SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Teen Titans #11, by Benjamin Percy, Phil Hester, Khoi Pham and Trevor Scott, on sale now from DC Comics.
On the surface, it’s perhaps a little anticlimactic that Jackson Hyde assumes the mantle of Aqualad in Teen Titans #11. After all, he was originally introduced by DC Comics seven years ago to coincide with Aqualad’s debut on Young Justice, and was welcomed fully into Rebirth continuity this spring with an arc titled “The Rise of Aqualad.” Effectively, Jackson Hyde has always been Aqualad.
Yet, there’s something undeniably special about the moment in this week’s issue when the moniker is passed from one generation of heroes to the next.
It arrives after a long journey that began in Teen Titans #6, in New Mexico, and ended at Teen Titans Tower, in San Francisco Bay. It’s a hero’s journey, in the mythological sense, that exhibits much of the classic structure. In DC’s Rebirth universe, Jackson is a gay teen with mysterious water-bending powers who’s pressured by both a closeted boyfriend and a protective mother to keep those aspects of his life hidden. But when a video tour of the new Teen Titans Tower goes viral, serving as Jackson’s call to adventure; he answers, which leads him to the Pacific Ocean and, following a brief detour for the “Lazarus Contract” crossover, a confrontation with the secrets of his own past.
For anyone who watched Young Justice, or followed the character’s introduction in DC’s previous continuity, the revelation that Jackson’s real father is longtime Aquaman foe Black Manta is, well, not really a revelation. In July’s Teen Titans #10, the second part of the “Blood of the Manta” arc, Jackson finally meets his villainous father in an Empire Strikes Back moment, and offers himself in exchange for the safe release of his mother. Cue the descent into the underworld.
But while there may be a part of Black Manta that imagines ruling the Seven Seas with his long-lost son at his side, he’s not that sentimental. No, he needs Jackson, just like he once needed his mother, for a practical, selfish purpose: Years earlier, Black Manta broke into Xebel, the interdimensional Atlantean prison, where he manipulated Jackson’s mother — a member of the same water-manipulating Rebellion race as Mera, Aquaman’s queen — into helping in his search for a magical black pearl ring hidden there. When she no longer appeared of any use to him, Manta nearly killed her. Now he intends to use their son to acquire the object he’s sought his entire life, a “hydrokinetic weapon of mass destruction.”
In Teen Titans #11, by Benjamin Percy, Phil Hester, Khoi Pham and Trevor Scott, there are no hugs, at least from Black Manta; this is all business. Oh, sure, he opens Jackson’s eyes to the scope of his own power — “You’re more than your swords,” he says. “The whole ocean is your weapon.” — if only only so he can help to fend off a tentacled sea creature that attacks them. Black Manta then reverts to form, using violence to force Jackson to unlock the seal to the ring, which requires the touch of “a child of Xebel.” Black Manta gains the vast, ocean-controlling power he’s long craved, only to be defeated by Jackson — thanks in no small part to a pep talk by Damian Wayne (of all people), who knows a thing or two about “world-class psycho” fathers.
However, Jackson gains more than just confidence, and a new appreciation for his mother. He earns membership in the Teen Titans, and the code name Aqualad, bestowed upon him by its previous user, Garth, aka Tempest. “I know it seems a little goofy,” Garth acknowledges, but explains, “It’s a rough translation from Atlantean — it means ‘Son of the Seven Seas.’ I came to love it. I trust you will, too.”
Returning to the hero’s journey, the new name represents a rebirth for Jackson, who began in Teen Titans #6 — heck, even earlier, in last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot — as a relatively isolated teen uncertain of his past and his place in the world. Traveling from the desert to the ocean’s depths, he has discovered who he is, in more ways than one. He also learned that it wasn’t a father he needed, but rather a family — and he’s found that in the Teen Titans, and possibly in the mother whom he’s never really understood, and perhaps doesn’t entirely understand him, but who nevertheless recognized the danger that lurked just beneath the waves.
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