By: Tony Bedard (writer), Ardian Syaf (penciller), Vicente Cifuentes (inker), Kyle Ritter (colorist)

The Story: If this deal doesn’t go through, we’re sunk.

The Review: In my mind, there are actually few truly bad writers in the comics biz—just writers who do certain things well and other things not so well.  Certainly you have your top all-rounders who can pretty much write the phonebook and make it a page-turner, and you have your hacks that can’t produce anything readable no matter the genre.  But don’t overlook the writers who, when they can play to their strengths, offer some pretty worthwhile goods.

I’ve often criticized Bedard for his clear limitations as a writer, which we’ve seen in his runs on R.E.B.E.L.S. and Green Lantern Corps: he can’t seem to manage an ensemble cast very well, nor can he give credit to a plot with much complexity.  But we shouldn’t ignore the points where he excels: straightforward, uncomplicated storylines with take-charge, bold personalities.  This makes Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman the ideal grounds for him to work with.

The principal cast consists entirely of characters of noble origins: Emperor Aquaman, Queen Mera, Prince Orm (who you may know as the Ocean Master), and King Brion of Markovia (Geo-Force).  If they come across a little too narrow-minded, pretentious, and unrelatable, well, they are, after all, royalty.  They can pull off the tinge of melodrama Bedard lends to all his dialogue: “You must take a few risks, after all, when you extend the hand of peace.”

For the most part, Bedard engagingly delivers the grim hows and whys of Western Europe becoming a casualty of war between Atlantis and New Themyscira.  But you still get overwritten moments, like the heavy-handed narration in the intro distracting from the already powerful imagery.  And important as it is to get the necessary exposition across, it’s always painful to have it done through characters explaining things to other characters who should already know that information: Orm recalling to Arthur the details and consequences of a plot Arthur himself masterminded is a perfect example.

Although the cast gets portrayed with a lot of credibility, this issue does nothing to make you empathize with Aquaman, which is no shortcoming to the story given the realities of Flashpoint.   With the discovery that he and Mera originally plotted the “assassination attempt” on Brion; that he ultimately betrayed Brion’s trust for his own heartless goals (noblesse oblige indeed); and that, for an action no surface-dweller committed, he took revenge on an entire continent of people, it’s pretty clear Arthur’s a driven monster—which is as it should be.

Syaf’s work on this issue looks nothing less than beautiful, what with all the famous European icons he gets to depict, both pre and post-sinking.  His opening sequence of Aquaman swimming through the ruins of Rome and its great works of art (most notably Michelangelo’s Pietà) not only looks amazingly convincing, it has emotional resonance all its own, which Bedard’s narration almost ruins.  Cifuentes’ inks give depth to Syaf’s lines without obscuring their lovely details, and Ritter’s colors give a cinematic presence to the whole issue.

Conclusion: Considering the importance of Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s conflict to the events of Flashpoint, it’s a relief this tie-in is both informative and engaging.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I appreciate Syaf using German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian president Giorgio Napolitano as references for their fictional counterparts here.  But “monsieur President” looks nothing like Nikolas Sarkozy.