Sunday, November 16, 2014

Unearthed: "Revelations" by Christopher Priest & Eric Battle

Completing my three-day appreciation of Christopher Priest, I'm turning the clock back to 1998 and JLA 80-Page Special#1, featuring the story "Revelations" by Priest and artist Eric Battle. Earlier, I featured another of Priest's stories from the 80-Page Giants: "The Game"; I only learned of this tale thanks to J. Caleb Mozzocco.

At merely 10 pages it's a quick story, so it says something that people remember this tale so many years later.

We open with Wonder Woman responding to a distress call sent by Aquaman. Wearing a rebreather, she dives underwater to rendezvous with him. This tale is during Aquaman's hooked, bearded, frowny days and he's definitely crabby with his teammate from the outset. "I just-- expected J'onn -- or Superman--" he complains. The problem is a fairly simple one to solve, it merely requires an extra set of hands: a band of underwater treasure hunters submerged into an Atlantean labyrinth and now their craft is stuck; to add insult to injury, the underwater "gold" is fool's gold. Aquaman can't free the vessel alone, but with Wonder Woman's help he might succeed.

As they begin to work on the problem, using Wonder Woman's lasso to tow the vehicle, Wonder Woman wonders why Aquaman seems more grouchy than usual.

"Sometimes it's just easier to fence off the world. And, the truth of it is-- I spend a lot of time wondering what I'm doing in the JLA to begin with, Princess--"

"--Diana, Arthur. Unless you prefer I call you 'my lord.'"

"Actually-- I would."

Aquaman continues to grouch along, calling her "a little vapid and boring" and hates how people assume they "have anything at all in common simply because we're both royalty." Then his secret comes out: "I can't find any rational reason-- why I want you so badly." Wonder Woman deduces he's become tangled in her Lasso of Truth, hence his session of truth-telling. Unfortunately, this is carried entirely by the dialogue because the artist doesn't bother to show it all. Hey, it's only the incident the entire story depends on, no big deal.

Their conversation is interrupted by a second team of treasure hunters - these, figures wearing diving suits and carrying weaponry. Wonder Woman's communicator is knocked out so Aquaman monologues the rest of the underwater scenes solo, continuing to remark "wish they'd sent J'onn." However, now that she can't hear him and he's not wrapped in the lasso, he also remarks she's "part of the reason I remain with the JLA" and "I don't like to be alone with you."

They successfully fend off their attackers and save the submerged craft, but Aquaman is somewhat sheepish over what he admitted to her before. When he wonders if he can trust her to "keep this incident between us," she responds by swimming close to him and pressing her hand against his cheek. "Arthur -- my lord king --" and then she dives underwater, leaving him rattled and confused.

"Yes... well... glad we got that settled... wish they'd sent J'onn..."

Thoughts: While not wishing to psychoanalyze Priest, I do recall one of his essays described a relationship he'd wanted to pursue which didn't pan out - he wound up in "the friend zone," to use current parlance. He seems to put Aquaman through something similar here through the hero lusting after Wonder Woman while realizing such a relationship probably wouldn't work and his feelings probably wouldn't be reciprocated.

I don't know DC Comics continuity particularly well so I can't say whether this characterization of Aquaman & Wonder Woman holds (ahem) water. I do find it interesting to note that when people try to pair Wonder Woman off with one of her peers in the League (because that's what strong, independent women want, right? to be someone's "and..."), they pair her with Superman because they have similar power levels (and he's popular!) or Batman because they're children of royalty (and he's popular!). Poor unpopular Aquaman actually seems like a decent choice for her, given they originated in warrior-culture hidden lands with deep mystical/mythological connections. Then again, perhaps that's why they couldn't ever work out, they'd be all like, "Oh my gods, you follow Neptune? What's wrong with Artemis?" "I can't stand listening to the Greek pantheon, give me the Romans any time." "They're the same gods starfish-brain!"

Eric Battle's art is an unfortunate demerit; as noted above, he doesn't capture the Aquman-tangled-in-lasso moment at all and in general his panels don't tell the story; you could redialogue this tale into almost anything. The load is left upon Priest to carry the tale with his scripting and, fortunately, Priest was (and is) a fantastic scripter. The art isn't up to the same standard as Cary Nord in "the Game," but this is a minor triumph in Priest's bibliography. This one was definitely worth unearthing!

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