Pity Aquaman. He's the butt of jokes, the hero most scorned, and the only reason he's not the least successful of the "Big Seven" Justice League members is because Martian Manhunter has never penetrated the general public's sphere of knowledge. Perhaps that's why Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis have made Aquaman their new pet project; to try and push him back into prominence.
So far, "Aquaman" is off to a good start. Johns recognizes the general perception of the hero and attacks it head-on in the form of a blogger that interviews Aquaman at a diner. It's simultaneously an information dump of Aqua-history and a mission statement for the new series, and while the blogger portion is a little too annoying for words, it gets the job done.
It helps that Johns has bookended that scene with some attention-getters. Aquaman going up against bank robbers is a quick demonstration of his power, and his easy dispatch of them and their vehicle is a reminder that this is one tough guy. Sure, it gives Johns a chance for a few more Aquaman jokes from both criminals and police officer alike, but it does firmly establish Aquaman's position (or lack thereof) in the DC Universe.
Then there's the introduction of the (presumably) big villains of this first story arc, and that's where I think we've got the most potential. Johns and Reis appear to be tackling "Aquaman" with the idea that the depths of the ocean might as well be an alien world, an approach they use to great effect. The beings that rise up and attack look almost demonic in form, even as they hearken to real deep-sea creatures that you find at the greatest depths of the ocean. Their translucent skin and huge eyes are just the right adaptations for sea creatures from the deepest, darkest parts of the planet, and their fins and incredibly long teeth make sure that they are menacing as well. Reis' design of these new foes make an instant dangerous first impression.
Then again, in general, Reis and Joe Prado do an excellent job with the art. Aquaman comes across incredibly strong and imposing, and his careful spearing and hoisting of the getaway vehicle comes across as graceful and deliberate. Reis is good at letting his art tell Johns' story without any words; Aquaman's ticked-off look when one of the bullets is able to cause a tiny trickle of blood to run down the side of his face speaks volumes. Going back and looking at the facial expressions of Aquaman when being interviewed, Reis has the Atlantean king hit all sorts of emotions depending on the question and answer. Johns' script is good, but it's Reis who seals the deal into keeping new readers around.
It's been a while since we've had an "Aquaman" series, and while the character has a lot of negative sentiment attached to him, I can't help but think that Johns and Reis can make this work. I know I'd like to read a second issue, especially now that the set-up is done. A strong debut from all parties involved.