By: Geoff Johns (writer), Ivan Reis (penciller), Joe Prado (inker), Rod Reis (colorist)

The Story: He does more than just talk to fish—he’s pretty good buddies with dolphins, too.

The Review: I’m an Aquaman fan.  There—I said it.  Let the jokes fly.  But seriously, all funny business aside, the concept of his character has a lot going for it: king of an ancient civilization, master of everything not on land (which is most stuff, scientifically speaking), and gifted with some pretty formidable superpowers on top of it.  His only real problem is he suffers by comparison, especially when stacked against the godlike abilities of his fellow Leaguers.

One thing that always worked against him was most people only had the vaguest idea of what he could actually do.  In this issue, he shows he can more than hold his own.  After all, can Batman plunge a trident into a barreling semi’s engine and toss it overhead?  He may not do the whole bullet-deflection trick as well as Superman, but he does a reasonably formidable impression.

But a superhero lives and breathes by more than his powers.  If anything has kept Aquaman from resonating with people, it’s his lack of a recognizable personality.  We can sense he has a noble’s dignity, but other than that, he remains a little aloof and alien, even more so than most of the actual aliens in the DCU.  While his origins claim a largely human upbringing, for the most part, we tend to identify him more with his Atlantean lineage than with the surface-dwellers.

This issue doesn’t exactly make the King of the Seas warm and cuddly, but it does start to knock off some of that chip on his shoulder and let us empathize with him a bit.  It’s one thing to make fun of the guy in real life, but to actually watch him sit through it gets pretty awkward after a while—which is no doubt the point.  The worst of it comes from, of course, a blogger, who after a bunch of obliviously insulting questions, offers the winning finisher: “How’s it feel to be nobody’s favorite super-hero?”  Even after all that, Aquaman leaves a generous tip for his waitress, despite never getting to eat his fish and chips.

In a rather brilliant move, one of the most important scenes sets itself at the lighthouse which Arthur’s dad operated and where Arthur grew up.  You realize this is a guy who spent his formative years on land, who feels at home with its people, who’s chosen to protect them, despite having a whole kingdom at his fingertips under the sea, and who still can’t catch a break.  It’s all strangely melancholy, giving him an almost Byronic air, which suits him very well.

The deep-sea dwelling creatures known as the Trench appear only briefly, and seem more driven by their evolved natures rather than malice, making straightforward, low-stakes enemies for this opening arc.  But this is Johns, the man with a plan, we’re talking about.  For better or worse, he always manages to trick out a twist from the plot at some point, so let’s look forward to that.

Reis gives Aquaman an artistic treatment fit for a king.  Besides cutting a dashing figure, you just get so much out of Arthur’s expressions, though they all stay within a controlled framework of taciturn.  Our hero doesn’t really say much in this issue, but we learn a lot about who he is, and that’s significantly due to Reis’ compassionate work.  Aquaman may not be an A-lister, but he definitely gets A-list artwork here.

Conclusion: This series gives us a chance to take a good long look at Aquaman on his own terms, and he makes a pretty impressive figure.  While the action of the plot leaves much to be desired, we get some very strong personal scenes that do much for building his character.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Another reason why Aquaman may not be everyone’s favorite hero is he brings out the environmental guilt in all of us.  Once he steps into your local Red Lobster, just figure you’ll be sticking to cheesy biscuits the whole night while he’s still around.

– “Trying to put two kids through college…”  By the looks of that waitress, she must have had her kids at age seven for that to be true.