Aquaman: Rebirth #1
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Scot Eaton, Oscar Jimenez, Mark Morales and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Who is Arthur Curry?
Is he a superhero? A king? A husband? An orphan? A punchline? In the hands of Dan Abnett, Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez, Aquaman is all of that and more, with this #0 issue-style Rebirth special acting as a perfect primer for anyone even remotely curious about the King of the Seven Seas. By taking the holistic approach to this longtime superhero, Abnett and company humanize Arthur Curry in a way that hasn’t been done in years, shining a light on this iconic character’s depth and unrealized potential.
The thing that Abnett understands about Aquaman is that he isn’t a joke — he’s a study in contrasts. A day in the life of Arthur Curry is a whirlwind of different roles, responsibilities and presumptions, and by throwing all that and the kitchen sink into this one issue, Abnett fully fleshes out this often-overlooked character with a panache and even self-awareness that could yield dividends down the line. Whether he’s stopping a cell of Atlantean suicide bombers, having some one-on-one time with his wife at their favorite diner, or being the butt of a late night comedian’s jokes, there’s some smart storytelling choices here, as Abnett digs deep into the life of a public figure who is misunderstood by nearly everyone above and below the surface. There’s a balance of lionizing and self-deprecation here, as Abnett tackles Aquaman’s status as no one’s favorite and uses that to show how embattled he must be from all sides — as his narrator notes, “he is a man of peace at odds—at war—with everything around him. And even the fish don’t talk to him.”
Something else that’s particularly engaging about Aquaman: Rebirth #1 is the level of care that Abnett goes into the worldbuilding of Atlantean culture. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of giving too many details for the sake of self-indulgence, which can seem like Greek to unprepared readers — but Abnett instead smartly uses everyday culture to make sense of what goes on beneath the waves. Even the main threat of this book, the terror cell known as the Deluge, has understandable reasons for their violent xenophobia, as they recruit from the dregs of Atlantean caste society — literally referred to in Atlantean society as “bottom-feeders.” But having Arthur try to tackle that overblown nationalism head-on — by literally saying their actions is not for the glory of Atlantis — is a powerful moment, one that’s made all the more timely and important in this election cycle when Aquaman’s own generals question the merits of stopping these extremists.
But Aquaman’s greatest failing is that he’s not the flashiest of characters, and it’s going to be a double-edged sword as far as the art is concerned, as well. Scot Eaton and Oscar Jimenez aren’t going to set the Internet on fire with their stylishness, but instead are imminently solid talents. For my money, Eaton is the strongest of the two, with his clean linework reminding me a lot of Paul Pelletier — while occasionally Arthur’s features can be a bit inconsistent from page-to-page, he does wonderful compositions for his action shots, particularly when we watch Aquaman torpedo himself into action. Eaton’s take on Aquaman’s wife, Queen Mera, is the absolute highlight of the book, coming across as regal and gorgeous, and while it strains the level of disbelief that her belly-button shows through her costume, she still never comes across as exploitative.
Jimenez, meanwhile, fares a little bit worse in comparison. His inking style is much more granular and detailed, and while that makes scenes like the villainous epilogue or the undersea introduction look superb — seriously, Aquaman launching himself through a trail of bubbles and a school of fish looks visceral and great — his rougher character designs look a little more off-putting when he doesn’t have a big dramatic mood to play off of. Colorist Gabe Eltaeb, meanwhile, is still figuring things out for this series — given the tonal shift following DC Universe: Rebirth #1, I understand wanting to use brighter colors, but the downside is occasionally it can come across as a little bit flat, particularly in the daylight scenes.
That said, this solid but unassuming art team might just be the perfect metaphor for Aquaman as a character — he’s not going to have the must-see superspeed of the Flash or the brooding atmosphere of Batman or even the cultural importance of a Superman or Wonder Woman. But with characterization like this, it’s very easy to fall in love with a character like Arthur Curry, a man who is caught in the middle of so many different — and exciting — roles and responsibilities. The measure of a character can be learned based on the types of adventures they can have, and Abnett and company have opened up Aquaman to a world of possibility. If this debut is any indication, Aquaman might become your favorite soon enough.