“Aquaman” #41 makes a leap with a new direction and a new creative team in Cullen Bunn, Trevor McCarthy, Guy Major and Tom Napolitano. The adventures of the (former?) King of the Seven Seas clocks in twenty pages, but those pages are filled with a story that ping pongs back and forth between “now” and “then,” with the “now” version of Aquaman looking more like the “Sword of Atlantis” variation than the Ivan Reis/Paul Pelletier-drawn hero that has anchored this series since 2011. With a bit of armor, a shaggier haircut and a mysterious sword that can transform into other weaponry, the current Aquaman is set against mysterious buildings with mysterious inkiness oozing out of them.
Bunn gives readers a glancing explanation through the flashbacks, but at no point does “Aquaman” #41 offer the reader steady ground before the bouncing ride back and forth through time. With Aquaman trying (and failing, twice) to crack wise, the writer namechecks Tula, Mera, Murk and Vulko along the way, giving readers something to pin hopes on, but the prime narrative in this issue deals with Aquaman trying to rescue people while tripping back to the way things were. Neither story receives much depth and the threats Aquaman faces are barely more than one snarling baddie and a seemingly sentient tentacled blob, leading up to a final page that gives readers an eyeful of a threat that, honestly, doesn’t look all that threatening.
McCarthy’s art is a strong choice to make a leap in storytelling and attitude, as his drawings are murkier and rougher than this series has had to this point. He uses a lot of heavy shadows and outlines and sketchy lines in the interiors of his shapes to add depth and grit to the visuals. His characters are distinct and recognizable and his storytelling is clear, but the subject matter just lacks sizzle to make the drawings pop. Inky black masses can be a credible threat but — in the era of big-budget blockbuster movies and in a comic that has been filled with invading species like the Trench and the hordes that followed Hercules — blobs just seem shrug-worthy. The shadowy threat might be more credible or relevant against Hawkman, but Aquaman is from Atlantis, in the depths of the ocean, where murkiness is the norm.
DC looks to make a mark by shifting the theme and concept of many of its series while introducing more ideas, wilder concepts and new directions. “Aquaman” #41 seems like just another series as Bunn slowly begins to disassemble the cast this book has accumulated, while turning the tale towards darkness simply for the sake of being dark. This comic lacks the spark that it had under Geoff Johns and Jeff Parker but, to be fair, it is early in the adventure.
There is a mystery afoot that Aquaman is heavily involved in, so much so that he travels to St. Louis. Through Aquaman, Bunn refers to St. Louis as “doubly landlocked,” but there is not a more welcoming city for Aquaman in the heartland, or even off of any coast. The issue opens by the Gateway Arch, which is close enough to Mississippi to actually legitimize the notion that Aquaman should have been here before. Instead, this mystery puts Aquaman on his heels. Following suit with Hal Jordan’s new status in the DC Universe, two of DC’s magnificent seven characters (that are the backbone of the Justice League, no less) are on the run from their former allies. Like “Green Lantern,” “Aquaman” #41 teases potential but fails to offer any sort of hook or reward for readers to return.