By: Geoff Johns & Tony Bedard (story), Geraldo Borges (pencils), Ruy Jose (inks), Rod Reis (colors)

The Story: Unlike the Little Mermaid, Ocean Master isn’t enamored with the idea of walking.

The Review: This is hardly a novel observation, but people in positions of power, particularly government power, must have pretty hard lives.  Without knowing anything about it firsthand whatsoever, it seems to me that folks like that must have to constantly juggle their personal judgment with their judgment as a leader.  That must wreak havoc with your identity a little bit, when so much of what you do is based on what others think instead of your own instincts.

That kind of responsibility complicates our understanding of fictional characters as well.  How much of Orm is what he feels is necessary to be leader of his people, and how much is his own personal deal?  His attempted invasion of the surface world—how much of that can be attributed to what he thought would be a proportionate response to a perceived attack on his own kingdom, and how much came from his own ruthless nature?

We know that Orm is not simply a well-intentioned man who’s misunderstood.  Watching him choke an innocent fisherman to death in #15 made it very clear that he’s got a nasty streak to him.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a sadistic monster.  Take his response to a wounded Belle Reve guard, the only one Orm acknowledges to have shown him kindness; to Orm, a quick death qualifies as an act of compassion.  In a twisted way, his mercy kill is the first nice thing he’s ever done for a surface-dweller.

What this reveals is a person who was raised to be tough, perhaps against his will.  When a waitress begs him to come help her eight-year-old son, Orm replies harshly, “[H]e should already know how to defend himself.  It was what I had to do.  It was what I was forced to do to prepare myself for the responsibilities I have.”  Notice the use of compulsive language, “had to do” and “forced to do.”  Is he suggesting that he shared the same reluctance towards kingship as his brother?  Could it mean that his violence was conditioned, rather than innate?

It’s still too early to tell for sure, but his actions in the final pages support the idea that the stone-cold killer he’s been cast as isn’t entirely who he is.  Although he implies earlier that he could have fended off murderous criminals by age eight, it seems he secretly feels that he shouldn’t have had to.  Watching the waitress’ son cry for help as his mother and babysitter get attacked by a couple escaped inmates, Orm muses, “Eight.  Eight is too young.”  The moment that he bursts back out of the water to hurry to the boy’s rescue is thus a powerful moment in the evolution of Orm’s character.  His aid isn’t just convenient; it’s a deliberate choice, and that says a lot.

Like many of the Villains Month titles, Ocean Master shies away from specifics in regards to its featured character, preferring instead to dwell on how he deals with a world under the shadow of Forever Evil.  It would have been valuable for Johns-Bedard to actually show us some of Orm’s early life, instead of leaving it to loaded statements like, “There is no murder in Atlantis.  There is no political divide.  I would not allow it.”

Borges’ art is passable, perhaps slightly less refined than Paul Pelletier’s usual work on this series.  There aren’t many splashy moments for Borges to show the full extent of his skill, and he doesn’t do much to impress anywhere else in the issue.  He delivers the action of the script without underlining its meaning or significance, and this results in a flatter read overall.  Reis’ colors pretty it up a bit, but even they seem kind of bland on top of Borges’ plain figures.

Conclusion: The issue provides more suggestions of the villain’s life than hard information, but it’s nonetheless an interesting glimpse into his still-developing moral boundaries and attitudes towards a world he considers foreign.  Stronger art would have been appreciated.

Grade: B-

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I know Orm would’ve been screwed had it gotten to this point, but I’m still disappointed that we won’t be seeing a trial out of this.  Would’ve been cool to see his reaction to the American justice system.