Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Stjepan Sejic and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: June 21, 2017
The king is dead. And the kingdom has gone into the hands of a despot, who wants nothing more than to isolate the kingdom of Atlantis, weed out its undesirables, and concentrate wealth to himself in the form of magic artifacts. But deep in the shoals of one of kingdom’s poorest communities, a resistance is forming. And at its margins is the phantom known as the Aquaman.
If any of the above sounds familiar to the U.S. audience, there’s likely a very good reason. Dan Abnett has been writing Aquaman as a political drama since the very beginning, but jumping in with this extra-sized #25, it’s clearer than ever how much influence modern American leadership can be reflected in these pages. Rath is obviously a much more swarthy figure than the current American “President,” although obsessed with so many of the same things. Like any megalomanic, Rath is portrayed as singularly focused on maintaining control, both in terms of Atlantean relationship to the outside world and its riff-raff.
Abnett peppers this introductory chapter with enough parallels to Trump’s ICE forces, allusions to making Atlantis great again, and the need to clean house at the highest levels to draw me in, but still manages to keep the book feeling unique to a world driven by magic, not science and industry (although one could argue we’re probably a good three weeks away from that globe of power showing back up in the Oval Office at the rate climate change is being denied). A crown of thorns keeps Atlantis separate from the outside world, just like a dreamy version of a big wall or travel ban. Acolytes scream about the happiness of the governed with the same intensity Kelly Ann Conway insists no one cares about Trump’s taxes, and I’m left seeing more nuance to the conditions of the new king’s reign than we’ve seen in previous runs with tyrannical Atlantean leaders.
But where Abnett really sells me is in the glimpses we have started to get of the Resistance, and Orin’s ultimate role in it. This is just the beginning of a movement, clearly, with Orin recruiting the mute Dolphin to his side just as the violence begins to be mobilized from the Drift. Vulko’s behind the scenes movements are curious too, activating Mera to move in from another front. Those who cannot fight with their fists serve as well.
All of the above is magnified in its importance one thousand fold by the arrival of new series artist Stjepan Sejic, however. Sejic’s absolutely beautiful — and unique — renderings of every major character breathes a significant amount of life into even the most mysterious figures. His redesign of Dolphin is inspired, taking a character who largely felt like a cross between Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island and Dream Girl in her original incarnation and giving her a youthful innocence and fascinating mutation. Mera is positively regal and fierce, with a costume redesign that is so stunning, I absolutely insist on an action figure for my shelf RIGHT NOW.
Orin too, slightly tweaked and moved slightly to the left toward his movie look (without obviously adopting Jason Momoa’s Pacific Islander heritage), is rendered as a somewhat mysterious figure, and the shadow play Sejic uses to reinforce the Aquaman’s new status as a vigilante is elegantly laid down.
But the truth is, the real accomplishment here that has got me raving about Sejic’s work is the true palpability and intense detail of the environment he’s manufactured for Atlantis and its denizens. Every panel has air bubbles and other distinct reminders that we’re watching an underwater atmosphere. His attention to detail from foreground to background is absolutely magnificent, and rare among comic artists of any stripe these days.
Every page has this glourious painted feel that just wraps itself around you as you move from page to page, with colors that at once reflect the depths to which this world exists and the type of light refraction an underwater world might experience. Simply put: this book is unilaterally gorgeous, and it all flows out of Sejic’s unique talent.
For DC to choose to address fascism and dictatorship with its title character not in the fascist role may already put this effort far ahead of their competition’s attempts, but the reality Abnett and Sejic instill in every panel and page is what truly elevates this title to the top of pile for the foreseeable future. Aquaman is dead. Long live Aquaman, I say.
The Verdict: 10/10