Best Shots Review: BLACK MANTA's Motive Solid, But AQUAMAN #2 'Rings Hollow'

"Aquaman #2" preview
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

Aquaman #2
Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Scot Eaton, Wayne Faucher and Gabe Eltaeb
Lettering by Pat Brosseau
Published by DC Comics Review by Jeff Marsick
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10

In the first issue of the "Rebirth"-era Aquaman, Dan Abnett wrote Arthur as less stodgy, more personable, and more likable than he’s been in a couple iterations. And when Black Manta’s motivation for viciously attacking Spindrift Station, at the end of the issue is revealed to hinge on revenge for Arthur killing Manta’s father, Abnett winds up serving readers with an intriguing premise — after all, every story has at least two sides, and while it’s too much to say that heroes don’t kill, when it comes to an icon like Aquaman, you would expect a really good explanation behind it.

Credit: DC Comics

With Aquaman #2, the backstory renders Manta a sympathetic villain, and the reader can empathize with his bloodlust and hatred for Aquaman. But rooting for the bad guy isn’t what we do in comic books, right? So it befalls Aquaman to turn the tide and pull the reader back to his corner by taking the high road and falling upon his trident in order to lay bare his antagonist as little more than a hellbent sociopathic obsessive. “This cycle we are locked in is obscene!” Arthur roars. “Blind hate for the sake of blind hate!” Not exactly, Artie, but we get your drift.

Yet it is Abnett’s defusing of Manta’s powderkeg that rings false, hobbling this launch early. When Manta confronts his longtime foe, Arthur only pays him lip service — yes, Arthur cops to killing Manta’s father (he was seeking vengeance after his own parental murder), but he hides behind a smokescreen of arguing that he had to make said mistake in order to become Aquaman. That fault line of logic is akin to a philanderer saying they couldn’t be a great spouse unless they had first learned through infidelity how to be responsible and exercise control. Sure, Arthur hands his trident to Manta and says, “Do it, then. Kill me,” but the moment rings hollow, and Arthur bullying Manta into inaction by playing on his long-term addiction to vengeance isn’t the sort of contrition that comes from a man who is truly sorry for the pain he has caused someone else.

Credit: DC Comics

Abnett also sabotages Manta in this issue, starting him off as a clear and present danger to all that Aquaman and Mera have fought to achieve, then slowly letting the air out of him before shuffling him off into custody as a pathetic loser who learned — again — that you can’t fight a royal, that they are above recompense. Luckily, as the last panel shows, Manta will most likely get another moment in the sun and another chance to show his mettle.

It is also a little off-putting that Aquaman, during his more-of-a-dance-than-a-fight with Manta, completely ignores the fact that Spindrift Station is leaking like a sieve, that countless lives are in danger, and that people are probably looking to him to be savior and salvation. Aquaman is a character who has to fight harder than every other superhero, no matter how ridiculous their power, to prove he’s deserving of being taken seriously, but it’s hard to do so when he acts like he does in this issue.

Credit: DC Comics

Scot Eaton is clearly a talented penciller, and he draws a great Black Manta, but he can be inconsistent, particularly with regard to relative size between characters within a panel, and especially crowd scenes. In one panel, Manta looks as though he has grown three times in size when he punches Aquaman into a somersault. Gabe Eltaeb’s colors, though, make every panel come alive and the action jump off the page, and rarely has Aquaman’s orange and green union suit looked so good. Even with its shortcomings, this is one of the best looking books of the rebooted universe.

Dan Abnett clearly has big plans ahead for Aquaman and the integration of Atlantis in the dry land world, and while those plans were set into motion last issue, this outing feels like a superficial yet obligatory fisticuffs that were hastened into happening. A slower boil on Manta’s revenge with a plan more calculating and involved would have changed his paradigm, but it seems his lot is forever to be predictable in his single-minded purpose. While Aquaman seems to have faltered as a character in this issue, Abnett has seeded enough plot points that perhaps he’ll redeem himself in time.

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