A new story arc kicks off with Aquaman #23, and like many other comics in this day and age, it draws considerable inspiration from the fractious and divisive times in which we find ourselves. But whereas many comics that try to tackle current events and themes often do so in an obvious or simplified way, the creative team here manages to present a more nuanced and balanced conflict, kicking off an intriguing arc devoted to palace intrigue and civil unrest.
As Aquaman and Mera return to Atlantis, they immediately find themselves under attack by the insurrectionists known as the deluge, led by Corum Rath, whom Arthur thought he had imprisoned. It’s soon clear that Rath did not escape without help, and that the establishment of Atlantean society has arrayed itself against their king. Will Arthur and Mera succeed in withstanding this attempt to seize power, or will Arthur’s rule come to an end?
The creative team of writer Dan Abnett, penciler Scot Eaton, inker Wayne Gaucher and colorist Gabe Eltaeb open this momentous story arc with a dense but enjoyable instalment. Though it does rely heavily on plot elements from earlier arcs, the narrative is by no means difficult to follow and even new readers can suss out all the relationships. Political intrigue and the machinations and schemes of a court are as old as stories themselves, and there’s a reason why this kind of story never fails to fascinate.
Aquaman #23 clearly draws upon our own real-world turmoil, with members of the Deluge proclaiming that Arthur is not their king; advocating for a protectionist, isolationist and regressive philosophy that is easily recognizable to anyone who’s been following the news. Those opposing Aquaman and Mera openly long for a return to what they see as Atlantis’ golden age of solitude, and criticize their king for setting his sights too far outside their borders and interests. A fear of globalization and a desire for putting national interests first has certainly been a common theme of late.
Where this issue goes a little further, however, is how the script doesn’t quite side nakedly with Arthur. The issue asks if Arthur’s progressive vision has benefitted the people of Atlantis, whether or not he has in fact taken them to a place they are neither ready for nor able to prosper from. It’s a reasonable question, and if we’re looking at this issue and the arc as a whole as an examination of globalism, the question is apt; is there a better balance to be sought between preparing for the smaller more interconnected world of the future, in which there are winners and losers, and still protecting the interests of those under your care.
Look, the banner on the issue reads Aquaman #23, so it’s pretty clear who we’re supposed to side with. But what I most appreciated about Abnett’s script was his willingness to depict the other side as having specific grievances that may or may not be warranted. Aquaman is trying to lead Atlantis to a better future, but that has risks, and his opponents aren’t entirely wrong to be frightened and angry. What makes them the bad guys is who they turn to lead them out of this conflict, and before you think trusting some one clearly out for their own interests is unbelievable, it might occur to us that truth is often stranger than fiction.
The art team, lead by Eaton, deliver some stellar work. It’s an issue that features a large cast, each of whom are well defines and distinctive. The action scenes are great, and the clean and detailed approach is carried out from Eaton through to letterer Pat Brousseau. This looks ever inch the big-time suers-heor book, with tons of dynamic action, drama and energy. Eaton’s work reminds me a lot of Mike McKone, and as a McKone fan, that’s no bad thing.
All in all, Aquaman #23 is a very strong opening chapter to what feels like an arc that will have consequences moving forward even as it uses the opportunity to comment on our own times and dig a little deeper than your typical super-hero slugfest. 8.5/10