Today, Mikyzptlk and Patrick are discussing Aquaman 24, originally released October 23rd, 2013.
Mikyzptlk: Families can be tough to deal with. Sometimes, you want nothing more than to make sure that everyone is happy, even if that means doing what is expected of you. Other times, maybe even most of the time, you just want to head for the hills and do your own thing. Aquaman has it infinitely worse because he has a royal family to deal with. For years, Aquaman was planted firmly in the hills doing his own thing until he made the choice to become the king of Atlantis. It’s a bit of a bummer though, because Aquaman 24 reveals that he was never meant to be king in the first place and that he might just be the villain of this piece…or at least the descendant of one.
Six months have passed since Aquaman fell. The Dead King has taken Atlantis, and Mera is nowhere to be found. Vulko has been keeping Aquaman safe in the frozen depths of Antarctica. He’s also been keeping him near the icy prison that once held The Dead King, as well as some devastating answers. Aquaman learns that The Dead King is actually Atlan, the creator of Atlantis. Long ago, he ruled Atlantis and started making waves (stay with me people), when he began making good decisions that some bad people (like his brother Orin) did not like. After a short time, his brother betrays and attempts to kill Atlan, but succeeds in killing Atlan’s family. Years pass before Atlan returns with powerful weaponry and a lust for revenge. Atlan kills his brother and then sinks all of Atlantis. Aquaman finds this all hard to believe, but is then dealt a potentially worse revelation. Arthur is not a descendant of Atlan, but…
The majority of this issue takes place via flashback. After the narrative delay that was Villain’s Month, I was really looking forward to seeing more of the Death of a King story unfold. When I first realized that the majority of this issue would be a history lesson, I began to roll my eyes. However, as the history lesson unfolded, I was pleasantly surprised to find something compelling.
Atlan, as it turns out, was a pretty awesome guy. Ya see, in his time Atlantis was a nation, seemingly one of, if not the most powerful nation on Earth. He began welcome people from all nations of the world to join Atlantis.
Unfortunately for Atlan, he was wrong about his brother. Orin kills Atlan’s family, nearly kills Atlan himself, and then, with his wife, proceeds to take Atlantis over. This doesn’t go well for anyone as Atlan only returns a few short years later to take back, and then take down, his kingdom. Suddenly, The Dead King has become a whole lot more interesting.
I feel like I’ve said this a lot lately about DC’s villains, but the best ones are the complex ones, and Geoff Johns has suddenly given me something I can really sink my teeth into with King Atlan. Not only was this guy brilliant, but he was a great leader and a total badass to boot. His downfall is absolutely tragic too. Not only did his own brother kill his family and take away his kingdom, but his altruism was taken as well. All of a sudden, I’m reading about a villain that I want to see succeed.
Not only are we told that the villain of this arc was actually a great hero, we are told that Aquaman is actually the descendant of the worst villains in Atlantean history. That’s one hell of a switcheroo, and I’m excited to see where Johns goes with this.
This issue laid out some pretty shocking revelations. We learn about The Dead King’s true identity, we learn that Aquaman is not a part of the royal Atlantean bloodline, and we learn that the Trench monsters that have been plaguing Aquaman this whole time are actually Atlanteans too.
Patrick, that’s quite a bit of new information for this series, and it seems to me that Johns is really ready to shake things up for Arthur Curry yet again. Arthur becoming King of Atlantis was a big shakeup for this book, so with that in mind, is it too soon for another status quo shift, or is this just what this series needs?
Patrick: Here’s the thing: I’m not convinced that this does represent a shift in the status quo. My first reason is that I’ve been calling Aquaman the villain of this series for years. But the second — and more compelling — reason is that Arthur’s birthright and royal lineage is never what forced him into the throne, it’s his relationships with the humans and Atlanteans, with Vulko, with his parents, with Mera, with Dr. Singh, with Orn, with Black Manta, with The Others, with the Justice League – that’s what qualifies him to lead Atlantis now. I fully expect Aquaman to overcome the secret tyranny of his ancestors and and reclaim his role in Atlantis on his own terms.
Johns and artist Paul Pelletier seem keenly aware of just how much the “on his own terms” matters to the identity of the character. I was able to rattle off a pretty impressive list of Aquaman supporting cast members, but if you think about Arthur’s actual, functional relationships with those people and groups, you’ll start to bum yourself out. The truth is that Arthur’s kind of a loner – he’s got a bad temper, and always insists that he’s going to take care of his problems on his own. Pelletier takes a few panels to emphasize this idea that “Aquaman stands alone” – and the frozen wasteland of Antarctica provides him the perfect backdrop for the lone warrior.
As Mik says, most of this issue is stuck in Secret History mode, which is pretty standard Johns-fare at this point. While the story of the sinking of Atlantis was always bound to be dark as shit, it was kind of a relief that we got to see a couple pages of the city thriving. Between the icy landscape and the multitude of underwater fights we’ve seen in this series of late, the color palette has been firmly fixed on Blue. So it comes as a nice warm shock to the system to see the yellows and oranges that dance through Atlantis in its heyday. Rod Reis is a phenomenal colorist, and he uses the scenes to eek out every last bit of hope and optimism before Orin tears the whole thing to the ground… er, sea.
Mik, I do think it’s fair to question the timing of this issue. I always believe that exposition goes down easier when it’s providing an answer to a question the audience is already asking. Do you realize how long that scene is in The Matrix when Morpheus explains the nature of his reality to him? It goes on and on, but it ends up being the most exciting part of the movie (I’d argue even more exciting that the Morpheus rescue at the end of the film). It’s a big dumb wall of exposition, but so much of Neo’s experience up to that point is knowing that something is wrong about the way he perceives the world, but he doesn’t know what. So as he — and we — learn about what the Matrix is, we’re all achieving something together, the character’s goals and the audience’s goals are aligned. I feel like there’s some of that happening here. Am I really interested in a lesson on the history of Atlantis? Not really. Might I want a peek inside why Arthur is fated to feel like an outsider no matter what? Yeah, I got room for that.
It is unfortunate that this issues comes on the heels of Villain Month – it means we’re away from that battle for so long. I suppose it’s sorta neat that we’re aligned with Arthur’s experience yet again – he too wishes he hadn’t been out cold for six months.
Okay, so: where’s that leave us? One more issue with Geoff Johns at the writer’s desk. I just checked the solicit, and it looks like it will be a super-sized issue, though I imagine it’ll be nowhere near the send-off he got from Green Lantern. I get that he’s the Chief Creative Officer and all, but doesn’t it feel a little weird that he gets to turn all of his final issues into victory laps? Remember Snyder and Paquette’s final issue of Swamp Thing? It was beautiful, and successfully closed off the emotional world of their story, but shit didn’t need to be super-sized.
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 and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?