As a fan of DC’s old mystery comics, I can’t resist a ‘kissing the corpse’ cover.
That reads weirder on screen than it sounded in my head.
Ah well, there it is. Creepy wedding day snaps just grab me, and this image by penciller Robson Rocha, inker Daniel Henriques and colourist Alex Sinclair persuaded me to buy my first issue of Aquaman since the beginning of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run – I’m a Kelly fan but wasn’t grabbed enough by the opening chapter to stick with yet another storyline centred on Aqua-amnesia.
This issue is part two of a storyline entitled ‘Mother Shark’, though it’s obviously continuing directly from the previous arc, in which a memory-wiped Arthur was washed up on an island of oddballs. Last issue, it seems, Aquaman was reminded of the majority of his past by a massive shark, but there was one big hole, and it’s filled in here.
Along with myriad memories of Mera comes recall of their most recent time together, back when Arthur had faked his death. The hero’s rare playful mood was popped by massive news – the Widowhood, the power behind the Atlantean throne, wanted recently crowned ruler Mera to marry someone. Aquaman pointed out that they’ve never insisted male rulers wed, Mera noted that it wasn’t a matter of gender, but circumstances.
While Arthur claimed to be happy, he said he needed time alone to process things. Mera was displeased.
Can we say ‘Heroes in Crisis’? Mother Shark, who seems to be a Gaea figure for sea-folk, tells Aquaman that his ‘choir invisible’ state was the result of Mera snapping. She lost control of her hard water powers and killed her beloved, sending his memories to Mother Shark’s coral island before the loving leviathan decided to revive him.
I didn’t buy Wally West killing loads of less famous heroes due to losing control of his Speed Force energy but I can just about accept Mera offing Aquaman in a moment of madness. Yes, the red-haired Xebel rebel is as much the level-headed leader as fighting female fury, but down the years and continuities she’s been as prone to mental breakdown as Aquaman has been to misplacing his memories. With luck, next issue’s 50th anniversary celebration will smooth the waters and the current Aquaman and Mera can finally marry and, as they say in the tabloids, ‘welcome’ their child.
DeConnick does a terrific job with the conversation between Arthur and Mera that forms the heart of this issue – he, trying to grab any moment of peace he can; she, like Arthur before her, struggling with the painful truth that ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown’.
I also like Mother Shark, it makes a nice change for a god to take the form of a creature other than a human, and her calm tone is rare in a superhero comic. I’m delighted our hero has his memory back, though I’m disappointed DC has added Jason Momoa-style tattoos to him. Actually, I’m not a massive fan of the way Viktor Bogdanovic draws Aquaman, there’s something a tiny bit too cartoony about him… the big eyeballs and Doonesbury nose make him look just the wrong side of goofy.
Otherwise, the art – Jonathan Glapion, Daniel Henriques and Ryan Winn provide ‘additional inks’, while Sunny Gho colours – is pretty darn good. The facial expressions work and the storytelling is smart – for the most part.
That opening spread just misses being awesome, its power lessened by the left-hand stack of panels overlaying the wonderfully rendered Mother Shark. Cut out some of the dialogue to allow fewer frames, move them to the right with the other close-ups and there’s room for the eye to land on the shark, not a series of virtually identical panels.
Big applause, though, for this moody image – the depiction of Arthur between coral and looming shark shadow is a winner.
Clayton Cowles, one of the best letterers in the industry, does an especially good job with Mother Shark’s gently wavy font, placed on a dreamy blue and cream background.
What I don’t get is how the flashback with Mera works with the ending of the Drowned Earth Justice League/Aquaman special, which saw Arthur sacrifice himself to destroy a ‘death kraken’, only to be seen washed up on the mysterious island on which DeConnick’s first story took place. There was even a blurb telling us to go directly to Aquaman #43. If Arthur and Mera were parted after the Drowned Earth story, how was there room for this issue’s flashback? Am I misunderstanding something?
So, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Viktor Bogdanovic and friends have hooked me like the proverbial fish…I even bought and downloaded the previous issue while writing this piece. It seems this run is better at balancing drama with playfulness than I anticipated after that first, rather morose, issue. Let’s hope we get that Aqua-wedding soon.
But please, no spooks!