“Aquaman” #0 is all exposition and no story. Geoff Johns treats this issue like an infodump where the reader must absorb information like a university student cramming in Wikipedia on an all-nighter the day before an exam. Arthur Curry may move around in this issue but he doesn’t really do anything. We learn more about his history and then we end with the promise of excitement, but without much in the previous pages.
This issue reads like Act One of a larger tale. While comics are allowed to do this in a decompressed wait-for-the-trade environment, they should at least make Act One inspiring or intriguing. Instead, this issue is concerned with characters spewing forth as much exposition as they can before Arthur moves on to more of the same from others. Hell, the father dies while giving information to his son — though admittedly, this sequence holds the most character. Sadly, it is only one page.
Arthur bounces around emotionally after his father’s death and we know this because he smashes a door with his bare fists and then tears his shirt off. He will later punch a shark in the face. It has no bearing on the story but it kind of looks cool. What’s worse is that the events mentioned above take up nearly half the issue. The father’s death is one page, the son’s reaction is another, and the rest is atmospheric swimming in dark water and then some shark pugilism. It’s not story or information; it simply is.
The rest of the issue is tasked with tying everything together through the trope of the helpful stranger tied to the lead’s past. Vulko is a man with Atlantean connections, who miraculously gives Arthur every piece of information he needs to know before leading him to the next Act of the story. I kept waiting for this helpful addition to Arthur’s world to snap and attempt to kill him, but alas Vulko is indeed the two-dimensional character he is introduced as. Perhaps Johns has grander plans for him down the track but for now he’s bland and only useful to serve a singular purpose to the reader.
Ivan Reis, with Joe Prado and Rod Reis, build an underwater world in a striking and effective manner. They clearly know how to draw characters but are not tasked with doing much interesting with them here. Pages of exposition are not an artist’s friend. The art team manages to make a younger Arthur Curry seem athletically capable without hulking him into some gargantuan superhuman. He feels just about real enough while also appearing special.
“Aquaman” #0 runs the foul play of too many other #0 issues by acting as more of a guide and wiki instead of a tale that will draw the reader in. These #0 issues shouldn’t try to wow an audience with the dense history of the characters, they should attempt to woo readers in with the types of storytelling only comics can do so well. This issue feels more like the kind of free bag-filler you find handed out at shows or shoehorned into other publications. Like those issues, this one will be summarily ignored and with good reason.