Aquaman is one of the few heroes in the DC Universe who is also the ruler of a sovereign nation. Dan Abnett, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy play up that aspect of the character in “Aquaman” #1, and it feels like a step in the right direction to try and provide a better focus for this aquatic hero. While the ideas here are good, though, the actual storytelling feels a little erratic.
This isn’t, of course, the first time we’ve had a DC Comics publication featuring a hero opening an embassy. In previous continuities, multiple authors of the “Wonder Woman” title played up the fact that the character was Themyscira’s ambassador to the outside world, each with varying results. Abnett opens up the previously-mentioned Spindrift Station in “Aquaman” #1, and he’s right to treat it as much as a publicity junket as a diplomatic event. Having military liaisons show up alongside reporters feels smart, doubly so considering that Arthur and Mera have discussed a need to try and bridge the gap between “the people of land and sea.”
At the same time, though, there’s something that never sits quite right in a lot of the characters’ dialogue. When she and Arthur are discussing the big day ahead of them, Mera’s lines come across as stilted and unwieldy. I don’t mind the idea of having her speak a bit more formally than others due to her background, but this is a mishmash of blatant exposition and fake-poetic platitudes. In a book that seems to be trying to make Mera a more welcoming character, this actually accomplishes the exact opposite; she comes across as stiff and hard to relate to. Similarly, we’re told that Lieutenant Joanna Stubbs is young for her rank, but it’s hard to believe that such a capable officer who rose in power so quickly would act like a bashful, gawking teenager as she takes in the people and structure of Spindrift. At least when Black Manta attacks, his shouted exposition is meant to catch the attention of those around him, to try and spread his message to them.
Walker and Hennessy’s art feels similarly uneven. Walker and Hennessy’s characters look solid and capable in a way that is so often depicted as waiflike under other artists. They don’t lose sight of the fact that Aquaman in particular is supposed to be able to move through the water quickly and efficiently; his physique looks like it’s modeled on Olympic-level swimmers, with that balance of massive muscle and a lean body.
On the other hand, Aquaman’s age seems to regularly shift, depending on the page. When he and Mera are talking together early on, he’s drawn almost like a teenager with big wide eyes and an almost confused expression. Compare that to when he and Mera first arrive to open the embassy, and he looks several decades older, almost like a blonde Kevin Bacon. There are also some panel-to-panel inconsistencies, most notably with Captain Sark, whose face shifts from a full beard (but not mustache) to just stubble in both the mustache and beard areas to somewhere in-between but with big thick sideburns. It’s distracting and pulls you out of what should have otherwise been a very tense scene.
There’s some interesting plotting and ideas here, from some supporting characters not being as supporting as you might have first thought to the fact that both Aquaman and Black Manta are trying to spread their conflicting messages to the land-based media assembled for the opening of Spindrift. I’m curious to see where this will go, and how much or little the overall diplomatic mission will remain center stage now that the attack has occurred. While the ideas are good, however, the execution isn’t quite up to stuff; things need to sharpen up a bit if “Aquaman” wants to stay afloat with readers.