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

The Story: The awkward moment when you realize you’ve been the bad guys all along.

The Review: It’s hard to say whether the DCU post-relaunch is superior to the one pre-relaunch, but Aquaman has definitely profited from this new universe in a way he wouldn’t have had he been reborn with all that old continuity still hanging around his neck.  A clean slate afforded him the chance to exorcise all the confusion and strangeness of past portrayals, usually from writers who couldn’t agree on a core take on the character, his history, and his mythos.

Charged with the task of giving some kind of clarity to Aquaman’s life and direction, Johns has carried it out through a combination of reviving enduring chapters of the sea king’s back history (e.g. his half-Atlantean heritage, Mera, Vulko, Orm, Tula) while adding new parts to his current continuity (e.g. the Others, Murk, Warden Urn).  Now that Johns has put in three years of building up Aquaman’s world, the timing seems right to start breaking down old assumptions.

For a while now, we’ve operated on the premise that Aquaman is the rightful if reluctant king of Atlantis, and those who’ve challenged his rule are mere usurpers.  I don’t think it ever occurred to us that one of them would have a legitimate claim to the throne.  In retrospect, previous references to the people of Xebel as exiles, in connection with the overthrow of Atlantis’ first king, did actually hint at faultlines in Arthur’s reign.  Now that all the dirt behind the line of succession has been exposed, there’s the question of what should be done with that information.

That question can’t be answered by Arthur alone; the revelation of how the current rulers of Atlantis came to be, with all its attached messiness, explains a lot about contemporary Atlantean values, particularly their rampant intolerance for the other.  You can’t say how much they recognize these defects in their society, but the fact that they’ve accepted a half-human to the throne surely indicates that their attitudes have evolved somewhat over the centuries.  I suppose the real question is whether they’ve evolved enough to react against the destructive xenophobia which marked their ancestors’ rise to power.

While Johns has introduced some interesting complications to the Aquaman story, his delivery is mostly straightforward.  The tale of Atlan, founder and first king of Atlantis, is as classic as they come: a well-intentioned ruler undermined by those who would reject progressivism, with tragic results for all.  Granted, Atlan’s story is told through the lens of his betrayers, who are bound to be selective about what facts they choose to reveal.  Even with this in mind, Johns gives us only the most superficial understanding of both Atlan and his treacherous brother Orin, leaving no room to give either greater depth.  This is as much the result of DC’s strict page limit as Johns’ tendency towards literalism in his writing.

In that sense, Pelletier is Johns’ artistic counterpart in that he, too, leans towards a straightforward, un-radical style to his work.  He’s more of a workman than a groundbreaker in the world of comic book art, as he himself admits.  You can’t criticize his figures as unshapely or juvenile, but they are the most basic of basic with a great deal of uniformity that it all too easy to skim over his visuals without giving them a second look.  Even the biggest moments seem lacking in impact, like the sinking of Atlantis, whose scale Pelletier manages to capture, but whose glory seems out of his limited reach.

Conclusion: This is fantasy comics, pure and simple, with a bit of a superhero twist.  Johns and Pelletier execute their work well, but fall short of the inspiration needed for excellence.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Hm…who do you suppose these “deserts” with the “power of their sands” are?