Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Philippe Briones, Wayne Faucher (inks), Gabe Eltaeb (colours)
Release Date: 18th January, 2017
When we left the previous issue, Aquaman had used his powers to track down the operational base of N.E.M.O., the shadowy organisation responsible for orchestrating the war between Atlantis and the United States, and discovered that it’s leader – the “Fisher King” – was none other than his own nemesis Black Manta. So, faced with this information, what does our beloved King do? Does he try and reason with them? Try and utilise a diplomatic or restrained solution? No. No he doesn’t. Instead, he unleashes his full Atlantean fury on the completely overmatched N.E.M.O. soldiers, Manta included.
What’s interesting to me is the marked contrast between this encounter and the previous skirmish between Arthur and Black Manta. Whereas back in issue two Arthur was all about trying to talk Manta out of his actions and reason with him, here he has absolutely zero interest in conversation and remains completely focused throughout on taking his adversary down once and for all. It’s a great little tweak that gives the whole series so far a feeling of coming full circle, establishing a new, no-nonsense Aquaman as we move forwards.
With the arc coming to an end, this issue also features a resolution to the all-out war between the US and Atlantis. And, rather than opting for an overly convenient set of circumstances to erase the previous few issues and move on like nothing ever happened, writer Dan Abnett instead has Arthur dig down and deliver an act of true heroism every bit as impressive as saving civilians or punching baddies into unconsciousness.
It also helps that Abnett makes the act of heroism feel so natural to the character rather than a forced moment of “hey, look how great this guy is”, and in doing so once again shows us the real strength of the Aquaman character. This isn’t just a one-dimensional underwater Superman who talks to fish, but a troubled monarch and head of state who doesn’t back down from making impossibly difficult decisions when the situation demands it. It’s spellbinding stuff, and Abnett deserves all the credit in the world for bringing this version of Aquaman back to the fore.
From a visual point of view, I’m just about ready to admit that my initial assessment of Philippe Briones’ artwork may have been a little harsh. In fact, the artist, assisted one again by the inks of Wayne Faucher and the bold colours of Gabe Eltaeb, has grown into this title impressively, and the gusto with which he attacks the Aquaman/Black Manta showdown really helps to underscore the drama and anger of Abnett’s script. He also does a great job of selling the aforementioned act of heroism, providing a stoic and steadfast Aquaman as he stares down the President of the United States in the Oval Office.
This is easily the best issue of the post-Rebirth series so far, and a fitting conclusion to what has been one of the most enjoyable Aquaman arcs in years. Abnett continues to cement his role as “Rebirth MVP”, managing to generate the same level of excitement about the character as Geoff Johns did way back at the beginning of the New 52. Highest of recommendations for this one.
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