Saturday, 19 April 2014

Aquaman, Volume 3: Throne of Atlantis Review (Geoff Johns, Paul Pelletier)

I get it now - Geoff Johns is the comic book Michael Bay! Do you like massive, loud action scenes strung together with a nonsensical “story”? Look no further than Throne of Atlantis, this summer’s blockbuster (s)hit!

Ok, this whole review is going to look into why Throne of Atlantis is one big DUUUUUH so it’s going to be packed with spoilers - if you haven’t read this yet and you’re just looking for a yay or nay review, my answer is: if you’ve enjoyed New 52 Aquaman so far, you’ll like this; if not, it won’t change your mind. It’s Geoff Johns being Geoff Johns and that’s something you either like or dislike at this point.

Right, from now on here be spoilers.

Missiles from a military cruiser are fired at Atlantis precipitating an attack from the current King of Atlantis, Orm, who is Arthur’s half-brother. In retaliation, the Atlantean army launches a massive tidal wave against the East Coast of America, putting Gotham and Metropolis under water, and follows it up with a land invasion. Will the Justice League be up for the challenge? Sigh… here we go again, Papa Johns.

If you’ve read your share of superhero comics, you’ll know that most superhero fights, big or small, could be avoided with a simple conversation between the two combatants and, usually, this dialogue would then make fighting redundant as the problem is usually a trite misunderstanding. That’s what Throne is like, right from the get go. Orm should’ve spoken to the Justice League about the missile attack who could’ve spoken to the US Military and Orm would’ve discovered that the attack was unintentional and that starting a war would be a waste of their resources, not to mention lives. Furthermore, they could combine forces to find the real culprit behind the malicious attack a lot faster. But no, that would mean no big splash pages (pun not intended but very appropriate!) and no “story”, flimsy as it is. So to war they go, manipulated easier than puppets!

I’m going to skip ahead to the finale now because the middle is just one long fight scene between the Justice League and the Atlanteans in the unending rain. Orm proves he’s a tough dude (because I guess that was important?), the Atlanteans as well, while Hawkman even shows up at one point and DOESN’T wreck the book which is a tiny miracle (though his inclusion is pointless - what’s a winged dimwit with a mace going to do against a tidal wave?).

There’s some fine art from Ivan Reis (who draws the Justice League issues) and Paul Pelletier (who draws the Aquaman issues - yeah, both titles get splotched together in this book because DC apparently stands for Dumb Crossovers), even though the splash pages are busier than Oxford Street on Christmas week. But the art does look stream-lined and has this modern comics cinematic look to it with wide panels and splash pages, all of which complements the story well.

So: the incredibly stupid finale.

It’s revealed that Arthur’s exiled advisor, Vulko, is behind all this madness. Who’s Vulko? He’s an older gentleman who’s rocking a ponytail possibly to make up for the lack of hair on top, has a bit of a belly, and spends his free time on the Scandinavian shore untangling fishing lines. He’s also nursing a grudge against Atlantis for banishing him and wants to see Arthur as the King of Atlantis because… well, HE thinks that’s who should be on the throne, even though no-one else, including Arthur, thinks this way.

So that must mean Atlantis is a disaster right - some kind of dictatorial nightmare for Vulko to go to such drastic lengths to change the leadership? Actually, Atlantis is a very decent place under Orm’s rule. It appears prosperous and he’s actually quite a progressive leader, taking a strong stance against superstitious nonsense and punishing those who would threaten children. That’s how Orm is introduced by the way, as a leader who cares about the safety and well-being of his people and makes a good call by standing up to thug violence. And he’s the bad guy!?

Vulko somehow - it’s never actually explained how he does this - manages to get a US Navy Cruiser to fire its payload at Atlantis because he thinks, rightly as it turns out, that Atlantis will throw its full force in retaliation to the surface world and cause Arthur to choose to take the throne of Atlantis for himself.  Ok… few problems with this.

How did Vulko know Atlantis would succeed in a war against the surface world, who count amongst their number Superman, the most powerful being on the planet, along with Wonder Woman, J’onn J’onzz, and numerous others? It would be more likely that Atlantis would lose this war and the city would be destroyed, so Arthur would never have been king at all as the throne and the people would no longer exist.

Also, whichever side lost, how does he know Aquaman’s response to finding out this was all to manipulate him into taking the throne, would be to take the throne? It’d make more sense that he would refuse any claim to the throne forever based off of the bloodshed this war has caused. And, once again, Atlantis is ruled by a good king, Orm, who is reacting to an act of war (a bit too reactively but then Johns isn’t writing him with much intelligence) - Aquaman could well say, Orm is the king, he is my brother, I’m in the Justice League, let’s all just learn to get along, ok? And next time, let’s TALK FIRST before doing anything rash!

Maybe you’re thinking, well, clearly Vulko’s crazy, that’s why his plan doesn’t make a lick of sense - you can’t rationally explain a madman’s ideas. And you’d be right, except that Aquaman validates Vulko’s insane plan by accepting the throne of Atlantis and returning to be the king!! His reaction when he finds out that Vulko was behind everything is basically: “You did all of this just to get me back on the throne - do you have any idea HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE DIED?!?! I accept”. Wait - what?! So I guess Vulko was right to do what he did? His plan did work. (To be fair, the scene where Aquaman yells “I AM YOUR KING!!!” is really funny so it was kinda worth it)

Meanwhile, Orm, whom I felt more sympathetic towards after re-reading parts of the book, gets locked up on land while Vulko goes to an Atlantean jail - why? Vulko’s by far the worse of the two - he should be punished the most by staying on land. Already Arthur’s first decision as new king is questionable - it’d be amazing if he turned out to be a worse ruler than Orm!

Everything about the plot of this book makes no sense when you stop and think about it for a moment. It’s just a lazy excuse to have a giant fight between the Justice League and the Atlantean army because big, dumb, loud action scenes sell comics. This is why Johns is the comic book Michael Bay - they both choose mindless action over everything else.

Like a Transformers movie, you can appreciate the energy and effort that’s gone into making the book look flashy and attractive but look beneath the surface and it’s a staggeringly stupid and failed attempt at good storytelling.

(All that, and I didn’t even mention how bizarre it was that Orm managed to defeat Superman, Wonder Woman AND Batman in one go!! And there’s a Justice League/Throne of Atlantis book? The whole story is right here in this volume! What, they throw in a couple extra Justice League issues and then duplicate this volume for a whole “new” volume? What a ripoff! Cynical, cynical DC.) 

Aquaman Volume 3: Throne of Atlantis HC (The New 52)

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