Review: Aquaman #21

[Editor’s note: This review may contain spoilers.]

 

“H2.O, Part Three” (20 pages)
Writer: Dan Abnett
Artists: Scot Eaton (p) and Wayne Faucher (i)


Summary
While investigating a mysterious underwater region of the Gulf of Mexico known as “the H2-point-O,” Aquaman and Mera break through a portal to another planet, where the water is a living entity Aquaman can sort of communicate with, thus he can “feel” the planet is named Tethys.

In Greek mythology, Tethys is one of the Titans of old, wife of the sea god Oceanus and mother by him of all the river gods and oceanid sea nymphs. So, that’s a bit on the nose as names go. Of course, Tethys is also a moon of Saturn, so Abnett might have wanted to pick something else to establish this planet’s extra-solar bona fides. Unless this IS the Saturnian moon. Who knows, maybe this whole thing is leading into the Rebirth of Jemm, Son of Saturn?

Anyway, because of his aquatelepathy, and plot demands, Aquaman realizes that while he and Mera swam right through the interplanetary portal — they being some of the beautiful people, natch — anyone more human and subject to fits of fright in the face of the unknown would have been rejected passage by Tethys. And turned into Dead Water, to boot! So, he and Mera hurry through the portal to tell the others they’ve left behind at Valdez Base that they’ve discovered the origin of the Dead Water beast that attacked the base.

Meanwhile, at the base, the U.S. Aquamarines and the scientists jibber-jabber about the suitcase nuke the soldiers brought along in case the expedition went south. Then they jibber-jabber about how dangerous Dead Water is and how another Dead Water could come along and kill them all at any moment, just as the original base staffers were wiped out. Then Major Ricoh, leader of the Aquamarines, turns into Jabberjaw, and they all jibber-jabber some more.

Finally, just before Aquaman gets back, one of the scientists, a woman named Arni, who has been getting a little too worked up over Dead Water’s possible return, succumbs to the powers of the Tethys gate, and becomes Dead Water.

Oh, there’s also a one-page subplot set in Atlantis. If you lump all of Aquaman’s ongoing and limited series together, DC has published something like 300 issues of Aquaman. And in 275 of those, some jerk nozzle from Atlantis looks around and says, “Our king, Aquaman, is always off playing Aquaman and never here being king — let’s stage a coup!” So, because that’s a requisite component of any Aquaman story, Abnett obliges.

 

Positives
One of my chief complaints about Aquaman over the years is that writers don’t really think through the underwater setting. With, like . . . what, 70 percent of the Earth being oceans, and much of it unexplored, there should be all kinds of far out crazy settings and lost kingdoms. Aquaman should read like Tolkien in a wetsuit. Abnett gives us some of that in Tethys, he just has to go to another planet to deliver, for some reason.

The art by Eaton and Faucher is also quite nice. They succeed in making Tethys look strange, yet familiar, and in making Valdez Base look familiar, yet strange. It’s moody, evocative settings everywhere you go. And that’s good, because Aquaman is a series in which the setting is always one of the main characters.

This is also Eaton and Faucher’s first outing on this particular story arc, as they take over for Philippe Briones. Aquaman has employed multiple artists per story arc since the start of the Rebirth era and, whether by accident or design, they all fit in fairly well together, with no jarring change in art styles. That a comic book should maintain a stock look is kind of an old-school sensibility, but I’m an old reader, so it’s appreciated.

Negatives
One of my chief complaints about Aquaman over the years is that writers don’t really think through the underwater setting. Also, artists. I mean, in the Atlantis scene, do capes really make sense for people who live underwater? Or sitting at work stations?

Bust setting that aside, starting right at the cover, we get a scene that not only does not happen, but is not even suggested in the story within. Too bad, too, because Arni does undergo a metamorphosis like the one shown happening to Aquaman on the cover, so it kind of blows the big reveal at issues end. Well, except for the Dead Water boobs. There was no preparing for Dead Water boobs.

Also, while we are not three issues into this story, and this is, by my count, the fifth appearance of the U.S. Aquamarines, we are only just now beginning to get some hint of distinction among any member not named Ricoh, other than what anthropomorphized fish/sea mammal each can turn into. And actually, on that front, Abnett could change that fish/soldier dualities all around and I wouldn’t have clue one. I wouldn’t be like, hey, that guy’s not the whale-guy! The other guy is the whale guy! And that’s because they’ve thus far been completely interchangeable. But for finding out this issue that Ballard is the radio guy, and that Toye likes to tell people what to do when Ricoh isn’t busy doing it herself, they still are. Now, could have put the little bit of insight we get here under “positives,” but this issue was really kind of down time between slug fests, and so, I would have preferred a lot more in the way of character development.

And speaking of character development, I guess it would have been nice to have seen a little more foreshadowing in earlier issue of Arni’s tendency to turn into a nervous nellie. Yeah, I think we got a bit if that, like when she discovered the base’s fish-in-jar room, but she really didn’t react in that instance too abnormally from how you, or I, or anyone else might have. So, when she succumbs to Mortimer’s constant barrage of we’re-all-going-to-die, it’s a little jarring. It’s almost as if Abnett didn’t know somebody was going to get scared enough to turn into Dead Water when he started this tale, so he got to this point and had to pick somebody, rather than build of that person as the most likely to crack all along.

I’m also getting tired of Mortimer, frankly. He’s been Johnny One-Note since this story began. I mean, one look at him and it’s not hard to understand why he’s so afraid of Dead Water. But he’s had the screech dial turned up to 11 the whole time. He’s supposed to be kind of a criminal mastermind, so I would have preferred for him to have engaged in a little more subtlety and psychological warfare in order to maneuver the soldiers and scientists into pursuing the course of action he prefers. Instead, he’s been in a near constant state of panic, until, like a drowning victim he eventfully drowns the person trying to save him. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with that kind of character, I just don’t feel like that’s the kind of  person the super-baddie once known as The Scavenger is supposed to be. Or, if it is, as with Arni, we seem to be getting that personality trait a little late into the game.

 

Verdict
Although I have fun picking nits, Aquaman is a good book. I daresay, even, one of the best DC is currently publishing. Unfortunately, we’re due for a smaller dose of the sea kind, as come July he gets demoted to monthly status and will see a price hike to $3.99. Even with Stjepan Sejic coming on board for art, I’m not sure that’s the best way to lure in new readers.

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Duke Harrington

A newspaper reporter since 2004, Duke Harrington currently writes for the Kennebunk Post and the South Portland Sentry. He lives in Western Maine with one wife, one dog, two cats, and 19,237 comic books.