One of the more amusing scenes from the movie Cabin in the Woods is when the technicians and bureaucrats who lurk behind every formulaic teen slasher film from the 1980s forward gather in their control room to conduct a lottery concerning the threat the heroes of the movie will face. Will it be the murderous unicorn or the giant spider or the werewolf or the cannibalistic pain-worshipping zombies? One can imagine a similar control room for he DCU these days, as it seems like many of the stories have become almost as formulaic as the dreadful films Cabin in the Woods was, in part, lampooning. The formula involves a hero or set of heroes suddenly separated from comfortable and familiar surroundings and faced with incursions into the Earth universe by an extradimensional threat. You can see the technicians gathered and placing their bets. Will it be Darkseid? Will it be left over waves from the Convergence event? Will it be living shadows? Or will it be, as in Aquaman, the lost remnants of Atlantis now trying to find their way home? Much of this issue is devoted to clearing up the mystery set out in last month’s story. Why has Arthur become estranged from his kingdom? Well, it turns out he hasn’t … exactly. Much of Aquaman #42 is an exercise in see-sawing back and forth through time, from the recent past to the present. It turns out that King Arthur received news that some foreign reality was extruding into the Earth realm, a reality that had poisonous effects on the Earth environment. He departs to take care of the situation, leaving Mera in charge of Atlantis in his absence. However, it turns out that this reality is actually inhabited by refugees from an ancient offshoot of Atlantis. They are now fleeing the other world, called Thule, and asking their ancient home to give them shelter from the evil that seems to be pursuing on their heels. Aquaman, feeling responsibility as their king, for they are Atlanteans of a kind, agrees to help them. The problem is that the evil that they bring with them is real enough, as is the poisonous effect of their reality. If he cannot find a way to save the refugees and close off the incursions quickly, he will be forced to take action to destroy Thule before it irrevocably poisons Earth. Meanwhile, the Atlanteans of his present kingdom are enraged that he has risked the world for the sake of strangers, and have declared him outlaw.
So, Aquaman’s present status finally begins to make a kind of sense. Of course, all kinds of questions immediately arise. Is King Arthur really so bad at communication and persuasion that he cannot explain to his subjects why he has decided to aid the refugees? Are these incursions not a Justice League level problem? Aren’t all these extradimensional threats turning the walls of reality around Earth into Swiss cheese? I suppose one could make an argument from the current mantra of the DC You initiative, story over continuity. But there is still some form of continuity, for Arthur’s current situation has been referenced in Justice League United, and even as he prepares to fight the latest incursion, enter none other than Garth stage left at the head of a group of hunters sent by Mera to bring her errant lover back to Atlantis. Garth appeared in the previous issue, but one suspects his appearance at this moment is at least partly in preparation for the upcoming Titans Hunt title announced earlier this month.
Despite the problems with Cullen Bunn’s storyline, the artwork by McCarthy, Merino, Wong, and Major skillfully supports the storyline by creating a clear separation between eras. The earlier flashbacks make use of clear lines and bright colors, a kind of classical Aquaman look. The later eras use blurred forms, heavy shadows, and murky greens and oranges to suggest a world grown confused and complicated, difficult and poisoned. If we don’t yet quite understand quite what happened or why it happened, it is nevertheless visually clear that something DID happen.
We are finally getting answers of a kind, although they don't quite make sense. Still, there seems still to be secrets within secrets, and troubles within troubles. One cannot help but believe that, in part, the story is convoluted for the sake of being convoluted, but the premise is intriguing enough to earn the creative team the benefit of the doubt a while longer. But patience can wear thin very quickly, and it will soon be time for simple answers in this complex tale.