By: Geoff Johns (story), Ivan Reis (pencils), Joe Prado, Jonathan Glapion, Andy Lanning (inks), Rod Reis (colors)
The Story: Friends don’t let other friends pursue blind quests of vengeance alone.
The Review: Even though in terms of the pure quality of his work, he doesn’t seem to be working at the superhumanly consistent level he once did writing Teen Titans, Justice Society of America, and Green Lantern simultaneously, there’s no sign Johns is any less popular or beloved than ever. Frankly, I don’t think that widespread admiration will ever go away because Johns offers what so few other writers do in comics these days: unadulterated warmth.
Reading a Johns story, no matter how grim the events that happen in between front and back covers, frequently feels like curling up in an oversized armchair with a cup of hot cocoa. At the heart of his work is always, well, heart. No one has written themes of family, whether by blood or by spirit, with so much genuine care, and certainly no one writes the archetypical Hero—with capital letters, mind you—with so much conviction in the righteous might of goodness.
If Aquaman feels like Johns at his best, it’s undoubtedly because the title captures both of his strengths in full. Even though the Others have come into this story from out of nowhere (and often literally so, at that ), you feel surprising affection towards them—you care about their fates in a way that you don’t about so many other comic book characters who’ve been around far longer—because they clearly care about each other, and you don’t want to see them damaged.
Having separated for years, the Others still, at a moment’s notice, gather together to help each other, from all corners of the globe and even beyond. You see that these are really some very lonely people. The Operative works for all countries and no countries; Prisoner of War emulates the mirage of a family by relying on those of his dead comrades; Ya’wara lives with only animal companions in the jungle; Vostok merely exists, rather than lives, on the moon. Only something deep in their bonds can draw them from their isolation to meet again.
And it’s not like Arthur doesn’t recognize that. He insists that he does what he does to protect them, because he does care about them. In that sense, he’s changed from the raging guy with a major chip on his shoulder that he used to be. But even if he’s acting out of a place of love, he still won’t let anyone share his burden with him—not even his own wife. And besides being unnecessary and a bit stupid, this seems like a spit in the eye of those who care enough about him to offer help. But we all know what the Others and Mera plan to do with his rejection, right?
It makes total sense that when Johns writes to his strengths, he can deliver complex shades of emotions you’ve grown accustomed to not expect from him. While there’s something you feel instinctually repulsive about Arthur emotionlessly robbing a grave for his trident and the Others’ relics, his rationale is surprisingly affecting. He informs his appalled companions how Atlantis’ Dead King, former owner of the relics, fell with his kingdom: “His guards tried to force him into one of the fleeing ships but he fought them off and went into the city searching for his wife and children. He never found them. He drowned. So what does this trident matter?” What, indeed.
I’m already beginning to run out of superlatives to describe Reis’ work on this title. While he probably won’t win awards for groundbreaking style in the form, you can’t deny he is amazingly excellent at what he does. Characters look rich and full-bodied, facial expressions resonate with true-to-life emotion (the moment you see Vostok’s shy and happy bearded face, you kind of have to love him a little), and action sequences move with ferocious energy.
Conclusion: It would not be out of the question to say that Johns’ Aquaman will become one of the, if not the definitive runs for the character. If this doesn’t merit our favorite undersea king his position as one of DC’s icons, nothing will.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Three years ago, who would’ve known that Mera would become one of DC’s finest and fiercest women? Her red hair, trim figure, and coral coronet may evoke the Little Mermaid, but once she crushes Black Manta’s weapons with her bare hands, you realize this lady would never allow an octopus-hag to steal her voice.