Review: Aquaman #54
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art: Robson Rocha & Daniel Henriques, Jesus Merino & Vicente Cifuentes
Colors: Sunny Gho
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Reviewed by: Matthew B. Lloyd
Between touching flashbacks to Black Manta’s past, the Devil of the Deep attacks Aquaman on the shores of Amnesty Bay. The greater Aqua-family comes racing to Arthur’s aid, but not in time to save Jackson Hyde from his father’s twisted sense of “family.”
This may be DeConnick’s best issue on the title. The ironic aspect of this is that she largely ignores Aquaman. It’s almost as if she knows his characterization is problematic and exploring the rest of the cast is not only more interesting, but more fulfilling. Besides showing Jackson Hyde’s heroism and the regulars of Amnesty Bay getting into the action, there’s a classic looking Tula panel that screams “classic.” Where’s Garth, eh? However, the best aspect of the issue is the focus on Black Manta.
It’s not often villains get a rounding out of character with a sympathetic twist. When they do, they tend to become anti-heroes. Just look at Poison Ivy in the past 10-15 years. Black Manta doesn’t have a “save the oceans” modus operandi that would make his crimes seem less egregious. He’s been pretty vicious in all continuities, most obviously when he murdered Arthur, Jr- Aquababy- back in the ’70’s. Never the less, this issue provides some sympathetic back story to Manta’s development.
The issue not only references the death of Black Manta’s father at the hands of a young Aquaman as seen in Aquaman #9 (“The New 52,” era), but goes on to show some of the lessons the young Manta leaned from his father. Apparently, Manta’s father wanted him to not be dependent upon anyone. It’s heartbreaking to see the young boy who would become Manta suffer through this lesson. But, we see how Manta demonstrate that he’s learned it as he lashes out at his own son, Jackson Hyde.
The young Manta learns a lot about life from his father, and it doesn’t always come off as a bad thing. The most touching moment is when it’s obvious that the young Manta is being hardened against the world by his father. Apparently, his mother has died and instead of allowing the young Manta to grieve, his father just tries to make him reliant upon no one.
The biggest negative is that Aquaman is completely unnecessary for this title. Mera, Jackson Hyde, Tristam Maurer, Tula and even Black Manta are capable of carrying this book without the current incarnation of Arthur Curry. Can we get Arthur Joseph Curry back?
Kelly Sue DeConnick does some great character work with Black Manta in Aquaman #54. Black Manta is no longer a man with misdirected vengeance, but the victim of poor parenting from a father that didn’t know how to raise his son without his mother around. An unconscious Aquaman proves to be the best method of improving this title. Let the supporting cast have their moments, and perhaps when Arthur is recognizable again, he can be allowed to lead his title.