Ten quid on cancelled by Christmas 2012 …. Aquaman and the problem of third tier heroes

Published On April 3, 2011 | By Richard Bruton | Comics

(Evan Shaner’s motivational Aquaman – a lot more confident than I’d be if I were Aquaman.)

Geoff Johns had this to say on his Twitter last week:

“Announced at Megacon: After BRIGHTEST DAY I’ll be moving over to a new book – AQUAMAN #1 coming later this year!!”

A new Aquaman series with art by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado. Gosh – my immediate thought was that they may as well announce the book’s cancellation along with the launch. In fact, they might as well just call it a limited series and have done with it.

Now I know this will tick some folks off, and I’m not deliberately trying to, but really, surely by this time we can relegate the King Of The Bloody Seas to that group of characters who will never, ever, not in a million years, no matter who writes them, ever, make a monthly comic book work.

(Aquaman Series 1, issue 1, 1962 and Series 2, issue 1, 1991)

Obviously Geoff Johns doesn’t think so. Take this interview from CBR last year:

“He’s a character that everybody knows. He has had successful runs in the past, and I guess he’s probably more well known to the general public than Green Lantern even is at this point – though that will change soon with the film.”

“…..But honestly, Aquaman is one of DC’s biggest characters to the global audience. I think he’s incredibly valuable and integral and has a role to play in the DC Universe. Now, it’s just a matter of finding that role, celebrating it and pushing him forward.”

But when I heard the announcement of Geoff Johns’ new Aquaman series I started to think about characters from Marvel and DC. And you’ll forgive me for this sweeping set of generalisations……

In truth, there are three tiers of comic characters with the big two companies when it comes to selling comics with their name on the cover:

Top tier: Big legacy characters, the ever popular, the iconic – your Batmans, Supermans, Spider-Mans, Flashs and Green Lanterns. They will continue to be popular, a long standing brand with success in the past pointing to success in the future.

Second tier: Radical reinventions, that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, basically third tier characters pushed up to this tier by writers. Think Grant Morrison reinventing Animal Man, Alan Moore reinventing Swamp Thing. But often these radical reinventions, no matter how successful, are temporary, no matter how long lived they are. Take Swamp Thing for example; 80 odd issues with first Moore and then Rick Veitch and then a slow, painful slide baack to B-character or worse status. And then we have to admit that, although these characters can shine when placed under the right writer’s wing, in truth, they’re failures.

Which brings us to the final, bottom, third tier – the failures, the bit parts, the supporting cast, the perennial team members, the never manage to support a continuing series. Ever.

Guess which category Aquaman fits into?

(Aquaman Series 3, issue 0, 1994 and Series 4, issue 1, 2003)

And alongside the God Of The Seas you’ll find She-Hulk, Silver Surfer, The Thing, Black Panther, Dr Fate, Green Arrow, The Question, Deadman, and I’m so sure you can add your own examples in somewhere. Yes, we could have a big point by point, character by character argument about it, but generally I’m not wrong with this am I?

And when I was thinking this, I thought I’d pick on Aquaman, sorry Aquaman fans. And I found the figures out – 248 comics, 12 series (including isolated one shots and mini series) in the 49 years since his first solo Silver Age appearance in 1962. That’s about 5 issues a year. Which doesn’t sound all that bad. But it’s the fact that he’s had 4 series and countless minis and specials  across that time. That just tells me he’s a character that lots of people like (Geoff Johns included obviously) and keep thinking they can do better, they can change him, they can make him popular, they can make the fans like him.

And for a while they can, maybe for a few years they can. But in the end, no matter what, no matter who writes or draws the character, the end always comes. And that’s what makes Aquaman third tier. And that’s why this fifth series of Aquaman has cancellation chalked in already, even before it starts.

There you go. Aquaman fans, start shouting now.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

8 Responses to Ten quid on cancelled by Christmas 2012 …. Aquaman and the problem of third tier heroes

  1. A Cheverton says:

    While I wouldn’t disagree about Aquaman’s status (notwithstanding his utterly wonderful Tick-inspired Batman: The Brave and the Bold incarnation), there is a lot of gold to be discovered in these scraping-the-barrel characters. For my money, Mark Millar’s pre-cancellation run on Swamp Thing was the best the series had had since Moore’s glory days – a criminally ignored take on the character, and heights to which Millar has never again reached.

    Also – John Byrne’s She-Hulk, Lee & Moebius’s Silver Surfer (as well as a lovely ’90s run by DeMatteis and Muth), the Marvel Knights’ Black Panther series by Christopher Priest, DeMatteis and McManus’s Dr Fate, Mike Baron and Kelley Jones’s two Deadman minis. Nobody would ever claim these are characters as iconic as Spider-Man and Batman, but in the right hands, every once in a while, there’s some gems to be found.

  2. A Cheverton says:

    Your website has eaten my comment, which was long, insightful and considered, but which I did not copy before posting, and is now lost. ;o(

    • Richard says:

      Andrew – your comment wasn’t eaten, just temporarily devoured by over-eager hungry spam filters…. but it’s back now.

      I agree with you about the fact that third tier characters can provide some great runs – indeed, their third tier status may even allow the writer to do something a bit more interesting than they could with one of the big characters.
      But these runs are always temporary, and the third tier are destined for failure each and every time.

  3. EJ says:

    I don’t agree, as is evident by his portrayal and reception in Brightest Day i’d say Aquaman is about to break out big time thanks to Johns and Reis.

    To me the character is alot more popular than some people would have you believe there’s just never been a writer and a take that drew in people who liked him. I like Aquaman but have no interest in reading about the bearded hook version that Peter David wrote. I want to read about classic Aquaman with a more updated yet still badass portrayal and that’s what Johns has done with him.

    • Richard says:

      EJ; I wasn’t speaking as someone who’s read any Aquaman recently – merely looking at it from the outsiders point of view. As for the “there’s never been a writer…..” thing, the point is that some characters, no matter who writes them can never truly break out and become top tier types. Aquaman under Johns may be a great series. But like Mark says in the comments – as soon as he goes, it’s countdown to cancellation time.

      The big boys; your Batmans and Supermans, Spider-Mans and Hulks – they keep going no matter who writes them, no matter how bad it is. They are genuine top tier characters. Aquaman, sorry to say, no matter how much you like him, is definitely not.

  4. It’ll last as long as Johns stays on it, then he’ll leave, they’ll give the title over to some other jobbing hack, and it’ll be cancelled about a year later.

  5. A Cheverton says:


    (Apologies for lack of a proper sarcasm smiley on that second comment!)

  6. Matt Badham says:

    I will buy this new series if they give him a big gun that shoots water on three settings:

    1) Dyed water that stains evil-doers, but leaves the pure of heart unblemished (but wet.)

    2) Holy water for fighting vampires. (His new arch-enemy should be a sea vampire king in charge of a race of sea vampires.)

    3) Water that, like the energy/light from Green Lantern’s ring, can be shaped into anything that Aquaman can visualise.

    I also want them to give Aquaman a new side-kick, a zombie haddock called Aquahaddock.

    Are you listening, DC? Are you!?!