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

The Story: In time, every young man must return to the waters of his birth.

The Review: Nowadays, Johns must be riding high on the popularity of Justice League (whether all that attention or acclaim is deserved, I find more questionable), but I’d stake my claim on saying that the work he’s done on Aquaman will prove his most important accomplishment of the year.  We’re talking about a character whose existence was questionable only a few years ago and who now stars in one of the most widely-bought titles in comics.

Having given our hero a new lease on life, it seems appropriate for Johns to have the honor of giving Aquaman a new beginning.  We started this series at an odd point in Arthur’s life: only recently returned from Atlantis, new wife in tow, with the mixed status of urban legend and League celebrity.  Although it’s been hinted at, we really know nothing about the gaps between leaving the shore, meeting the Others, and his return to land.  What we do know, and what makes the heart of this story and this whole title, is it all has to do with Atlantis.

Coincidentally or not, Arthur’s connection to Atlantis follows the same, fundamental premise as Sword of Sorcery.  You have the promised and rightful young scion returning to his/her kingdom, destined to free it from tyranny and disaster.  How often have we heard this story?  And yet it works nearly every time because it strikes all the right chords.  It speaks of hope and fate and, most importantly, big events just waiting to happen.

We all know, however, this story won’t end with a happy ending where Arthur becomes the rightful king and rules the Atlantean throne with peace and wisdom forever.  Though he seems enamored of his new home now, it’s also clear that he can’t simply sever his ties to the land he grew up on.  Even in the middle of his bitterest resentment against the people he feels betrayed him, the memory of his father makes it impossible to forsake them.  Maybe that’s why Aquaman feels like such a true-blue hero; at bottom, his acts are all motivated by love.

The one misstep Johns makes in the issue is relegating the father and daughter Arthur rescues to cipher status.  From the way the daughter (neither she nor her dad get names) connects with her savior, you’d think they’d have more significant roles, but they turn out to be mere means to an end, an all too fortuitous way to get Arthur where Johns wants him without wasting too much time.  All the character development gets laid on Vulko, whom Johns transforms from the slightly buffoonish figure he used to be to someone much more formidable and competent.

Reis delivers some of the most breathtaking, cinematic art on this title yet, which makes it all the sadder that he’ll soon be taken from us.  His appreciation for ocean geography and ecosystems is enormous.  He channels the kind of otherworldly visions of the land beneath the waves that remind you of all the greatest nature documentaries you’ve ever seen on PBS.  Just as crucial is the heartfelt emotion he puts into the characters.  The sight of Arthur stooped over a table looking at photos of his father would be either melodramatic or cliché but for the finely tuned distraught expression on his face.

Conclusion: At once tender and mythical, it seems Johns has found the exact tone needed to make Aquaman special.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – At some point, I’d like to know exactly how long these underwater folk can stay on the surface.  It makes sense for Arthur to have more land time than anyone else, but does Vulko have to take an hourly dip to survive?