By: Jeff Parker (story), Paul Pelletier & Alvaro Martinez (pencils), Sean Parsons & Raul Fernandez (inks), Rain Beredo (colors)

The Story: Aquaman is not going to be clapping and exclaiming “Hercules” after this.

The Review: If I can distill the difference between Parker’s Aquaman and Geoff John’s Aquaman to a few, pithy words, it’s the loss of the title’s epic quality. There’s no longer the sense that we’re reading a run for the ages, but rather a more typical superhero series. That’s not a bad change, exactly; instead of decompressed, measured storytelling, we have adventures that feel more spontaneous and bombastic. After enduring so many deep, wide-ranging conflicts, Aquaman deserves to maybe coast a little.

This brawn-on-brawn battle with Hercules certainly fits the bill. There’s a smidge of tragedy in how far the mythic hero has fallen, of course, and a touch of dramatic potential regarding his treacherous imprisonment by the Atlantean king, but that’s only an inch of depth we’re talking about. Aquaman versus Hercules is half-mindless entertainment, with the occasional call for reason (“Try to think! Remember who you were!“) thrown in.

In other circumstances, this encounter with Hercules would naturally and immediately lead to a team-up with Wonder Woman, spanning across two or three issues, maybe calling for an appearance by Poseidon (which throws Atlantean spirituality into panic) and a bit of rivalry between Mera and Diana. And we might still get all that, in the July release of Aquaman Annual #2. For now, Parker parks Hercules in a labyrinth and has Arthur abruptly switches gears, readying the title for a Swamp Thing team-up instead—which is just as exciting, actually. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are natural (read: predictable) allies; Aquaman and Swamp Thing are anything but.

A note on Dr. Evans, “He Who Freed the Gigantomachy,” whose “name will usurp that of Pandora.” As boring a character as he is, I hope Parker plans to do more with the shortsighted archaeologist. I strongly believe characters should be more than mere tools to advance a story, brought in only when the writer needs to get himself out of a narrative tight spot. Sadly, Evans is just that. Having used Evans to jumpstart this latest plotline, Parker uses him again to shelve the Hercules problem until a more convenient time, then shelves Evans, too. “[He’s] in his own hell now,” Arthur reassures us, in lieu of an actual resolution for the man.

Meanwhile, Parker has a couple other plotlines ready and waiting in the back for whenever Arthur has a spare moment. Triton Base remains an outrageous incursion on Atlantean territory, and within Dr. Orson is engaging in the usual experimental nonsense: gene-grafts, implausible hybrids, chimeras and the like. Basically, Orson fits right into the mad scientist mold except for the cackling: “I know the research council of Triton Base will…frown upon the liberties I’ve taken here…but it’s my hope that their concern for security will win out….when they see the power we have now.”

The threats from within Atlantis haven’t gone away, either, as the attempted assassination on Mera proves. Not only does this incident bring Tula back into the fold (and reveal her unexpected relationship to Orm), it also affords Mera an opportunity to ingratiate herself with the councilors, who are suspiciously nervous after she survives the attack, suggesting that at least one of them is possibly involved. With Mera now officially more in the know about Atlantean affairs than her husband, there’s a clear division of labor between the couple: she monitors the situation under the sea, leaving him free to play ambassador to the surface world.

Am I being too hard on Pelletier? That’s the accusation from commenter fletcher shepherd on my review of Aquaman and the Others #1. I take these kinds of critiques seriously, because personal bias is the bane of all critics. But I don’t see how, against the likes of J.H. Williams III, Fiona Staples, Javier Pulido, Ivan Reis, Nicola Scott, etc., I can possibly consider Pelletier as anything other than admirably competent, but also untroubled and bland, such as his art here. You’re never left in confusion as to what’s going on, but you’re never left with anything visually spectacular either.

Conclusion: A lot of action fluff to pad the way for bigger, more important storylines to come.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I love the idea that during their downtime, Arthur and Mera relax by watching episodes of The Wire. “If you come at the queen—you’d best not miss.