Today, Michael and Mikyzptlk are discussing Aquaman 16, originally released January 30th, 2012. This issue is part of the Throne of Atlantis event. Click here for all of our ToA coverage.
Michael: Nothing gets me going like a dramatic reveal. I love stories wherein tables are turned and even villains fall in and out of virtue. In comics, a strikingly juxtaposed panel can make a subtle twist even more shocking. There’s something thrilling about being duped by a brilliant turn. We’re told something is true, relevant, or congruous, only to find out that some or all of these things don’t matter, and yet the story is somehow better for it. It may be that we enjoy the release of tension or delight in dashing our assumptions that makes these betrayals so enjoyable, but part of what makes them effective is context. What the hero knows determines how new information changes him. Issue 16 of Aquaman delivers some really solid twists from Geoff Johns with vivid art from Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons to back it up, but our heroes are so clueless and mired in chaos that the impact of these bombshells are hard to gauge.
Cyborg is in Detroit getting an upgrade to be deep-sea compatible. Dr. Shin and ominous ex-Atlantean Vulko watch footage of Aquaman momentarily betraying Batman and company, attempting to prevent a war. Below the bottom of the sea, Aquaman breaks out of the punishment sea-pod his brother Orm put him in. Despite Batman’s arrogant insistence on leaving his pod, Aquaman convinces him to remain inside lest he get crushed by the pressure. So Arthur drags a pod around while Batman complains within and uses sonar equipment to guide them. When they’re attacked by a new breed of sea-monster, Batman is pretty unhelpful and almost ruins an otherwise bad-ass panel.
The back-up team of Hawkman, Black Canary, and Black Lighting fight Orm’s Atlantean warriors as Orm sinks Boston with explosives. Aquaman and Batman discover ancient hieroglyphs in the deep-sea trench that depict a king with a scepter leading a hoard of monsters. They immediately discover not only Superman and Wonder Woman’s bodies in a paralytic state, but also more of those crazy zombie sea-monsters. Mera and a freshly updated Cyborg burst in and help keep the monsters at bay. Meanwhile, something cool, gross, and sinewy surfaces from the water that distracts Orm and his army.
Orm’s primitive use of explosives to drown Boston prove he doesn’t have the powerful stolen scepter. Instead we see a vengeful Vulko slap those stupid glasses off Shin the way we’ve all wanted to, then wields the powerful scepter triumphantly.
We knew Vulko would be more menacing than a normal benevolent friend from the past. His association with Aquaman ruined his life in both worlds and his newfound power makes him a dangerous menace. This reversal is powerful — Vulko goes from impotent observer and messenger of exposition to the most powerful threat. It’s not entirely clear if Arthur even knows it’s Vulko by the end of the issue and is instead just shocked that his brother doesn’t have the scepter. Aquaman and Co.’s vague understanding of what’s going on somewhat stunts my own sense of what Vulko’s rise to power means. I’m sure this will pay off with Arthur getting blind-sided by forces he never knew existed, but for the moment, I wish Arthur had actually caught Vulko in the act and reacted, giving me a hint of how fucked they are. Instead, while powerful forces are shifting silently, Aquaman and gang are completely in the dark — their ignorance and foolhardiness showcased in nicely composed panels.
Every surprise or interesting twist in this issue happens without Arthur present, so the issue ends with tension between the Justice League’s befuddled escape from the trench, the battle of Boston, and Vulko’s personal rampage and new prophetic army. Arthur’s scenario feels isolated from these exciting developments,
Mik, what do you think of the premises being laid out for the next issue? Do these new developments affect you? Unlike me — I need Aquaman around participating in the action to clue me in on how to feel. Is Aquaman just destined to never really have a grasp on anything? After all, he’s torn between two worlds, each of which hate him in their own way. Could a readership even handle a truly savvy Aquaman? Feel free to touch on one or none of these questions.
Mikyzptlk: Seeing as how Aquaman is the titular star of this book, I’m inclined to agree with you that his presence in the action is a definite boon to said action. Of course, there is also something to be said about keeping certain things from your main protagonist for dramatic tension. I like the idea of things going from bad to worse on the surface while Aquaman and the League try to figure out how to get out of their potential watery graves. Their absence in the overall action above also validates the need for the Leagues reservists, and gives us the chance to see them in action for the first time…some of them at least.
Above, we see “The Savage” Hakwman (appropriately named it seems), Black Lighting (I’m NOT going there), Firestorm, and Vixen. Additionally, this issue featured Black Canary, Element Woman and someone else I’ll mention in a bit (a really tiny bit). We didn’t get to see too much of their battle against the Atlanteans unfortunately, but we did get to see Hawkman fight alongside a team for the first time. This acted as a preview of sorts to Johns’ upcoming Justice League of America where Johns has said that this’ll be a different version than the more regal character he brought back to popularity in the Pre-52. I’m interested to see where Johns takes Hawkman in the New 52, but based on what I’ve seen in this issue, it seems like he’s about to become yet another “Justice Jerk.” Although, considering that he only had 3 lines of dialogue in this issue, I may be jumping the gun a bit on that. Now, not all of the reservists were featured in this issue as Shazam, Green Arrow, Zatanna and Goldrush were not shown. I assume that we’ll be seeing these characters in the next issue of Justice League, and I’m hoping that we get to see the reservists in action more than we did in this issue. It’s explained to Cyborg that the reservists are holding back Atlantis, but I was disappointed that I had to be told that instead of actually seeing more of that team in action.
One more thing about the reserve team. Take a look at this:
Who could this be? Why, that’s not The Atom is it? I think it is! Ryan Choi has long been promised in the New 52 and it looks as if he’s about to make his triumphant return. Gail Simone’s run of the character in the Pre-52 was spectacular, and fans of that character have never quite gotten over his undeserved demise. Since he hasn’t been mentioned (as far as I know) as joining the JLA, I’m wondering if his almost introduction here means that he’ll be joining the Justice League proper. The reveal of this character was a small (pun totes intended) part of this issue, but it was also one of my favorite parts, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Johns will deliver.
Lastly, Michael, I’ve got to say that I think you and I interpreted the ending of this issue a bit differently. While Cyborg was shut down for upgrades, he pieced together footage of the true party responsible for the missile attack on Atlantis. As the League was about to resurface, Cyborg finished repairing the video and was able to show it to Aquaman.
To me, this looks like the face of a man who has just been utterly betrayed. Vulko has always been someone Aquaman could put all of his trust in. Now, that’s all been ruined. Johns is really putting the screws to Aquaman in this arc. Not only has he been fighting against his own brother, but now he has to fight against the man he thought of as one of his few remaining friends and confidants. Tough break A.C.
Lastly, I’d like to say that I rather enjoyed Paul Pelletier on art duties here. He does a good job of matching Ivan Reis’ overall style which provides good visual connective tissue between the crossover titles. In that vein, I have to point out what was probably my favorite panel of this issue, which just so happens to be the last page.
The composition here is absolutely perfect. Shin, lying broken and beaten on the ground effectively transitioning him to the role of victim. Vulko, standing powerfully with the stolen scepter as his horrifying army marches behind him ready to attack. As far as setups to conclusions go, this one was definitely a success as I can’t wait to see how the Aqua-cookie crumbles.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?