Arthur Curry remembers. He is no longer a drifter on a quest. He can return home. He can arrive on Amnesty. And so he does.
Kelly Sue DeConnick’s tenure on the title has thus far taken Aquaman on an epic ride through the world of myth and elemental power and out of that voyage, he’s a changed man. Still the same character we know and love, but with new flourishes, both inward and outward (tattoos!). And with the return of Robson Rocha to the title, after a brief but excellent fill-in by Viktor Bogdanovic, it feels like coming home. And that’s really what the issue’s largely about. It’s about the comfort of home, what it is in the Aquaman world, what it was, too and what it may soon be. Thus the creative team brings the characters and readership back to Amnesty Bay, a place we haven’t been to in some time now. So the return is really sweetened here, as we get back to Arthur’s Lighthouse home and reunite with the inhabitants of the town that surrounds it.
Given that the issue is a monumental milestone, a #50, this is a warranted and understandable choice. It’s a nice bit of comforting, satisfying payoff, as we revisit the foundations once more, to take stock of things. And a lot of the issue really does. In a number of ways, this reads like the ultimate culmination of Aquaman history. Especially the history that’s been setup, built up and paid off over the course of the last decade. It’s work that’s honoring over 100 issues of great Aquaman comics, spanning numerous runs, which all tie together cohesively into one large story. The fundamental appeal of Aquaman from The New 52 onwards has been that it’s all one forward-moving story, it’s numerous hands working to build this larger tapestry that keeps on growing. Geoff Johns began the enterprise with his revamp, casting Arthur as a conflicted superhero who had to be king. Jeff Parker then admirably took on the honor and succeeded Johns and built on what Johns did, while bringing a whole new appeal to the book with a fresh sensibility and neat expansions. Parker’s Arthur was a swashbuckling seafaring adventurer who was a man of the people. Then Bunn had a brief maligned run for 8 issues, after which Abnett’s era began, which saw the grandest worldbuilding and examination of Arthur’s role as a king and a hero, finally removing him from kingship, with Mera taking the role.
Now in DeConnick’s time, he’s been recast as a mythic champion. But this issue, much like the arc prior, really bridges everything together into a nice, cohesive mix. You see elements of every single run that’s before here. The creative team really honors the past, while adding to his present to move to the future. You have Arthur Curry chugging down tons of cereal, turning every dish he gets into some form of cereal to consume, going on about how cereal is his absolute favorite food. It’s a fun little touch and an amusing little character quirk. But it gets even more amusing when one remembers that the man so pivotal in the character’s revamp is an absolute cereal junkie and his obsession and love of cereal has practically become a meme, earning him nicknames in fandom such as but not limited to ‘Cereal King’ and ‘Cereal Lord’. So the addition of Arthur being super into cereal all of a sudden is a bit of a hilarious notion that screams ‘Geoff Johns!’. Apart from that, you also have his supporting character in Amnesty, Officer Erika Watson, who is Arthur’s childhood friend from school. So if you’re someone who enjoys or cared for Johns’ tenure, it’s reflected here.
But so is Jeff Parker’s tenure of the amusing everyman. Parker’s Arthur was a man who everyone in the community knew, a guy who people would talk to, trust in and work with. If a stranger came knocking about him, they wouldn’t budge. because he was one of their own. Parker’s Arthur was a man deeply tied to Amnesty and its people and was the sort of man who could take down Krakens but feared his High School Reunions. He was approachable, relatable and a brilliant balance of stoic and personable. All of that is here too, as we get beautiful moments of Arthur joking around with a neighborhood kid. This is a man that knows and remembers the names of everyone in his town. From your grandparents to your relatives, he probably recalls all of them and will greet them cheerily.
Then Abnett’s extensive worldbuilding of Atlantis and efforts with putting Mera in power as Queen are also reflected, as is the redemption of Vulko that we saw in that previous era. We’re treated to great Abnett editions such as JUROK BYSS, LORD OF BEASTS, as well as the Sisterhood and the Tride-system of structure for the Atlantean civilization. All these things that worked so well and were highlights of these past great runs come through here, in an issue where DeConnick, Rocha, Pansica, Henriques, Ferreira, Gho and Cowles rejoice in the majesty of the franchise and its history. This is a book with history, this is a book with growth, where things evolve, get added and always keep moving forward. And this is just the next step in that evolution. All that which you love is still here, but look at all these new, fun additions, that’s the idea here. And it really, really works.
Looking over at all that past, however, the book decides to add to it here. The addition comes through in the form of a Wonder Woman/Aquaman dynamic, where in they are cast as absolutely tight best friends, in the vein of so many other iconic, classical comic friendships. They’re to one another what Batman and Superman are to one another, or what Green Arrow and Green Lantern are to each other. They’re really close, they get on very well, they joke around, have great rapport and feel very comfortable around another. They’re like siblings, who always have one another’s back. It’s one of those obvious notions that seems apparent when you look at the make up of the DC world but this is one of those rare times that the notion is actually reflected appropriately in the work itself. Diana arrives and tackles a whole barrage of irksome press and stands up for Arthur, as you’d expect. DeConnick and Rocha’s characterization for Diana is spot on, presenting as the kindly icon who stands for love, compassion, understanding and wisdom. She’s funny, fun, witty and confident. The joy of this entire dynamic as laid out here is how the team plays it as though this is how they’ve always been, this is the nature of their relationship and we’re only seeing that now. It’s not a new dynamic being setup, but a recontextualization of an existing one.
But the team doesn’t stop there, they’re out to celebrate everything. Thus, we finally have the debut of Jackson Hyde, the son of Black Manta, the second Aqualad in the Aquaman ongoing. It has not happened to date, which may surprise some and it’s long due, especially given Manta’s stature as Arthur’s chief antagonist. Hyde is a boy caught between these two father figures and it’s prime, juicy material for a story between hero and villain, as they engage in their never-ending Shakespearean struggle. But also importantly, he’s a queer hero and a black man, bringing some much needed diversity to the title and the DC Universe in general. He’s a fantastic idea, he’s lovely representation and has only needed a spot to unveil his true potential. And now, he’s given that spot, joining the title as a new regular cast member.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the world, Black Manta accepts Lex Luthor’s offer for power, setting up his return to the title in big fashion. Where as in the depths of Atlantis, a wedding must occur. After much delay, Mera declares Vulko to be her choice for husband, a very clear and obvious ruse, playing as almost a prank or a joke, to kill time and shut people up. While it may raise eyebrows, that’s kind of the point. The sequence, brought to life with great beauty and colored magnificently by Sunny Gho, even showcases The Odyssey being read by Mera, so the allusions, where in the queen holds things off, should be evident.
Mera and Arthur’s relationship, especially a relationship that’s now on the brink of parenthood is quickly becoming the heart of this run. The couple had a spat and one driven by intense anxiety and stress, but given it’s a DC superhero spat, its consequences were a bit bigger than someone throwing a lamp. So now the two stand apart briefly, uncertain and a bit irked, waiting for the other to call. They still love one another, they both want a future, they both want this thing that’s happening, but they’re also deeply human and so they’d prefer the other person break the silence first and reach out. When you’re dealing with such strong personalities, that’s inevitable sometimes and that definitely comes through here, as even the issue is titled ‘The Call’, taking on a different meaning from Arthur’s power. There’s an amusing twist here, as the man whose superpower is asking for help by ‘calling’ others does not want to call his lover first, for which Wonder Woman chastises him.
There’s a lot at play here, the very idea of the future, embodied in the relationship and the baby-to-be, with Manta’s shadow hanging above things. Although the future is seen another way, where in a past tale of a missing Captain of Amnesty Bay, who built an old tower is brought up, with the gods teasing that the story is far from over. Then the art team strikes the reader with a gloriously moody and atmospheric splash of a Cthulhu-esque monstrosity in the mists of the ocean coming for the man. And it may just yet come for all our oceanic gods and Aquaman himself.
Aquaman #50 is a glorious synthesis and celebration of the past, present and future of the character and his world, unveiling all that makes it wonderful and terrifying, from Atlantises to Black Mantas. The character and title continue to move forward boldly in this new era for the character, as new challenges and conflicts mix with old to produce something that feels fresh and exciting.