Comics Weekend Bonus! "Night Gods" by J.Michael Straczynski and Jesus Saiz.
Well, it finally arrived last week: the long-awaited issue of Brave and the Bold featuring Classic Aquaman in a starring role. I held off doing a post on this book over the weekend, hopefully giving most everyone (sorry Tegan!) the chance to read it for themselves. Let's dig in!
This story opens with a couple of cops getting the drop on a guy in the middle of digging up a coffin. They keep telling him to stop, but he protests that he has to know what's inside.
The cops ask him who he is, and he tells them his name is Whitford Crane. He used to work on a fishing boat, and a few days ago a massive storm hit, capsizing his boat. Managing to survive, he found himself on a small island. Waiting on the beach are:
Aquaman and The Demon find out what happened, and they begin to talk of some mysterious event about to happen.
The Demon grabs Whitford, using his magic powers to give the man a set of gills! Then all three of them head into the ocean, diving deep, deep into the water, where Whitford spies creatures he's never seen before.
When they get to a ridge, Aquaman asks Whitford to be quiet, lest they be heard. Whitford asks who Aquaman is talking about, and he learn that, years ago, Aquaman and The Demon made a pact to keep...something "on the other side", lest "The land world and the sea world would both be destroyed."
Whitford gets to see what Aquaman is talking about: a veritable army of demons, some humanoid, some not, all of them marching from to what Whitford looks like the front gates of Hell.
Aquaman calmly states, "This is bad." It seems that this "other side" has called upon the souls of all those who have died at sea to be part of its army. Aquaman says he has to get down there, in the center of the invasion, but has to do undetected. He needs something to hide behind.
He could use a shark or a porpoise, but "even they won't come near this place." So he turns his attention towards one of the nearby monsters:
Aquaman, now in control of this beast, heads straight into the army of creatures. He makes his way to a pit in the ocean floor.
Surrounded by thousands of other creatures, he sees this nightmare:
Momentarily distracted, Aquaman is noticed by some of the other creatures, and they close in on him.
Aquaman fights some of them off, pounding one of them into a stone wall. This catches the attention of all the others, and they swarm in Aquaman's direction. Whitford, watching all this, asks The Demon if he shouldn't be helping, but The Demon says Aquaman does not need his help.
Indeed, we see Aquaman call in his reinforcements, coming from "lots of miles in every direction":
Some of the creatures split off and go after The Demon and Whitford, but Etrigan reduces most of them to ashes with his fire breath.
One of them grabs Whitford, and its someone he knows: his old friend and shipmate Phillip, lost at sea five years ago! Philip begs Whitford to destroy him so he can finally be at peace, but The Demon tears Whitford away.
Aquaman summons them both as the largest creature--the leader of this unholy army--emerges from the pit. It offers to make a deal with Aquaman--if he joins them, he will be King of the entire world above.
Aquaman rejects the offer ("Why would I ever wish to settle for less?"), and The Demon conjures a spell that sets the creature on fire, causing it to explode and collapse. As they watch it burn and die, Aquaman talks to The Demon:
The next thing Whitford knew, he woke up on shore. He's now determined to look inside the coffin of his friend Phillip, to see if all this was a dream or not.
After breaking through the lid, he sees the proof he was looking for: his St. Christopher medal, torn from his neck by Phillip's undead corpse under the sea:
*Whew*! This was one, er, hell of a tale! Certainly not what I was expecting, nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its a dark, nightmarish story, but in a fun, ghoulish, H.P. Lovecraft-kind of way, and Aquaman and The Demon actually fit together quite well, much better than I would think.
I really liked how all of this story took place at dawn, or at night; it gives the feeling that this is taking place in some quiet little corner of the DC Universe. While Superman, The Flash, and Wonder Woman are still sleeping, Aquaman's out there keeping the legions of Hell from taking over the world. Jesus Saiz's art is perfectly moody, his Aquaman is simultaneously powerful and graceful.
Speaking of, this story is essentially one big commercial for Aquaman; he gets all the really big moments, and the full scope of his powers are on display. Anyone who continues to insist the character is "lame" just isn't paying attention.
Lastly, the other thing I enjoyed about this story was that it continues writer J.Michael Straczynski's streak of great, old school Brave and the Bold plots. And when I say old school I don't mean he's reusing old ideas--rather, he's coming with outlandish concepts that have sense of what-the-hell abandon to them that remind me a bit of those great Bob Haney stories in the original B&B series.
Whether its The Flash going back in time to World War II and fighting alongside The Blackhawks (#28), The Atom taking a trip through The Joker's brain (#31), or Aquaman and The Demon being the sole guardians of a portal from Hell, these Brave and the Bold stories have a real charm to them, which is why this series is one of the few books I still make sure to pick up month after month.
Thanks to all the blogs (listed at right) who helped spread the word for the Shrine's "Brave and Bold Event." From the smattering of field reports we got, it seems like this issue sold out in a lot of stores. We can only hope that happened all over the country, sending DC a message that we want to see Classic Aquaman back.
Especially when he's portrayed as well as he was here!