‘Just Imagine…’ is a series of graphic novels that Stan Lee wrote for DC Comics, reinterpreting many of their iconic superheroes as they would have been had he created them. Paired up with a different artist for each issue, the series completely reinvents our favourite DC heroes and heroines, giving them new looks, powers, histories and personalities.
Each graphic novel tackles a different character and is an origin story with a primary adventure to set the stage for that hero/heroine. The recurring elements are its setting, which is usually Los Angeles, its main villain, Reverend Dominic Darrk (of the Church of Eternal Empowerment) and a mysterious green element that empowers many of the series’ heroes and heroines.
“Holy $#!tballs, Batdude!”, you might say excitedly. “Stan Lee rewrote all of the DC characters?”. Woah, woah! Hold onto your superbritches, lil’ one: the series was not well received and has largely been forgotten since. But we here at TCE were very curious, and we know some of you are too, so we decided to explore each one in turn, giving them the spotlight they deserve.
This week on ‘Just Imagine…’:
Aquaman, by Stan Lee and Scott McDaniel 7.25
I’m no great fan of Aquaman. His name is okay except that it doesn’t suggest power; it suggests a dude made of water. I know it’s not the case, but the notion of underwater adventures with the blonde, blue-eyed King of the Seven Seas, ruler of Atlantis really doesn’t appeal to me. Granted, he’s a few notches above Marvel’s equivalent, Namor, but that’s not saying much; I could easily do without Aquaman and am not especially attached to him.
So, when I tackled Stan Lee’s version of Aquaman, my expectations were low.
This one feels like a Stan Lee creation: Aquaman is not a god, he’s just an environmentalist who used science to absorb the abilities of fish and just happened to be in contact with the green stuff that has been the connecting thread of the series. Now he is a being of water, teaching himself to do all sorts of things (move quickly, cut through things, …etc.), much like The Flash would have. He also has a danger sense, like fish (and Spider-Man, of course) have.
In this book, we mostly have an origin story along with a small encounter with Reverend Darrk: Ramon is an obsessive character who talks his bored girlfriend Amelia’s ear off about his environmental concerns. They have nothing in common. In fact, she seems to have more going with Frank, his brother, who is a police officer and the only person Ramon can confide in. As luck would have it, he unknowingly brings Darrk’s minions to Ramon and a fight ensues.
Honestly, ‘Just Imagine… Aquaman’ wasn’t anything special, but it wasn’t bad either. The biggest gripe that I have is Stan’s cringe-worthy predilection for heavy-handed environmental messaging – and this coming from another environmentalist. I think that the best way to pass on pro-environment messages is to incorporate them matter-of-factly, to not do it in a confrontational way, which puts people on the defensive. Thankfully, this was just in the beginning of the book.
As for this Aquaman’s look and powers, I’ve got to say that I prefer them to the original. Sure, he’s far less powerful or exceptional than the ruler of Atlantis is, but he’s also far more relatable – very much a Stan Lee staple. I kind of like his alien-looking water form, even it’s a bit generic-looking, and his powers seem to make sense to me, all things considered. This version stands on its own two feet, although fans of the original may not like how radically different he is.
Honestly, I actually kind of liked this book, but I think it may be due to my ambivalence to the original character. Admittedly, I was hating it at first, but I warmed up to it quite a bit by the end. The art also took some getting used to, and I continue to have mixed feelings about it. Ultimately, though, this is one of the better entries in the ‘Just Imagine…’ series, and I’d actually read more of this Aquaman just to see where it all goes. It has potential.
On the Street: This vignette by Michael Uslan and Stan Lee follows Aquaman’s brother, Frank, as he tries to prove his mettle now after being bumped from active duty (what with his a mild handicap, having been shot in the main book). The message, that everyone can be a hero, is a bit heavy-handed but ‘On the street’ is too brief for subtlety. It’s alright, no more. And the art is merely okay. Meh.
Next week: Catwoman!