Seagoing superheroes make for great comics.
What do seagoing superheroes, mysterious murders and curious cats have in common? They all make for great comics.
Let's start with Aquaman, a character almost everyone's heard of -- and made fun of at one time or another.
Conceptually, it's deserved. Aquaman debuted in 1941, a cheap knockoff of another sea king, the popular Sub-Mariner over at Timely (now Marvel) Comics. But whereas Prince Namor had a volatile and interesting personality, Aquaman was as bland as mayonnaise. And where Namor was incredibly strong, bounced bullets off his chest and could fly, Aquaman could only ... well, all together now: Aquaman swims fast and talks to fish.
All of which has dogged the Sea King ever since. He became a household name thanks to cartoons in the 1960s, but nothing could ever overcome his boringness. Not only was he overshadowed by fellow Justice Leaguers, but even his wife was more interesting. Mera is a gorgeous other-dimensional princess with a fiery disposition and the ability to control and shape water.
DC Comics has made numerous attempts to make a potentially valuable trademark like Aquaman more popular. But as long as all he did was swim fast and talk to fish, that wasn't going to happen. And so it is, at long last, DC has reached the conclusion I did back in the 1960s: For the Marine Marvel to hold his own in a world with Superman, Green Lantern and Mera in it, he had to be more powerful.
And so it has come to be. DC chief creative officer Geoff Johns took a crack at the character when DC relaunched all of its superhero titles last September, and one of the first things he did was make Aquaman strong enough to throw an armored car across several city blocks ... and bounce bullets off his chest.
Even more interesting, Johns tackled the Aquaman-as-joke idea head-on, with the Sea King facing snark from surface-dwellers about talking to fish and being "nobody's favorite superhero." Aquaman crushes that idea pretty early on in this new series, and convincingly so. Which means I can recommend the new collection, "Aquaman Volume 1: The Trench" ($22.99) -- and I am as surprised as I am pleased to say that.
• Rick Geary has released another in his graphic-novel series, "A Treasury of XXth Century Murder," and it's just as deliciously mysterious and well done as all the rest.
Geary, as I've said before, has a wonderfully unique and old-fashioned art style, a sort of cross between cartooning and ancient woodcut -- perfect for period pieces, like his "Murder" series. And I can't say enough what a great historian Geary is, telling us exactly what is known about the various unsolved murders he digs up, and no more, leaving it to the reader to decide.
"Lovers' Lane -- The Hall-Mills Mystery" ($15.99) is just another gem, even though it's not as famous a crime as some others in the series. This double-murder of an adulterous couple set suburban New Brunswick, N.J., all atwitter with saucy speculation in 1922 -- and it has the same effect today.