“I know who you are.”
The first arc of Kelly Sue DeConnick, Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, Sunny Gho and Clayton Cowles’ roaring new run on Aquaman has just wrapped. Arthur crashed to the isle of gods, with no memories or purpose and found himself reformed with great meaning. Now, the prize at the end of his hurdles awaits. Having completed his quest to defeat Namma, Arthur’s journey within to discover his past starts. Years of history, masses of people, innumerable bonds and relationships, all lost, now to be found once more.
Rocha takes a break from the book, having worked wonders in that first arc, allowing him to return stronger and better soon, while another artist takes his place. But Henriques, Gho and Cowles remain, with two additions to the team. Viktor Bogdanovic takes on the title, joined by his inker, Jonathan Glapion (who works with Henriques here, which is fun to see), putting his own spin on the world Rocha created with the rest of the crew. Coming straight out of the Capullo school of comicking (Glapion is also Capullo’s inker, which is no coincidence), the artist brings a different sense of roughness to the book than Rocha did while keeping its visual identity consistent, something helped by the fact that Henriques is still onboard and even more importantly, Gho is still on coloring.
Arthur must drink the special waters and journey beyond, both inward and outward, experiencing that which few scarcely ever do. If the first arc was a big mythic quest, full of god councils, oceanic dragons evoking Jörmungandr and great battles, like an ’80s fantasy epic, this is a bit different. This allows the book to breathe after all that explosive energy and pulls things back in restraint to dig a bit deeper into the character (not that the first didn’t — it was a fascinating exploration of Aquman’s The Call, pit against its fascistic counterpart in Namma’s oppressive power, and what his role and place was on a larger scale) by taking a look at his past. The first arc got to recontextualize what we understand to be Aquaman, now begins the journey to examine Arthur Curry himself. This man, this boy, born of great love and sadness, and what makes him who he is, truly, underneath everything.
Diving in, Arthur finds himself in a frozen world and enters the oceanic depths, as memories flash into his mind. He remembers his basic origin. Atlantean Mother. Landweller Father. His mother’s departure and the horrific pain of that. A man able to connect to all life with his power, save for the one individual he wants to connect with the most: his mother. It’s here that we learn of another mother, the one the cover boasts so loudly: Mother Shark. A powerful, ancient cosmic creature that is essentially a bridge between life and that which lies beyond, the keeper of all our memories, our hopes, our fears, our deepest secrets and more, the mother takes it all and gives it back to that which led to our very creation, the ocean.
Cowles does some really fun stuff here with Shark’s balloons. He makes them wavy and uneven, but never irratically so like with Namma in the previous arc. They’re soothing and calm, coated in gentle blue and white. There’s a ‘softness’ to them, a sense of comfort and ease. If Namma, aka Mother Salt, was terrifying and monstrous, Mother Shark is gentle and kind. Bogdanovic’s art also levels up in a bit way here, with Gho’s colors being a great match and helping elevate the artist’s work to new heights. Gho’s oranges gleam bright gold, radiating warmth, while the cold blues that bathe the book evoke an ethereal quality, giving the book a certain weight and an almost magical quality.
But what’s also impressive is how the book is inked and the way the final textures and look come across. The usage of blacks and darkness really accentuates this, as there are a lot of fun variations in the overall look of a page. Some visuals look almost as through paint’s been sprinkled across the page to complement the blacks, giving the entire thing a nice touch. But even going beyond that to the way the scenes with the rain are done, it’s not just lines, there’s clearly more there, almost as through someone stamped special layers on top and now they’re here to stay. From there to sequences where light is almost depicted almost like some kind of misty substance in the everlasting shade of the seas, as the waters evoke space at some points, it’s just a gorgeous looking book. These aren’t the kind of things Bogdanovic’s prior work (which was fairly good) had and it’s really exciting to see an artist have this kind of special moment where in they break past a ceiling to reach a new place.
Even the way the story’s laid out is really interesting here, with radiant orange coating the past and the memories of Arthur, as white edges cover his moments of absence, with the panel border choices and composition beyond a key element in the reading. Gho has really helped set the visual identity for this book since the Abnett era and it’s really fascinating to see how the colorist interprets each artist and shifts to accommodate differing story directions. Bogdanovic’s layouts really come off as strikingly different from Rocha’s — it’s all a lot more uneven and the composition is more free, panels jag together a lot more. And that difference is part of the point. This isn’t that mythic quest against ancient monsters. This is much more of a spiritual mission within, it’s very much in the wheelhouse of those Avatar episodes wherein the Avatar enters the spiritual realm of communes with ancient spirits in between or during big events. If you’re a fan of that, this issue is very much your jam. DeConnick’s voice rings loudly with a magisterial quality that many DC books aim for but scarcely achieve.
Arthur faced death and had everything taken from him. His arrival on the isle was his ultimate test — could he, after being stripped of all he was, still be the hero he’s known to be? And we know the answer. The Aquaman has passed, but there are more memories to be discovered, there’s always more to know. And the past weighs heavy, so as Arthur, granted agency, chooses to find out more about his past and even the mysterious woman named Mera, things get very complex. New things await the character and there’s every reason to be excited.
Aquaman #48 is a wonderful dive into who Arthur Curry is, was and can be. It’s every bit as mystical and majestic as one’s come to expect from DeConnick’s vision for the character and with its fantastic creative team, this is going down as one of Arthur’s best to date.