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

The Story: Behold the true king to the throne—all four of him.

The Review: While there is something noble about the person who has power or money and doesn’t want it, the rest of us are probably thinking that attitude is kind of a luxury in itself.  Aquaman’s reluctance to take the Atlantean throne seems humble, but he always had the freedom to choose when to reject kingship and when to take it back on again.  Would he be so cavalier about losing his power if it was forcefully taken from him?*

He’s spent a great deal of his return to royalty thus far insisting that he’d rather not have the position, that he has accepted it only out of a sense of duty obligated by his blue-bloodedness.  So what happens if the Dead King’s words turn out to be true and—spoiler alert—Arthur really doesn’t descend from royal lineage?  Well, we know that being King of the Seven Seas is just part and parcel of Aquaman’s character, so that role won’t be going away in any permanent sense.  But should he retain his kingship, it’ll be deserved, not by default.

That doesn’t seem very likely at this point, however.  You can’t imagine his people are feeling very appreciative of their leader since he basically abandoned them during their hour of need.  Then again, it’s pretty reasonable to expect that in his absence, his people should be able to take care of themselves to some degree.  In this case, it’s rather astonishing that, for a kingdom poised to take over the surface world a few months ago, they can barely protect themselves in their own element against a bunch of crooks in scuba gear.

With Aquaman off in Bermuda and his two most important defense operatives trucking down the bayou, that does afford an opportunity for other Atlantean characters to rise to the occasion.  Johns introduces yet another new face to the underwater cast, Warden Urn, who keeps his head and his strict adherence to the law even during a crisis.  It’d be nice if Johns could really spend some time fleshing out these figures instead of just giving them a good line or two (), then moving on, but we’ll have to wait and see how he plays them out.

This issue comes with the same frustration as the last, which is a minimum of development.  Besides the bombshell of Arthur’s possibly false claim to the throne, we hardly get any new information on top of that.  The Dead King only ambiguously comments on the little history of him recounted by Arthur that there’s “some truth…and many lies” to it all.  At best, you may be able to infer from the Xebel people’s sudden devotion to the Dead King that they are descended in some way to his loyalists, exiled by those who he claims usurped his power.

If Johns accomplishes anything of importance in this issue, it’s setting up the next issue to be an all-out royal brawl between the Dead King, who wants to reclaim his heritage; Arthur, the reluctant half-blood successor; Orm, a convict of the surface world and self-deposed king (who may also lose his claim to power if the Dead King’s words prove correct); and, interestingly enough, the Scavenger, who has taken a most unconventional way of declaring himself Atlantis’ new king.  It’ll be fun to see this quartet’s struggle for power, but that does nothing for us here.

With Pelletier’s straightforward, blunt style, the issue looks perfectly acceptable, with occasional moments where his detailing really shines (see Aquaman tackle the Dead King with a whole sunken ship, its sea-encrusted gear and debris shattering into the water).  Pelletier has obvious limitations, however.  In smaller panels, characters lose substance until they become little more than ghostly outlines, lacking in human features.  And Reis’ lush colors frequently threaten to drown out Pelletier’s figures entirely, especially when surrounded by the overwhelming dark-blue wash of the deep sea.

Conclusion: The art and script are fine, but both can definitely use some extra zip.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – What would he do if he wasn’t king, anyway?  It’s not like he has a real job on the surface world.  Remember those doubloons from the first issue?  Where do lighthouse keepers get their funding?  Maybe he can get a job as a marine biologist.  Or selling fish and chips.