“Aquaman’s” rebirth has truly reinvigorated the character, and Dan Abnett and Brad Walker make that abundantly clear in issue #6, where Arthur Curry proves himself a king worthy of his crown and a Justice Leaguer powerful enough to trade blows with Superman.
Just as Aquaman and Mera cut a messy but non-lethal path through the U.S. military en route to the sea, Superman showed up to ruin their travel plans. It’s a scene straight out of the best playground arguments of the Super Friends generation: one kid asks who would win a fight between Aquaman and Superman, and all the kids take sides — with most of them picking Big Blue. Maybe after reading issue #6, though, a few more of those kids would side with the King of Atlantis.
It’s interesting that Superman would seek out Aquaman and Mera at the behest of the president, and it is entirely in character that Clark would initiate a conversation before resorting to fisticuffs. However, Arthur’s growing frustrations with his treatment by the government and Clark’s lack of trust are a justifiably combustible combination.
It’s refreshing to see a DC hero at the final limit of his patience, and — when Arthur knocks Clark on his rear — you can’t help but cheer for the Atlantean. In tone and in art, the issue has a very 1970s vibe, and that’s the magic of Abnett’s action-oriented script paired with Walker’s Neil Adams-inspired layouts; readers will want Aquaman to beat Superman not because he’s stronger, but because he’s right. Heroes have to trust each other when no one else will, even if they only come to that realization after some beautifully rendered punches in the mouth. Like a good ’70s comic, this fight takes up the majority of the issue — and, although it could have been shorter, fans probably won’t complain, since it’s so rare to see a hero to trade blows with Superman.
Abnett and the creative team have reforged not only Aquaman and Mera, whose magnetic chemistry certainly drives the book, but also the secondary characters, who also have compelling storylines. This attention to quality in the periphery sets up the real conflict: a showdown between Aquaman and Black Manta that is shaping up to be a diplomatic and ideological collision as well as a personal battle. If you’ve always wanted to see Black Manta gain a more badass purpose beyond his singular (and not mention boring) hatred of Aquaman, dive in to this title right now. Black Manta has bigger plans than we realized in the first few issues.
The Atlantean war fleet is on full display in this issue; with the king “under threat,” Tula doesn’t hesitate to lead the fleet to assist. This level of independent thought has usually only been displayed by the antagonists in “Aquaman” books, and this show of support is a welcome reminder that Aquaman is far from alone in his adventures. The Atlanteans have decided to trust Arthur and his pursuit of diplomatic relations with the surface governments — but that doesn’t mean they trust the surface dwellers, and it’s a delightful source of conflict.
“The Drowning” story arc wraps up here as Aquaman’s worst-ever visit to the surface concludes with fist-pumping action rather than gobs of exposition. Nevertheless, “Aquaman” #6 manages to add to Arthur’s development (and woes) in his dual roles as king and hero.