Review: Aquaman and the Others Vol. 1: Legacy of Gold trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

I enjoyed Geoff Johns's Aquaman Vol. 2: The Others not only for how he rejuvenated the villain Black Manta, but also for the proto-Justice League team of heroes that Johns created for Aquaman to lead. Johns has demonstrated unmistakable talent developing new characters with familiar superhero names, but it was a unique treat to see him make all new characters. I liked many of these very much -- elderly super-spy the Operative, ghost-controlling soldier Prisoner-of-War, reclusive cosmonaut Vostok-X, and so on -- as well as seeing Aquaman in a leadership role.

The subsequent Aquaman and the Others title (the first issues of which are collected in Aquaman and the Others Vol. 1: Legacy of Gold) seemed unlikely to win long-term success, not in the least because I doubt the market is in want of an Aquaman franchise. But I was interested to see more of Aquaman with these characters, and also John Ostrander writing two "Others" special issues raised my excitement considerably; if anyone could write a non-traditional team of hardscrabble heroes, it's John "Suicide Squad" Ostrander.

As one might expect, Legacy of Gold is a mixed bag. There's two issues here by Ostrander, but the rest are by Dan Jurgens, whose work is sometimes just fine but sometimes reads quite dated. The art by Lan Medina is very much in the boilerplate DC Comics house style (or perhaps what used to be that style), and this combined with the general straightforwardness of the plot makes this a book unlikely to garner wide acclaim; that it's cancelled after the second volume isn't a surprise. There's a lot I still appreciate about the "Others" team concept -- not in the least what a loosely-defined "team" they are and how Jurgens manages to bring them together -- but this book is ultimately going to be for real enthusiasts only.

[Review contains spoilers]

One appealing aspect of the Others is that they're so new and their fortunes are so untold that the writers can do whatever they want with them. In the very first pages (Aquaman #20), Ostrander reveals that Aaron, whom we believed to be the Operative's grandson and sidekick, is actually a child he's kidnapped; in the Aquaman annual, Ostranger has Aquaman's perhaps closest ally, Ya'wara, betray the team. Johns killed off a couple of the characters in Aquaman Vol. 2, and both Ostrander and Jurgens are able to replace and/or revive them; the highlight of the book is Jurgens's apparent resurrection of Vostok-X, my most favorite Other from Johns's story.

Jurgens's issues, Aquaman and the Others #1-5 proper, begin and end without the Others as a proper team. Obviously for the purposes of the series we know the characters will come together, but the informality of no set base or "Watchtower" is a nice change. Jurgens cleverly suggests that the Others' Atlantean-based powers are ceasing to work without their proximity to one another, which might well be the plot device that brings them back together in the next volume. At the same time, Johns set up the Others with powers (and full lives) of their own independent of the Atlantean relics, and it might be interesting to see how the team functions relying just on their "natural" selves.

Unfortunately, Aquaman and the Others looks and sounds dated, and it overshadows what works in the book. Jurgens has got to break himself of this habit of writing faux slang-y dialogue that sounds like an older person writing what they think a younger person would say. In the lair of the villain (whom Jurgens plainly names "Legend"), Aaron quips "Helloooo, Castle Dracula," and later he's glad the team will leave "Castle Horrorstein intact ... cuz [it's] kinda cool." Later, Aaron cocks a gun at Legend and emotes, "Lissen up, Don Quixote. Save the mumbo jumbo for Halloween"; Jurgens had similar instances of this sort in Convergence: Superman.

Set on the stands next to books by Johns or Scott Snyder or god forbid the whip-smart dialogue of someone like Brian K. Vaughan, this kind of thing must inevitably doom a book, and frankly it makes me concerned for Jurgens's tenure on the "Rebirth" Action Comics. In the same way, Lan Medina draws functional scenes that resemble Jurgens himself from the 1990s; that's no knock necessarily, but again it's going to falter on the stands against a Greg Capullo, a JH Williams, or a Babs Tarr. The inking on Medina by Allen Martinez often gets sketchy and lacks detail in long-perspective shots, and colors by Matt Milla tend to be flat, lacking the pop of Ostrander's early issues with Pete Pantazis or Hi-Fi.

Here's another way to gauge if Aquaman and the Others Vol. 1: Legacy of Gold is for you. It contains the barest reference to Futures End, which is to say an almost insignificant allusion with no bearing on the plot to a weekly series which itself ultimately petered out and affected nothing. If this continuity note of nothing on top of nothing gets your blood pumping like it does mine, then Aquaman and the Others is for you; for most people it'll be a pass. Still I'm curious to see how this all ends up.

[Includes original covers]
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