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Aquaman #16 – Review

AQUAMAN #16

By: Geoff Johns (story), Paul Pelletier (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Rod Reis (colors)

The Story: Aquaman introduces his buddies to the kinds of problems he deals with daily.

The Review: With Throne of Atlantis dragging in all of Aquaman’s super-friends (who bear no resemblance to the jolly and often worryingly simple-minded characters on the old cartoon), his own title reads more like a Justice League book than a solo adventure these days.  Not that this is a bad thing.  With Justice League still a major seller for DC, this can only draw a bigger crowd to the sea hero, just as long as Johns makes good use of the big names in his hands.

In contrast to the forgettable, superfluous use of the League in Scott Lobdell’s Superman, the League here serves to highlight Aquaman’s strengths when operating on his own turf.  Here, at the very bottom of the ocean, the constant and massive pressures of such depths threaten even the most powerful of heroes, particularly when put out of commission by the creatures living there.  It’s no coincidence that Aquaman finds himself responsible for rescuing the Trinity, although it’s troubling that even in his natural environment, he’s outgunned.

The feeling that you’re reading a League title is further bolstered by the appearance of the League reserves, who actually do little more than stem the tide.  If we were hoping to see a great, triumphant moment where Hawkman leads a gang of B-listers to victory against the Atlantean army, then we’re sadly disappointed when the issue gives us only a few panels for them to generically show off their powers and almost no personality whatsoever.  A waste, really.  Though I usually dimiss tie-ins, a one-shot of the sub-Leaguers in battle would’ve been appropriate in this case.

Interestingly enough, even though this arc ostensibly centers on Aquaman, it’s Cyborg who takes a lot of the spotlight in this issue.  His decision to give up one of his last remaining links to humanity has obvious pathos, but Johns uses commendable subtlety in the way he works the emotional beats of that storyline.  You have Vic dreaming of ordinary days past, awakened by a vision of his cybernetic body, and as his father briefs him on the advantages of his new lungs (“You can survive in water or in space.  Nothing can hurt you.”), he replies shortly, “Yeah.”

Just as our heroes start to get their bearings again and just as the enemy seems ready to take the first step to victory, Johns pulls out yet another of those famous cliffhangers, only this time, it really works.  First off, it actually has the punch of surprise to it.  Second, there’s substance behind the twist, which Johns doesn’t always manage to achieve (see the Flash getting fried by lightning in the ghastly Flashpoint).  The only concern I have about the ending is what it means for the future of a fairly well-liked character, but we can reserve judgment for now.

Pelletier is equal parts Alan Davis and Ivan Reis, though I must say I prefer it when the Reis aspects of his art shows up.  Davis has a style which looks as if it stops just short of being fully detailed, and as the panels shrink, the shortcomings grow even more obvious, a problem which affects Pelletier at times as well.  But Pelletier also has moments where he calls to mind the lush figures of Reis, especially in the bigger, splashier panels, where his sense of drama reaches a rather grand scale, only to be cut short by generic action work.  If the back-up Leaguers don’t seem as impressive as they should, blame Pelletier’s bland approach to showing off their skills.  Rod Reis plays a huge role in giving Pelletier’s art as much depth and flair as it does.

Conclusion: If nothing else, there’s a lot of excitement to be had here, although both Johns and Pelletier fall a little short of the maximum impact they could have.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - I don’t know if this is an oversight in the art or the script, but can Superman and Wonder Woman breath and speak underwater now?  ‘Cause that’s exactly what they’re doing in a couple panels.

- I see we have the Atom on the reserve roster, too.  So, is this Ray Palmer, Ryan Choi, or a whole new shrinking hero altogether?

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