By: Geoff Johns (writer), Ivan Reis (penciller), Joe Prado & Eber Ferreira (inkers), Rod Reis (colorist)

The Story: Hey, Aquaman—talk about a fish out of water, huh?  …Please don’t kill me.

The Review: As a longtime reader of Johns’ work, I’m always amazed at the difference in effect his stories have depending on whether you read it in serial or in trade.  On an issue-by-issue basis, his writing often feels like two or three months pass before you really get anywhere in the plot.  When you put it all together, however, you discover how deliberate and strong his writing can be.  There just seems to be a slightly unfortunate conflict between his style and the medium.

And then you get issues like this one, where by some inspiration, Johns manages to craft a tight, rich story that can stand alone, leaving you satisfied at the end.  Perhaps this is by virtue of the plot itself; this issue acts as an epilogue for the first arc and a prologue for the next, so it feels less obviously like a part of a story, and more of a complete story of its own.

Maybe it’s the terrific pacing Johns delivers to the issue.  The opening, with Aquaman falling out of the clear blue sky and then crashing into the desert, definitely starts things off with a bang.  When you see him emerge from the crater he created, blade piercing clear through his thigh, the tension is already thick, and that sets a strong tone for the rest of the issue.

Among other habits, Johns tends to be very straightforward with his pacing, giving you a long chunk of action, then following it up with a swath of exposition.  This is a tried-and-true strategy, obviously, but it’s refreshing when he goes for something a little different.  Here, he breaks up the story not only by cutting between past and present, but also by interspersing the action and exposition in regular intervals, all of which makes for a much livelier, balanced read.

The actual substance of the story is quite solid also, with a few exceptions.  Aquaman’s dehydrated hallucination of his father might have worked in other circumstances, but it has two factors against it.  One, the scene comes in the midst of other titles boasting their own delusion sequences, like Luke Cage’s gas-induced mania in Thunderbolts #168 and Zatanna, Shade, and Madame Xanadu’s mystic paranoia in Justice League Dark #5 (more on that later).  So that alone makes the scene feel tired and cliché.  Two, the drama of the vision feels redundant since it tackles the same conflicts and themes Arthur’s already gone over, only more bluntly.  So not the most effective or game-changing scene.

Still, we get the early threads of several plotlines, short and long-term.  We have this latest encounter with Atlanteans, which can only bode ill since Arthur claimed he relinquished his right to their kingdom.  We have signs that the sinking of Atlantis could have royal conspiracy involved.  But most excitingly—and I think that’s no exaggeration—we have the prospect of Mera’s going into town for dog food next issue.

There’s no doubt about it: Reis is a star.  His sensibilities are of a great action cinematographer (those opening pages of Aquaman’s crash-land into the desert are a slam dunk, any way you look at it), but he also injects great warmth into the characters.  Aquaman’s “Uh-oh” expression as he looks to his left and right and sees only desert all around him is priceless.

Conclusion: While more complete and substantial than most issues, ultimately this one still serves as a prelude to a bigger story, albeit a very good one.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Aquaman in the desert is a great premise, but one that emphasizes his physical limitations, as he needs to be rescued at the end—by the Navy, of all things.  But I suppose it’s a situation even Batman would have a hard time getting out of, so maybe we should give him a break.

– Oh, man.  Arthur’s dog has a little “A” glyph as a tag on his collar.  Too damn cute.