Let’s all welcome Jeff Parker to DC Comics, because if “Aquaman” #26 is any indication, he’s on the right track to doing some fine work here. It’s not all there yet, but there is plenty of cause for hope.
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Paul Pelletier & Netho Diaz
“Sea of Storms” begins with the debut of new AQUAMAN writer Jeff Parker! The Earth’s crust is grinding to life, releasing deadly volcanoes and bizarre creatures…so humanity’s first instinct is to blame Atlantis! And as the plates pull apart, the pressures of ruling a kingdom under siege are weighing on Aquaman and Mera as well!
Geoff Johns’ “Aquaman” brought the character back to prominence, but it did so in some overly calculated and ultimately unsatisfying ways. I don’t think anyone would argue that it wasn’t a pretty dark take on the franchise, which is not inherently a bad thing. Truth is, people want darkness with their superheroes now and if you want “Aquaman” to sell the kinds of numbers that Geoff Johns’ comics usually sell, you have to do what works, I suppose. My issue was less about the darkness itself and more about how it didn’t celebrate any other sides of Aquaman’s character. It was mainly concerned with proving that Aquaman is not a joke character and it mainly accomplished that by having him perform at least one bad ass display of stoic power per arc.
With Jeff Parker’s inaugural issue of “Aquaman”, we can already see his take on the hero as one with a few different dimensions and a lot less brooding. Parker re-introduces both of the worlds that Arthur Curry inhabits and has a little fun with both of them. On land, the people of Amnesty Bay act as if they don’t know who Aquaman is when an outsider comes calling. They defend him. In Atlantis, he’s late for another meeting again, leaving everyone wondering which of his worlds he favors more. Classic Aquaman stuff. It’s refreshing to see Arthur himself show up with more of a sheepish “my bad” attitude rather than a tortured brooding. It’s a subtle difference that doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself, but it makes all the difference in the world.
Parker gets to essentially reset the character deck for new readers, establishing Mera as a wise sort of advisor to Arthur, alongside other members of his Atlantean council whose levels of trust in Arthur vary. Above sea, Parker gives him a fitting (and gorgeously rendered) sea monster to take on. Regardless of how ridiculous that sounds, at this point everything feels like business as usual for Aquaman & co. If Issue #26 commits any storytelling crime, its the classic first issue crime of not subverting expectations or playing with the formula too much.
Unfortunately, there are other common crimes being committed with the art – crimes that DC Comics is becoming known for recently. Paul Pelletier more than capably took over for Ivan Reis & Joe Prado when they switched over to “Justice League”, but like most artists, he requires a fill-in from time to time. This issue is perhaps the best recent evidence for why DC needs to come up with a better plan for how they handle this problem. Can you even call it a “problem” in this day and age? It just is what it is. If you look over at Marvel, they do a pretty good job planning for it. Here, Pelletier and Netho Diaz might have been able to each navigate this world on their own. Separately? The inconsistencies in the prominent features (most noticeably in the faces) of each character are distracting. The art becomes the definition of “serviceable”, because there’s no strong story reason, nor any logical point chosen for the differences in art. We’re asked to just accept the jumping art, or ignore it.
That’s a shame, because it weakens a story that could have been much more visually compelling had there been a consistent set of choices made. The sea beast that I alluded to earlier towers beautifully over its victims. Somehow it’s given a very nice sense of scale and authenticity, despite being an impossible creature in a comic book. The battle makes Aquaman out to be an impressive character without all of the (admittedly popularly effective) bluster that Johns provided for the character. This is all accomplished visually. The design-work in Atlantis is equally impressive, making it all the more disappointing that there wasn’t more consistency. This could have been a great looking book instead of merely one that has some very specific strengths.Continued below
While Jeff Parker seems to have brought with him the ability to imbue “Aquaman” with a few more layers of complexity and levity, it’s too early to tell how far he will go in defining the character beyond Geoff Johns’ stoic ‘New 52′ incarnation. At least for one issue, he’s not bogged down too heavily by the prevailing tone of DC Comics’ current output. That makes this an issue worth checking out, even if it does suffer from one of DC Comics’ other worst current trends – application of fill-in art work that appears to be an afterthought, rather than a well-planned occurrence.
Final Verdict: 6.8 – Browse. It’s refreshing by average ‘New 52’ standards.