Mikyzptlk: The game of Tetris is one of the most popular videogames of all time. To this day, people still enjoy that particular puzzle game, making sure that the many pieces fit together just right to get the best score. Similarly (just go with me on this), there’s been quite a few moving pieces in Aquaman during the fallout of Throne of Atlantis. Geoff Johns has been busy pushing his story elements and its characters forward, and I’m (mostly) interested in where this story is going. However, while there are certainly pieces of this puzzle I’m fascinated by, this issue may suffer from paying too much attention to getting all pieces to fit in the right place, and not enough to the titular hero.
Aquaman needs help locating The Scavenger, the dude absconding with Atlantean weaponry, and so calls in his friend Topo, the enormous, tentacled, sea creature with apparent human-like intelligence. Topo’s response is, well, nothing as he just kind of leaves. Aquaman is understandably concerned by this, but has little time to worry as some of his soldiers have discovered The Scavenger’s fleet of subs. They track down a beached sub to find one dead Atlantean soldier and another clinging to life. Some kind of surgery has been performed on one of the soldiers, more than likely of the organ-removal type.
Meanwhile at Belle Reve Penitentiary, Orm is busy speaking with his lawyer who is attempting to advise him of his situation. Orm seems fairly nonplussed in the face of multiple murder charges though, as he knows he has “plenty of other friends.” Speaking of those friends, Tula and Murk swim to “Old City” to break into Swatt’s house, an Atlantean with electrical powers who can no longer breath underwater, and ask him to assist with breaking Orm out of prison. Near the Florida Keys, Mera is dragged into the Bermuda Triangle by King Freezer-burn. She’s seemingly separated from him upon her arrival however, and is conveniently (or perhaps inconveniently) returned home to where her first husband, Nereus, has been waiting.
Is it just me, or does this guy immediately seem like an asshole? I’m not going to waste too much time talking about Nereus since he doesn’t really factor into this issue all that much other than the above reveal, but yeah, dude comes off as a total sphincter. Moving on. This issue is fractured into three different parts: The Aquaman stuff, the Orm/Murk/Tula stuff, and the Ice King/Mera stuff. I’m sure that these elements will eventually intersect, but there just wasn’t enough focus on Aquaman in this issue which normally wouldn’t be a problem, unless the book in your hand is called Aquaman. More than that though, Aquaman doesn’t even have a clue as to what the hell is going on!
This complaint has been lodged at this series before, but in that storyline, I felt Arthur’s cluelessness made sense in the context of the story, and it helped to drive home some dramatic elements during their reveal. Here though, while Arthur has discovered something that could potentially lead to exciting events, it’s mostly dull compared to what the other characters of the book are facing. What are our other characters up to you ask? Tula and Murk? Planning Orm’s prison-break! Mera? Dragged into the Bermuda fuckin’ Trianlgle by a crazy Ice King! Aquaman? Chasin’ some overweight white dude in a dirty tank top. Okay, to be honest, it’s a bit more than just that as Aquaman may have discovered a bit of Atlantean organ trafficking. Even with that though, I find Scavenger to be mostly boring. I mean, can’t he put on a flashy cape or a silly mask? It’d spice things up a little bit at least. Whatever, it’s not like he was actually in this issue anyway.
Okay, now that I got some of the negatives out of the way, I’d like to discuss the Murk/Tula/Orm storyline as it’s easily the most interesting thing that’s going on in this issue. I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to hate Murk since he’s actively attempting to betray Arthur at nearly every turn, but I’m growing to respect the guy…kind of. I mean, I don’t respect his methods really, he’s a bit rough around the edges after all, but all he wants is to do is save the life of his king. What Orm did was wrong, but it wasn’t necessarily villainous, he was tricked into an act of war and would not have done so unless he though his people were in danger. Similarly, what Murk is doing is wrong, but it isn’t strictly villainous either. Meanwhile, Tula seems to be caught up in all of this grey area and is struggling to find the right thing to do. All of this stuff is complicated, and, to put it simply, I like that.
As for Mera’s part in all of this, well, I’m just not that into her. To be fair though, I never have been. Oh, but how I’ve tried! I keep waiting for her big moment where Mr. Johns finally convinces me that this is a character that we should be invested in. This issue definitely finds her in surroundings that are new to us, but familiar to her. I’m somewhat curious to see where this goes, and I really hope to see this character as essential one day. As of now, I’m still much more interested in the other elements this story has to offer, which, in this issue at least, had very little to do with Aquaman. Brandon, I’m not sure how you’ve been feeling about the latest arc so….how have you been feeling about this latest arc? In other words, did you dig this issue? Was there anything that struck you as particularly interesting? I wanted to talk about Topo and Swatt, but ran out of space, did they do anything for you?
Brandon: Well, I’ll certainly admit that a Tetris metaphor for political machinations is one I’ve not heard before, but I’ll roll with it. Aquaman has been among my favorite books of the New 52 since the beginning, and while I’d say The Others arc was the high point, the Atlantean game of thrones that has marked the past few issues has been working well for me on the whole.
While I can understand your frustration with the series’ lack of focus on Aquaman himself, I found it an interesting way of showing us more about Arthur’s place in Atlantis. It seems that one of the running trends in Geoff Johns’ run on the title is this idea that Aquaman is a man without a country: he doesn’t fully belong on land, as the Trench and the Others showed us, but nor is he at home in Atlantis, as we’re learning now. In the three issues since the conclusion of Throne of Atlantis, we’ve been getting an extended look into the political climate of Atlantis, and one of the constants during that look is that Arthur is oblivious to a fair portion of what is going on.
In this issue alone, we see several groups taking action in Arthur’s absence. At the beginning of the issue, a group of guards have a sudden panic reaction to his summoning of Topo and quickly move to rally the guards. There is an astonishing lack of trust for Arthur in this conversation, and given that he speaks to Topo as if the beast is an old friend of his, it’s an undue lack of trust.
Meanwhile, Murk and Tula’s absconding with Swatt (an interesting character to say the least; more on that later though) conveys a very different kind of trust issue. They don’t seem to doubt Arthur’s abilities in the sea, but rather his abilities to sway those on land not to execute Orm (a doubt that is distinct from the Atlantean guards, who didn’t believe Arthur held as much power in the ocean). Hence, they plan to break him out. I will readily admit to rooting for them in this endeavor, because Orm is one of my favorite characters in the New 52 and I would love to see him for more than a page an issue at best, but their plans do portend bad things for Arthur’s reign.
So yes, Aquaman’s relative absence from this issue actually worked for me, because it gave some insight into what the Atlanteans are doing while he is away. Unfortunately for him, they don’t trust him, doubting his abilities on land and sea, and are making decisive actions to undermine his reign. It appears that the Scavenger is ultimately a distraction that Johns is using to pull Aquaman’s attention away from his subjects, keeping Murk and Tula’s dealings with Swatt hidden from his gaze.
Ah. Well, so much for that idea.
This is the part of the book that I’m not quite sure what to make of yet. You mentioned organ harvesting, which is an interpretation I didn’t have at first. The scars immediately reminded me of the cell phone bomb in The Dark Knight, so I was thinking that this poor Atlantean has been turned into some kind of weapon to deter the Atlanteans following the Scavenger. If he wanted organs, I would assume he would take all of them or just bring the whole Atlantean along with him, rather than taking just one and leaving him there.
I also can’t help but feel wary about Swatt. His odd fascination with the surface world (shades of The Little Mermaid anyone?) and inability to innately breathe underwater places him securely outside of Atlantean society, and he appears to have a healthy disdain for Murk and Tula. I’ve got a feeling that he ties into this Scavenger business as well, and involving him in the rescue of Orm doesn’t bode well. That said, he is an intriguing character that I am excited to see more from in the future.
Meanwhile, Frosty the Snowking (points for King Freezer-Burn, that’s a good one) and Mera continue to be billed pretty highly in the solicits and cover art, though the glacial pace (pun very much intended) at which this story is moving also has me far more interested in the politics than whatever this is. The reveal of Nereus, despite the major douche vibes that I, like you, got from his reveal, doesn’t do much for me as a New 52 Aquaman reader, but I got the impression that Nereus has a history, and isn’t an invention of Johns. Mera has been a bit one note lately, so hopefully this addition to her past will add some much needed flavor to her story.
At the end of the day, Aquaman is one of those annoying S-shaped pieces in Tetris. No matter where you try to place him – Atlantis, on land – he’s never going to fit perfectly, and the more pieces you stack up against him, the less he’s going to fit at all. Watching Johns pull off this political maneuvering all while showing us Aquaman’s unfortunate position between Atlantis and the surface has been one of the highlights of the New 52 so far.
(That metaphor still works, right? Let’s go with it.)
Brandon is a current film student and aspiring filmmaker, as well as a ravenous consumer of popular culture. He moonlights as a freelance critic, specializing in film and TV, but willing to talk about pretty much any art form. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word “sleep”.
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?