Saturday, December 30, 2017

REVIEW: Aquaman #31 (2017)

AQUAMAN #31 (2017) — Regular
cover by Stjepan Sejic. ©DC Comics
DC Comics, $3.99, 32pgs.
On-sale December 20, 2017

“The Crown Comes Down, Part 1”
20 pages, Read Time – 14:30

by Dan Abnett (story), Riccardo Federici (art), Sunny Gho (colors), and Steve Wands (letters). Edited by Alex Antone.

 BOTTOM LINE: Zero plot movement, but with enough atmosphere and political intrigue to make this issue well worth both the time and the dime. Plus, it’s SO pretty to look at!

So, when I saw this issue was not drawn by Stjepan Sejic, I was a little concerned. After all, ever since he came on board, Aquaman has been as cool as he’s been since the beginning on the Geoff Johns reboot. Even writer Dan Abnett, who’s been at the helm for the entire run of the current series, seems to have stepped up his game. You’ve heard me say repeatedly that AQUAMAN really needs to present itself not as traditional super-hero adventure, but as a fully-realized fantasy world. Basically, it needs to be LORD OF THE UNDERWATER RINGS, with Aquaman himself being a kind of Underwater Conan.

Well, they haven’t gone full Conan, not to the extent the upcoming feature film promises to, at any rate, but Abnett and Sejic certainly have delivered on mystic/medieval intrigue. Such has been the case that even though this is, like, the 42,948th time Aquaman has lost the crown of Atlantis and had to fight a despot who’s taken his place, it all feels fresh and new.

Part of that is because Abnett is finally treating Atlantis as he, or any writer should, as if the setting itself is one of, if not THE main character. This has been accomplished largely though development of the Trides, or different levels of Atlantis. Currently, Aquaman is trapped in the ninth, or lowest Tride — basically Suicide Slum — where the bottom feeders and mutants live, fighting his way back up to The First, where he can take down the current occupant of the throne. But interestingly, Aquaman is so insistent that he does not want the throne back or himself that he persists in playing a game that fools exactly no one, pretending he is not the former king, just some look-alike renegade. Thus, he’s not fighting for himself, but for justice, which helps drive the narrative in that super-heroic direction, even in this freshly remade fantasy world.

Vulko is back, and between he and the Windowhood — perhaps Abnett’s best addition to the Aqua-mythos — more than half of this issue is political intrigue, plotting, and planning. But it works as Abnett opens and closes with action scenes, with Aquaman first fending off soldiers from the higher Trides, then trying to rally the mutants, led by King Shark, to his side. So, even though we end the issue not one lap of the pool closer to resolving the overall conflict, there is enough feeling of movement among the various parts and pieces on the board that we don't feel cheated, as if nothing really happened.

If I have any complaint about this issue, it’s that we end with a Mera-in-danger cliffhanger. But he haven’t touched on her status, or really even seen her the entire issue. She’s just dropped in out of the blue as something we are supposed to remember from previous issues and now be worried about. At one point early in the issue, Aquaman mentions to Vulko that Mera is waiting from him on the surface, trapped outside of Atlantis by the Crown of Thorns. That would have been a good place to drop in a panel or two showing the reader what Aquaman does not know — that Mera tried to get past the thorns and was captured. That would have helped create some additional tension in the last panel when it suddenly appears as if she is drowning. After all, I think it was Chekov who said, “You can’t drown a Sea Queen in Act III unless you place her on the mantle in Act I.” And in comics, each issue needs to be a three-act play, not just one small piece of a larger production, so that readers can come away from that month’s chapter feeling like they’ve had a complete reading experience. And that’s especially important when each chapter costs $4 a pop.

And finally, what of the missing Sejic?

Well, don’t tell Stjepan I said this, but I think Riccardo Federici is not only a worthy substitute, he may even be a little bit better!

Of course, some of that may be due to the coloring of Sunny Gho. I generally prefer a more traditional approach to comic book coloring, but the painted feel here really boosts the wet noir atmosphere of this book, enhancing the idea that we truly are somewhere that exists as “a place apart” from the rest of the DCU.

AQUAMAN has more than held its own since being demoted from bi-weekly to monthly status. But now, just as Aquaman the hero starts to ascend the Trines of Atlantis, AQUAMAN the book deserves to start swimming back up the sales charts.



COVER: 6.00 | PLOT: 8.25 | SCRIPT: 9.00 | LAYOUT: 8.25 | ART: 9.25 | EDITS: 7.50

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