Publisher: DC Comics
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artist: Stjepan Šejić
Release Date: 21st June 2017
Stjepan Šejić takes over on art duties for the oversized 25th issue of Dan Abnett’s ongoing Aquaman series. And, following Aquaman’s removal as King of Atlantis and apparent murder at the hands of Murk last time out, it’s safe to say that this was always going to be a fairly interesting issue.
The chapter picks things up a few weeks into Corum Rath’s reign as King, and things are going pretty much as badly as you’d expect. Atlantis is becoming a paranoid, isolationist empire where armed militias go door to door, rooting out “taint-bloods” and those sympathetic to the former King and forcibly removing them from the nation, all while Rath stockpiles powerful, magic-infused weapons in an apparent show of force against the outside world.
In the midst of this fear-mongering dictatorship, Abnett takes us down to the Ninth Tride, the lowest level of Atlantis where citizens, frequently viewed as lowlifes by the upper classes, are tirelessly working to rebuild following the latest attack on the city. However in recent weeks, Crime lords, emboldened by Rath’s rule, now patrol the streets freely, robbing and intimidating locals with impunity. But when a strange vigilante appears, protecting the citizens of the Ninth Tride, rumours start swirling – could this be the Aquaman?
The parallels between deep-sea Atlantis and Gotham City are brilliantly implemented, and while I’m not sure any of us really expected Arthur to actually be dead, this twist on the established character is genuinely exciting. It’s also great to be able see a little more of Atlantis than the shiny, technologically-advanced upper levels we’re usually shown, and this issue goes a long way to giving us a deeper understanding of the socioeconomic structure of the proud nation.
It also doesn’t hurt that Šejić’s artwork looks absolutely stunning throughout, and his dark, painterly style works wonders in underscoring the more serious tone of Abnett’s story. The new look, long-haired and bearded Aquaman is given away on the cover, but Sejic still does a fantastic job with the eventual reveal, giving a much-needed edge to the disgraced former King as he embraces his adopted ‘vigilante’ role.
Simply put, this is an absolutely gorgeous issue – as you’d likely expect with Šejić on board – from the muted colour palette to the bleak, almost Bladerunner-esque slums of Atlantis, and would be worth the cover price for the artwork alone, even without Abnett’s typically polished narrative. Šejić’s gift for illustrating female characters (see: Sunstone) is also well utilised in his depiction of the grief-stricken Mera, not to mention the mysterious newcomer who Arthur ends up rescuing from the aforementioned crime lords, and who – if the final page is anything to go by – looks set to feature prominently in the issues to come.
Aquaman has been always one of the better written titles in the post-Rebirth DC Universe, but after twenty-five issues, it finally has what feels like the perfect artist to work alongside Abnett on this dark, politically charged story. Highly recommended.
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