I am not an Aquaman fan by any stretch of the imagination. Before Rebirth, I’ve maybe read two Aquaman comics ever. The much-maligned aquatic fish-speaking hero hasn’t really interested me. I vaguely remember Aquaman from the Justice League animated series as being aloof and a bit of a dick. You weren’t ever quite sure if he was on the side of good or not, and even if you asked him, he wouldn’t tell you. Mostly he acted in the interests of his homeland (Atlantis), and if it helped the rest of the world too, that was a happy accident.
Starting with DC Rebirth, Aquaman (or Arthur Curry) seems much more interested in what is good and right than his cartoon counterpart. Arthur has been trying to establish a diplomatic relationship between the surface world and the xenophobic Atlanteans. Unfortunately, this hasn’t worked out too well. His enemies have undermined and sabotaged his efforts every step of the way, and his people have largely disowned him as a landlubber. He’s been kicked off the throne by a militant “Make Atlantis Great Again” douche and, presumed dead, has gone into hiding. That is where Aquaman #25 picks up.
Jump In, The Water’s Fine
This week has seen a bunch of DC titles releasing anniversary #25 issues. We’ve already talked about Green Lanterns, and what a joy that book was to read. The big payoff with that comic is that it was a culmination of everything the comic had been building to since the first issue. Green Lanterns rewarded us for following it all of last year. Likewise, Superman #25 finished a big arc in spectacular fashion, leaving the next issue to start a new chapter in the lives of the Kents. Aquaman, by comparison, has a little different feel this week.
This 25th issue of Aquaman is about the best definition of a “jumping-on point” as you could find. If this were a Marvel book, it would be a brand new number 1 issue. (Marvel loves to renumber its titles much to the chagrin and confusion of all). All you really need to know before starting this one is that Aquaman has been kicked out of his throne, and they explain that in vague terms in the comic anyways. So, if you’ve never read an Aquaman book, and were always curious about him, this is a great place to start.
Up to now, you might be agreeing with me that yes, Aquaman seems uninteresting. He talks to fish and is basically what? Underwater Superman? Also, he was kind of a dick in that cartoon, wasn’t he? That may be your feeling going into this, as it was mine. So what is the big draw here? In my case, it was the artwork by Stjepan Sejic. This book is straight up gorgeous.
Stjepan Sejic has been drawing comics for his own independent works for a number of years now, has done cover work for Marvel, and had a long run on the Witchblade title. His independent series Sunstone and Death Vigil are both fantastic, both in their visuals and their stories. Aquaman is his first “big two” interior gig and was pretty much the reason I got myself caught up on Aquaman’s Rebirth run.
It was so worth it.
Sejic’s artwork is ridiculous. Ridiculously good, that is. He handles both the linework and the color here, and both are equally tremendous. The colors, in particular, are vivid and practically leap off the page. Sejic was made to draw Atlantis and Atlantean fashions, as the gleam and texture of their scaly garments look so lifelike, you almost feel like you could touch them. I don’t have enough good things to say about this art, and words don’t do it justice. You have to see for yourself.
The only worry is that with Aquaman being a twice monthly book, how long can Sejic keep up? Most other twice monthly books have rotating artist teams to keep on schedule. Hopefully, Stjepan can stick with it, or at least already has a few issues in the bag. He’s an incredible artist, and we’d hate to see him go.
Wait, There’s a Story Here Too
Oh yeah, Aquaman’s doing stuff. While the usurper Corum Rath and his Atlantean alt-right cronies plan to bring back forbidden magical WMD’s (To make Atlantis great again. Yes, he actually says that), Arthur is laying low at the bottom rung of Atlantean society. “The Ninth Tride” is at the bottom of the Atlantis caste system, and literally at the bottom of the sea. Only poor undesirables and mutants live and work in the Ninth Tride; the perfect place for a dead king to lay low. We’re not clear how long he’s been laying low, but to give it some context, he was clean-shaven when he was left for dead, so it’s been several weeks unless Atlanteans have impressive beard-growing skills.
King Rath has ties with the underworld in the Ninth Tride, and his goons are scrubbing undesirables from Atlantis. Arthur can’t just stand by, so he takes a cue from his friend Bruce Wayne and strikes at them from the shadows. It’s cool to see Aquaman being a street-level hero (er, trench-level?).
Meanwhile, Arthur still has friends in Atlantis. A few loyal to him sneak into the palace to find a cache of magical items. One is a communicator. They use it to get a message to Mera, Arthur’s would-be Queen. She’s been mourning him on the surface world in Arthur’s home town. “Arthur’s alive,” they tell her. Down below Arthur’s made a new friend, a mutant named Dolphin. We sure hope there isn’t any love triangle nonsense coming up.
Fun and Relevant
Aquaman’s Rebirth run up to now has been a fairly complicated political drama. It sets itself apart from other comics by telling an intricate tale of power struggles, questioning its own hero’s motivations and morality, while also throwing out some nice action sequences to boot. The political factions at war within the walls of Atlantis (yeah, they built a wall) echo the United States in some thought-provoking ways. Dan Abnett is a masterful storyteller (his run on Guardians of the Galaxy with Andy Lanning is one of my favorites) and his Aquaman has been fun to read despite not knowing much about him going in.
If you’ve ever had any interest in Aquaman but were afraid it was too boring or complex, or if you just love looking at amazing art, pick this one up. You won’t be sorry.
Fanfinites Rating: Story – 7/10, Art – 10/10
Aquaman #25: Underworld
Story: Dan Abnett
Art, Color, and Cover: Stjepan Sejic
Lettering: Steve Wands