[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]
“Super Power” (20 pages)
Writer: Dan Abnettt
Artists: Scott Eaton (p), Wayne Faucher (i)
Continuing from last issue, Aquaman is battling new villain Warhead on the campus of fictional Beckman College, located, we are told, somewhere in New York.
At least I presume it’s fictional. The best I could Google for “Beckman College New York” was a professor in the advertising design department at New York City College of Technology. It’d be interesting to know who, if anyone, writer Dan Abnett named this setting for. We don’t see much of it, but given that Warhead arrived at what appears to be a campus lab of some kind eight weeks previously, in order to “perform diagnostics and repair,” this likely is a tech school of some kind. Not that it matters. Geography appears to be of very little import in this series. Warhead might as well have done his R&R at Beckman Hardware in Schenectady.
[Aside: Okay, that’s just me being snarky. I’m still smarting over the fact that while Geoff Johns located Aquaman’s hometown of Amnesty Bay in my home state of Maine, Abnett and editor Brian Cunningham have decided, for whatever reason, that on Earth-R (for Rebirth) they’d rather it be in Massachusetts.]
So, anyway, while Aquaman’s new secret service detail (introduced last issue) tries banging down the schoolhouse door, our hero and his new best-bad slug away at each other, with Warhead coolly and kindly expositing his origin story throughout.
It seems Warhead is a man-shaped “piece of military hardware” built by the Chinese Ministry of Self-Reliance (remember them, it’ll come up again later in this review) and used by China’s military to aid Kahndaq in its war against Bialya.
Kahndaq, by the way, is home to Black Adam and has been described as being somewhere between Egypt and Israel on Planet DC. Bialya, meanwhile, was described in the 2006 Blue Beetle series as the place where Dan Garrett found the beetle scarab that gave him his powers. This is a retcon from earlier tales, which placed the scarab in Egypt. But no matter, it’s also a retcon of the fact that, originally, Garrett had no super powers. “Hey, this is comics, retconning is what we do!”
Bialya is said to be north of Saudi Arabia, which would put it more or less next door to Kahndaq. So, good job Dan Abnett, you pass Geekology 101. Even if you hate Maine.
Now, here is something else interesting — to me, anyway. The battle in which Warhead is deployed takes place in Kahndaq. Aquaman knows this because Warhead is able to latch onto his aquatelepathy — that’s science for, “he talks to fish” — and project images from his memory. In the 2007 mini series World War III, Black Adam responds to the death of Isis and Osiris at the end of the year-long 52 limited series by attacking Bialya and wiping out some two million or so if its inhabitants. More chaos ensues in the mini series 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen and, at one point, Superman scans the country to find no one left alive but for Snapper Carr and Batman. Anyway, the Bialyans here seem pretty ragtag and eager to surrender to Warhead, who appears able to project himself onto the battlefield, though wired up to computers under Kahndaq control elsewhere. As depicted by penciller Scott Eaton, Warhead looks like he’s able to digitize the enemy as they flee, breaking them to bytes, as it were. Given the inhospitably of postwar Bialya (in prior continuity at least) and the fact that the fight takes place in Kahndaq against what hardly appears to be an invading army, and noting the Kahndaqi rulers are practically rabid to wipe out all Bialyans, waving a white flag or not, my metatextual commentary is this: The Bialyans depicted here are actually a ethnic refugees living in Kahndaq, not a foreign army. So, basically, think Kurds in Syria, only with China aiding state dictators, rather than the Russians.
But that’s probably a lot more than Abnett intended. Given that the Ministry is Self-Reliance (see, told you we’d get back to them) is the outfit that made the New Super-Man, all Abnett’s really trying to do, most likely, is set up a future crossover. What that tells me is that New Super-Man is in less trouble, circulation-wise, than I had supposed, as it’s usually a Batman crossover that gets trotted out to goose sales whenever cancellation is imminent. Of course, an #AlternativeFact might be that Abnett is due to take over the writing chores on New Super-Man soon, and he’s front loading new adversaries. If Bleeding Cool tries to jump on that rumor, tell ’em you heard it here first.
Well, anyway, back to the summary — that was what you came here for, right?
So, we learn via aquatelepathic flashback, which is totally a thing, that Warhead refused to slaughter the surrendering Bialyans. That, naturally enough, prompted the evil Kahndaqi general (no Chinese present) to order his men to “disconnect that disobedient thing.” A solider then shoots Warhead in his . . . um, war head (because, again, no Chinese present to say otherwise, which I’m sure they would have, given I’m pretty certain walking, talking war heads don’t come cheap).
[Aside: Kahndaq soldiers, by the way, dress like American SWAT dudes, complete with tactical baseball cap. I don’t know of you know this or not, but Middle Easterners are nuts for baseball. Seriously. I read that on Bleeding Cool, too.]
One thing that is unclear to me is why, if Warhead needs to be landlined in order to do his genociding je ne sais quoi, why did the Chinese bother to make him in the form of a man? And with European facial features, no less! But it’s a good thing he (it?) is ambulatory, as he was able to escape with however many bullets in his tin head half a planet away to New York, where he chose to recharge his batteries in a college lab because, of all the places he hid, “nowhere was secure.” But like all those other places, the lab is short on munitions. So, after being awoken by N.E.M.O’s “suicide trigger” — a thing that happened a few issues ago, but I can’t tell you exactly when, because editor’s notes in comics are passe — and then slapping fins with Aquaman for a few rounds, Warhead decides that for a full repair job, and to protect himself from that eventual New Super-Man crossover, he “must acquire control of more sophisticated military resources.”
And just where do you suppose he expects to find those armaments? You guessed it. And Aquaman’s reaction? An aqua-punch that literally spins Warhead’s noggin a full 180 degrees on its axis.
As the battle rages, with Warhead resorting to fisticuffs because he’s not plugged in to his human-digitizing peripheral, Aquaman decides (via aquatelepathy, I suppose) that Warhead is “not just a machine.”
“There’s a human mind in there,” he says, concluding that Warhead must be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. I totally get that. I mean, it’s totally what would happen to anyone, man or machine, who got shot in the head after half-finishing a holocaust.
During the battle, Warhead repeats that Aquaman is “receptive to contact but resistant to control.” This is sort of the opposite from the college staffers whom Warhead took over when he first woke up on the wrong side of the electrical outlet last issue. He could control them, but apparently had no additional brain footsie. Aquaman, however, does wiggle his mental piggies. And while Warhead is presumably not made from fish parts, the Sea King is able to take control of their mind link and make Warhead see visions of his own — in this case, the full military might of Atlantis. Thus, realizing what he could do with the full might of the Atlantean Army at his command, and being a pacifist at heart, Warhead immediately surrenders. For reals. One minute he’s punch-drunk Pablo and the next he’s all, like, “No mas. No mas.”
Aquaman, who got into a knock-down drag-out trying to keep Warhead out of Atlantis, then promptly offers Warhead political asylum in his underwater kingdom, which doesn’t go over too well with his secret service detail, once they finally succeed in busting into the lab. For his part, Warhead confides that his real name is Siyu.
[Aside: According to UrbanDictionary.com, Siyu is slang for a petite Asian girl of unnatural strength, as in “Siyu got 99 problems, but being a transgender murder-bot with PTSD ain’t one.”]
Before they hightail to Atlantis to await the arrival of New Super-Man (that’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it), Aquaman reveals that while mind-melded to Warhead, he caught a telepathic amplification of . . . well, everyone. At least everyone from as far away as Amnesty Bay. And in a full page collage that promises a fun game of Spot the Photo Reference. Problem is, most of those people Aquaman “heard” didn’t have nice things to think about him.
Finally, after dropping Warhead in Atlantis off panel, Aquaman returns to the real Amnesty Bay — which I’ve decided can stay in Massachusetts, because no self-respecting Mainer would ever paint their lighthouse to look like a barber pole — where he meets a waiting Aquamarine. That group first appeared far enough back that I would need an editor’s note to tell you exactly when. [Editor’s note: Not too far back, thankfully. Major Rhonda Ricoh and her USMC Aquamarines made their first appearance in Aquaman #12 in February 2017. She goes by the codename “Great White,” and can turn into a Shark Lady with enhanced abilities. — R] Anyway, she invites Aquaman to help her fight, at the request of the U.S. government, some serpent fang-face named Dead Water.
. . . and cue “Next Issue” graphic.
The main positive for me this issue is Scott Eaton’s art. The figure work and layouts are workmanlike, in a Rich Buckler kind of way, but they are solid throughout and this book looks almost exactly how I want my super-hero comics to appear. Meanwhile, Wayne Faucher is facile enough with his ink line to provide varying weights, giving the characters real visual interest.
The story itself, however, is more laudable for what it promises than what it actually delivers. Warhead could be a very compelling character and, if handled correctly in the future, collectors may one day clamor for copies of his (or is it her?) debut, last issue, and second appearance, here.
The promise of what is to come also is a positive. When Geoff Johns relaunched Aquaman, the big theme was Arthur Curry’s image issues. After all, he talks to fish! Big joke. But Abnett, with an innate understanding that he can’t keep beating forever the same gong this title has sounded since 2011, deftly swings the pendulum in the other direction. Now, instead of thinking of Aquaman as a joke, people fear him, and that’s no better. So, this series promises to tread some new narrative ground in the near future
I’ve written this review fairly tongue-in-gill, but all of my jokes about Warhead stand. While the character has great potential, either as a supporting player, or continued adversary, or even, if all else fails, as a member of The Others, a lot of what we are given here doesn’t make a lot of sense on the face of things — things up to and including Warhead’s actual face — as in the fact that s/he even has one.
But the biggest problem, for me, is the exposition. It’s a lot of, “Hey, please allow me to tell you all about myself while I punch you around this room.” Sure, there’s “show” in some decently dynamic panels by Eaton & Faucher, but it sure is a LOT of “tell.”
Abnett himself seems to have realized he got a little heavy on the exposition, having Warhead reason at one point, “I was attempting to achieve your assistance through rational appeal.” Still, it would have been nice to have had Aquaman somehow discover Warhead’s origin, rather than simply have Warhead narrate it all between punches.
There is a rumor going around (see, I told you I read Bleeding Cool) that DC has handed down an edict that There Shalt Be Shorter Story Arcs. If that’s true, I applaud that approach. However, most modern writers — and I think that may include Abnett — need to kind of learn how to tell a story in fewer than 10, or eight, or even six issues. I’m worn out on stories that take the better part of a year to work through, with middle chapters that are so mach padding, often leaving me unable to remember most of what happened in the early chapters. Not every comic book series should try to be Watchmen. But the shorter arcs needs to be packed as well, and I don’t feel like Abnett did that. This story did not need to be any longer than it was and kudos to Cunningham, or whoever it may have been above his head, who kept it from sunbathing over six or more. But It almost feels as if Abnett kind of said to himself, “Wow, with only two issues to work with, no way I can cover all the plot ground I need to unless I have one of the characters just puke it all out.”
Still, in many ways, this story reminded me a lot of the comics I grew up with in the 1970s. And I appreciate that. Really, it was good. But just good. For me, there just wasn’t enough there, there, and I can’t help thinking how much better this same two-part tale would have been if published in 1978 as Aquaman #64-65, by Paul Kupperberg and Jim Aparo, instead of in 2017 as #17 -18, by Abnett and Eaton.
Fanboy Rant (a.k.a. Bottom-of-the-Page Dept.)
Technically, this was not Aquaman #18, it was Aquaman #274.
Counting only regular issues titled simply “Aquaman”, and not specials, annuals, mini series like “Time and Tide,” or sub-titled series like “Sword of Atlantis,” That includes:
Aquaman #1-56 (1962-1971)
Aquaman #57-63 (1977-1978)
Aquaman #1-4 (1986)
Aquaman #1-5 (1989)
Aquaman #1-13 (1991-1992)
Aquaman #1-75 (1994-2001)
Aquaman #0 (1994)
Aquaman #1,000,000 (1998)
Aquaman #1-39 (2003-2006)
Aquaman #1-52 (2011-2016)
Aquaman #0 (2012)
Aquaman #23.1-23.2 (2013)
Aquaman #1-18 (2016-now)