This review originally appeared on Comics Now. Repurposed with permission.
Aquaman is a smash success, owing in large part to the enchanting world of people, places, and mythology that it brings to the screen. For over a year, we’ve heard stories of “Star Wars under the sea,” and the film manages to deliver an even more imaginative adventure than such a comparison suggests.
Titan’s The Art and Making of Aquaman peels back the curtain on the film’s production, giving insight into director James Wan and leading man Jason Momoa’s vision for the film, as well as the tireless work of artists and visual effects personnel that brought DC’s underwater hero from comics, to cinematic development, to the final product that we now enjoy in theaters. But how well does the book realize its purpose? Is it worth the twenty-eight bucks you’ll pay for it on Amazon? Read on to find out.
A note about format
Lots of books work well in a digital format, but this isn’t one of them. Sure, the quality of graphics is high in digital, but the physical version is hefty and wide, and the feel of the high-quality paper and the widescreen view of the foldout pages, are things that you can’t accurately reproduce by pinch-zooming an iPad screen. The Art and Making of Aquaman is a very well-made physical object, with a beautiful dust jacket and a nice, understated hard cover underneath it. If this book interests you, do yourself a favor and go for the real thing.
I was one of those people who thought that casting Jason Momoa as Aquaman was a mistake. But his performance in this film—and even a little bit in Justice League—endeared him to me, and I’m glad he’s in the role. As such, I love the actor’s forward to this book. It provides insight into what the character means to him, as well as some of the challenges inherent in making the film. Wan’s introduction is likewise illuminating, and I was particularly impressed with how much the difficulty of making Aquaman fueled his desire to make it.
Origins and history
As you might expect, the book covers the comic book origin and history of the Aquaman character, and for the most part, I find it informative and interesting. If I have a complaint, it’s that there’s a sizable gap in his history between the Silver Age and Geoff John’s New 52 run. This is a big omission in general, but when you consider the aesthetic influence that some of the 90’s Aquaman comics had on the Arthur Curry of the film, it seems particularly odd to make no mention of them.
Characters and worlds
We get detailed biographical information on the major players in the film, and I love all of it. My personal highlight—Black Manta—will surprise no one who regularly reads my articles, and there are plenty of excellent images from concept and the finished film itself. But I also loved the pages on Mera, and the concept art illustrating the development of her amazing formal wear from the movie’s first Arthur/Orm showdown.
The biographies are enlightening, as well, though I did spot an error: the book attributes the naming of Arthur to his mother, Atlanna, but it was actually his father Tom who chose the name in the film. Comics fans will also be surprised to learn (if they didn’t in the film’s credits) that Manta’s name is David Kane, not David Hyde—though that is not a factual error in the book, but a decision made by the filmmakers.
The film’s many locales are one of its strongest points, contributing to its Indiana Jones-esque sense of adventure, and this book does some of its brightest shining when dealing with them. We get concept art for the various kingdoms and their denizens, and there’s even a foldout illustration of the iconic scene where Arthur and Mera dive through the a horde of Trench warriors. Descriptions from the film’s visual developers highlight goals and challenges, hinting at the mountain of hard work that went into making it all look so seamless in the final product.
Beyond the factual inaccuracies mentioned earlier, there is one other shortcoming that pervades The Art and Making of Aquaman: the writing isn’t really the greatest. This isn’t a huge problem, as the draw of this book is the information it conveys and the widescreen artwork and photographs accompanying it. But if you plan on reading through all of the text, know that it isn’t always the smoothest experience, and you should look at this as more of a rich, full-color encyclopedia of the film than a quality work of nonfiction prose. And again, that’s not really a problem that weighs heavily—just understand what the book is and take it on those terms.
The Art and Making of Aquaman is an incredibly rewarding companion to James Wan’s film. Filled with behind-the-scenes info, gorgeous concept artwork, and insight into the filmmakers’ overall vision, it’s a source of new appreciation for first-time readers, and an evergreen reminder of the effort and artistry that went into crafting the most unique and adventurous DC film ever made.
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