Dan Abnett’s Aquaman run has been serviceable for its run, treating the character with respect and giving him interesting conflicts. But it takes more than that to conflict with the public image this character has dragged around for so long. Stjepan Sejic, in that regard, is the missing element. Let’s see how this creative team treat our boy in the blue.
Written by Dan Abnett
Illustrated by Stjepan Sejic
Lettered by Steve Wands
“UNDERWORLD” part one! In this extra-sized anniversary issue, former terrorists have replaced the Atlantean police. Crime lords control huge swaths of the kingdom. And a deadly undersea arsenal is trained on the surface-dwellers. All is as King Rath commands—and yet whispers persist of a rebel in the slums of Atlantis: A hero with the potential to change the world. A whole new era of AQUAMAN begins as master storyteller Stjepan Sejic (Sunstone, Death Vigil) joins series writer Dan Abnett for Arthur’s boldest and most harrowing adventure yet!
Already I can say Abnett’s depiction of Arthur is quite a departure from the royalty we’re used to. Abnett and Sejic’s Aquaman is a straight-up vigilante, more akin to Batman than the Eddard Stark-like character that’s been present in these past pages. The characters themselves make note of this in their dialogue, as when Arthur first acts in this comic, people exclaim that it’s the ghost of their dead king. Even the mob boss-like Master Krush, creating another parallel to Batman, reacts that he thought the ‘Aquaman’ was just a street tale. He’s treated more like a myth or an urban legend, which is fresh, interesting ground to explore in the vastly interesting world of Atlantis.
The world of Atlantis presented here is a big draw for this comic. Every aspect that we see of the city is so sprawling and unique, it represents the idea that DC heroes are defined by their city of origin. I love that every scene change is opened with the name of the area bubbling around the environment. It’s a small touch, but it lends a lot to the hugely populated feel of the setting, adding intrigue to the story when we’re introduced to ‘The Silent School’ with archaic lettering. Abnett does a lot of worldbuilding with the setting too, dividing the whole city into factions and races, making it feel like a completely different world to the rest of the DC universe. The aforementioned ‘Silent School’ seem to be magically trained, while there are mutants and fish-people lurking in the streets, making it a compelling environment.
Abnett does well at having multiple characters and plot threads run throughout the one issue, something which in the wrong hands can hurt the reading flow of a book. I followed every line very smoothly, even as someone who hasn’t kept up with the last few issues of the book. It’s great to note that no one character or scenario felt any more or less fleshed out than the other. When the Mera scenes didn’t take up more than two pages of the entire issue, they made up for it with telling details and reactions to the situations that were going on. Mera felt realistic in her silent grief for Arthur, and although her turnaround at the end of the issue was a little sudden, it was pivotal in showing readers both sides of her emotional spectrum.
In regards to some characters, however, I feel like Abnett was trying to make King Corum a little more balanced at the start of the issue, but ultimately just plays him off as a one-note villain. I can see him becoming more nuanced further down the line, but Abnett writes him here as a xenophobic, Shakespearian antagonist. Corum works well at his role, fortunately, serving as a solid event to work Arthur’s return around.
The undeniable star of this issue is Stjepan Sejic, and what an appearance this guy makes. Immediately, the tone of this series has become much more interesting to me just based on his vivid, intricate paintings of Atlantis. Sejic’s art feels like it could be movie concept-art level, delivering some fully realised settings that beg for exploration. My personal favourite is the beautiful Ninth Tride, where Sejic sets the camera on a bent angle, already implying that we’re underwater or at the very least not on terra firma. The undersea foundations in this scene run populated and glowing like the best Sci-Fi influenced cities, with Sejic using a blend of organic undersea rock and coral with spaceship-like technology to create a thoroughly original aesthetic.Continued below
Working in-line with the way Abnett portrays Aquaman through dialogue, Sejic lends a mysterious tone to all his appearances. The first time we see him is as a worker, back turned away from the camera and all but confirming this is Aquaman himself. We later see him interrupt a mob attack from behind cover – Arthur uses a veil of fishes to confuse his enemies and disguise himself, in a scene that works well at conveying the vigilante meaning Arthur wants, and is visually stunning. The direction the fishes swim helps to give a flow to the reading, guiding and directing the reader’s eye to the action in the ensuing pages. Ultimately, Sejic provides a sublime reading experience that I can only say ends too quickly as he is too adept at leading us through the action sequences.
As a digital painter, Sejic is armed with all the subtleties of the craft to convey some very telling facial work. This struck me while I was reading through the scene with Aquaman and who I presume to be the white-haired Dolphin towards the end of the issue. Dolphin is a mute character, so Sejic uses his arsenal to do the talking for her through facial expressions. In this scene, we see Dolphin go from startled, to jaded, intrigued, aggressive, and finally have her face set with awe on the myth-like figure of Aquaman gliding through the water. And it’s all achieved smoothly within just over one page! Sejic even manages to make the distinctively crab-faced Master Krush look human and relatable without actually resorting to human features. The bug-eyed, triangular-mouthed crustacean manages to look aggressive and befuddled while still looking like a menacing, alien-like figure, and that’s due to Sejic’s incredible attention to small facial details.
Sejic handles colouring here too, and boy, does this whole comic glisten. Some Aquaman comics I’ve read in the past have failed to capture the undersea look, simply using bubbles and distinctive flora to convey the setting. Sejic uses a soft, darker palette on the skin and environment of Atlantis to create this undersea feel well, on top of his pencilling art work. I love how well Sejic accentuates the glowing technology of Atlantis too, strongly placing us in an environment that feels fantasy and Sci-Fi influenced. King Corum’s energy bolts are bright and eye-popping, while the lights on the Ninth Tride are infinite and luminous. The whole issue feels like a work of beautiful hand painted art, and that’s thanks to Sejic’s masterful work here.
It’s safe to say I was not expecting to find such a compelling comic book in “Aquaman” #25. The synergy between artist and writer is beautiful, both bouncing well off each other to create a beautifully weaved new direction for the once-proud Arthur. This issue is a great starting point for lapsed readers, sceptical non-believers, or just fantasy worshippers in general.
Final Verdict: 9.1 – Pun intended, “Aquaman” #25 blew me out of the water. Abnett has upped his game to match the masterful Sejic, and both have delivered a great fantasy/superhero comic.