Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick
Art by Miguel Mendonca and Romulo Fajardo, Jr.
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
At the risk of sounding reductive, many superhero comics fall into certain tropes, pulled into these familiar cliches like the tide. Over-the-top fisticuffs, exaggerated costumes, and larger-than-life events have driven the Big Two for decades — which is why it’s so interesting to see a comic like Aquaman swimming against the currents. Sure, there’s the palace intrigue of Arthur, Mera, Vulko, and Ocean Master, but writer Kelly Sue DeConnick takes her time with a more human side of the Atlantean hero, as he plunges into the depths of heartache with a deftness and nuance that feels unlike anything else DC is publishing today.
Given what’s going on in the news today, it’s easy to feel not just despair, but to almost forget what “normal” used to look like. And in that regard, DeConnick’s opening scenes almost feel like a time capsule, one that establishes Arthur’s growing supporting cast as they fawn over his baby, Princess Andy. It’s the sort of languid pacing that almost never works in Big Two books, but DeConnick sells it — because as we watch this collection of superheroes and demigods watch out over this precocious toddler, it’s a reminder of the sort of everyday love and affection that makes life worth living. Who doesn’t like seeing a cute baby who tries to eat literally everything in her path, whether it be a Sippy cup, raw ferns, or a clod of dirt?
But DeConnick also reminds us that while happiness is important, normalcy doesn’t just mean things are always breezy. While Arthur might be showering his daughter Andy with an extended family full of love and protectiveness, his wife Mera is in a coma — and seeing how DeConnick portrays Arthur with a quiet but uneasy strength as he visits her is perhaps some of the most human and natural characterization I’ve seen in a DC book in ages. It all ties in with the greater intrigue of the Aquaman mythos — and given how it centers around the politics of outbreaks and quarantine, it feels perhaps a little scarily prescient — but what DeConnick recognizes is that without that human connection, none of the royal stuff matters. Right now, Arthur, Ocean Master, even the comatose Mera all seem to be trying their best while the rest of the world bombards them. Honestly, it feels like a message we could all take comfort in right about now.
Given that DeConnick’s story feels like a bit of Direct Market counterprogramming, Miguel Mendonca’s artwork also fits in that same vein. Stylistically, he hits in that same wheelhouse as Robson Rocha or Ivan Reis, but he’s able to really key into the emotional beats nicely — a relief, given that there’s little actual action going on in the book, beyond a shot of Arthur pulling in a derelict boat to shore or Andy being caught before careening off a cliff. But Mendonca does lean into how pretty Arthur looks, especially when he gets a haircut and reverts back to his classic Aquaman outfit. Colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. also does strong work here, particularly being able to differentiate between the surface and underwater scenes nicely with his color palettes, but never at the cost of Mendonca’s clarity or energy.
When we look at superheroes, it’s easy to boil them down to secret origins and power sets, rather than the characterization that’s made us root for them for generations. And Aquaman — a character with numerous reimaginings, relaunches and reversals — might be more scattered than most. But it’s amazing what a little bit of humanity can do to clarify a character’s internal compass — DeConnick and Mendonca’s Aquaman is a man adrift but never unmoored, a guy who’s been dealt a bad hand but chooses to embrace the good things still in his life. He’s not grim and gritty, not an oversized beacon of hope, but a guy who seems to exude well-adjusted normalcy, even as a one-time king of Atlantis. It’s a quiet story that shows us that while things can be bad, we have the ability to choose how we stand up to it. And if that’s not a heroic origin story for today’s headlines, I don’t know what is.