King. Superhero. Punchline. That’s Aquaman.
True confession time: when the New 52 came out and I sampled a bunch of books, I ended up quitting a few months later due to finances. There were a few books I was sorry to discontinue, like Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, Scott Snyder’s Batman, Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman, and…Geoff Johns’ Aquaman. Johns has made something of a career at DC taking forgotten or ignored second stringers, figuring out what makes them tick, and then making the character somewhat awesome with a simplified backstory that respected everything that came before. He’d done it with Green Lantern, Hawkman, and the Justice Society. He was trying to do it for Aquaman.
Well, that ended, but let’s see how the Rebirth version works with a storyline subtitled The Drowning.
Another true confession: I’ve enjoyed a few Aquaman runs in the past. Both Peter David and Dan Jurgens had good runs on an Aquaman solo series, and Grant Morrison favored him with a no-nonsense voice during his JLA run. The Rebirth run comes courtesy of writer Dan Abnett, working without longtime creative partner Andy Lanning. Can he pull off a good run?
Well, not quite yet. There’s potential here. See, the key to good Aquaman adventures, I feel, is remembering the guy’s a freakin’ king. That works well for Marvel during their better Black Panther runs, and it works for Aquaman when that becomes part of the narrative. He’s not just some guy who swims fast and talks to fish. He’s a king of the largest nation on Earth, covering 3/4 of the planet’s surface, and he has a lot of responsibilities as a result. He has armies, and not just of fish. Abnett is trying to do that here, and it leads to some potentially good material down the road that isn’t quite there yet. Aquaman is trying, alongside his reluctant fiancé Mera, to connect the surface world with Atlantis, and he has two problems there. The first is longtime foe Black Manta. The second is an Atlantean splinter/terrorist group called the Deluge, and between the two of them, Aquaman’s level of trust with the American government goes down the crapper.
That whole “king” thing comes to a head in the final part, where this happens:
Here we finally see Aquaman lose his temper on the most convenient target of all: his Justice League teammate Superman. With Mera’s help, he actually manages to hold his own in a slugfest with the Man of Steel, and the fight is more philosophical than anything else. Superman wants to help, but for political reasons, Aquaman can’t accept it. There’s also a nice speech in the middle of it where Aquaman says he always feels like the odd man out on the League in the eyes of the general public, a distrusted figure that’s more creepy than anything else. He makes his point in a fight that Superman was probably holding back on, and the volume ends with Aquaman and Mera swimming off to deal with immediate problems before a war breaks out between Atlantis and the United States.
As I said, there’s potential here, but it’s not quite there yet. Artist Brad Walker does OK, nothing particularly striking one way or the other, but the book is more potential than actual goodness. Eight out of ten uses of Atlantean slang.