Review: Aquaman #5

Modern Aquaman writers can get a little too defensive of our hero. The character is often written in a way designed to refute decades of abuse hurled at the sea king. Dan Abnett mostly lets the character show his worth through his actions here. Issue five is essentially a long fight scene. Aquaman and his betrothed, Mera, utterly humiliate waves of soldiers. However, Aquaman's a leader and needs to show he wants peace even in the face of war. Through the whole issue, he's trying to minimize the political damage resulting from the initial attack that sparked America's aggression as well as the damage done by Mera's overzealous rescue attempt. There's a brief aside where some jackass voices the ill-informed assumptions of the masses. It's a bit of heavy-handed irony as we see King Arthur Curry easily demolishing everything the military throws his way.  It also instantly puts you on Aquaman's side because he maintains the moral high ground throughout the issue. AQM_Cv5_dsDespite people underestimating him, our hero never results to childishly overblown displays of power. He doesn't need to prove anything other than his capacity for wisdom, courage, and compassion. His interactions with Mera further develop him as an individual partially defined by his reactions to events around him. She and he are fun to watch as they bicker and flirt just a little amid the chaos of battle. The art is fantastic, clear and clean and easy to follow. The body language is well rendered, at times exploding with action and simmering with subtlety when needed.

Our story ends with what should be a predictable appearance. It is instead a pleasant surprise. As a Justice League member, Aquaman cannot act within a vacuum. His actions and plights are not limited to him in terms of blowback. One of the more interesting elements of Aquaman's mythology is the way he has to prioritize his hero work with his leadership duties. The events of this series so far constitute a major international incident that threatens to destroy Atlantis' image on the global stage. Abnett is doing an admirable job pressuring Aquaman from both sides of his sense of duty. Perhaps the events of this issue will increase the pressure. Perhaps the demands of duty will be relieved somewhat moving forward. Either way, I'm confident this creative team will hold your attention for at least a little while. You know, until this all gets wiped from continuity.

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Aquaman #5 Writer: Dan Abnett Artist: Philippe Briones Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Review: Aquaman #2

Hey, remember how I said I was kind of impressed by Aquaman Issue 1? If you read that review, you don't have to read any further here. Just take all of the things I liked about that issue and flip everything to the reverse and you've got this week's review. No need to thank me for the time you saved. Maybe go listen to this week's new 'Super S' podcast or something. For those who stuck around, yeah, this book took a great start and decided to bomb it all back to the Aqua Stone Age. When we last left off, Black Manta had sprung a terrorist attack on Aquaman's new Atlantis/Surface embassy in an attempt to both destroy Arthur's reputation and sanity. Civilians are dead, Mera is injured, and Aquaman and Black Manta are in a fight to the death in the collapsing embassy. Pretty big opener for an Issue 1, right? Got to have something pretty daring to follow that up with, right?

Apparently, fuck no.

AQM_Cv2_open_order_varBlack Manta, who swore to kill Mera to drive Aquaman insane, basically just stands around while Arthur lets Mera get evacuated from the battle. Aquaman tries to reason with Black Manta by saying one of the dumbest things I've heard said to a man trying to kill you: “As long as [our hate for each other] persists, one of us will kill the other!”. Mind you, by this point, Arthur has a harpoon stuck in his shoulder that Black Manta just fired into him. Then Aquaman removes the harpoon head by pushing the thicker barbed part that wasn't lodged in his body through his shoulder, rather than simply pulling the thin lance part that actually was in him. Good job, buddy.

Then comes page after page of Aquaman telling Black Manta that killing his dad helped him be a better person, which is a terrible way to try to calm a guy down who is trying to kill you for killing his dad. Then Aquaman gets the upper hand, ready to execute Black Manta who says he will never stop trying to destroy him. Black Manta says some bullshit about Aquaman stopping being Aquaman if he takes a life, which seems contradictory to recent Aquaman storytelling, but what do I know, I'm not exactly an Aquaexpert. So Aquaman's like 'hey, two can play this stupid game' and literally hands his trident over to Black Manta to put to HIS neck, and tells him that he won't have any purpose in life if he doesn't have that 9 to 5 killing Aquaman job anymore. Which is true, which is why Black Manta's whole goal at the beginning of this story was to drive Sea King koo-koo by killing Mera, but fuck, if you don't put stuff like that down in a daily planner you'll forget it during the drive home. Black Manta cries like a bitch and lets himself get arrested, which he is then broken out of like a block down the road by some mysterious folks who apparently didn't get the memo that Black Manta just became as intimidating as Lucas “Snapper” Carr.

Also, the artist changed. Yeah, that artist I really liked which was probably 60% of my enjoyment of the first issue. The former artist still does the cover, that old switcheroo everyone loves so much, that folks like DC should, but aren't, above pulling. The new art isn't completely terrible, but suffers massively in contrast to the poppy energetic work Brad Walker was doing, and features some comically bad perspective issues. There are legitimate reasons to change artists mid-series; the unfortunate departure of the introductory Karnak artist due to serious unavoidable changes in his life are one, but change the damn cover to reflect it or else it feels like you are playing tagteam to milk my wallet.

So in two issues, what has this team done? They've managed to emasculate and delegitimize the only Aquaman villian anybody cares about after talking him up to be pulling some endgame shit on Arthur. They managed to waste a perfectly good storyline title (“The Drowning” deserves something a bit better than a bloodless tussle in a wave pool). They managed to lose their most talented artist after one issue. Aaaaand they managed to not set up or tear down any status quo that wasn't in place in the first issue to start with.

But most of all, they proved something that by now DC readers are more than familiar with: starting a story is easy, ending it is not. This story started on a good note, promising us a kind of Aquaman story we so rarely get: one that we might think about reading maybe. One that might have sort-of consequences. This ending, one issue after it started, is like drinking sea water. It looked so good from the outside as a thirsty man, but once it goes down you realize it was a horrible mistake and are just left more desperate for a drink than before.

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Aquaman #2
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Scot Eaton
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Review: Aquaman #1

Who'd have thought the best thing I'd read so far in the Rebirth titles would be 'Aquaman'? A couple of weeks in, DC's latest reboot/relaunch/rebranding initiative has been party to more duds than sparkling successes, feeling more like the company testing shallow waters and breifly getting a nice boost from a new set on No. 1's than anything reinvigorated with daring or creativity. While I can't say 'Aquaman' is anything new under the sun, out of the titles I've read so far it is the best looking and strongest written title DC has to offer. At a point of strained tensions between the aquatic kingdom of Atlantis and the surface world, Arthur Curry puts a plan into action to bridge the gap between the two, building a new embassy and kickstarting diplomatic and cultural initiatives to promote unity and understanding. Of course, lurking in the shadows, one of Aquaman's fiercest enemies plots to not only upend his plans but singlehandedly devastate the king's sanity.

Aquaman #1Dan Abnett gets right to the thick of things, wasting little time getting the fires raging in Aquaman's life. The storytelling is efficient, if a little clumsy with expositional monologuing, but it keeps the eye moving from page to page at a nice clip. It will be interesting to see where the book goes from here as things are escalated quickly enough that it's actually a bit of a challenge to guess what happens next. Either there are some masterful strokes of storytelling waiting or the load was blown too quick and we're in for a slog. Either way, this issue opens things up strongly enough to earn a look at that second issue.

The real highlight is the art, lines courtesy of Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessey, with colors by Gabe Eltaeb. The lines are strong, finely detailed with excellent use of space and theatrical animation. The Marvel camp has pushed for a range of styles on their books, hiring interesting innovative artists that would have been considered not mainstream enough for major superhero titles before. While resulting in some talented folks getting a serious career bump, it has been a long time since I've seen a new superhero comic book drawn in a more traditionally superhero style that caught my eye, with a lot of titles mimicking styles but rarely having anything boldly its own. This comic looks like a superhero comic. It doesn't mimic cinematic framing or strive to be either photorealistic or artistic abstraction, the perfect middle ground for a book like this. Eltaeb's colors imbue this poppy linework with the vibrant light it needs, saturated and bright but without showy details to lean attention from the linework, deceptively simple. This team put together a great looking book and commendations to them for giving it such a go.

It's a big opener, but it does leave me wondering how strong the follow-up can really be. Potentially intriguing or worrying, this opening act at the very least gives us a strong starting point for a new Aquaman story, if not a guarantee of a starting point for a whole new era for Aquaman himself. As Dustin Cabeal on the Comic Bastards podcast noted, Abnett promises a lot with big talk from Black Manta and failure to follow through on at least some of it could leave bitter disappointment with readers giving a hardly A-team hero another shot at their pocketbook. I'll reserve judgement till the book's next move is revealed and take this issue for what it is, a solid-looking read that delivers more than I imagined Aquaman would.

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Aquaman #1
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Brad Walker
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99
Release date: 6/22/16
Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital


Group Review: Aquaman: Rebirth #1

What? Two group reviews this week? That’s right and just like our group review for The Flash: Rebirth #1, we’ve limited this group review to just five people. Let’s dive in… pun intended. [su_quote]Synopsis: Aquaman is fighting some rebels while an unseen figure narrates his entire life to us. Who’s our mystery narrator? Does Mera like Clam Chowder? Is Arthur Curry a land lover? All this and water in the first issue of Aquaman![/su_quote]


Abnett writes a comic that insists on emphasizing the fact that Aquaman is more of a punchline in pop culture than anything else.  Ironically, rather than showing us why we ought to take Aquaman seriously, he demonstrates one of the reasons it's so easy to make fun of Aquaman: there's nothing exciting or original being written for him.  Abnett continues, one caption-filled page after the next, to insist that Aquaman lives a divided existence between being  a monarch of Atlantis and a hero on earth.  But double lives are the core feature of most if not all major super heroes.  Spending so much time trying to dig Aquaman out of a hole he's earned from years of subpar stories just makes the comic feel like a cheap sales pitch rather than a substantive new beginning for the character.

And the visuals are a mess.  I get it: blue and green because "ocean."  But the colors are so damn saturated.  Every action sequence feels intensely stilted as a result, and some of the sequences even feel jumbled because the layouts often switch up for reasons that don't serve the rhythm of the narrative at all.  The reader will find their eyes dragged to weird places in a weird order all while getting exposition about stuff they could have gleaned from a fan wiki on the character.


ISAAC: 5/5

Contrary to a lot of people, I’ve always like Aquaman, even though he has been a punchline in pop culture for a very long time. I was happy that DC addressed this fact in Aquaman: Rebirth. The whole story goes by pretty fast. In a short time, we’re reminded of Arthur Curry’s philosophy. Heavy is the head that wear the crown because he’s torn between being Atlantis’ king and earth’s hero. AQMREB_Cv1His struggle comes when he does what he believes is best for everyone. All of the scenes were paced concisely and no page was wasted. There’s also a mysterious narration throughout the book which pays off with a great cliffhanger. I appreciated that this issue is filled with almost non-stop action which ceases only to fill in the blanks about the political effects Aquaman’s battle will have on his people. It helps us get a peek into his head and all the things he has to consider before making a move.

It’s interesting to see a superhero who is so polarizing among the people he’s trying to protect. By acknowledging that Aquaman isn’t popular, it gives the future series a clear direction. He’s complex. Another aspect I enjoy about this book is that it touches on the fact that Aquaman is royalty. Unlike the other members of the Justice League, he is the leader of an entire nation. These are the layers that I hope get explored more as DC moves forward with this new arc of Aquaman.

ASA: 2/5

Oof, this was a rough one. I love Dan Abnett (New Deadwardians and Wild's End are modern classics), but nothing much about this issue worked. Problem number one was that it followed the formula of Rebirth issues without variation. It established a continuity, reflected on some meta elements of that continuity, really, really awkwardly foreshadowed the story to come, and ended with a reveal of a villain monologuing about evil. It's actually the exact same issue as this week's 'Detective Comics #934'. Unfortunately, it's just too dry and generic to go beyond that formula and do something interesting.

It's a herculean task to make a fictional bureaucracy full of royal intrigue interesting (see every Inhumans book to date), and the portions of the book that talk about Atlantis and the various tribes and figures are the comics equivalent of mushy, un-sugared oatmeal. Then the book takes an odd turn that also doesn't work very well--it addresses Aquaman's memetic status as a joke. This portion is way too on the nose as it tries to tell the reader directly that talking to fish and riding seahorses are besmirchments on Arthur's good name. Apparently the old cartoon even exists in this universe for some reason...

The idea floated (heh, wordplay) by the issue is that Aquaman is unloved as a powerful ruler and as walking joke, but when neither half of the issue works, it makes for a slog.


Believe it or not, this was the Rebirth one-shot I was looking forward to the most. I think it’s safe to say that no other member of the Justice League is as under-utilized, undervalued, and misunderstood as the King of Atlantis and I was excited to see what new life would be breathed into Arthur Curry. After reading through this first attempt, however, it would appear that writer Dan Abnett has speared himself a dead fish.

Flashback with me for a moment: did you ever have to write a foot-note citation paper or have to read one? So you know how they’re literally the most fucking horrid way of having to write/read? Well that’s what reading through Aquaman: Rebirth is like. Every little piece of dialogue has its own aside, explaining context, origin and meaning; it’s painful. Not only that but it’s extremely self-deprecating, like making fun yourself before others have the opportunity to. Abnett is fighting the pot-shots of the past when he should be discarding them completely. If you don’t want the readers to think Aquaman is a wimpy, useless, lame character, don’t merely tell us how he isn’t, show us how he can be a complete and total badass! One final note, did anyone else find it a little messed up that the King of the Ocean was eating clam chowder? That’s kind of dark when you think about it, no?

The only redeeming aspect of this issue was the art. Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez: holy freaking crap. There are no words; that is how comics should look. The detail, the colour, everything is absolutely top notch; beautiful effort. I wish the same could be said about the writing which quite frankly pales in comparison.


This issue is actually pretty good. I think that Dan Abnett does an incredible job of not only recapping everything that has happened with Aquaman since the New 52, but then adding somewhere for the series to go. If it goes where it alludes, then this might just be a great book. But it’s not perfect. While the narration is strong, it’s a bit too informative when we meet the person delivering it. The dialogue, on the other hand, is pretty weak. The threat of the story feels like a pointless backdrop just so we can talk over it and nothing more. I’m curious about this series and that’s saying a lot considering it’s Aquaman. I didn’t like the fact that this is the second relaunch of this title and the second time that they’ve brought up the fact that he’s viewed as a joke to fans and the average person… no amount of meta is going to change that, you just have to tell great stories with the character and it will change on its own.

The art for this issue is both good and bad. At times I liked it. Aquaman’s face looks different every other panel and never really consistent. It makes it look like seventeen people illustrated this issue and that’s not what anyone wants to see. I don’t know if it was intentional to match the subject of the narration, but it didn’t work. When it’s subtle like that, it comes off like a mistake. I think the art might end up being the thing that hurts this book rather than the story. Otherwise, I actually liked this issue and if the art was just a bit more consistent I would have scored it higher. That’s how close it was.

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Writer: Dan Abnett Artists: Scot Eaton & Oscar Jimenez Publisher: DC Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 6/8/16 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital