Aquaman continues with his merry wet life after Mera accuses him of having weak genes, murdering their child, and then whirlpooling away from him forever and ever. And in the mid-1990s, because everything had to be extreme with lots of ‘tude, Aquaman received a makeover as well. He no longer wears a shirt, had one of his replaced hands with a hook, and grew a beard to show off his shirtless hook-hand ruggedness. But today in Aquaman #11-15, written by Peter David and drawn by Marty Egeland & J. Calafiore, that painful reminder of his past (Mera) returns once more for a weird story involving multiple dimensions and demons and alternative Aquamans. But first, this:
Meet Aquaman’s paramour Dolphin. Not the animal, you probably already know about those. That’s her only name too, by the way. She has all the normal Aquaman-like superpowers and eventually gets impregnated by Aquaman’s sidekick Aqualad. But because we’re reading a comic book, we save lengthy discussions for after the post-coital fistfight. Why explain when you can punch?
Of course this has to happen. Young boys read comics, and young boys want two women to headbutt each other fighting over their man. You’re probably wondering where she went these five years she’s been absent (well, real time for five years, DC universe time for a few months). Don’t you worry, she’ll tell you — after some more cattiness.
See? I told you this arc was strange. That’s an alternative dimension Aquaman-like dude called Thanatos. I’m telling you this mainly because I’m skipping over his entire storyline. He’s abusive, evil, and dating/stuck with Mera or whatever their alternative dimension relationship status is. Y’see, after Aquaman, Mera, and Dolphin travel to Mera’s current home, Aquaman fights in jungles, gladiator arenas, and the French Revolution. Seriously. You should buy this book if you want to see Aquaman on a guillotine.
It’s actually a place called the Netherworld, but close enough to Hell. I know the series sets up for a love triangle (though brief) between Aquaman, Dolphin, and Mera, but the back of our minds know the truth. Aquaman and Mera are meant for each other. Look, Spider-Man can date whoever he wants. It’s fun. It’s good for drama and story. But we all know the end result — he’ll eventually get back with Mary Jane because they’re meant for each other. So let Aquaman have his dalliances, his hook-hand mid-life crisis, and all the delightful soap opera that comes with Aquaman and Mera’s history — but we know the end result. Even if it takes years (and it does).
They find a way back to their own dimension through Aquaman’s wizard frenemy. Aquaman and Mera don’t get back together for another fifty-ish issues or so. After all, they have a Mariana Trench worth of problems and history to work out. Oh, and also this:
Next time, we begin the long road to reconciliation! Let’s all get excited for love!
In our previous part, Aquaman and Mera got back together again after their marriage tore apart from the death of their child. Now it gets torn apart again, because happy endings don’t bring in readers. So while today’s story is all about tragedy and political uprisings and revolutions and everything that makes a superhero story great — we’re here to complete our mission for Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. At the command of our leader Reid Vanier and Modern Mythologies, my job is to hopefully bring awareness on one of the injustices that comic books committed against their women — in this case the differences in emotional outbursts between the fish king and his fishie wife. And exactly like part two, Aquaman’s the picturesque self-confident do-gooder against Mera’s wild insane ramblings/attacks. And sure, it’s not totally fair that the writers portray Mera in this manner, but on the other hand, her child did die. So she has that excuse.
We’re in the late ’80s, eleven years after Part 2. Our story took a eleven year break — or the amount of time it took for Aquaman to get another solo series after his previous one wrapped up in 1978. Currently, underwater war:
I love this scene just for the brilliant notion of Aquaman screaming, “Nobody’s beating up on my woman!” Can we see how sweet it actually is, simply because of the “stable or not” comment? Our Atlantean king punches his own dudes (who are absolutely in the right) just because they’re trying to restrain his crazy wife. It’s romantic, right? Probably?
But now the comparisons arise once more: Mera says some really mean things in the next dozen pages while Aquaman works tirelessly to keep her from hurting herself and the man she loves.
Sure, Aquaman could use his manly hands to knock her out, but that’s not what superheroes do. Despite Mera being a superhero. So just like when Green Lantern killed the entire Green Lantern Corps during those few confusing years he became a supervillain, Mera’s attempt to murder her husband forever glues itself to Mera’s lists of faults and mistakes. Remember, some people still haven’t forgiven Hank Pym for backhanding his wife Wasp (who routinely gets injured ten times worse every issue or so in battle), and that happened almost thirty-five years ago.
But can we all agree that Mera’s biggest fault is her style? If mold shopped at Chico’s, we’d have Mera’s outfit.
By this point, Mera’s the full-on antagonist of this issue. Anyone who shouts lines like a bad Bond villain is definitely in the wrong here. Aquaman’s pleading and emasculating himself so he doesn’t have to lay a hand on his wife. What superheroics! But poor Mera, she crossed from irrational to evil. You all love melodrama, right? Get ready for this gem:
Here’s what makes this moment sad (and it’s not that she died, because y’know, comic books): Mera believes her craziness now. Her insane beliefs wrapped around her long enough to squeeze out any skeptical ideas from that distraught brain of hers. She spends the next few years of comics 100% understanding that Aquaman killed their kid and he’s the worst half-human/half-Atlantean that ever walked/swam this planet. If anything can relate to what Reid wants us to be aware of, it’s that this change in her personality serves only to add drama to Aquaman’s already pretty full plate of soap opera. Or to sum it up, a woman being hurt only to further a man’s story. Oh, and now comes the meanest line of the arc:
Weak genes, right? I’d call it a burn but they’re underwater, so that won’t work. Can’t you feel Professor X squirm uncomfortably as you read that line? And let’s be fair, while Mera’s not exactly Atlantean (she’s sort of a water alien?) Aquaman’s half-and-half genetics make him far stronger than both humans and Atlanteans, so what’s she complaining about?
As we wrap up today, hopefully with a larger understanding of treating female superheroes/supporting characters with the respect, love, and fairness they deserve (that was the goal, anyway), there’s only one way to properly end our week-long sad-fest: Aquaman collapsed in a heap of tears.
Mera may not, but I still love you, Aquaman.
As we left off last time, Aquaman and Mera’s son died in a horrible oxygen/reverse-drowning tragedy. Today, we get to see two parents adjust to the loss of their child, so spoiler alert: it’s going to be a bummer. But I want you to focus on why I bring this story up: the frustrating nature in which Aquaman’s coping skills vary tremendously with Mera’s — Aquaman’s proud kingly mourning versus the insane irrational rage Mera exhibits.
Look, I don’t do outrage very well. I don’t like any Facebook political statuses, I don’t chide anyone who says offensive stuff, and I try to live my life through a self-defeated wall of shrugging apathy. I’m doing this as a favor to Modern Mythologies just so I can further get their name out as one of my favorite (and enviable) comic book blogs. To be fair, I crave attention and I’ll do practically anything anyone e-mails me about, and while I don’t want to take any wind from the sail of Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign — which is deadly serious and absolutely needs proper awareness — this is not the type of article I’m particularly good at. So you and I are going to work together for the next two articles. I’ll do my best to point out the differences in Aquaman versus Mera and you’ll do your best to understand why Mera’s being unfairly portrayed, how this relates to women in comic book universes, and what you should do to solve this problem. I know I’m asking way more of you than me, but I already did my part a year ago in my article Nothing romantic about Harley Quinn & Joker. We’re even now, right? Please?
We jump to Aquaman’s solo series for a solo Mera story. Aquababy’s on life support.
Impossible mission cliché aside, Mera’s more powerful than Aquaman. She’s stronger than him, faster than him, tougher than him, and she can even make constructs of water (like a wet Green Lantern ring). What’s Vulko complaining about Mera not being able to handle it? She’s a superhero. She fights bad guys for a living — think of her more of Xena: Warrior Princess than Queen Elizabeth. Vulko’s just being rude. I mean, anything Aquaman can do, Mera can do better. Except peeing standing up. Or summon fish. Or join the Justice League.
The cover of Aquaman #62 is that super famous one I’m sure you’ve seen before. It’s when covers were not just pictures of the starring superhero lying unconscious in front of a sneering adversary. No, they had stuff like words on them to unnecessarily increase the melodrama to an uncomfortable level of disbelief. Also, this is the point where Mera starts to lose it. Watch the difference between her and her husband.
So why’s Mera the one going crazy and not Aquaman? Let’s knock out all the reasons. First, DC superheroes don’t have flaws (except Batman who has enough for the rest of them). Aquaman lacks the character weaknesses necessary for him to go emotionally off-the-wall. Seriously, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman — they don’t have the crippling personality issues that Marvel’s superheroes do, and DC (somewhat appropriately) places their superheroes high above both the morality and physicality of normal people. It’s the definition of a superhero. Second, imagine if Aquaman threatened to kill his wife. Blamed her for killing their child. Began to strangle her. His series would be cancelled overnight now much less in the 1970s. It has to be his supporting cast — and a female — if domestic abuse is to be tolerated by readers.
Now take that previous scene and compare it to Aquaman’s mourning method.
The only difference is that despite Aquaman’s incredible surge of emotions, he doesn’t lose control. Nope, he’s the Eminem of underwater ocean kings who dress like seaweed. For our ending today (everything goes to hell next time) — there’s only one thing that upsets me about their (brief) reconciliation: Aquaman never apologizes. He never so much as admits a fraction of regret that Aquababy’s death was his fault. That Mera’s fragile emotional state was somewhat caused by his actions. That he did anything but act as the most perfect superhero of all time. Even Superman feels guilt, and he’s practically a god.
I’m stopping here because so does Aquaman’s solo series (after the finale next issue) for eleven years. The divorce of Aquaman and Mera due to her irrational behavior takes a decade break between stories. Next time, we time warp to 1989, riding the dark gray flood of grit and misery that so defined that era of comics. Sorry for a second time.
While we read comic books for the punching as well as the relationships, rarely do the two mesh well together. November 25th through December 10th is Amnesty International‘s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s okay if you didn’t know — I’m going to assume that if you love superheroes you also subscribe to the basic morality of not physically, emotionally, or mentally abusing women. So to celebrate (that’s probably the wrong word) this awareness event, Reid Vanier, my favorite comic book academic and his website Modern Mythologies, is spearheading this campaign as it relates to comic books — the form of literature you and I are quite fond of And I don’t have to tell you that both DC and Marvel have a long history of being wildly unfair/cruel to their fictional women, right? I’ll leave it to smarter people than me to break down the more famous infractions (and once again, I urge you to visit Modern Mythologies), but there is one DC story that I think readers tend to gloss over.
I present to you, in promotion of Amnesty International, the unfair/cruel treatment of Aquaman’s wife Mera after their child died. I use the following issues in order:
Adventure Comics #451-452, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Jim Aparo
Aquaman #57-63, volume one, written by Michelinie & Paul Kupperberg and drawn by Aparo, Don Netwon, John Celardo, Bob McLeod, & Dave Hunt
Aquaman Special #1, written by Keith Giffen & Robert Loren Fleming and drawn by Curt Swan
Aquaman #1-5, volume three, written by Giffen & Fleming and drawn by Swan
We jump back to the late ’70s, deep in the Bronze Age of comics, which is like the Silver Age just with a slight shift in more “adult”/socially-aware plots. Not porn, but more like the writers and artists dipping their toes in the pool of dark grittiness before submerging and consequently drowning themselves in that pool during the late ’80 and early ’90s. And we start with the perfect example of the socially-relevant Bronze Age — Black Manta, Aquaman’s arch-nemesis, reveals his face for the first time in comics:
Yes, Black Manta wants the oceans to belong to African-Americans because of the mistreatment of them on the surface. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s quickly abandoned and his motivations are re-tooled in later issues. Most importantly, Black Manta has kidnapped Aquaman and Mera’s child Aquababy (not his official name). Like all fantastic villains, the only way Black Manta’ll release the child is if Aquaman and Aqualad needlessly and complicatedly battle to the death in an ocean gladiator arena.
Remember, Gwen Stacy’s death in 1973 broke everything comics held dear about the rules of death. Also, that’s another example of comic injustice to a woman that shouldn’t be forgotten, but that event’s already been covered to death (sorry, another bad choice of words). During the late 1970s, Aquaman got Daredevil’d before Daredevil ever did. His son dies, he’s dethroned by a supervillain, he’s forced into exile, and soon he has to fight his crazy distraught wife. But first things first: Black Manta killed his son, so Black Manta has to die. An eye for an eye. Oh, and want to see the most Aquaman-esque page you’ll ever see? Here he is fighting a giant squid:
You know what comes up next: that pivotal (clichéd) moment every superhero must face as their morality’s tested by their vengeance. And you also know how Aquaman’s going to respond. It hurts book sales to have the king of the ocean punch a hole in Black Manta’s face, or at least angers the readers’ mothers.
We end here today. I know Mera didn’t even show up, but she’s front and center for the next two parts. Spoiler alert: everything from this point on will be frustrating and sad. Sorry.
Instead my normal lengthy introduction, let’s start with some pages:
That’s right — in the comic book universe, good deeds always end up with a mob of supervillains ganging up on you. Deadshot learns this the hard way. So in Deadshot #5, volume two, written by Christos Gage and drawn by Steven Cummings, Deadshot gets to end his miniseries in a bang — and a fight against a dozen superpowered supervillains. I know you’re not really sure who to cheer for — sure Deadshot’s the protagonist, but it’s not like you’d want the Joker or Lex Luthor or Gorilla Grodd to win if they received their own five issues. Bad guys can’t win, because then the world would suck. But Deadshot got into this mess by wanting his illegitimate daughter and her former prostitute mother to live in a neighborhood free from crime and violence. And that’s worth cheering for, right?
We can go back to the fight. While Deadshot doesn’t have any cool superpowers like the snake lady and dude-with-a-mace-for-a-hand supervillains above, he does have plenty of other useful tools like, say, bullets. But are his skills alone be enough for him to take out a dozen supervillains in the suicide mission for his future and happiness? See? I’m getting better at building tension.
Unfortunately, the status quo must be restored, and that includes Deadshot returning to his life of apathetic crime. Comic book bad guys can’t get happy endings (well, I guess neither can the good guys). At least in his battle royale, a horde of embarrassing supervillains get taken off the map. Green Arrow’ll need to send Deadshot flowers after this, just for saving him a good three or four bank robberies of baddies to clean up later.
Skaboom indeed. Look, I’m not happy about this either. We’re suckers for tales of redemption, but artistically, the stories always turn out better when the hero has to tragically give up his dreams for the safety of those he loves. So in retaliation to me having to wipe away my own tears (and to be fair to me, this was five issues of build up leading to this moment), I’m not going to show you the ending of the miniseries. I mean, I pretty much gave it away, but I’m denying you the satisfaction of reading it yourself. You need to buy this book — it’s that good.
Next time, some Aquaman stuff!
Simple premise: let’s take DC’s two best marksman and have them shoot each other. Boom, easy money. I love it. And poor Green Arrow, using a children’s toy reserved for summer camps having to go up against another children’s toy reserved for summer camps (in some of the more southern parts of the country). We as a society stopped using bows and arrows once we could make buffalo explode with a single click. Have you heard of bow hunters? It’s a real sport for people who think hunting deer with rifles is too easy, but it doesn’t compare to my new sport: you hunt deer naked and can only kill them with your bare hands. Look, it’s late and my sleep medicine just kicked in hard, so let’s do this.
In a miniseries you should absolutely get because it’s amazing, we’re reading parts of Deadshot #1-5, volume two, written by Christos Gage and drawn by Steven Cummings. If you need a recap of first miniseries, allow Firebug to do it for you:
But y’see, he has an illegitimate child with an escort from way back he didn’t know about until the beginning of this miniseries. And they live in a really awful part of town. While Deadshot (real name Floyd Lawton) may not have emotions like love or happiness, like hell is his child going to grow up in a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. So he cleans it up. Violently. Because he’s in Star City and he’s murdering truckloads of gang members, the local city’s superhero is bound to notice sooner or later.
Green Arrow’s at a fairly large disadvantage here. Bullets tend to be much faster than arrows and Green Arrow isn’t even wearing sleeves. But you know how the superhero business works — even the non-powered superheroes have talents far beyond what a normal person would ever be capable of. Disagree? Tell that to Batman’s dozens of martial arts and doctorate degrees.
I’d like to ask a question that seems to be popping up about comics recently: why can’t we just enjoy them? Reddit links constantly to my Deathstroke fights the entire JLA article, and while I’m eternally grateful for the bump in hits (as those are directly tied to my self-esteem), every comment on their website writes paragraphs calling “bull” on the fight. My response? Who cares? These are fictional characters in colorful clothing with skills and ability dictated entirely by the writer, so can we just bask in a cool fight scene without the unnecessary outrage? Look, Green Arrow probably can’t dodge a hailstorm of Deadshot’s bullets in real life, but he also wears a mask despite having a full Van Dyke beard. In summary, I get that Transformers may contain some incredulous moments during their fight scenes, but it doesn’t make me enjoy robots punching other robots any less.
Ironically, Deadshot became the Robin Hood of this neighborhood instead of Green Arrow. Like all great supervillains, Deadshot’s far more complicated than at first glance. Because while he’s cleaning up the neighborhood entirely for selfish reasons, he’s totally improving the lives of the hundreds that live there. I mean, it doesn’t make up for the hundreds he’s assassinated, but you get the idea. Comic book superheroes love those whose moral code involves rehabilitation and second chances, but comic book civilians always tend to favor those who opt for a more permanent solution to evil. Like murdering gang members.
A feel good ending! And to make sure that your warm fuzzy feeling bursts into the bloody sadness pile it’ll always end up at when you read comics, let’s continue with another scene from this miniseries on Friday. It’s really hard to find this book in stores, even online, and I don’t think the creative team would mind. Also on an unrelated note, the more Green Arrow I read, the more I adore him.
Before we get into our the modern day Deadshot, we really need to touch upon his long-forgotten character development of the late 1980s. You want to know why the man’s callousness and apathy pervades so strongly in all his stories? Well, it deals with his first miniseries Deadshot #1-4, written by John Ostrander & Kim Yale and drawn by Luke McDonnell. Also, Deadshot’s an evil supervillain, so let’s not get all sympathetic here, but it’s worth a note. The master marksman comes across his miniseries’ problem:
Surprise! Despite being a terrible father, Deadshot has a son (though it is in the title of the article). You know how bad guys outnumber good guys like 10-to-1 in the comic book world? If they just united, they could easily take down all the do-gooders and destroy/rule the world to their liking. But the problem with being evil is that instead of teamwork, bad guys’ll do bad things to each other. Because they’re bad. That’s how it works. Most importantly, the stakes go much higher than a simple kidnapping — this is gritty post-1986 we’re talking about. Meet the pedophile:
Look, comic books sometimes handle wildly uncomfortable topics. Molestation, rape, etc. And honestly, I get that comics deal with issues like that and some comics should, but honestly? I don’t really like that stuff in my DC and Marvel. I know it’s hypocritical if just because of the crazy mass murder committed that I don’t bat an eye about, but if the main character wears spandex and has a cape, can we just stick to the non-creepy crimes? I mean, the idea of Superman solving an incest case or something? The thought of that alone makes me want to chug something strong. But today, we’re getting pedohpilia — I can handle it, unlike say, Deadshot.
How do these people possibly think Deadshot is going to react? He’s in Batman’s rogue gallery, for goodness sake, the meanest, pettiest, most irrational group of supervillains in the DC universe. Seriously, what is the homicide rate in Gotham City? Half? Though you can’t hate Deadshot’s detective skills — he just holds them at gunpoint until they give him what he wants. Has Batman tried that? It’s way easier than research and lab work. Also, here’s what happens when a group of henchmen kidnap the son of the most accurate marksman on the planet.
You can probably guess where this is going. Pedophiles don’t usually do anything chivalrous when no one’s keeping watch on them. Chris Hansen isn’t going to step out and ask this pervert to take a seat. I understand your uneasiness right now, but at least you’ll get to witness every single one of these henchmen — who let the kid run off with a pedophile — get very much what they deserve. By that I mean a bullet in the head.
Yeah, so daddy’s angry. Even with my hyper-liberal leanings, I’m all for capital punishment on molesters. No therapy will kill that attraction. Regardless of this being a fictional universe where none of these characters actually exist, the next few pages fill that broken part of my soul that the previous page shattered. And now you can probably understand why Deadshot keeps anyone who could get emotionally close far, far, far away from him. Watch this monster get what he deserves:
Deadshot’s mom orchestrated the kidnapping of his son. This man never stood a chance of not being evil. For what this 20 year-old job is the bad guys wanted him to do, what’s the secret involving Deadshot’s family, and the confrontation between mother and son, you’ll have to buy the book. I’m sorry. Next time, we jump to his even-harder-to-find second mini-series for his fight against Green Arrow!