“Aquaman” #1 looked as though it was taking the title down a familiar, almost cliched path, at least so far as Aquaman and Black Manta are concerned. We’d seen this pattern before: just as the hero claims his victory, a longtime enemy arrives and tears it all down in some horrific way; vengeance is vowed, and the cycle starts all over again. But that’s why Dan Abnett, Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher’s “Aquaman” #2 ultimately stands out: it takes the start of that trope, then points the story in a very different direction.
When “Aquaman” #1 wrapped up, Abnett left his protagonist in that tried and true situation. Black Manta had attacked the brand-new Atlantean embassy Spindrift Station, killed an Atlantean guard and wounded Mera and Aquaman. When issue #2 kicks off, we zoom down this traditional route as Aquaman and Black Manta fight while new arrival Lieutenant Joanna Stubbs witnesses it all, and it continues to feel a little too familiar when Aquaman and Black Manta trade blows and words over the deaths of their fathers. (If Abnett himself wasn’t British, readers would probably also wonder about Joanna’s initial dialogue this issue, which includes phrases like “Crikey!” and “Bloody hell!”)
Then, about halfway through, the issue changes; it stops being about Aquaman beating Black Manta into a bloody pulp and becomes more about him attempting to circumvent this never-ending cycle of vengeance. It’s a moment that not only comes across as heartfelt, but also like the sort of story that speaks to the superhero world and the real world alike. Abnett isn’t erasing the murders that Black Manta and Aquaman committed in the past; instead, he examines the emptiness Manta feels as a result of this thirst for vengeance. It feeds into what we saw of Black Manta during the “Forever Evil” event as well as in his subsequent “Suicide Squad” appearances, which presented him as someone who might not have been that awful a person if he didn’t have an endless desire to get back at Aquaman.
Add in some clean and consistent art from Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher, and you end up with a second issue that far surpasses the first. In “Aquaman” #2, Abnett, Eaton and Faucher give us a world that proves actions have consequences and shows people can change and become more than a statistic. Thanks to a cliffhanger that puts Black Manta’s future very much up in the air, it will be interesting to see where the title goes from here. For the moment, though, this is a strong shift for the book, and one for the better. “DC Universe: Rebirth” #1 was supposed to signify the return of hope to the characters of DC Comics, and that’s exactly what we get here.
“Aquaman” #2 is now on sale.