The world has been reborn.
Last month’s release of DC Universe: Rebirth #1 kicked off a new era of storytelling for the publisher. The house that gave us Batman and Superman is looking to make up for the mistakes of the New 52 canonical reboot, reinstating old plot points that were erased from their timeline and even bringing back old versions of classic characters that had been discarded in favor of newer, “edgier” ones.
Rebirth #1 promised us character driven stories filled with more heart than fist. Can they deliver? Each week, Kyle Pinion and Alex Lu will dig into the Rebirth titles kicking off DC Comics’ line overhaul to find out. This is week four of DC Reborn.
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. You’ll find our buy/pass recommendation for this book near the bottom of the article, so if you’re looking for a quick guide before heading out to the store, you’ll find it there!
Writers: Dan Abnett Penciler: Brad Walker
Inkers: Andrew Hennessey Colorist: Gabe Eltaeb Letterer: Pat Brosseau
Kyle Pinion: Two weeks ago, we sat down with the Aquaman: Rebirth issue and generally found it to be a bit of a whiff, rehashing the same sort of “gosh, it sure sucks to be Arthur Curry” take that Geoff Johns presented from the outset of the New 52. This time around, regular series artist Brad Walker jumps on-board for a tale that introduces readers to the interior of the Spindrift facility, Aquaman and Mera’s embassy that serves as a representation of the bridge that they’re trying to build between a distrusting humanity and the war-like Atlanteans. We get to meet a new POV character who spruces up the supporting cast a bit in Joanna Stubbs, and Black Manta makes his big move.
I found this issue to be fairly enjoyable. Abnett isn’t really reinventing any wheels here, he’s basically re-presenting a lot of the same character traits we’ve seen from Aquaman in the past, including the old Shaun McLaughlin run where he worked with the UN and the governments of the world. Whipping out Black Manta yet again can probably feel like a tired move, but if you’re going to try and get your run on solid footing, you may as well get your arch-enemy out of the way first. But where this issue differs a bit for me from the Rebirth effort is in what Walker brings to the table. He and Andrew Hennessey produce a comic that produces many of its one page splashes in an upward angle. That’s a unique choice that allows it stand apart visually, while also still being familiar enough for superhero enthusiasts that it can be palatable. And Gabe Eltaeb is just a bad ass colorist, really, bringing all that wonderful tech and armory to life in a way that a lesser producer of hues would fumble. Just look at Arthur’s belt in the title page, which I thought was a terrific attention to detail! I’m running ahead of myself here though, Alex, I don’t even know what you think of this effort…
Alex Lu: Well, I don’t want to burst your bubble, Kyle, but I was not much higher on this issue than I was on Aquaman: Rebirth #1.
I certainly agree that Brad Walker, Hennessey, and Eltaeb bring a lot to the table here. The book looks like a gem and from that perspective, deserves to be treated as such. There is a lot of inventive framing that emphasizes the large dramatic scale Abnett’s script wants to work within. You mention the interesting upwards angles, Kyle, but I was enthralled by several moments where the camera panned down. For example, there’s a scene where Walker and company depict a line of cars waiting to get into the Atlantean Embassy mingling with a crowd of security guards checking for liabilities. Then we pan further up to get a look at the massive Spindrift Station which features birds for scale. Those panels hammers home how monumental the bridge between the land and the sea is for the people of Earth. There’s also a gorgeous moment where a conversation between Joanna Stubbs and Mera is framed by the glass water enclosure that surrounds part of the Embassy, showing off the building’s scale as it dwarfs the denizens below. Moments like this raise the stakes and make the story seem more operatic.
Unfortunately, despite the story’s sense of grandeur, there’s not many actual points of interest to latch onto in Aquman #1. You say that Abnett doesn’t reinvent the wheel. I say that he’s doing nothing that we haven’t seen before. One of the reasons why I praise Scott Snyder’s first arc on Batman so highly is because it has a distinct voice. Snyder wanted to say something new with the Dark Knight and he did it through the Court of Owls, a threat that was both familiar enough to latch onto yet alien enough to be intrigued by. There’s nothing like that in Aquaman #1. Mera and Aquaman are driven by the same conflict between land and sea that they have always dealt with. Black Manta, like so many other fictional villains (and heroes!), is out for parental revenge. The story here is all just so simple and trite that I never feel compelled to turn the page. If not for the art, I likely would not have.
Some of the new POV characters do make an impact– Stubbs is a particularly interesting one. I could see her developing into a complex character worth watching, but most of what we’re told about her is that she is a member of the British navy who has a real fascination with the exclamation “Crikey,” which I always imagined to be more stereotypically Australian anyhow. I dunno Kyle…I see some of the strengths of Aquaman #1 that you do, but I don’t think it amounts to enough to make it a book worthy of recommendation. Perhaps you can enlighten me?
Kyle: Probably not. This is easily a case of the art outshining the script, and elevating it at the same time, but I saw it as fairly solid Aquaman-ing. Perhaps I have low expectations for the character these days, but give me a story in his world with enough visual pizzaz and I’m probably going to be pleased enough with the result to give it another look. I did have some trouble with Lt. Stubbs, and that crikey bit was certainly distracting and terribly forced. But I dig how Abnett is really laying down the “man of two worlds” theme and the inherent tragedy of Arthur is that he can’t be accepted fully by either. This is highlighted in the final pages when Black Manta strikes out for his revenge and the words he uses to punctuate his concluding blow are: “You will never be whole, Arthur Curry. Never.” I also, frankly, did not see that twist coming with the Daily Planet photographer, though it was equal parts relieving and surprising. If a superhero comic tosses me a moment where I say: “hey, that’s pretty clever”, I consider it a win or at least close enough.
I dunno, Alex. I’m a man of simple pleasures I guess. And I can’t help but wonder what the fall-out will be from this attack.
Alex: And far be it from me to deny you such pleasures! I certainly don’t think that Aquaman #1 is a failure– I just don’t see it as a groundbreaker. When it comes to storytelling, I’m a very picky person, so when I don’t see something actively new about a title, I tend to stray away from it. This is particularly true with superhero stories, as it is incredibly easy to retell an old tale with repurposing it in any significant way. I dislike Aquaman #1 because it feels like putting an old dress shirt through the wash. It comes out feeling fresh, but at some point those old stains will become too obvious to ignore.
I acknowledge that it has proven very difficult to tell a really good Aquaman story. The character is, in many ways, limited by his backstory and persona in a way that mot other characters are not. Thus, it is with regret that Aquaman #1 gets a pass from me because I really do believe that somewhere out there, there is a truly revolutionary Aquaman story waiting to be told.
Kyle: Yeah, Kurt Busiek told it years ago and nobody bought it. *cue tears*
Stay tuned throughout the day as we post reviews for Detective Comics #935, The Flash #1, and Wonder Woman #1!
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