DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as
Young Animal, Wildstorm, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up!
THIS WEEK: Kelly Sue DeConnick sets out to make a splash with her debut on Aquaman.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Penciller: Robson Rocha
Inker: Daniel Henriques
Colorist: Sunny Cho
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
At the start of the Rebirth era, Kyle and I were big fans of Aquaman. Writer Dan Abnett and his artistic collaborators including Brad Walker and Stjepan Šejić, crafted an intricate story of political intrigue that saw Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, bridging the divide between Atlantis and surface nations just as he is beset by unrest within his own kingdom. This run did a great deal to flesh out Atlantis as a locale, bringing readers a new understanding of the vast and complex culture that surrounds our hero. Now, however, after several years of this, it’s time for a hard reset. Enter: Kelly Sue DeConnick and Robson Rocha.
After the events of “Drowned Earth,” which saw the Earth invaded and nearly sunken by angry intergalactic sea gods of yore (yep, this is a thing), Aquaman is missing, presumed dead in a sacrifice play to save his friends, family, and the rest of the planet from sure destruction. As it turns out, however, he’s not actually dead. At the start of Aquaman #43, he finds himself living on a sparsely populated island with no memory of who he was or what his abilities are. We discover that a young woman in red named Caille pulled him out of the water, unconscious and nearly drowned. The other people on the island call him Andy, after the A on his belt, but Caille calls him Arausio, after an ancient Celtic water god.
People in comics like to talk about the idea of jump on points a lot. Some might tell you that the value of such a thing– an issue where you can launch into a story with little to no context of what came before– is overvalued and that people can and should just jump in wherever. Personally, I disagree with that, which is why I enjoyed Aquaman #43 quite a bit. While I admit that the start to this run might be perplexing to those who understand Aquaman on a superficial level (why is amnesiac? why is he scared of the water/unable to “talk to fish?”), to the completely uninitiated, the state of tabula rasa that DeConnick and her artistic collaborators start Arthur/Andy/Arausio in is the perfect beginning of a classic Hero’s Journey. Unlike most stories in comics these days, which tend to begin with the knowledge of history embedded into them, in Aquaman we get the rare opportunity to learn about our lead at the same pace that he is. And that’s cool because even if, at the end of the day, Arthur Curry goes back to being the man that he historically has been, we’ll have been able to spend time with a version of him that might make different choices and develop a different personality than we’ve seen him have before.
Now, as a story in of itself, Aquaman #43 takes its time to showcase what it’s all about. Where a first issue like Grant Morrison’s and Liam Sharp’s recent The Green Lantern immediately threw us into the middle of Hal Jordan’s struggles, Aquaman instead slowly peels back its core conceit. We learn a little bit here and there about the people living on the island alongside Aquaman. We get to see what their current struggles are– there isn’t enough food to go around, as the sea has apparently been poisoned– and they’re quite realistic compared to the bombardment of multiversal trauma most of the DC Universe is currently going through. It’s not until near the end of the issue that we learn why everyone is on this island, cut off from the outside world, at all. Arguably, this makes the entire affair feel a bit slow, but I would classify it more as methodical. Aquaman clearly doesn’t have any designs to be the most bombastic book in DC’s lineup, but it certainly sows the seeds here to be one of the more heartfelt and character driven stories in the publisher’s roster.
Indeed, there are number of compelling relationships established in Aquaman that immediately intensify the stakes between characters. Aquaman’s relationship with Caille is quite interesting, with a playful yet sometimes tense push and pull between them. Caille in of herself is quite compelling as well, thanks to her gorgeous character/costume design and the strange, ritualistic relationship she seems to have with the ocean. And then there’s the outcast, Namma, who was exiled by the other villagers for her rebellious and unrepentant relationship with the oceans– as we learn, she not only may have poisoned the oceans that the villagers fish from, but she’s also Caille’s mother. And now they’ve tasked Aquaman to deliver Caille back to Namma’s home on a another far away island in hopes of a truce.
At its core, Aquaman #43 sets up a human story about family, tradition, and faith. We’re told again and again about the ocean has a living being with a will of her own– an ocean that these islanders, including Aquaman, have lost favor with for one reason or another. And if Aquaman is to ever return to his proper place on Earth, he’ll need to earn that favor back– and in the process, discover who he is, as well. This is a fascinating start to what I hope proves to be an exciting and empathetic run.
- Freedom Fighters #1 kicks off the start of a new maxi-series this week. It’s a very pretty book with a very gruesome hook– on an Earth where America loses to Nazi Germany during WWII, the Germans have rounded up and killed the Freedom Fighters. However, years after their execution, it seems that there is perhaps hope for America still– if they can reawaken Uncle Sam. I enjoyed this story well enough, though I also found it rather plodding at times; my sentence summary above essentially covers the entire issue. I also found myself uncomfortable with the gratuitous nature of some of the violence put front and center on the page here. Still, if there were ever a time for a book about the Freedom Fighters, it’s now. I just hope that they have something compelling to say.
- Batman #61 plays a tricky game with perspective and reality that it took me some time (and a re-read of Batman #38) to appreciate. I think it’s perhaps a little much to bring back a story element that popped up a year ago without any prior reminders and expect the reader to remember– this issue is really confusing if you don’t remember– but overall I enjoyed myself with this one. I still want a follow up on #60’s epic cliffhanger, though!
This is my last DC Round-Up article for the year. It’s been a fantastic and exciting year of comics and I’m happy to have shared it with all of you. In celebration of what has been, here, in no particular order, are my favorite DC books of 2018:
- Mister Miracle: It finally ended and it was one hell of a ride. This story of quiet moments framed in the context of an epic war made me laugh and cry like few books can. The chapter where Mister Miracle and Big Barda go on a date they think at the time might be their last is sublime. Plus, Tom King’s and Mitch Gerads’ musings on death and parenthood transcend the superheroic sandbox that they’re playing in.
- The Dreaming: I was a little skeptical of the Sandman Universe run of stories when they were announced. The Sandman struck a very particular nerve and tone that many spinoffs since have failed to entirely capture (Lucifer notwithstanding). However, I feel like this book, at the very least, may be coming close. A sprawling epic outside of time yet very much also of our political moment, The Dreaming is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful books DC Vertigo is publishing today.
- Shade the Changing Woman: While the Young Animal imprint sadly went on indefinite hiatus earlier this year (Doom Patrol excepted), all the titles in its line were at least allowed to finish out their runs. And if we can enshrine just one book from the Young Animal lineup, Shade should be it. This book is a singular exploration of the fluidity of identity and what it means to belong when you have every reason to feel like an outsider. Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, and Kelly Fitzpatrick created a winding, chaotic, symbolic, and gorgeous world that could only exist in this weirdo medium we call comics.
- Action Comics: Brian Michael Bendis’ tenure on the Superman line has been fantastic so far. While we’re certainly not deep enough into the run to make any proclamations about whether it will stand the test of time, Action Comics has certainly proven constantly entertaining and intriguing. It’s nice to see Superman challenged in ways that aren’t physical, as those battles are ones that he’s not guaranteed to win.
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!
Alex is the New Media Editor of the Comics Beat. He is also a freelance comics editor with previous credits at First Second, Top Cow, and Papercutz. He primarily covers DC Comics and Magic: the Gathering.