Aquaman and the Demon? Wow. That’s quite an odd match-up. That was my first impression when I saw this solicited many moons ago. Reading this issue, however, it is not so odd, especially given the fact that Straczynski establishes these two disparate characters as longtime allies against a common Lovecraftian foe. In doing so, Straczynski makes it clear that Aquaman is a being so noble and strong that he is able to command not only sea life, but respect from all life. Those he comes into contact with realize the power he wields, both physically and figuratively. More than once, the mariner Aquaman and Etrigan befriend revels in the power of Aquaman, including, “but when the Master of the Seas tells you a thing, you believe it. You don’t want him to have to tell you twice.” This isn’t the Aquaman derided by uneducated comic fans. This is Aquaman at his dazzling best.
The Demon, Etrigan, seems to be a tag-along as this issue opens and even for most of the story, adding to the majesty and power of Aquaman. Etrigan does play a pivotal role in the resolution of this tale, however, but seeing Aquaman shine so mightily nearly made me forget this wasn’t an evenly balanced tale. Both characters got panel time and pivotal story beats, but clearly Aquaman was in charge here. Straczynski utilized the Demon’s rhyming speech, but seemed to draw some of the rhymes out longer than necessary. I imagine Etrigan being a little more deliberate in his vocalizations.
Straczynski prescribes the front door of Hell for Saiz to draw, and Saiz delivers, complete with shambling, slithery beasts. Saiz is the perfect catch to render the King of the Seven Seas. Not only does he draw a brilliant Aquaman, but the denizens of Aquaman’s kingdom are also well cared for by Saiz’s pencil. This seems like a perfect match to me; DC has long struggled to find the right creative mix for the Sea King, and Saiz is clearly ready to ascend to a title and character that utilizes his talent.
This issue of “The Brave and the Bold” is on par with the rest of Straczynski’s run to date, but accentuated by Saiz’s fantastic art. Saiz is one of the very few artists I can think of who can make every panel on a seven-panel page seem like a splash page. It’s not necessarily that Saiz packs in detail, which he does, but that he also infers detail through his choices of light and dark. No artist in the industry today, save Cliff Chiang, has a more open style that Saiz. His work looks to me like it would be a colorist’s dream. Trish Mulvihill takes that dream and fills it with greens and blues, hues of water and underwater shading. All the while she is able to employ some pretty dramatic additional colors thanks to the garish costumes of this issue’s co-stars.
Rob Leigh delivers the perfect lettering set for this issue, rounding out a top-notch creative team for two characters most consider B- or C-list. The timing on using Aquaman in these pages is well-plotted, as his popularity is on the rise as a pop culture icon, fueled in no small part to his appearances on “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” I am pleased that the classic Aquaman look was employed for this issue, as it is such a strong visual.