By: Jeff Parker (story), Paul Pelletier & Netho Diaz (pencils), Sean Parsons & Ruy Jose (inks), Wil Quintana & Andrew Dalhouse (colors)
The Story: It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Aquaman!
The Review: Whenever a writer leaves a series I’ve particularly enjoyed, my first inclination is always to follow his lead. Even if his successor has a sterling reputation, I simply don’t believe a person can truly emulate another person’s successes. If it wasn’t for this gig, I’d probably follow through with those instincts. But since I’m duty-bound to give most things a fair chance, I’ve instead come up with some criteria for evaluating the writer who steps into the old one’s shoes.
The biggest rule: don’t trample over your predecessor’s hard work. If you want any hope of retaining fans of the last run, it’s best to respect and incorporate what has already been established.* In the case of Aquaman, this task is crucial, but also easy because Parker can’t afford to abandon anything Geoff Johns created without carving out whole slices of the hero’s shining-new canon. Even so, you get the distinct feeling that Parker doesn’t quite leverage the inventory left for him as well as he could have in this issue.
It’s puzzling, for example, why he introduces a whole new set of Atlantean characters when the ones we already have are still underdeveloped. Not that Parker’s obligated to clean up Johns’ messes, but Tula, Murk, and Swatt were really ill-used on an Orm rescue mission that never actually took off, and even now, we still don’t know all that much about them. Now that the brouhaha with the Dead King is over, now seems like a good time to integrate the three more deeply into Aquaman’s supporting cast. Instead, none of them appear at all in this issue, supplanted by an even less-defined group of bureaucrats.
Certainly, it makes sense that if Arthur is going to immerse himself in the intricacies of his kingship, then we should get to know the major political players in the regime. The problem is that none of the ones Parker creates brings much to the table, at least in terms of new story material. Once again, you have strict loyalists (Neoh), sullen protestors (Koah), and the ambivalent (Kae and Marga), none of whom show much individual personality or purpose. It’s not even clear, after the defunct royal forum, what their respective areas of influence are. Instead of expressing new domestic concerns, they rehash old tension: Arthur’s connection to the surface, Mera’s race, etc.
Even Parker’s opening plot development of choice feels redundant and uninspired. At best, the kraken that attacks the Icelandic coast seems like a bigger, dumber version of Topo. At worst, the creature is yet another in a long string of rampaging daikaiju from the Godzilla family of fictional monsters. Only at the very end, when Arthur attempts a psychic link do we get the vaguest sense of its nature, and that is little meat to chew on, indeed.
So what is there to recommend about the Parker run of Aquaman thus far? Well, we know Parker is clever from his consistently delightful Batman ’66 work, and he puts that virtue to work in Aquaman’s new airborne method of travel—which is pretty dang awesome, come to that. Parker is also determined not to keep Amnesty Bay an important part of the current Aquaman mythos, which relieves the worry I had after Arthur decided to commit to Atlantis in full. There’s even a smart bit of character work in the way Arthur’s opening act in the issue is to continue his superhero work, only applied to his Atlantean citizens. I wouldn’t mind seeing more of King Arthur playing Superman to the people of the sea.
Art-wise, it’s been a long time since the dazzling heights of Ivan Reis’ work on this title, as the efforts of both Diaz and Pelletier show us. Neither artist manages to impress in this issue, though Diaz stands out for his noticeable similarity to Fernando Pasarin’s style of art, only with even blockier heads and a more limited range of expression. Diaz doesn’t have the lighthearted feeling that Pelletier’s art evokes, but Pelletier can learn a few things from Diaz’s approach to action sequences. Compared to Pelletier’s frequently bland panels, which are incapable of capturing the power and glory of Aquaman’s top speed, stratospheric punch, Diaz brings explosive energy to the action that Pelletier can only dream of.
Conclusion: A competent first issue to Parker’s follow-up on a remarkable Aquaman run, though he perhaps expends his efforts on mostly the wrong places. The art can use a strong boost as well.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Keep in mind, these are rules for those coming aboard a successful/acclaimed run. Jeff Lemire’s total reworking of Green Arrow, for example, is permissible because the title was lacking in both sales and critical praise.