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Aquaman #23 – Review

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

With most of the DC couples in disarray post-relaunch, us romantics have to cling to the few solid relationships remaining.  It’s really a testament to Johns’ convictions that Mera and Aquaman have become one of DC’s most prominent couplings.*  Just a few years ago, we barely knew anything of Mera, yet since then, she’s experienced a resurgence parallel to her husband’s.  Now, the two of them are nearly as well-known as a unit as individuals.

For fans of the undersea lovers, I’m sure alarm bells must have gone off upon the discovery of Mera’s first fiancé, suggesting a possibly ugly confrontation over the fact to come.  What a relief that Johns makes the smart character choice, showing Arthur as nonplussed by his wife’s secret but otherwise as trusting of her as ever.  Perhaps the ladies will disagree, but I found his brusque yet sincere declaration of love rather romantic, especially since he takes the time to deliver it in the middle of a crisis:

“Whatever you feel you can’t say to me, whatever’s in your past that you’re afraid might change how I feel about you—you need to get over it.  Quickly.  I love you.  No matter what.”

It’s definitely a nice reprieve from the ongoing troubles pouring down on Arthur’s renewed kingship.  With enemies attacking Atlantis from all quarters, any friendly face is more crucial than ever, and Arthur loses an important one here.  Spoiler alert—I don’t much care for Johns’ decision to kill off Warden Urn approximately one issue after his introduction; it’s hard to spare any sentiment for a fictional character so short-lived.  But the death of another respected figure within Atlantis, one who might otherwise have served as a buffer against the growing animosity of the kingdom towards its new ruler, places even more stress on Arthur’s rule.

Of course, this is all assuming that Arthur has something to rule after this.  Last month, I guessed at a four-way competition for control of Atlantis, and here I’m proven three-fourths right.  The tragedy is that just as we reach the really good moment, with the Dead King and his Xebel allies arriving just as Arthur manages to repel Scavenger’s invasion with some kraken help, our hero fades out and wakes up apparently after all the action is over—but with a sweet new beard!  The conclusion does leave us with some good questions to last us until October, however.  Where’s Mera?  How did Vulko get away with Arthur?  Why are they taking refuge on land?

And here’s a final question: where did Tula, Murk, and Swatt end up amidst all this chaos?  Curious as you are to see whether this trio decided to push ahead with rescuing Orm or cut it short to aid their kingdom in its hour of need, you do find their sudden indecision about their prison break plan kind of stupid as a matter of timing.  Tula in particular seems ridiculously shortsighted, especially for a senior military officer, for evidently not realizing before that any extraction of Orm would most definitely result in increased human-Atlantean tensions and probably quite a few surface-dweller deaths.

This issue displays some of Pelletier’s finest work by far, with his double-splashes being the most memorable samples of his art.  The sight of a raging Topo, rising over the abandoned city of Atlantis from his trench and seizing several of Scavenger’s panicked subs with his massive tentacles, is an awesome sight, one of those moments that makes you glad to be a superhero fan.  But I would wish, were it of any use, that Pelletier had a little more polish and elegance to his work.  Frequently, his art seems a little cartoonish, even with Reis’ masterful, lush colors.

Conclusion: A few good thrills to be had, and as always, an enticing cliffhanger, although some of the storytelling choices leave something to be desired.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - So Murk has a special reason for hating humans, huh?  Something embarrassing, clearly, given the alacrity with which he cuts off Swatt before the poor fellow can reveal it.  Could he have had a past indiscretion with a human at one point?

- I hope Topo makes it through this okay.  Hopefully, his aid isn’t rewarded with some pain doled out by the Dead King.

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