REVIEW: Aquaman #4

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Or – “Let’s See YOU Get By Underwater, As Well As He Does On The Ground!”

One of the great surprises of the New 52 for me has been which characters have grabbed the spotlight and held it.  Batman and Superman have been mediocre to okay, but books featuring Animal Man, Andrew Bennett, O.M.A.C. and Voodoo have held the most readability for me.  And amazingly, the orange-scalemail-wearing butt of a million cheap stand-up jokes has raised himself from Superfriends-also-ran to butt-kicking hero-king in the space of a few issues, and now he has ventured deeper into the mysterious oceans than ever before in search of the truth about The Trench!  (Hellblazer fans can tell him that it just needs a good dry-cleaning, I’d expect…)

AQUAMAN #4
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Ivan Reis
Inker(s): Joe Prado with Frer Ferreira
Colorist: Ann Reis
Letterer: Nick J. Napolitano
Editor: Patrick McCallum
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99

Previously, in Aquaman:  The fickle population of Atlantis really doesn’t know whether they love or hate their blonde half-human king.  As such, Aquaman has abdicated his throne, and returned with wife Mera to the other quarter of the planet, creating a new life for himself at his father’s old lighthouse.  The land-lubber public, on the other hand, HAS made up their mind about Aquaman, and generally treat him the way one treats rude smells in an elevator.  His new start has also been marred by the appearance of strange creatures from ocean depths that even the King of Atlantis seldom ventures into, creatures with little regard for property rights or the expectation that they not kill and eat innocent human beings.  Now, Arthur and Mera have begun their descent into The Trench, and I only hope that they say hi to Ed Harris on his way back up…

Heh.  Movie references…
 

UNDA DA SEEEEAAAA…

The first panel of the first page of this issue makes me smile, as we see the concentric-circles of Aquaman’s telepathy beaming into the oily black depths, with the accompanying noise spelled out on the page: “Vuuvuuvuuvuu…”  You can almost hear Budd Collyer’s voice as Arthur and Mera discuss their discomfort and the fact that even THEY don’t go this deep very often.  (Minds out of the gutter, thank you.)  The art is crisp, and the glowing undersea fish are done with an understated computer coloring effect that even uses lens flare well.  The first third of the issue moves slowly (albeit intentionally slowly) as we build towards the reveal: the secret of the Trench is that the horrible creatures have been sent by their queen to find food on land.  Their horrible, putrescent, mutated, enormous, glowing, razor-toothed, horrifying undersea monstrosity of a queen, squatting at the bottom of the trench with her helpless victims entombed in egg sacs for later consumption.  (You may have noticed that this is a particularly effective visual.)

…BUT THAT IS NOT A CARIBBEAN-ACCENTED CRAB.

Aquaman is played very smart here, as he figures out from ancient runes that these are the inbred, mutated children of a lost Atlantean tribe, and even sets his sights on saving the victims.  (I’m not sure how that’s even possible, given the immense pressure of the ocean bottom and the seemingly limited amount of oxygen in those bubbles…  But, heck, I’ll play along.)  Johns sets up an interesting conflict, though for my money, it’s somewhat late in the arc for Aquaman’s mixed feelings about his foes.  Even so, there’s some nice dramatic heft to Aquaman and the creatures trying to communicate with one another as he fights them off.  Arthur is forced to play Solomon (and also Samson, now that I mention it) to save the people of Beachrock, and manages to at least change one or two minds about his uselessness as a superhero.  The ending leaves us with an upbeat feeling, until Johns kicks in the final page:  One of his patented “Up Next In” shots, which asks one of the most obvious questions that we’ve all neglected to even wonder about for the last 70 years.

THE VERDICT: SUCCESSFUL, BUT CRAMPED…

This issue wraps up the first arc well, gives us drama, superhero moments, and horror, but I’m still of the opinion that the introduction of The Trench played the mystery a little bit too close to the vest.  Aquaman and Mera are clearly defined, well-drawn characters (in all senses of the word ‘drawn’) and their new hometown has been given a personality that works as well.  Presuming that the next arc is what the preview makes me think it is, I expect this new Aquaman to hit heights we haven’t seen since ‘The Atlantis Chronicles.’  Aquaman #4 is is a good issue overall, even with the stumbles, clearly focusing Aquaman’s latest personality and status quo, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Much lampshade-hanging has been done about Aquaman’s ‘joke character’ status since #1…  Is this a good way to counter the mockery or is Johns only adding fuel to the nay-sayers’ fires?