By: Geoff Johns (story), Ivan Reis (pencils), Joe Prado & Andy Lanning (inks), Rod Reis (colors)

The Story: This ain’t Shakespeare, but it has a vengeful cycle of sons killing fathers anyway.

The Review: This intro is a bit too short a medium to get into the whole “nature versus nurture” debate, so I’ll just rely on a pithy cliché to get my point across: the more things change…  To make things fair, I’ll use myself as example.  Even though I like to think I’ve grown up some inmye twenty-odd years, every now and then I’ll catch myself with a habit from childhood—or worse, my teenage years—I thought long gone that makes me wonder if I’ve changed at all.

Aquaman begs the same questions.  Compared to the shaggy-haired youth with major anger issues we’ve seen from flashbacks, Arthur’s slicked hairdo and cool under media mockery shows a pretty big evolution in his character.  But the moment he sees Manta, it’s as if he’s never changed from that vengeful, shirtless kid he used to be (especially when he actually rips off his shirt in mid-battle).  He abandons all teamwork, shrugging off the concerns of Ya’wara and Prisoner of War, completely fixed on his own objectives, nothing else.

His coldness is also unfortunate because it again shows Arthur undervaluing the Others.  He may not see them as more than ex-associates, but it’s clear they still have a lot of loyalty to him.  The moment Manta struck each of them, their first move was to seek out Aquaman.  Heck, the Operative practically volunteers his life to get the one-up on Manta, and rather than seeing to his injuries, he sets course for his former leader.

Speaking of which, Johns is really on a roll with these openings featuring the Others.  He shows a restraint in his writing and dialogue that allows information to flow naturally, without a lot of text bogging down the story.  His character work is clearly at its strongest here.  Within six pages, we get a huge chunk of the Operative’s history and personality without ever having it pushed on us.  And the revelation of his true face easily makes an impact in a way almost nothing in Justice League has come close to doing.

Coming back to my original point, it seems like Mera, too, has started to grasp the hidden depths of her husband, not only in his backstory, but his psyche as well.  Remember all those halcyon, sentimental images of Arthur and his dad back in the debut?  Now we have another set of memories that possess, if anything, an even stronger emotional punch, all grim.  I won’t spoil you, but the circumstances of Aquaman and Manta’s mutual hatred has a lot more complications than you might believe, and they leave you with no idea what to think of the matter.

Johns’ scripting may be reaching a wonderful kind of momentum here, but I doubt he could’ve achieved it without Reis.  Reis simply seems incapable of doing anything wrong.  His sequence of Arthur and Manta duking it out in the rivers of Heidelberg just builds and builds until the only way it could possibly reach catharsis is by a massive blast of energy blowing Arthur out of the water, his body sizzling.  This is superhero art at its most modern best.

Conclusion: Since I’m a bit of an Aquaman fan, it’s no shocker for me to say this, but I imagine it’ll be shocking for many of you who share my sentiment—this may be on its way to becoming one of the most purely enjoyable superhero comics I’m reading.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – If at some point before I die I can utter the phrase, “Now lock in the bookcases and set the living room for hypersonic speed,” I will have no regrets.

– Deadshot can’t be too happy that someone’s aping his wrist-gun action.