As the comics internet collectively sharpens its metaphorical knives on the new DC superhero redesigns released this week, I thought I'd take the opportunity to point out a recent effort from that company that, to my surprise, actually turned out remarkably well. In fact, it was a hit with both me AND my middle-school Cartooning class.
Here's how it happened. Generally, for the most part Cartooning is a studio environment. The kids are spread out, working on their pages, and they chitchat and gossip while they're drawing. Every so often arguments spring up about nerd culture. Occasionally I am asked to rule on them.
And on this particular afternoon, the topic at hand was Aquaman.
"Aquaman is dumb."
"No he's not!"
"He's a doofus. I saw him in a cartoon being a doofus. And on the Big Bang Theory."
"No way! I have comics where Aquaman is a badass! And he's going to be in the new Superman and Batman movie and I saw pictures! He's HARDCORE!"
As was the usual custom, this back-and-forth went on for a few more minutes until they turned to me and demanded a ruling. "What do YOU think Mr. Hatcher?"
I raised an eyebrow. "Are you asking what I think of Aquaman? Because I'm pretty old, you know, there have been lots of different versions. Mine hasn't been around for a long time."
This, of course, prompted a chorus of What's your version Mr Hatcher? from the class.
So I told them. "Really, the version that I like the BEST, it's kind of... Harry Potter, but underwater."
That got their attention and I ended up having to tell the whole story. "See, the way the original story goes, there was a lighthouse keeper named Tom Curry, a lonely man who saw a woman wash up on shore one day..."
"...The woman was named Atlanna, and she and Tom Curry fell in love. They had a son named Arthur, and for a long time they were just a happy little family living on the coast. Eventually Atlanna got sick and on her deathbed she revealed..."
"...young Arthur discovered it was true-- he could breathe under water, he could command all the creatures of the sea. When his father died, Arthur Curry eventually embraced his destiny-- to become Aquaman, ruler of Atlantis, King of the Seven Seas."
The kids had been rapt for most of this, lost in the story, and I felt ridiculously vindicated. "So... that's the version I like the best," I concluded. "That's the version I'd like to see in the movies. The orphan son of a lighthouse keeper and a mermaid who eventually becomes the king of the sea."
The kids considered this for a moment. Then Koh hesitantly raised his hand. "I think there's a cartoon of that," he offered.
"Really? Are you sure?" I was honestly surprised. It's rare that my students know more about DC animated offerings than I do, but Koh had his phone out with a Google image in a minute or two.
"Hmmm." Now it made sense. I'd seen Justice League: War, and not been impressed, so I'd skipped the other recent DC animated offerings. But if they were doing Aquaman-- MY Aquaman--
"We'll look into it," I told Koh. "I might bring it in if I can find one for cheap and there's nothing too inappropriate."
Well, I found one, and though it was a strong PG-13, I didn't think it would send any of my students screaming into therapy; they all play violent video games and most of them have cable. Truthfully, I was probably more bothered by Mera getting all stabby with the Atlantean soldiers than they were.
More importantly, it was a huge hit with the students when I brought it in to show last Tueday and I enjoyed it too. Although it's not, perhaps, my Justice League, it WAS more or less my Aquaman. The son of Atlanna and Tom Curry.
The story opens with the young adult Arthur grieving the death of his father by getting hammered at a local tavern and commiserating with a lobster he rescues from the restaurant tank. It doesn't end well.
An Atlantean attack on a nuclear sub gets the JLA involved, and at the same time Atlantean spies are tracking young Arthur with the intent of eliminating him. They send monsters from the Trench to attack Arthur at the lighthouse and mayhem ensues.
There is a LOT of mayhem, but it's largely of the blockbuster action-movie variety and my students are used to it. The plot is a sort of mashup of Aquaman's origin and the "Throne of Atlantis" storyline that ran in the Aquaman and Justice League comics a couple of years ago. The villains in this are Black Manta and Orm, the Ocean Master.
I myself am not in love with the bickering sarcasm of the new JLA, and I am especially not crazy about how Batman is a complete dick to everyone, but again, it must be said: the kids loved it. Green Lantern and Captain Marvel, in particular, got a lot of laughs, and they also really dug Cyborg.
Moreover, they're all watching Arrow and The Flash, so they were very much enjoying seeing the Barry Allen Flash acting, well, like he should.
It was the first real exposure the class had to the Justice League as a whole, as well, and I found myself fielding all sorts of questions about Green Lantern and Captain Marvel (called "Shazam" in this) and other DC lore. Watching how much THEY loved it mellowed me considerably toward the whole endeavor, and it really is a much better movie than Justice League: War.
Moreover, I have to admit that, EXTREME KEWL JLA notwithstanding, this film was, at the end of the day, the Aquaman origin I'd wanted to see, the orphan claiming his destiny. It made the movie a lot more powerful than a straight adaptation the "Throne of Atlantis" story from the comics would have been. And the final showdown between Arthur and Orm was really well-plotted; making sure it came down to the two of them, while the Atlantean forces took out the rest of the JLA, didn't seem forced.
By the time it was over, the kids were completely sold on the coolness of Aquaman... and, well, I found myself looking a little more kindly on the new 52 version of the JLA.
What else could you ask for? Well done, DC. More like this, please.
See you next week.