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

The Story: These guys would make one heck of a ninth-grade biology dissection project.

The Review: Johns gets a lot of attention and devotion because he not only brings such genuine enthusiasm to the job, he also injects enormous heart into the work.  He has this knack of getting at the emotional core of characters, using it to springboard the stories he writes for them, a narrative technique David Uzumeri of Comics Alliance calls “Johnsian Literalism,” and one that’s proven consistently successful over the last few years.

For some heroes, figuring out what makes them tick is a cinch, but getting an understanding of Aquaman takes a little more digging.  While his romance with Mera offers warmth to the series and a strong character to bounce off of, the real emotional current which drives the story is the Arthur’s relationship with his late father.  It’s no coincidence each issue prominently features a flashback to the old man, whose love and values obviously still resonate deeply with our hero.

It’s this connection to his father, more than anything else, which keeps Aquaman fighting the good fight on land.  After he clears out the Trench from the harbor, the authorities on deck begrudge him some props: “…you gave it a really strong effort and I appreciate that…I’ll make sure to tell the reporters you helped us out, okay?”  But Arthur’s not in this for the press, good or bad, and he proves it by taking off with the Trench cadaver against the military guys’ wishes.  If anything, he’s out to prove his dad’s assertion that “…he’s a good kid…  He’s such a good kid.”

To that end, he goes back to a man of his past for help, despite some bad blood between them (“And then he tried to kill me.”).  Stephen Shin is one of those scientists obsessed with proving to the world he knows what he’s talking about (“Where is Atlantis?!”), an archetype we haven’t seen in a while.  Johns plays him as a well-intentioned, but high-strung man, one who’ll make a sinister figure in Aquaman’s future, whether as a supporting character or outright villain

It’s no wonder, however, why Aquaman comes to him with this nasty fish problem; the guy knows what he’s talking about.  During his autopsy of the Trench creature, when he goes into elaborate detail about its biological characteristics, I imagine some of you may be thinking, What is this, a PBS Nova special? But I happen to find the analysis fascinating, an educational CSI: “Their gills are crusted with sulfide minerals…found in hydrothermal vents. Black smokers.  I’d guess they came from the mid-Atlantic ridge.  Out of the Trench.”

Even more compelling are the questions Mera and Arthur exchange as they start their diving descent into the ocean deeps.  There’s the matter of what to do with the Trench in the long run, if in fact they’re merely creatures “trying to survive.”  Mr. Shin states they must eat “twenty or thirty times its own weight a day to simply function,” hardly a crime of their own making.  It’ll be interesting to see how Aquaman tackles that issue on a physical and moral standpoint.

Anyone who puts this much effort into drawing bubbles convincingly has to have an uncommon dedication to his craft.  Everything Reis draws looks attractive, but also has solid logical sense and incredible energy.  That second page of the Trench boss swinging Arthur into a pile of crates has explosive physicality, but Reis ensures it has the same level of detail as the calmest scenes—the rips and frays in the creature’s webbed appendages, the fragments of broken wood, the ongoing battle between the cops and other Trench in the background.

Conclusion: Arthur’s popularity may continue as a recurring motif in future issues, but after this one, you’ll understand it’s immaterial.  Our hero doesn’t care what you think of him; he’ll do the right thing anyway.  Slow pacing aside, this story packs good substance and deserves attention.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Okay, this question has been bugging me for a while now: how does Arthur keep his trident on him?  I don’t see a sheath or sling or holder of any kind.  I’m guessing it just sticks to his armored back like a giant, murderous refrigerator magnet.

– Of course Mr. Shin has a fish screensaver on his desktop.