Best Shots Review: AQUAMAN: DEEP DIVES

DC’s DIGITAL FIRST
Credit: DC
Credit: DC

Aquaman: Deep Dives
Written by Steve Orlando
Art by Daniel Sampere, Juan Albarran and Adriano Lucas
Lettering by Wes Abbott
Published by DC
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

After some hit-or-miss first steps with their digital-first offerings, DC is finally able to right the ship with Aquaman: Deep Dives. While this self-contained story is a little shaky upon sticking the landing, it doesn’t distract from some sharp characterization from writer Steve Orlando paired with some winning artwork from artist Daniel Sampere.

If you’ve seen the 2018 Aquaman film, you probably remember how thoroughly Yahya Abdul-Mateen II stole the show as sub-villain Black Manta — and as an underrated talent himself, it shouldn’t surprise you to see how Orlando tells much of the story through Manta’s perspective, quickly and clearly establishing his motivation and the intensity of his hatred against Arthur Curry. Even better, Manta’s mission is a great nod to Orlando’s tenure writing Wonder Woman, as he’s angling for the Tether of Amphitrite, an Atlantean Mermazon weapon that could spell certain doom for Aquaman.

But in many ways, that’s all just set dressing to the real fireworks on display — namely, how Aquaman must weather Black Manta’s neverending rage. While readers understand Manta’s point of view intimately thanks to his internal monologue — Aquaman killed his father, and he’s thus cast as an “amoral despot” — Aquaman has to make his own case to both Manta and us. Not only is Arthur reminding us that Manta’s father was a murderous pirate a way for Orlando to not paint Aquaman as a stone-cold remorseless killer, but is able to get the reader to step back from Manta’s ever-spiraling mental state, as he’s come up with ever-elaborate rationales rather than let go of his all-consuming hatred.

The real highlight for this book, however, is artist Daniel Sampere, who feels reminiscent at times of Paul Pelletier’s work on this week’s Superman: Man of Tomorrow. Elevated with a nice depth and energy by Juan Albarran’s inks and Adriano Lucas’s colors, Sampere’s artwork excels in the action sequences, but still manages to eke out just enough expressiveness to give Aquaman some character. While sometimes Sampere’s layouts can be a bit wonky as he crams together action sequences in too-small panels, the moments that he lets himself breathe feel particularly effective, and he caps off the 16-page story nicely with a truly iconic image of Aquaman zooming through the ocean.

Of course, given all that praise, there’s still some elements of Aquaman: Deep Dives that still seem, errm, a bit fishy. Given how modern and exciting the execution is for much of the story, the way Orlando wraps up this issue feels almost Silver Age-y, just in the way that Black Manta’s plan backfires in such an over-the-top fashion. While Orlando softens the landing with some choice dialogue from Manta, who won’t take this defeat without spitting venom, Aquaman’s quick cleanup of such a clearly dangerous weapon that he’s left out in the open might raise an eyebrow or two.

But nitpicking aside, Aquaman: Deep Dives is the sort of book that DC should be putting front and center for its expanded digital-first initiatives — it’s got high production values, and puts a creator on a new character for a refreshing and different point of view. Orlando and Sampere clearly are a team that work well together, and one can only hope that this Aquaman one-shot isn’t the last time we see them collaborate.

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