If you haven’t checked out the Hoopla app, I encourage you to do so. Hoopla is a service library systems can subscribe to as a way to offer digital content to their patrons. Hoopla happens to have a magnificent library of DC Comics titles, and I plan to use to explore some of the DC Rebirth titles I may have overlooked when the relaunch occurred. This will be a series of post, length undetermined, I guess once I run out of trades labeled “DC Universe Rebirth”.
Aquaman Vol.1: The Drowning (DC Comics)
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Scot Eaton, Brad Walker, and Philippe Briones
Since DC Comics rolled out their New 52 relaunch, they seem to continue their lack of surety when it comes to Aquaman. Geoff Johns’ run began with a big chip on its soldier about the pop culture joke perception of the hero and Abnett’s first arc in the new Rebirth status quo continues that strange chest pumping. Aquaman aka Arthur Curry has opened an Atlantean embassy to the surface world. The previous story arc in Justice League where Atlantis attacked the surface has led to enormous tensions between the governments of the world and this mysterious underwater nation. While welcoming visitors, Arthur is forced to deal with The Trench, a radical terrorist group of Atlanteans who want to eliminate the surface dwellers. He has his fiancee Mera running interference while Tula acts as the ruler of Atlantis in Arthur’s absence. And his old nemesis Black Manta looms in the distance.
Where the other Rebirth titles did a lot of resetting of their title characters, Aquaman appears to just be a continuation of the previous run. Abnett was writing the title before it was canceled for Rebirth, so it doesn’t feel like a complete reintroduction. Over in Green Arrow, they kept Benjamin Percy post-cancellation, yet he manages to make the Rebirth arc feel fresh and introductory, helped by Black Canary’s inclusion. In Aquaman, I honestly had a little trouble keeping up with the current status of Atlantis. I had dropped the series after Geoff Johns left the title which was a couple years ago.
The focus of this collection is Atlantis’ conflict with the United States government. It is a given that when the embassy opens, everything is going to pot. A terrorist disguises themselves as a reporter, and then chaos ensues. The result is Arthur struggling to convince the feds this wasn’t Atlantean in nature and ultimately failing at this. Mera goes along but is continually emphasizing her growing dissatisfaction with the surface people. Equally annoyed, but still loyal to Arthur’s commands are his royal guard. The story becomes almost a countdown of when they will finally pass that line of loyalty to commands and loyalty to protecting the throne.
Alongside this plot is a subplot involving Aquaman villain Black Manta. Manta has always been one of those characters that made me ask, “Why?” The villain has gone through some revisions over the years due to his original characterization being very bland. In the current iteration of Manta, he is motivated to go after Aquaman due to the hero’s accidental killing of his father. Since then Manta has essentially become a faceless, bland character to throw in when you need a villain on a team to counter Aquaman. In this collection, he finally gets his shot to kill Arthur and hesitates when the hero confronts him with the idea that he will have nothing if he commits this act. For some reason, Manta yields and ends up going on his own counter-plot that seems to be leading into the next volume.
Overall, I can’t recommend this volume as an excellent starting point for Aquaman. It feels like the next chapter in Abnett’s already established run. Abnett is also not writing his best. I’ve read some of his work over the years, his Legion and Guardians of the Galaxy work as the best, and can’t help but think his co-writer Andy Lanning was bringing what I liked to those runs. Aquaman proves himself to be a formidable figure, but the story he’s in just didn’t pull me in.