Dan Abnett has mastered the art of writing Aquaman in a manner that few have. After Geoff Johns "made Aquaman cool" with his excellent run at the beginning of New 52, the book entered a steady plateau of quality. It never got bad, but it never wowed in the same way that Geoff Johns' run on the series did.
When Dan Abnett took on the book shortly before Rebirth, a writer most famed for his work on the cosmic side of Marvel with books like Nova, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Annihilation crossover, there was a lot of hope for a strong series. His DC work includes the likes of Titans: Hunt, Earth 2: Society, and I myself had just read his newer work on the criminally underrated Hercules series from All-New, All-Different Marvel as well as his Convergence: Justice Society of America books, and I had high hopes for what he could bring to Aquaman.
His run started with the new cool, if drably named, villain named Dead Water. He was a cool baddy, and it was as strong start.
Then Rebirth itself kicked off, and Abnett proved to be a powerhouse writer from early on, bringing in the classic villain, Black Manta.
Oh, also, Aquaman proposes to Mera!
Black Manta attacks the Atlantis-U.S embassy known as Spindrift Station, hoping to torment Aquaman by damaging his hopes for relations between the undersea kingdom and the surface world. It works in part, as the embassy is forced to close down for a time due to the damage caused by Manta. After being arrested, Black Manta is released and taken in by a clandestine organization known as N.E.M.O. Manta kills their leader, the Fisher King, and assumes control of the group.
N.E.M.O orchestrates an attack upon a U.S naval ship while posing as the Atlantean extremists known as the Deluge in an attempt to instigate a war between the United States and Atlantis. Aquaman tries to keep the peace between the two at the U.S Capitol, but the high tensions and other maneuvers on the part of N.E.M.O lead to Arthur being arrested. However, Mera breaks him out. On their escape, Superman intervenes. Arthur and Kal-El have a brief fight before Aquaman convinces the Man of Steel to trust him to resolve the conflict.
In the midst of all this, the sisterhood of advisors known as the Widowhood warn Mera away from marrying Arthur, warning her of a prophecy of a wife of a fallen Atlantean King who will bring about death and destruction in her grief. A number of elements of the prophecy make the Widowhood believe that it is about Aquaman and Mera. Consequently, they stand against the marriage of Arthur and Mera.
When Aquaman returns, he finds that N.E.M.O awakened a creature beneath Atlantis. It turns out to be one of Ivo's androids, the Shaggy Man. Arthur barely manages to halt the creature and nearly dies in the conflict.
Upon Arthur's return home, N.E.M.O amps up their plans and launches scattered attacks on the east coast of the United States, continuing to pose as Atlantean militants. Aquaman, now suspicious of the existence of N.E.M.O, works to prove their involvement and exonerate his nation.
The United States strike at the capital of Atlantis with mutated super-soldiers called the Aquamarines. These soldiers have the ability to breath underwater by morphing into anthropomorphic sea creatures. These soldiers end up killing much of the Atlantean High Council. This causes Atlantis to further call for surface blood.
Upon finally discovering the location of N.E.M.O, Aquaman strikes them down and enters a vicious duel with Black Manta once again. He wins, but Manta destroys the base. Arthur escapes with proof of N.E.M.O.'s existence as well as their responsibility for the attacks on the U.S. This ends the growing conflict between the U.S and Atlantis.
While continuing to mend relations between Atlantis and the surface world, Arthur speaks at a U.N meeting, but his telepathic senses are disrupted. He also begins seeing visions of a warzone. He tracks down the source and finds an android called Warhead (also fairly drably named). He fights the being, but he learns of its confusion as well as its suffering through the telepathic connection. He subdues Warhead and takes him back to Atlantis for treatment.
The U.S requests Aquaman and Mera's assistance investigating an abandoned research station in the Gulf of Mexico where the creature known as Dead Water originated. The two, the Aquamarines, the two FBI agent friends of Aquaman (from before Rebirth), and the still-injured Scavenger go to the location. The place is suspicious, and Dead Water appears. After a time, Aquaman and Mera discover that there is "Strange Water" beneath the station with a portal that connects to another aquatic world. The Strange Water is causing people to turn into instances of Dead Water. They manage to seal the portal with a portable nuke the Aquamarines brought, but it is not done without casualties to the Aquamarines themselves.
Tensions are rising on the Atlantean High Council, and they are losing trust in Arthur as king. Corum Rath and the Deluge orchestrate an assault on Arthur and Mera, which the two repel. Upon returning to the High Council, Elder Leot and much of the Council want Arthur to be dethroned. They agree to do so, and Rath is put on the throne.
He immediately begins to search into the Atlantean magic of the Silent School. He wants Atlantis fully armed against the surface world. Aquaman continues to fight for his throne, even when trusted allies like Murk and Mistress Carcharador turn upon him. Mera wants Arthur and herself to retire to the surface world for good, but Aquaman won't give up. Rath unleashes a magical barrier called the Crown of the Thorns which shuts Atlantis off from the rest of the world, and Murk badly wounds Arthur when he tries to escape.
The Rebirth one-year special came out for this book this past week. I won't spoil the events of that, but, do know, it is very good and worth your money (even if it is $3.99 despite being twice-a-month like a freaking Marvel book).
One thing Abnett does that not even Geoff Johns did for Aquaman is solidly define his personality beyond simply being a stoic actor. Abnett has Arthur crack jokes, show himself as a hopeless romantic and optimist, and he manages to define the determination of the King of Atlantis where few others have.
The political intrigue and backstabbing is akin to Game of Thrones. This being a comic book, it is a little more trope-y than that series, but it is still enthralling and leaves you wondering where the story will go next.
The action has stayed consistently good throughout the series, and there have been many epic battles between Arthur and the likes of Superman, Shaggy Man, Black Manta, and Dead Water.
The antagonists of this series have been pretty cool too, even if Dead Water and Warhead have kind of crappy names. Their visual designs are good, and they are awesome creatures to have clash with the King of Atlantis.
The romance between Arthur and Mera is endearing. One gets the feeling that it is destined to tragically fail, given Mera's more free roaming nature and Arthur's loyalty to his homeland. You don't want it to fail though. They have good chemistry, and it would be nice to see them end up together.
The art has been consistently good in this book, with Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy¸ Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher, and Philip Briones offering their hands to the series at different times. It's often an expressive design that does focus a lot on line art. The figures are always strong, and the action scenes are kinetic. There's also a lot of bubbles. That's one thing I noticed in Atlantis; there are always bubbles in the background. I know, it's water. But are there always bubbles floating around underwater?
Anyway, Gabe Eltaeb has colored the series for most of its existence, and he does a good job with the marine pallet at play here.
Stjepan Sejic is the artist in the newest issue, and it's incredible. He plays with shadows in his highly-stylized yet almost photorealistic art. It looks amazing, and I hope that he stays on this book for some time to come. This is the first time I've been acquainted with his work, and he is already among my favorite artists.
There are rarely some pacing issues. Some plot threads are given a little too long to cook while the series preoccupies itself with smaller, less interesting conflicts. This rarely happens though, so series very rarely disappoints.
This is another of the shining stars of Rebirth. Dan Abnett and the myriad of artists that have worked this series have kept a consistently intriguing, always fun, and stylistically congruous series. I highly recommend it, especially now that tensions have kicked into high gear and Arthur must fight for his throne.