“Aquaman: Rebirth” #1 is a solid primer on Aquaman’s new status quo. Writer Dan Abnett and artists Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez capture the King of Atlantis’ political dilemmas as he tries to reconcile the surface and the sea, but — while it’s an easy and able read and I enjoyed the more classic look of Aquaman’s world — it doesn’t offer many new ideas or fresh portrayals. Now, I can get behind a classic approach if it’s executed well enough to carry the less inventive ideas, but a wordy script, inconsistent artwork and an exposition-heavy plot weigh down the more fascinating and fun parts of the story, leaving it a fine, rather than fantastic issue.
Abnett does mix it up a bit in his approach to this issue. Events are heavily narrated by a third party, whose identity is only revealed in the final pages. This narrator’s explanations of Arthur’s character and current state overlay all the pages in the issue. I quite appreciated the conceit of describing Arthur in the voice of his enemy; I could hear the judgment in captions like, “[Aquaman] regards himself, without irony, as monarch and custodian of two-thirds of the globe. Is this confidence…or supreme arrogance?” This narration invites the reader to draw her own conclusions, and it adds some intrigue — who exactly is telling us all this? — to what would otherwise be textbook exposition. However, apart from the brief humor of “Dry-landers do seem obsessed with the idea that he talks to fish,” the narration is a touch wordy and gloomy. Descriptions like “He persists, misunderstood, mocked and unrecognized” seemed so at odds with the bright, sunshine-and-sea land world that the artistic team has created.
Scot Eaton, Oscar Jimenez and Mark Morales give Arthur a setting that reflects his two worlds, setting out-there Atlantean fighters and buildings against a postcard-ready, almost archetypal coastline. Mera and Aquaman are in classic costumes, and colorist Gabe Eltaeb colors them in bright golds and greens. All told, Arthur’s world is straight comic book superhero, with crazy Atlantean armor, bomb-bearing sea monsters and chiseled, detailed characters. I appreciated how this team leaned into the more fantastical elements of this character — that’s the fun of drawing Atlanteans, after all. However, it was easy to see the multiple hands at work in both penciling and inking, and the inconsistencies from one page to the next frequently took me out of the story. In addition, the fight scenes with the Deluge terrorist group left me a bit disappointed; what could have been a super-cool sea monster battle is instead drawn in clear, but very conventional, panels that don’t play at all with the setting or the setup.
Mera’s characterization was perhaps most frustrating for me, though. She is in charge of Spindrift Station, an Atlantean embassy to the surface world, despite being wary of its mission. The narrator explains: “In many ways [Mera] epitomizes the traditional isolationist urge of Atlantis. But she would do anything for him.” Arthur further emphasizes, “You tolerate the surface, just for me.” Given her past and political responsibilities, it’s a bit cloying to have her entire motivation for diplomacy be love of Arthur. This lack of convictions of her own felt out-of-character and outdated.
All told, “Aquaman: Rebirth” #1 is a good opening that does much of the work needed for the issues to come. While I’d love to see more polish and invention in the “Aquaman” series ahead, this is a solid, easy-to-read start.