By: Geoff Johns (story), Paul Pelletier (pencils), Sean Parsons (inks), Rod Reis (colors)
The Story: This ocean ain’t big enough for the two of us.
The Review: To say that Aquaman is as much a creature of the land as the sea seems to be stating the obvious until you consider the dearth of Aquaman stories which take place on the surface. Writers naturally put Arthur in the water by default, but doing so probably marginalized Arthur’s value on land over time. By returning Arthur to his lighthouse home, Johns was pushing to show that Aquaman can be as much a hero out of water as in it.
Which is why it’s such a shame to see Johns backtracking from that initial push as his run on the title winds down. After so many issues developing Arthur’s domestic life in Amnesty Bay, this issue renders all that effort moot by committing him to his undersea kingdom indefinitely. Granted, this was always going to be his destiny anyway; choosing to remain in a small coast town would limit his adventures pretty severely. But leaving now feels premature, since Johns has only scratched the surface of Arthur’s surface life.*
Arthur doesn’t make this decision lightly, of course, and his choice is as motivated by a desire to protect the land above as much as by pity for the kingdom below. With Atlanteans as conservative as they are, the only way for Arthur to ensure their growth into a more progressive culture is to guide them himself. Atlantis has also undeniably suffered an incredible amount of political instability within a short amount of time, having endured two major attacks under three sovereigns in the last year or so. Perhaps if Arthur does his job well, he can finally relinquish his job to someone else, but for now Johns has done a good job selling Arthur’s reasons for staying.
Even so, his rule remains vulnerable. Although Tula, Swatt, and even Murk seem to accept Arthur’s command now, this change springs more out of guilt for their own transgressions than genuine loyalty. And the rest of the Atlanteans are traditionally a superstitious lot; surely they can’t fail to notice how many disasters they’ve endured since their hybrid king took over? What will they make of the revelation that he descends from a group of treacherous murderers?
These are all points to keep in mind going forward from this issue, but how about the quality of the issue itself? The big battle between Arthur and Atlan is pretty impressive, as it should be, though riddled with emotionally charged, somewhat corny dialogue. “I destroyed Atlantis once before with this scepter,” Atlan claims, “…and I shall destroy it again!”
“No, Atlan. Atlantis is under my protection now,” Arthur replies.
Dialogue is just a consistent problem in this issue. The characters frequently seem like they’re not truly responding to each other, which breaks up the story’s flow. Arthur demands, “What kind of king enslaves his own people, Atlan?” The Dead King replies, “You think you can control the Trench with my scepter?” Vulko states, “I’ve never put you on a pedestal because of your bloodline, Arthur. It’s who you are.” “All I want is to find Mera,” Arthur says.
Speaking of whom, much as you appreciate the romance Arthur and Mera show to each other in this issue, their PDA sometimes pushes to the point of being uncomfortable. For every sweetly affectionate moment (“Just shave the beard,” Mera tells him as she accepts his offer of queenship**), there’s one cheesy enough to make you queasy (“I’m sorry I wasn’t here, Mera, but I am now. Always.”). In some ways, their obvious devotion makes it impossible to take any supposed threat to their union seriously, which is why Mera’s initial refusal to join Arthur on the throne doesn’t have quite the tension it desires.
By far the most problematic part of the issue has nothing to do with Aquaman himself, but with his brother. Spoiler alert—as it turns out, Orm not only rescued the young boy and his mother from #23.2, but decided to stay. Why, now? Johns makes no effort to say. Orm’s domestication is sudden, poorly developed (by which I mean it isn’t at all), and thus incredibly hard to believe, especially given the degree of his change of heart. He mentions Atlantis in a nostalgic, but not altogether troubled past tense—“like a lifetime ago,” he says—and instinctively rushes to protect his new, human flame when danger appears. Much as I like the theory of Orm gaining a newfound appreciation for the surface world, in contrast to his brother’s deepening relationship to Atlantis, this is too much too soon.
Pelletier has always done his best for this title and delivered fine results, but there’s no overlooking how clunky, busy, and distracting his art can be. Action sequences suffer the most from Pelletier’s pedestrian work; when Arthur flings Atlan into a volcanic vent, it just looks awkward and a little silly. Pelletier too often relies on an excess lines and jags to convey motion and activity, which not only has a comic-strip effect on the art, but also makes it hard for the eye to focus on the action at hand.
Conclusion: Considering this is Johns’ swan song on the title, it doesn’t have nearly the punch it should. There are too many defects in execution, and the art isn’t strong enough to push past them.
Some Musings: * And I admit it: I’m going to miss the hell out of Aquadog—or Salty, which is apparently his name. Pretty good name, too.
** Hurrah! I know reasonable minds can disagree on this, but I’d rather Arthur go without the lumberjack facial hair, at least until his forties.