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

The Story: Welcome to the only comic where you can see trident-on-scepter action.

The Review: Part of the premise of this series from the very beginning has been the idea that Aquaman belongs as much in the public eye as his fellow Leaguers.  Yet even though he’s (mostly) exorcised the ridicule attached to his character, he still hasn’t quite made the case that he’s just as big an icon as any of the Big Five of the DCU.  Maybe he doesn’t have to.  At the end of the day, all that matters is whether you care enough about him to follow his journey.

And against all odds, you do.  Had this series merely been about him earning his name as a hero, you probably wouldn’t get quite as invested.  But the heart of his story—and it’s possible even Johns didn’t see this coming—is his growth from a closed-off man of the sea to someone who feels attachment and, yes, love.  This depth of feeling usually gets reserved to Superman, but Aquaman deals with his emotions very differently than the big Boy Scout.

For Arthur, sensitivity comes second-nature.  Even when he says he cares, he doesn’t put much weight behind the words.  If you want to get a truer sense of his feelings, you’ll have to pay attention to the way Johns pairs his memories with his actions.  For example, it’s not so much Dr. Shin’s martyred speech to Black Manta that moves Aquaman to rescue him, but how his words echo a time when he served as a kind of father figure to Arthur, who now has no other father left.  Arthur doesn’t forgive Shin—he may never do so—but he makes it clear that he can cherish Shin’s part in his past again.

In a way, Aquaman has really amped up his appeal as a man’s man.  He tends to express his affection through gruffness and violence, though he’s no less tender in doing so.  You might say he takes on a father figure himself, which might have something to do with the huge influence his father had on his life.  There’s definitely a paternal air in the way he interacts with the Others, ordering them around, sometimes a little harshly, yet always with their best interests in mind.

It stands to reason the Others would resent this kind of treatment, since they’re not his children (the Operative actually old enough to be Aquaman’s father—or grandfather), but his friends, who want to be depended upon.  That pretty much sums up the motivations of all his supporting cast in this issue, and it’s that sense of togetherness which makes the Others such a great, natural addition to the series.  These are solitary folks; their attachments are limited.  It’s a credit to Johns’ character writing that you share their pain each time one of those attachments is severed.

Reis hits every action sequence and emotional beat with total confidence.  He doesn’t hold back in much of anything he draws.  Mera doesn’t just swim through water; she hurtles through the depths of the ocean with such ferocity you know you’d be a goner if you got in her way.  Arthur doesn’t just get angry; his rage is palpable in every part of his face and body.  Make no mistake, though—Reis applies a light touch when necessary.  The last few pages have a lovely kind of serenity, grim as the events they depict, and that has a lot to do with Reis’ not overdoing the characters’ emotions (and Rod Reis’ delicate, subdued colors).

Conclusion: A great sample of what the modern superhero comic should be.  Even with all the action and outlandish ideas, there’s room for heartfelt emotion from both script and art.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Am I wrong in assuming this makes jungle cat number two to get slain in battle?  These are endangered animals, too, undoubtedly.

– Uh-oh.  There’s more to the situation than “just” Arthur killing Black Manta’s dad?  And Black Manta killing his dad?  The Shakespearean drama between them just never ends, does it?