Drogo, the ruthless Dothraki warlord to whom Danerys Targaryen is married off to by her brother, Viserys. The Dothraki are a war-loving and hard people, and Momoa pulled off that stoic role perfectly. Yet, if you watch his interviews and behind the scenes snippets – he’s totally different! He’s funny, humble, charming, he drinks beer and throws axes. He’s someone you’d like to sit back and shoot the breeze with.

I think that by casting Momoa, DC wanted to accomplish two things. First, they probably wanted to yet again try to change the public’s perception of Aquaman’s character for the better. To do this, they needed someone with the ability to look very serious, imposing, almost intimidating. Second, they knew from reviews of past movies that they needed to get away from their dark tone. They needed someone who, at the same time, could be light and charming, and be able to hold that balance between hulking and friendly well.

Boom. Enter Jason Momoa, our new Aquaman.

Casting for other characters was also excellent. Amber Heard portrayed Mera in the character’s cinematic debut. In the comics, Mera is often portrayed as Aquaman’s equal in powers, sometimes even more powerful. I appreciated that history placed in some scenes, where she saves Aquaman instead of the other way around! Willem Defoe as Vulko, Arthur’s mentor, was a surprise, but he pulled it off well. Patrick Wilson as Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and the self-stylized Ocean Master, had some of the best costuming in the movie. (Also, blond, he looks just like a younger Eminem, and it really threw me) His Ocean Master costume looked exactly like the comics.

Speaking of comics, you know who wrote for this movie? Our boy Geoff Johns. This is HUGE. So far, only one other comic book author has written for the DCEU movies, and that was Joss Whedon’s late rewrites for Justice League. Johns has written the New 52 Aquaman, part of the Blackest Night arc, mid-2000’s Green Lantern, and many more comic books, as well as the CW DC shows. The BIGGEST and MOST CONSISTENT nitpick I’ve had with the DCEU movies so far has been the shoddy writing and characterization. I was overjoyed when I saw Johns’ name in the credits and knew instantly that THAT is what made the difference in Aquaman. They got an ACTUAL COMIC BOOK AUTHOR to write the story, for the first time in the entire DCEU.

In short: THANK ALL THE POWERS THAT BE!!!

That said, the movie was far from perfect, and there were inconsistencies that are nagging at me. I thought it was mentioned pretty early on that only half-human, half-Atlantean hybrids could breathe air as well as water – yet, multiple full-blooded Atlanteans spent LOTS of time out of the water, doing just fine. The only instance where a full-blooded Atlantean struggled to breathe oxygen was during the Ring of Fire sequence, where Mera interferes and manipulates Orm into an air tornado.

(Also, wouldn’t Orm have won by default because Mera interfered with the trial? Those are some unresolved politics that are REALLY bothering me X,D )

The color palette in this movie was much brighter than in past DC movies, but in one respect they took it too far. Mera was too oversaturated for my tastes. I feel they wanted to make her pop and draw the eye, and make her bright on land to make her look otherworldly, and perhaps out of her element – but they took it way too far. Her neon red hair was glaring and distracting at times, especially during bright lit sequences. With her equally bright green costume, she forcibly reminded me of Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid… which was also highly distracting for me. It was almost as if they were trying so hard to get the audience to take Aquaman seriously that they threw poor Mera under the bus.

The movie was much too long for a standalone title only loosely related to the rest of the DCU. The thing that could have been cut was Black Manta. Yayha Abdul-Mateen II did a great job portraying the revenge-fueled villain – but his plotline really bogged it down. It was bare bones, for sure, but it added 30 minutes to what could easily have been only a 2-hour movie. Black Manta is Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, and I understand why they wanted to include him – imagine having the first Batman movie without the Joker. You can’t, right?

However, this movie was about Arthur’s struggle with finding his place and claiming his heritage in the sea after a lifetime on land. Orm was more than enough villain for this movie, not only as the big bad hellbent on world domination, but as Arthur’s foil: his half-brother, born in the sea, intent on claiming the surface world, hating it for taking his mother away. Black Manta’s sequence could have easily been cut down to the opening scene, where Aquaman foils the pirate attempt, and a post-credit scene with him building the signature helmet. That would have allowed for the unnecessary explanation of the connection between him and Atlantis that was in this movie to be moved to the next one, in flashbacks or as the opening sequence.

Also… for a movie with a budget as big as this one’s was (at least $160 million)… the CGI was, at times, abysmal. We’re talking early 2000’s, low budget, TV show Smallville pilot abysmal. Overall, it was decent, but there were a few sequences that were truly awful. Consistently, the movement of the character’s hair underwater bothered me. It looked highly unnatural and was also distracting for me.

Aquaman was finally a step in the right direction for the DCEU. The writing by, thank all the powers that be, actual real-life comic book author Geoff Johns, truly sets this movie apart from all others in the DCEU. The casting of all characters was, as always, spot-on, but this time the actors actually had the writing to back them up, save for a few inconsistencies and a missed trip to the cutting room for an over-long plot. Gone is the grimdark of past DCEU movies: Aquaman ably jumps between serious and fun. You can go for Jason’s irresistible charm – but you’ll stay for the overall good time 😉

– Kathleen

Wan, James. Aquaman. 2018.

Blackest Night: Green Lantern

While I’ve read some of the Blackest Night stories (like the WW one), I’ve never actually read the main arc!

While the War of Light – the conflict between the ring bearers of the emotional spectrum – rages on, a threat to the entire universe arises. Black Hand has risen from the dead by the light of the Black Lantern ring. Across the universe, the dead are rising again. Those who have died and come back – Superman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman – are being sought out by the black rings of death and becoming Black Lanterns. Hal Jordan, the best of the Green Lanterns, must find a way to stop the war and unite his fellow Lanterns against the Black Lanterns. Not only are the Lanterns in danger of being snuffed out – the whole universe is, too.

Holy crap! IT’S SO GOOD!!! I shouldn’t be surprised, because Geoff Johns penned it, but still!!! The action! The pace! The high stakes! It’s everything you want a superhero story to be, and then some. The writing assumes you’ve read past stories, and I feel like the story skipped between issues. From what I understand, the whole arc was told throughout multiple heroes’ books at the same time. The issues within are all sequential, so the skipping feeling makes sense. However, this collection has cover pages with recaps and more context between each issue, which is really helpful.

The art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. The coloring, of course, is stellar. So many Lantern colors and constructs playing off each other – eye candy! I think the layouts of all the panels are cinematic, with many wide shots of epic Lantern battles and close-ups of characters, highlighting tension. The figures are solidly drawn, in many dynamic and creative posts. I’m happy to report little to no gratuitous shots of Star Sapphire, Indigo-1, or any other heroines.

The only part I don’t like? That I didn’t read this sooner!!! I will be finding and devouring the rest of this arc.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Doug Mahnke. Blackest Night: Green Lantern. 2010.

The Flash: Rebirth (2010)

Barry Allen sacrificed himself during the Crisis on Infinite Earths to restore balance to the Multiverse. He’s escaped the Speedforce and was brought back to life, a feat that no other Speedster has been able to accomplish. Everyone – the League, the citizens of Central City, and his family – are overjoyed to have him back. In fact, the only person who’s not happy about it is Barry himself. He feels a strange urgency, like time is running out. But for what, he’s not sure. The world is telling him to slow down, but Barry feels he needs to go faster than ever. He’s not entirely convinced he escaped the Speedforce on his own – he may have been set free. But by who, and for what purpose? Could he have been brought back to life just to die again?

As big a fan as I am of the show, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to actually pick up a Flash comic. I absolutely loved it! The artwork was dynamic and crackling with power and emotion. You know anything Geoff Johns writes is going to be good, but this story was just phenomenal. The emotional pull of Barry’s dilemma and his family willing to do anything to help is what makes this story special. The story is just as fast-paced as you’d expect a Flash comic to be, but the love that was obviously infused into the story and characters carries a lot of weight. I will definitely be looking for more.

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Ethan Van Sciver. The Flash: Rebirth. 2010.

Forever Evil

The Justice League is no more! Instead the Crime Syndicate from Earth-3 in the multiverse have managed to “kill” most of the heroes and round up all the villains, so as to take over the world. The Crime Syndicate consists of doppelgangers Ultraman (Superman), Super Woman (Wonder Woman), Owlman (Batman), Power Ring (Green Lantern), Deathstorm (Firestorm), Johnny Quick (The Flash) and Atomica (Atom) with their Sea King (Aquaman) not surviving the trip over.

After busting dozens of villains out of jail, this group of seven demand obedience from the motley group in front of them. They explain that the strongest should survive, and the way the former heroes have been protecting the weak of the planet was wrong. Ultraman declares “Aeternus Malum”, which roughly translates to forever evil, to his new army. Thrilled to be allowed to act on their base instincts, this new secret society go out and create deadly chaos all over the world.

But not all is well within the crime syndicate. The seven argue endlessly among themselves, and fear that the creature that destroyed their previous world will find them here. We discover Super Woman is pregnant and secretly telling both Ultraman and Owlman that they are the father, so we know she is planning on playing them off one another in the future.

In the midst of the lawlessness and disorder, Lex Luthor takes stock of the situation and takes action. He has a powerful secret weapon that he had been working on for years, and puts it into play. We also discover that not everyone from the Justice League is gone. A certain someone, who often fights dark impulses (you have to know who I’m referring to!), joins forces with Lex and some other surprising villains to take down the syndicate.  The conclusion reveals who the mole in the Justice League was to allow the syndicate to take over, and Super Woman has another surprising disclosure.

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This was an extremely dense story, one that took me time to go through. While I have been reading more DC graphic novels recently, I still had to look up many characters to find out their backgrounds and how they connect into one another. There were some inconsistencies and some holes in the story that were distracting, but I felt as a whole, it was a very strong story. It made me think- can someone who has been evil for a long time, change? Does his/her new good actions erase all the bad they have done in the past? On the flip side, can someone who has been good but then makes a horrible choice, does that negate their past good deeds?

The artwork was fantastic. It took real skill to illustrate the 100 or so characters in the story. There was an amazing four page spread of the syndicate with the villains surrounding them, that I wish had been a pull out, so we could see the whole cast of characters at once. Despite this four page spread, there were hardly any other two page spreads, but there were occasionally one page panels. With black borders, the rich coloring stood out, and every panel was drawn with precision.

This New 52 crossover event was definitely successful. Not only was it a fun read, but the ending leaves some open story lines that can be built upon in the future.  I’m definitely interested in knowing what awaits the villains that survived and how that will affect the Justice League in the future.

-Nancy

Johns, Geoff, Davis Finch & Richard Friend. Forever Evil. 2014.

Batman: Earth One (Vol. 2)

A lot of people believe the Batman is responsible for the death of Mayor Oswald Cobblepot. There are some, though, who believe he is not, and that he might be a force for good instead. There have been a number of murders since the death of Mayor Cobblepot, though. Someone has been killing random groups of people after they have failed to solve riddles. He leaves a calling card: a green question mark. To stop him, Batman needs help. Bruce is sure he can trust Commissioner Gordon, but Alfred warns against trusting any of the police. When Mayor Jessica Dent, twin sister to District Attorney Harvey Dent and former flame of Bruce’s, asks him to become a public beacon of hope for Gotham, Bruce is conflicted. How does he help Gotham? In the shadows, or the light?

… Wow. Just wow. Volume 2 was so much better than Volume 1! Again, no one is quite who you think they are, so it keeps you on the edge of your seat trying to figure it out. My favorite part of this volume was actually Killer Croc. They really humanized him, and you feel sorry for him instead of fearing him. It’s also refreshing to see Batman asking for help instead of being an insufferable know-it-all. Again, the art is nothing to sneeze at, but you keep coming back for the story anyway. I am very much looking forward to Volume 3!

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, Gary Frank, Jon Sibal, and Brad Anderson. Batman: Earth One (Vol. 2). 2015.

Batman: Earth One (Vol. 1)

During his mayoral campaign, Thomas and his wife Martha are murdered. Their young son, Bruce, is left with no one in the world – save his father’s friend Alfred. The ex-Marine has been granted sole guardianship of the boy, and he reluctantly accepts. Bruce grows up hell-bent on revenge, eventually donning a black cowl and cape to take down the animal who killed his parents. Trouble is, that animal is currently mayor of Gotham City… and he’s currently paid off just about everyone, especially the police. With no one to turn to, no one to trust, he strikes out on his crusade alone.

Kinda the same Batman you know, kinda a different one. Geoff Johns is a fantastic writer, and there are twists and turns abound. No one is who you’ll expect they’ll be in this arc, and half the fun is finding out who fits where. The villains are genuinely disturbing, and we get a hint or two that Bruce himself may be more than a little mad. The art is – typical Batman art, for lack of a better word: dark, a muted palette, and plenty of blood and gore. I look forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Johns, Geoff, and Gary Frank. Batman: Earth One (Vol. 1). 2012.

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