It is much too early to judge the DC You initiative. It is even too soon to say what the main features of this new approach are, other than an impressive diversity of tone. But, whether part of the initiative or not, a lot of DC writers have been playing games with time of late. Jeff King, Scott Snyder, Greg Pak, Gene Luen Yang, and others have produced narratives that in some way bend chronology, usually by moving between two points in time, simultaneously exploring actions and outcomes. Author Cullen Bunn likewise uses this technique in Aquaman #41 to lay out a new status quo for the King of Atlantis, or former King of Atlantis as he seems now to be.
The present of the story finds Arthur Curry in St. Louis, battling an extradimensional invasion by a realm that seems to be ancient, magical, and evil. It also seems to be warped and poisonous. I would not say the invaders really approach the levels of horror one might expect from, say, Lovecraft. Rather, think a kind of undersea Mordor.
So far, so heroic. But where are the armies of Atlantis in the midst of this war? It would appear that Arthur has been exiled from his kingdom, and that Mera, evidently ruling as queen, has declared him a deadly enemy and outlaw. Now, this raises all kinds of problems, not least that Mera is herself an alien in that nation, and it’s hard to see why the Atlanteans, who to this point have evinced distrust and suspicion of her, would now offer her the throne. The story then flashes back to the first appearance of the invaders, showing us Arthur’s pledge to defend Atlantis by destroying the other realm if necessary, but not progressing events much farther. In the present, Aquaman evades the Atlantean forces and escapes via teleportation to the Amazon, where he is greeted by a group of invaders whom he not only has not killed, but who greet him as their king.
It is a radical change in tone and direction for the title, and frankly it feels rather fragile. Inconsistencies and contradictions are already mounting, but the central mystery is fascinating enough to hold the narrative together for now. Trevor McCarthy chooses two different looks to clearly differentiate past and present Arthur. Whereas the past character has the same appearance that he has displayed through most of the last four years, the present exile is altogether darker and rougher, slightly reminiscent of the 1990s character, although without the full beard and missing hand. Overall, McCarthy uses bold, clear lines with relatively little detail. Added to Guy Major’s basic color palette, this renders a cartoonish feel sometimes bordering on caricature. Given the subject matter of the story, it is a strange visual choice that is not entirely successful. Tom Napolitano’s lettering, on the other hand, is stately and clear with the texture of a nineteenth-century novel, adding a slight feel of classic horror to the proceedings.
This isn't the most promising of beginnings to a new arc or a new run. The disconnect between storyline and visual language robs the narrative of potential impact, and the questions raised by the plotlinecstrain credulity. Still, the ideas and events are enough to carry the book for one issue. But if the next installment is not significantly stronger, this is one bold initiative of the DC You that is likely to fail quickly.