Last month, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Welcome to month two of DC Reborn!
Note: the review below contains **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on this book, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Dan Abnett
Penciller: Scot Eaton
Inker: Wayne Faucher
Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Kyle Pinion: Two weeks ago, when we took a look at Aquaman #1, we both noted that it was a comic that was significantly improved by the presence of Brad Walker on penciling duties. Walker, whose vivid layouts and unique angular presentations permeated that issue, elevated what probably could be seen as a fairly ho-hum Aquaman script. Both you and I agreed that Walker’s art was “best in show” there, though I was a little more forgiving to the issue as a whole as I found the new status quo at least intriguing enough to carry-on with.
One issue later, and I haven’t really gotten much else to work with to sway my opinion either way, though you may see that as a bad thing, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did. This is basically an entire issues fight between Aquaman and Black Manta, with the necessary background given about how how Arthur errantly killed Manta’s father and the life-long struggle this has enacted between the two. Arthur makes his case in between blows, as does Manta, and it ends in the sort of “you can’t kill me and I can’t kill you” kind of resolution that veers on fairly overdone, though admittedly, I also expressed a tiny bit of relief at the fact that this mano a mano struggle was resolved all in one issue (more or less), rather than stretching it out into a multi-part saga.
Very little else is accomplished within these pages, other than the presumption among the Atlanteans that the surface world will turn against them due to the attack on the Spindrift station. I’m not totally sure I follow that logic, though I guess if you’re operating on the idea that all Atlanteans are warlike and can’t even protect their own, the question might be raised as to how can they co-exist with the rest of humanity? I definitely had to do a double-take on that line of thought and I think that’s a bit of issue with the set-up that Abnett presents here. I’ll also add that without Walker on board this issue, much of the appeal vanished for me, as Scot Eaton’s art was what I liked the least about Aquaman Rebirth and here we are again with him filling in. I’ll say, this was the one area of the bi-weekly release schedule that had me most worried: that we’ll get runs that jump all over the place visually due to the change in pencillers. We’re going to have at least four different Aquaman artists in that first trade. Eek. Anyway Alex, how did this time around suit you?
Alex Lu: Honestly, I’ve changed my tone on this book a little bit. Perhaps it’s just some type of Stockholm Syndrome that’s setting in, but I rather enjoyed myself on this action-packed romp. While I don’t think Abnett’s storyline about the sins of the father and the unyielding cycle of vengeance has had anything new to say about the subjects thus far, I think he’s doing an effective job of treading thematic water.
I think Eaton’s art, as you mentioned, is a major problem for this series. To give credit where credit is due, I found his artwork to be more generally effective at carrying the narrative than I did during Aquaman: Rebirth. However, he botched certain pivotal moments throughout the issue that destroyed my immersion in the book. For example, at one point of the story Aquaman pulls out a harpoon that Black Manta has launched into his shoulder by slamming himself against a wall, thus lodging the harpoon into it. This action allows him to launch himself off the harpoon embedded wall. Not only is this set of movements far more complicated than just pulling the blade out of his body, it is also less effective. Eaton renders the harpoon like a large nail, with a smooth tip and an oblong back. Aquaman’s decision to push himself off the wall forces the back through his body, enlarging his wound. In addition, the panels that showcase this movement are muddled and hard to follow, making an illogical act even more mind-boggling.
Then, during the climax of his fight with Black Manta, Aquaman decides that, in order to end the cycle of violence between the two of them, he has to prove that his death won’t satisfy Manta. Aquaman gives his arch nemesis his trident in an unnatural way. It seems like he’s turned it upside down, grabbed it by the prongs, and then extended the handle out to his foe. These moments could either have been improved by decompressing the action and adding an extra panel or two, or at least rendering them from a clearer perspective. It’s incredibly frustrating to see the art on this book suffer so much given how much the script has generally improved.
In addition, while I do now buy into the conflict between Aquaman and Black Manta, the conflict between the sea and the land is still as problematic to me as it is to you. I get the sense that Abnett is relying on the reader to either implicitly buy into the conceit he is feeding to them or he is hoping to latch onto some previous moments in continuity where this fraught relationship was more clearly established. His scripts thus far have avoided doing any of the real legwork needed to get readers to buy into this larger issue, which I sense is going to come to the fore of the book very soon. We need to see normal people reacting to the bombastic events at the embassy rather than just be told that the normal people will be mad about it. I don’t even remember seeing any of the eight deaths that are mentioned to have occurred during Black Manta’s attack on the embassy.
I ultimately don’t mind Aquaman #2, but I still don’t know what the hook of the series is. It’s certainly improved since the series’ Rebirth issue, but is middling the best we will ever get out of it? What do you think the core of appeal of the series is, Kyle? Who is it meant for?
Kyle: Presumably it’s aiming to jump-off from the initial Johns take that was the first real sales success for the character in many a year. The difference is, by Issue 2 of that previous run, we had a pretty good sense of where the creative team was headed, and I’m not totally sure I can say the same about what Abnett is going for here. The final page reveal, with what I presume is a new character, will likely lead to whatever the actual arc is, but there was just something very “meat and potatoes” about that entire presentation. The design of that character wasn’t that interesting, and I get the feeling we’ll get some story about an anti-Atlantean shadow organization coming soon. Which could be an angle worth pursuing, but so far, who knows?
This is a weird book for me, I don’t dislike it, but I also can’t say I’m hooked enough to where I just gotta know what’s going to happen next. It feels like the definition of mediocre superhero comics, but as we said before this thing really does seem to live or die on its visuals. While I don’t think Eaton is a bad artist by any means, he’s just doing workmanlike pencils here. Aquaman needs to be visually arresting or it threatens to become a painfully dull ride.
Phillipe Briones will taking over his side of the series in two weeks, perhaps that’ll settle things with some narrative consistency. But like you, I just don’t know man. I’m a maybe here, veering on pass.
Alex: Aquaman #2 gets a pass from me this week as well. From a narrative standpoint, this issue is better than the previous two, but the series still lacks a solid hook.
Final Verdict: Pass
Stay tuned throughout the day as we post reviews for Green Arrow #2 and Green Lanterns #2