The fight against Corum Rath’s dictatorial regime continues in Aquaman #28. Is it good?
Artistically, there is much about this issue that is striking. When Stjepan Sejic is at his best, he’s astonishing. The painted backgrounds of Atlantis are lovely to look at, and there are a variety of images containing very precise details that make the world here feel real. Examples include the Crown of Thorns, as well as all the individual scales on Aquaman’s suit. There are also moments where extreme precision is avoided in order to make something monstrous and powerful through simplicity. One two-page-spread features a massive school of fish at Aquaman’s command, and each fish seems to blend into the next. This visual connection effectively conveys the sense that they are less threatening individually and more powerful as an assembled force.
Unfortunately, there are aspects of the artwork that are simpler without feeling better off as a result. The biggest example of this is Kadaver, a character who is consistently rendered with less precision than everyone and everything else around him. The coloration on his costuming and powers is frequently flatter than that of the rest of the pages he is on. This is especially disappointing given how monstrous his coral projections could potentially look if they were rendered in greater detail. Another disappointing aspect of the artwork is that characters’ faces are seldom very distinct from one another. Facial features are remarkably similar across the cast, with little but hair and coloration choices differentiating the characters.
The writing in this issue also has its ups and downs, but overall it’s less memorable than the artwork. Sejic’s misfires feel more forgivable because when he’s on, he’s really on. Plot-wise, though, most of this issue’s strengths are more theoretical than actual. I like the fact that there is a large supporting cast (Mera, Tempest, Vulko, Ondine, etc.) and that they all get some page-time to further their portions of the plot. Unfortunately, though much of the dialogue is well-written, there isn’t enough time spent fleshing out the cast, and as a result it’s hard to feel emotionally invested in what any of them are actually doing.
The best dialogue in the issue comes from Aquaman himself, when he discusses how Atlantis deposed him for trying to do the right thing by fighting xenophobia and lead the kingdom to positive change. Again, though, there’s a flipside. Themes of intolerance and oppression have gotten great lip service and occasional actual representation throughout this arc, but they don’t feel fully realized. For all the characters’ talk of the evils Corum Rath has committed, said evils aren’t actually grounded in the lived emotional experiences of Atlantis’s citizens. This creates a sense that the consequences of the plot are being stated, not shown. Suffering is declared more so than depicted.
On the plus side, though, writer Dan Abnett is very good at transitions. The pacing throughout the issue is solid, as Abnett juggles multiple plot threads without ever outright dropping any of them. The problem is that few of said threads live up to their full potential. There’s a lot going on here, and while little of it is particularly bad, most of what’s present feels underdeveloped. This inconsistency is mirrored in the artwork, which is stunning at its best but stilted and lacking cohesion at worst. I had a decent time reading this issue, but if it weren’t for the best aspects of Sejic’s art, I don’t think it would be particularly memorable.