Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artwork: Philippe Briones, Gabe Eltaeb (colours)
Release Date: 3rd July 2016
After Black Manta’s violent disruption of the opening of Spindrift Station, the Arthur’s ill-fated dry land embassy, the already fractured relationship between the United States and Atlantis is at breaking point. Add to that a seemingly related attack on the USS Pontchartrain by Atlantean terrorists, and we have ourselves a bit of a political stramash, to say the least.
There’s a definite emotional investment to be had in Arthur’s desperate – and seemingly impossible – quest to insert Atlantis into the global political stage. Having him willingly cooperating by going through the charade of being handcuffed and imprisoned while things fall apart spectacularly in his absence makes for some truly gripping reading, and fully reinforces the heroic, regal aspect of a character who wants nothing more than what’s best for his people.
There’s a lot of not-so-subtle digs about American foreign policy along the way here, although thankfully it never becomes too much like a soapbox rant. Abnett also deserves kudos for structuring the story in such a way that it’s equally possible to see both sides of the argument, with Aquaman’s noble crusade for acceptance clashing beautifully with Mera’s anger at the ignorance and thinly veiled condescension of the Americans. And with a final page cliffhanger which suggests that this particular debate will have to remain on hold for the time being, this series is right back on track with a crisp, entertaining flow that promises much in the weeks and months to come. It’s worth mentioning that the Black Manta/N.E.M.O. storyline still feels like an unnecessary distraction, but with the focus now falling squarely on the tense, politically charged situation in Washington, the series as a whole is benefiting immeasurably.
I’ll admit that I was fairly critical of Philippe Briones’ artwork on the previous issue, and while some of the flaws are still very much present – the waxy, emotionless face of our hero, for instance – Briones does a far better job on the Aquaman-less scenes here. Mera is expressive and dynamic, and the underwater showdown as the Atlantean Royal Guard investigate the wreckage of the Pontchartrain is packed with tension. Brones’ work is once again buoyed by the colours of Gabe Eltaeb, and while I’ll still maintain that things are a little too bright for my own personal tastes, there’s no denying the vibrant, larger-than-life aesthetic that that makes this feel like a bonafide superhero story.
Overall then, while the niggles surrounding the artwork remain, Abnett’s story is proving to be more than enough to keep this book’s head above water. The political drama of a King trying to bring his people onto the world global stage while being beset on all sides by attempts to derail him makes for utterly gripping reading, and from a pure storytelling point of view, this may very well be the best post-Rebirth issue of the series so far.
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