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

The Story: It’s never a good day to choose between wife and kingdom.

The Review: Practically every writer nowadays, more or less, has taken advantage of the decompressed style of comic book writing at some point or another, and it’s not hard to see why.  Given the leeway a decompressed number of issues provides, a writer can create stories more closely related to the richness and complexity of their prose relatives.  On the other hand, some writers have simply taken advantage of a longer story only to make a story longer, not better.

Johns doesn’t necessarily falls into this category, but it’s hard to deny that in nearly every arc he’s ever written, there’s at least one issue where so little happens that you could just as well skip it and not miss a thing.  Unfortunately, this is that issue.  Although you do get one or two small developments along the way, they’re not really enough to justify the amount of page-time Johns takes to deliver his story.

For example, the first few pages are spent clearing up the twist left behind by #19‘s cliffhanger, which essentially boils down to a poor choice of words.  As it turns out, when Nereus calls Mera his wife, he’s really overinflating the actual relationship they have with each other.  If ever she got a piece of jewelry for her finger, it was more along the lines of a promise ring than a wedding band.  Arthur-Mera shippers may breathe a sigh of relief, but for the rest of us, it feels like we’ve been cheated out of some juicy, if soapish, drama.

Still, you do appreciate efforts Johns makes in tying together his various plotlines.  It’s unclear if there’s a direct connection between the disposal of the first king of Atlantis and the alleged slaughtering and exile of the Xebel people, but these events do reveal a certain messiness in Atlantean history that has been conveniently forgotten.  However this arc ends, for better or worse, it’ll be impossible for Atlantis to maintain the status quo it’s existed under for centuries.

Probably the most important sea change—pun intended—they can make is to reform this cultural attitude of seeing themselves as a superior race while simultaneously painting themselves as victims of the humans.*  That same attitude is what allows Murk to criticize humans as “Xenophobes” while ignoring his own intolerance.  At some point, however, they’re going to have to admit that humans are no slouches (the revelation of Scavenger’s true goal proves that conclusively) and that they are no saints.

While his overall story is intriguing enough, Johns’ execution continues to be something of a mixed bag.  I really think comic book history will look back on Johns as a great ideas-man, but only an occasionally gifted craftsman.  Looking at this issue, you can enjoy his constant additions to the Aquaman mythos, from the brusque Dr. Rhodon to the rejuvenation of forgotten villain Scavenger.  But almost spoiling these bright points are moments of unengaging, even dull writing, especially the pontificating monologues:

“Today, I am Aquaman—the king of the seven seas.  King of an underwater society that doesn’t exactly trust a leader from the surface world.  King of an army that would sooner annihilate those on land than befriend them.  King of a culture and a people that are not my own.  But what choice do I have?  This is my birthright.  This is my responsibility.  And I will embrace it.”

Pelletier is a fine artist, very capable of drawing a pleasant image and delivering a little more than the bare minimum where emotion and action are concerned.  With strong inks and colors from Parsons and Reis, Pelletier’s art can turn out a fairly splendid page at least once an issue.  We get no such page here, sadly.  He suffers from a common defect in the DC house art style, which is a lack of fine detail.  Basically, the smaller or further away a subject, the more rudimentary it appears, looking more like polished sketches than finished drawings.

Conclusion: Not that any of the points Johns has to make are unimportant; it’s their scarcity I have a problem with, as well as a sluggish pace and thoroughly mediocre art.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * I dare say it’s this volatile combination of nationalistic sentiments which led to the rise of the Third Reich.  Don’t quote me on that, however.  What do I know—I’m just a comic book reviewer!