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

The Story: Nothing like old buddies teaming up for favorite pastimes—like avenging crimes.

The Review: As we arrive at the end of this series’ second arc, it seems appropriate (albeit a bit middle-schoolish) to reflect on what we and the hero have learned.  After all, there’d be little point to the story if at its end, both of us are left in the exact same place in the exact same condition as we started.  The first arc was all about reinforcing Aquaman’s status as a major superhero and making him realize his place belongs on the surface world.

Looking at the conclusion to this world-spanning, treasure-hunting, companion-seeking arc, what has Arthur gotten out of it?  I’d say it’s acceptance of his past, the good and the bad; embracing who he used to be and who he is now and who he strives to become.  It’s a rather simple and lovely way to make us relate to him a little more, even though we have pretty much nothing in common with his life.  He’s already earned your respect; now he’s earning your sympathy.

I was pleasantly surprised when Arthur expressed his feeling of unworthiness to wear the glittering gold of his superhero outfit.  What’s really delightful about that scene is you have to believe in the premise that Aquaman stands for so much good that one has to earn the name and costume.  And you really do believe in it.  That’s how far we’ve come with his character: to the point where you can believe that it takes someone special to be Aquaman.

There really is no forgetting what Aquaman did to Black Manta’s father.  It was murder, plain and simple, even if the circumstances were such that you can understand his actions.  Arthur will probably always carry that burden, but now he does so in a healthy way.  He won’t deny he’s the killer Manta accuses him of being, but it’ll be a long time before he kills blindly again.  Sparing Manta doesn’t exonerate his past, but it does show he’ll embrace his heroic status from now on.

Part of making peace with his past includes reconnecting with old friends.  Johns has done a convincing job of portraying their bond as akin to your college pals.  Even when you drift away and no longer relate as you once did, that old friendship is still precious, which is why Arthur’s vow to stand by them from now on (and their own decision to stick closer together) feels so touching and real.  Their eventual return adds a whole new dimension to future adventures.

Some of Johns’ usual strengths and weaknesses show themselves here.  Strengths: knowing how to weave multiple plot threads into a story, even ones that trail into the next arc.  From Manta’s exchanges with his mystery employer (“mystery” being used loosely as all signs point to only one person, the one other major Aquaman antagonist), you know the next conflict will involve Atlantis and Arthur’s royal ties to it.  Weaknesses: moments of strange, awkward, excessive dialogue, like half of everything Manta says: “The closer you get, the more I can hurt you,” or “No, this isn’t done until you kill me.  Like Ahab and the monster!

I will definitely miss Reis when he departs for even more primo superhero territory, where fortunately, he’ll still be working on Aquaman and his Atlantean adventures.  Sounds like smart planning on the part of DC editorial, as I don’t know anyone who draws water as lavishly and with such grace and power as he does.  Water under Reis’ hand takes on a life of its own, a natural force that highlights every characters’ movements, even emotions. Aquaman always feels like a lively, intense title because the water moves in such a lively and intense way.

Conclusion: Johns has always striven to find reflections of real life in the most implausible superhero stories and this issue has him succeeding beyond our expectations.  Reis, as always, delivers top-notch superhero art.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Oh, that’s eerie; Prisoner of War’s eyes change color to match which dead comrade he’s channeling.  Explains the mask, anyway.

– I’m happy to see that at least on DC relationship has not only survived the relaunch, but seems stronger than ever.  Arthur and Mera are technically the premier power couple of the DCU right now, aren’t they?