Though it’s set five years in the future, “Aquaman: Futures End” #1 keeps thematic consistency with the present runs of “Aquaman” and “Aquaman and the Others.” Arthur struggles to balance his responsibilities to Atlantis and the surface world, the Dead King and his relics remain a threat, and Mera’s duties to Xebel create conflict. It’s definitely an interesting exercise to see these ideas accelerated. However, the creative team’s execution is only average, so I wouldn’t recommend this for readers who don’t already follow “Aquaman” or “Aquaman and the Others.”
My chief objection is that the issue is jumpy and overly convenient. Jurgens moves rapidly from problem to problem, and this pace necessitates some clunky exposition through dialogue. Attacking Atlanteans pontificate on the social ills that motivate them. Arthur stops for ideological discussions with a random citizen. After being nearly drowned, Sky and Aaron find the time to explain what’s happened to Xebel. These conversations are too obviously expository to read as natural.
However, though the dialogue suffers, this pacing reinforces how inevitably Arthur’s balancing acts are going to fail. As he rushes from fire to fire, pleading to stop fights that have already begun, it’s clear to the reader that he can’t keep this up. Jurgens lets the dramatic irony of Arthur’s promises that “we’re so close to getting what we need” compound until the inescapable finale. With only 20 pages of story to make that ending feel earned, this frenzy was an effective choice that pays off.
Jurgens also keeps Arthur underwater for a fair portion of the story, a decision that puts more of a burden on the artistic team of Martinez and Fernandez. It’s tricky to convey motion and power underwater, an environment in which humans aren’t used to being capable of either, but this team has a solid handle on their figure work. If one or two soldiers in the background of each big battle look adrift, at least the main characters in the foreground always look forceful.
Aside from that unique challenge, Martinez and Fernandez keep very much in the DC house style, with defined lines and sculpted figures. Chris Sotomayor’s coloring occasionally creates some inexplicable facial distortions, but is otherwise unobjectionable. I was personally disappointed with the haler, stockier look of the Dead King, as it made him less frightening, but he is still clearly threatening.
Easily my favorite part of the artwork is Aquaman’s new costume design. Sleeker and more modern than the classic costume in the New 52, it’s still evocative of his original look while giving the artists some lines to play with. Let’s hope that costume survives any timeline changes.
Overall, “Aquaman: Futures End” #1 begs the question of how “Futures End” is meant to work. As a reader, I appreciate that Jurgens’ story is actually in dialogue with Parker’s run in the present, but — depending on whether the “Futures End” timeline comes to pass — it also makes this issue something of a spoiler. When the story here continues in “Aquaman and the Others: Futures End” #1, I’ll be curious to see how this is positioned: what could be, or what will be.