2 out of 5
‘Aquaman’s pretty lame,’ so goeth the very generalized consensus. “Wrongo!” say DC comic writers, kicking off yet another series in the early 00s and setting a handless Arthur Curry in charge of a submerged San Diego (Sub Diego, uh huh), with its populace mutated to breathe underwater. It’s a cheeky enough setup with plenty of one-off issue-filling potential – the politics of running a city and people not set up for underwater livin’ – and writers John Ostrander, John Arcudi, and Marc Guggenheim attempt to meet that potential with massive undersea battles, undersea drug-running, undersea murder mysteries, and, of course, Ocean Master.
“What do you think of Aquaman now?” the writers ask, and then leaf through the issues contained in To Serve and Protect. They offer their own reply: “Oh, I guess he’s pretty lame.”
To be clear, Aquaman, like any comic book character, can either be lame or not lame. Batman can be lame; Aquaman, under, say, Grant Morrison or Mark Waid, was pretty cool. To Serve and Protect has the aforementioned potential, but funkily inked art from Patrick Gleason, a trio of writers not really following each other’s plotlines, and an ongoing sense of “…So why is this a big deal?” haunt the read.
John Ostrander is sort of the odd duck in this collection, getting two issues from – I presume – the end of his storyline which resulted in Sub Diego. Why this wasn’t collected in the previous trade…? A big ol’ baddie is offered up here, along with a big ol’, multi-character war. It’s comic book silly, but it’s got solid Chris Batista art and works as distraction.
Then Arcudi steps in to try and establish the inner workings of Sub Diego with artist Patrick Gleason and… mostly fails. He introduces a drug peddler, which is a storyline that reeks of massive over-simplification (yes, everyone will instantly be addicted to drugs because life sucks), and he then jumps into a two-part Ocean Master tale that feels like too early of an inclusion to step away from that main ‘running a human city’ concept. This is also when we see Christian Alamy solo ink on Gleason and… it’s not great. Gleason has a big and square Mahnke-esque style, but his action framing is confusing; adding to this is the way Alamy seems to drop some finer lines, which makes those big and square figures look very cartoony. Up next is an issue about setting up a police force in Sub Diego…
…Which gets put on hold by two (fill in?) issues by Guggenheim and Andy Clarke. It’s a murder mystery, and it’s very 90s-movie in terms of its twist, i.e. it doesn’t really make any sense. This is more solid than Arcudi’s all-over-the-place issues, but it also should have been condensed down to a single.
To the trade’s credit: it’s fairly priced for eight issues, and has some additional sketches in the back, but it’s also odd that they gave Arcudi solo cover credit.