Written by Zhou Liefen and Greg Pak
Adapted by Greg Pak
Art by Keng, Pop Mhan and Federico Blee
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The War of the Realms may have wrapped, but the journey’s just beginning for Aero. After her introduction to the Marvel universe at large in War of the Realms: New Agents of Atlas, Aero finds herself once again defending her beloved Shanghai in today’s solo series debut of Aero #1, “Protector of the City.” Originally written by Zhou Liefen with artist Keng as part of a Marvel partnership with Chinese technology company Netease, Aero #1 has been adapted to English by writer Greg Pak, who also delivers a back-up story, “Aero & Wave: Origins & Destinies” featuring Aero and debuting hero Wave, Marvel’s first Filipina hero. Both stories on their own are fine, but it’s the juxtaposition of the two that winds up making Aero #1 feel somewhat flat.
Liefen and Keng’s story is a fairly straightforward origin tale for Aero, who leads a double life as gifted architect Lei Ling. Lei chooses to keep her heroics close to home, hoping that by focusing her efforts on Shanghai she can maintain a careful balance between her superheroics and her civilian life, and in keeping with the bad luck of all superheroes in this regard, finds her carefully compartmentalized life upended by a horrifying new danger that threatens to level Shanghai. The script of Aero #1 is fairly breezy, and heavy on the exposition. Aero spends most of her time in the air, both fighting and taking a shortcut to a date to beat rush-hour traffic (who among us wouldn’t, be honest), and while this provides plenty of opportunities for Keng to deliver some beautiful shots of Shanghai’s skyline, it means Liefen’s script relies heavily on internal monologuing to keep things moving.
Aero is a light and breezy character, for better or worse. We don’t see her interacting much with others, and while Liefen draws a comparison to Lei Ling with Tony Stark and even has her call out her assessment of her well-balanced life as “so cocky,” there’s not much in the story to back that up. Keng draws her with warm, inviting expressions, and most of Liefen’s script is Lei telling us about herself with nothing to back it up. As an incredibly successful architect on engineering marvels like massive skyscrapers, the Tony comparison is probably apt, but we don’t have anyone else’s perspective to consider, and even Lei Ling herself is fairly light on details. By virtue of focusing on Wave’s friendship with Aero, Greg Pak’s Wave origin back-up with a substantially better job imbuing Aero with some emotions — though the difference between Keng’s manga style and Pop Mhan and Federico Blee’s art and colors is so stark that Aero winds up looking like a completely different person between the two books.
The Wave and Aero team-up is a more fast-paced story that packs a lot more punch. Detailing Wave’s unlucky origins and unwilling departure from the superhero team Triumph Division, the series also offers Aero a chance to demonstrate what a devoted and empathetic friend she is — traits that line up with Keng’s charming illustrations and are easy to project back on to the dialogue in the previous story. The sound effect illustrations make a startlingly large impact here, too; they feel more organic and less intrusive, contrasted with the thick blocky letters laid out in straight lines that fill the width of a page or panel in “Protector of the City.” They’re eye-catching in a way that detracts from the action and Keng’s often otherwise gorgeous illustrations.
Aero #1 has some potential, and with luck, future issues will see Aero in more situations that let us learn from her actions, rather than from what she tells us about herself. The addition of Pak, Mhan and Blee’s back-up story makes sense, but the two stories are different both in tone and visual styles, and pairing them together in a single issue doesn’t really do the main Aero #1 story any favors in today’s debut.