We are given a glimpse of the future. A new capital city of Atlantis has been built, and it extends above the surface of the ocean so that both Atlanteans and surface-dwellers may live in it. Aquaman and Mera are king and queen, and they have a son named Tom. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan visit to help celebrate Tom's 12th birthday. Everything seems perfect for Arthur and Mera.
However, such things never last. A breakout at a prison facility disrupts the day's festivities, and everything begins unraveling slowly before Aquaman's eyes.
A decent evaluation of the story requires major spoilers for the big twists in this issue, so consider yourself warned.
All of this is the result of Aquaman, Mera, Murk, and members of the Drift being caught in the snare of the Black Mercy. A patch of the flower has grown beneath the ocean's surface, and these people were somehow caught in its tangle.
That did disappoint me at first; Aquaman has been especially dower in its current arc. I say this loving the current arc of the book, but it would be nice to get a glimpse of everything actually turning out alright for Aquaman, Mera, and Atlantis.
However, the book won me over by doing what the Black Mercy does best: giving you everything you want to see before forcibly ripping it away from you.
As you can imagine, the dissolution of Tom is the bleakest and most heartbreaking moment of the comic. You don't get to learn too much about the kid, but it does hurt to see characters you love like Mera and Arthur being emotionally devastated in such a manner.
All of this only works because of how well the comic paces its blows. Once the Mercy's illusion begins to unravel, it does get sidetracked a little, but, once it truly starts collapsing, it happens in a systematic manner designed to just break your heart.
In other words, this comic plays with the structure of a Black Mercy story very well. Phillip Kennedy Johnson does some damn good work here.
This Aquaman Annual is quite reminiscent of the Justice League Unlimited episode, "The Man Who Has Everything." Mongul attaches a Black Mercy to Superman on his birthday, leaving Wonder Woman and Batman to save the Man of Tomorrow. The fantasy of Clark's consists of him living on Krypton with Lois and a son. The planet never detonated, but the planet begins having tremors as the dream unravels for him.
Both stories give our hero everything they could ever want: peace, a family, a paradise. However, a friend has to rip it all away from them to save the day. Both structure the story very well, resulting in a heartbreaking finale.
The weak point to all of this is the artwork by Max Fiumara. Our heroes frequently look disproportioned with very oddly-shaped heads. It's not awful throughout, but the high points are few. They mostly consist of the scene wherein we see Aquaman and Mera trapped in the Black Mercy and the fight scenes where the odd physiology is obfuscated. The texturing is pretty solid throughout, though. Also, Dave Stewart's colorwork is really well done, and the comic is given a very heavy and effective tone from the palette choices.
Aquaman Annual #1 tells a beautifully sad tale of Arthur and Mera being given the exact world they want before it is stripped away. Its paced well, its tone is consistent, and the finale is a gut punch. While the art leaves a lot to be desired, the overall book still gets a strong recommendation. Give it a read.