By: Geoff Johns (story), Pete Woods & Pere Perez (pencils), Marlo Alquiza, Ruy Jose, Sean Parsons, Cam Smith (inks), Tony Avina (colors)

The Story: It’s actually really hard to tell who’s the black sheep between Orm and Arthur.

The Review: Any time a comic calls an issue a prologue, I approach it with some trepidation.  In prose, prologues are expected and easier to handle because you can always breeze through it and get straight to the good stuff.  In comics, it can be a drag to have a whole month’s issue devoted to exposition and set-up.  Not only that, but a lot of writers tend to waste prologues, seeing it more as a thematic sort of chapter instead of one that can actually support the plot in some way.

While Johns does manage to help set up the Throne of Atlantis storyline in this issue, he spends most of his time telling the preachiest of tales, one that reflects and foretells the upcoming war of misunderstanding between the surface world and the world underwater.  In a lot of ways, it’s an appropriate parable, one that puts on display the vengeance and mercy of both races, but one that only has an indirect, moral connection to the conflict at hand.

Even if it was the most mind-blowing story in the world, the execution was simply not ideal.  I generally disapprove of characters delivering that much dialogue at a time when they’re not really interacting with each other.  Basically, Arthur and Orm take turns telling each other a story that, within the context of their characters, they know extremely well anyway.  You can’t even consider their exchange as expository; it doesn’t really tell you much of anything about their past histories, apart and together, or about the ticking time bomb of war between land and sea.

Besides the fact that media spin has made it impossible to believe war is avoidable, Johns gives you no reason to trust Orm.  Even though he baldly tells Arthur he’s not planning for war with the land-dwellers, all you really need to do is replace “planning” with “preparing” and you’ve probably got Orm’s military intent.  The only moment that calls for the benefit of doubt is when Orm orders some superstitious rabble-rousers to cease their threats against the purple-eyed boy named “Garth” immediately.  That is the only real glimpse into Orm’s true personality we get.

Then we have this side-plot, tied in with the fate of Cheetah in Justice League #14, of Manta getting put into Belle Reve.  You have little reason to get intrigued by these events; it just seems like your typical groundwork for a massive prison breakout and we’ve seen that time and time again in comics and elsewhere.  Aside from this, the only other purpose of Manta’s scene is to remind us all about how formidable Aquaman really is.  “His skin is nearly bullet-proof,” Manta gripes, “His muscle density ten times that of yours or mine.”  As often happens with arch-nemeses, Manta sounds a bit more like Aquaman’s biggest fan than his biggest foe.

I’m actually proud of myself for telling apart the difference between Woods and Perez’s work in this issue.  I bet some of you are scoffing at me that theirs are two completely different styles of art, but you’re just underestimating how art-blind I can be at times.  At any rate, Perez manages to mesh his more line-concentrated art with Woods’ more polished figures pretty well, and I saw no startling jumps in style.  One thing that irritated me no end was Woods constantly draping Orm in shadows, even while Arthur seemed to bathe in light.  We get it—Orm’s sketchy and on the dark side—but it’s a pointless metaphorical exercise nonetheless.  Same goes to Avina for playing into that, making Arthur practically glow despite the depths of his scenes.

Conclusion: A mostly straightforward, predictable, and windy use of a prologue chapter, one that does little to inspire excitement for the arc to come.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “Look at this helmet.  It’s ridiculous.”  Finally—it’s been said.  Let’s hope this means Manta will get rid of it at some point…

– Even the Atlanteans can be unnerved by the unblinking gaze of fish.  I’ve always found that to be hair-raising myself.