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

The Story: The king of the sea vs. the king of plants.

The Review: Aquaman and Swamp Thing. Couples don’t get much odder than that. It’s one of those unusual pairings that the now defunct Brave and the Bold might have played with once upon a time, in a one-shot that probably would’ve left little lasting value for either character. Teaming them up through their respective titles allows for a more permanent relationship, that is, if Arthur and Alec can work through their initial tensions.

But let’s be honest here: Arthur could never in a million years stand a chance against Alec, someone who can defy even Superman’s powers. Any fight between them can only end with Arthur’s humiliating defeat, which Alec postpones for as long as possible until he can’t stand the irritation of Arthur’s attacks anymore. Once he proves just how far he outclasses the sea king, at least Arthur is man enough to remark ironically, “Guess I showed him.”

Despite the inevitable result, the battle’s good times, including a guest appearance by Ya’wara and an unexpected but fairly cool telepathically induced gator attack. It just doesn’t really take our story anywhere until Alec’s informed of the “living cloud of plant life” still moving through the sea and refusing his commands, and the payoff from that will have to wait until Swamp Thing #32.

As is becoming customary for the series, Mera’s undersea adventures are where the real meat of Aquaman lies. If the spirit of Geoff Johns lives on anywhere, it’s in Mera’s continued explorations of Atlantis and its social structure, which in this issue is revealed to include a class hierarchy literally based on how far down the Atlanteans live. In the lowest strata is the Underrealm, furthest from the surface and home to the most sea-bred Atlanteans. Despite their physical shortcomings—Tula clinically notes their inability to stand light and air—they’re also characterized by Koah as the “epitome of what Atlanteans should be.”

It sounds suspect, which even Koah admits, and upon entering the Underrealm, they’re almost immediately beset by the denizens there. But this doesn’t quite narrow down the suspects behind the attempted assassination on Mera. As one of the attackers says, “Everyone in the Underrealm wants you and your mate dead.” It’s worth noting, however, that Koah earlier claims that the “denizens refuse to officially name it…they say they are from ‘below.’ Most above call it the Underrealm.” It’s also worth noting that Koah is mysteriously absent during the battle, leaving Tula and Mera to fight it out by themselves. A conspiracy from above to scapegoat the people below, maybe?

At first glance, there isn’t a terribly big difference between Pelletier and Martinez, who both sport a dedicated, workman like quality to their art. I could have very easily glanced through the issue and never noticed that there were two artists at work. But on closer examination, there’s a certain sleekness to Martinez’s characters that I like, which you can particularly see in close-ups of Mera’s face. Her features are sharp and pronounced and you feel like you’re looking at a distinct individual rather than a female mold with red hair. Speaking of which, Beredo’s colors are mostly lovely throughout, especially in the way he lights the bone-grey Underrealm and the hot Louisiana swamp.

Conclusion: A lot of activity in this issue, most of it fun and productive.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – “My subject, Mr. Coombs, flat-lined for two minutes before I restarted his heart, so technically he did die, and all my work has been done on donor tissue.” Yeah, that’s not going to stand up in court, I’m pretty sure.