Spoilers ahead for this week's Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1.
At the end of this week’s Aquaman/Justice League: Drowned Earth #1, Mera and other DC heroes think Aquaman is dead, setting up a new status quo for the hero as a new creative team takes over his solo book.
The Legion of Doom has also lost a member, as Black Mantadisappeared with Aquaman when the latter slew the giant Death Kraken attacking the Earth.
And although the Earth is restored from the damage incurred during “Drowned Earth,” the Legion of Doom still has the Totality they stole last issue.
So let’s take a look at spoilers for the issue to discover how Aquaman “died” and what happened to reverse the tide on the “Drowned Earth.”
The issue opens at the dawn of civilization, as the legendary hero of Atlantis, Arion, is speaking with the similarly legendary Amazonian warrior Asteria. The two are admiring the new towers of Atlantis, which were designed by Themyscira and Atlantis.
“These towers are a trident of life, of connection,” Arion says. “If you think they’re beautiful now, wait until they rise into the skies.”
(More on that later!)
They remark on the many isolationists in both kingdoms, but both instead support the idea of forming relationships with “all the great civilizations,” including those throughout the cosmos.
Readers are also reminded that the Cosmic Conch was originally meant to be a clarion of life, but has now become a weapon of death.
Here and Now
Back in the present, Mera, eye-patch Superman, and half-fish-man Flash are trapped in the Tomb of Arion.
Mera is now wearing around her neck the dark Cosmic Conch, infused with the negative life force called the Tear of Extinction. She’s using her powers to form a water bubble around herself and the other two heroes, who are also trapped within the tomb.
The three heroes are surrounded by a slew of Earth’s superheroes that have been fully turned into fish-people, each ready to attack because they’re now under the mind-control of Black Manta.
The Triumvirate of Ocean Lords and Black Manta are above the Earth, floating on their cosmic ships and protected by a seemingly impenetrable barrier that surrounds the Earth.
The sea gods – Admiral Tyyde, Captain Gall, and Commander Drogue — are concerned about the Tear of Extinction that’s now in the possession of Mera. Now that the Graveyard of Gods is destroyed, the Tear can kill each of them permanently.
To the surprise of the trapped heroes, their attackers have been defeated by two people in a ship hovering above. It’s Wonder Woman (with her new cosmic winged pet, Asteria) and Aquaman (with Poseidon’s trident).
Aquaman brings Mera up to speed, telling her that Poseidon this his trident can be used to kill the sea gods, after its charged with the Tear’s energy.
But Arthur also feels that, because the sea gods originally came to Earth with good intentions, he might be able to convince them to call off their attack. Mera argues with him, but the heroes decide to give that plan a chance and only kill the Ocean Lords as a last resort.
About Those Towers…
Mera and Arthur reveal their plan to break through the barrier protecting the sea gods involved. Atlantis’ towers were designed to break barriers and travel into space, to “reach the most distant shores.”
To make them work, however, someone will need to access the secret tunnel that Aquaman discovered during Dark Nights: Metal. That action will destroy Atlantis, but the Earth is on the brink of destruction.
Suddenly, the Death Kraken (that was called at the end of the last issue of “Drowned Earth”) arrives in the sky. The sea gods announce that “any ocean it touches, all life within dies!”
For now, Commander Drogue is using the “Bone Crown” to control the Death Kraken and not allow it to hit the Earth. But Admiral Tyyde says that if the heroes make it through the barrier, Drogue will order the beast to attack them.
League and Legion
The League splits up. Wonder Woman leaves with Asteria to launch the Atlantis towers (with Mara protecting her from the toxic water). The rest sail into the sky to attack the armada of floating ships commanded by the Ocean Lords.
Cheetah follows Wonder Woman and attacks her. Just when Diana appears to be losing the battle, Batman shows up in the full Lex-armor he donned when he abandoned the Hall of Justice and takes out Cheetah.
His suit was programmed to teleport him to the group’s leader, and without Martian Manhunter on Earth, that meant he landed by Wonder Woman.
They launch the towers of Atlantis, breaking through the barrier and allowing the League to reach the sea gods.
Manta gets a message from Lex Luthor to abandon the sea gods. “The tide is turning in favor of the Justice League,” Luthor says, urging Manta to teleport back to Legion headquarters.
But Manta is power-happy and ignores Luthor’s order.
After Arthur fails to convince the sea gods to abandon their attack, Mera demands that he kill them.
Just then, she is knocked unconscious, but when she come to, she realizes the Tear’s energy was turning her heart dark. She tells Arthur to use what remains of his powers to try to turn the Cosmic Conch back to its life-infused nature. Yes, it will destroy their chance to use the Tear, but it will fulfill the original vision for Atlantis to be united with the cosmos.
The plan works. The conch is restored.
Arthur tells Mera that because she’s queen, she should use the now-positively infused conch to put out a call to the universe, sharing her vision for Atlantis and its connection to the universe. “See the world as it should be, not how it is,” he says.
Her vision is broadcast into the minds of everyone on Earth, including the sea gods. Her dream is for life everywhere to be “connected through a sharing of knowledge and good faith.”
The vision doesn’t quite stop the sea gods from their evil intentions, but Arthur climbs aboard their ship and offers them Poseidon’s trident. “For what was done to you by our people, and our gods,” he says. “This trident … it belongs to you.”
The gesture works. Tyyde realizes there is hope in the light. And Drogue says he’s going to call off the Death Kraken.
But Black Manta doesn’t agree. He stabs Drogue, and because his knives are coated with the Tear of Extinction, the god falls dead.
Manta takes his bone crown and tries to control the Death Kraken. When Tyyde and Gall attack, Manta stabs them too. Gall falls dead, but the sword meant for Tyyde is diverted by Aquaman’s hand and misses her heart.
Lex Luthor sends Manta another message and tells him to stop. He points out that the Legion of Doom now has the Totality. They don’t need to fight the sea gods’ battles.
But the message doesn’t change Manta’s mind. He wants to rule the oceans. He ignores Lex.
Tyyde uses her powers to reverse what she did earlier in “Drowned Earth.” She takes the powers of the Life Force away from Manta and gives them back to Aquaman.
The two battle, and Aquaman wins. But the heroes realize that the Death Kraken is still heading toward Earth. Manta never had control of the Kraken after all — only Drogue could truly control the beast.
Manta reaches out to Lex Luthor now, wanting to teleport away. But Lex ignores him.
The League cannot stop the Kraken, but Arthur realizes that the only thing that will kill the beast is the Life Force he carries. “The Death Kraken lives on the opposing energy,” Arthur says. “I can kill it. Me.”
He turns the ship (on which he and Manta are sailing) directly toward the Death Kraken.
Arthur flies straight into the Kraken’s mouth.
Three Days Later…
The story flashes forward to show the Earth has just about returned to normal. The people of Earth are back to being human, but they’re aware that Aquaman saved them.
Admiral Tyyde promises Mera that she will carry the “message of the Clarion call of the Cosmic Conch” to every ocean she and her people meet across the “great expanse.”
A statue has been erected of Aquaman in the Hall of Justice, but Wonder Woman doesn’t believe he’s dead. “He was tied to all of us when he slew the Death Kraken,” she says. “We would have felt him pass on. I feel sure of it.”
On the final page, readers are shown that Wonder Woman’s belief is true. Arthur is alive, washed up on a beach somewhere. (But where is Black Manta?)
The solicitation for Aquaman #43 (as well as an early preview released by DC) have confirmed that Aquaman is alive but has amnesia. He washed ashore “on a remote island,” and a new creative team for Aquaman will be picking up his story from there.