Written by Dan Abnett
Art by Stjepan Sejic and Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Release Date: July 19, 2017
King Rath dispatches guards and techno-magicians to seek out the defiant, deposed King Arthur, while Aquaman teams up with a new ally, Dolphin.
Aquaman #26 brings us further into the book’s new status quo, with Aquaman now a sort of Atlantean urban legend vigilante, opposing the reign of the usurper King Rath. This issue switches back and forth between a number of perspectives, giving us multiple viewpoints on the new Atlantis while advancing a multifaceted plot.
Arthur hooks up with a pocket of mutant resistance, while Mera pounds on Atlantis’s protective Crown of Thorns from the outside. Meanwhile, the long-imprisoned Vulko is given a chance to escape while the mutant enforcer Krush launches a scheme of his own.
This new direction for Aquaman enmeshes Arthur in Atlantean politics, which has historically led to great Aquaman comics. Making Arthur a rebel leader against a corrupt Atlantean regime isn’t exactly original, but it’s a fruitful basis for interesting stories that you can only really tell with Aquaman. It’s a welcome change from the, frankly, somewhat run-of-the-mill plots we’ve seen in Aquaman since Rebirth.
The storytelling in this issue is handled well. The issue advances plots in the background while also providing sufficient action and payoff to be an entertaining read. There’s just enough exposition to tantalize and give the outline of life under the new regime, without ever feeling like the book is being stopped dead for a history lesson. Multiple plot threads are skillfully interwoven in a way that keeps the story and conflict focused and avoids being either too simple or too confusing.
Arthur’s struggles in the New Atlantis feel hauntingly familiar to the reader in 2017. A society built on egalitarianism and diversity abruptly closes itself off to the outside world and begins brutalizing the poor, migrants, and mutants who differ from the majority Atlanteans. The parallels between Atlantis and Trumpian America feel bracingly real without ever falling into the trap of beating the reader over the head with an overt political message. Beyond, of course, the need to overthrow tyrants.
Abnett and Sejic also do an admirable job adding layers of complexity to Atlantean culture and lore. In previous issues, we saw the introduction of the concept of trides, layers to the city that serve as class boundaries for its inhabitants. This issue explores the class structure of the trides further, along with showing us more of reimagined Dolphin, who is mute but given depth of personality thanks to Sejic’s expressive art and emotive facial work.
This issue also introduces new concepts, like the coral mage, who can grow and manipulate coral at will, along with various mutant Atlanteans who are hybrid of human and fish forms. The deep depths of the ocean are filled with strange and alien-seeming life forms; it’s exhilarating to see an Aquaman book that really embraces the grotesque beauty of the deep ocean.
Stjepan Sejic is the solo artist on this issue and his work is delightful. His art has a hauntingly beautiful quality that’s well suited to the deep depths. His Dolphin, in particular, is striking. He makes great use of color on her blue-purple limbs with webbed digits, creating a character that is simultaneously conventionally attractive, yet alien.
Sejic’s dynamic action and posing and expressive features gives Dolphin a personality that might otherwise be difficult to convey for a character that doesn’t speak. The art actively enhances the story throughout, and makes Aquaman one of the oddest, yet most attractive, books on the shelves right now.
Aquaman #26 is a gorgeous book with an intriguing plot that puts Arthur in his ideal millieu, as a rebel outcast fighting a corrupt Atlantean state. It depicts a weird and wonderful Atlantis that entices the reader into wanting to learn more about its mysterious depths.
The Verdict: 8.5/10