Aquaman #39 review

Aquaman #39 is the second chapter of Sink Atlantis, a four part crossover with Suicide Squad. We pretty much pick up where we left off with Suicide Squad #45. The story, for the most part (as far as I can tell what with this only being the second chapter) seems to be well structured and planned by Abnett and Williams; however, there are a few odd inconsistencies in this issue that may cause some slight confusion if you pay attention to them. Having said that, this comic is still a lot of fun. So, let’s have a look and see what’s what, shall we?

The first thing that strikes me when I read this comic is that it’s, for the most part, about banter and brawling. Because of this, the comic is a quick, entertaining read that pits Aquaman and his friends against the Suicide Squad in underwater combat. This also means that there isn’t a lot intrigue in this issue, but if I’m being honest, I think that’s a good choice because the book’s premise is essentially that America perceives a risen Atlantis as a potential threat, and secretly sends in the Suicide Squad to sink the city into the depths again. Seeing as innocent lives are at stake, Aquaman and his allies feel compelled to defend their city. This premise warrants an emphasis on fighting rather than intrigue, especially considering it’s only 4 issues in total.

While Suicide Squad has mostly been an action-packed series so far, I think that Aquaman has had some more character moments and focus on the love between Arthur and Mera. So, if you’re an Aquaman reader, it would be good to know that—especially after the epic King Rath saga—this crossover seems to be more of a fast, explosive, plot-driven story with a heavy emphasis on offbeat banter and fisticuffs. Where the King Rath saga, to me, reads like an eloquent fantasy epic, Sink Atlantis feels more like watching show wrestling in the sense that we mostly see characters in costumes wailing on each other and calling each other names.

As I said in my introduction, there is an odd inconsistency between this issue and Suicide Squad #45. Perhaps this is not intentional and the creative team did not mean to convey the passage of time in this way, but if that is the case then in my opinion the team doesn’t make this clear enough. What happens is that in Suicide Squad #45 we see Mera sitting on the throne during her coronation, wearing her beautiful dress, and she’s being crowned. A page later we see the Squad arriving at the sewer system of Atlantis, and Suicide Squad #45 ends with Deadshot holding what he thinks to be a nuclear bomb in his hands. But in Aquaman #39 we are first presented with a panel of Mera sitting on (what I assume is) a different throne (because her coronation took place indoors while the opening scene of this issue takes place outdoors). Now, this is all well and good, and for all we know a day might have passed since her coronation. But that theory doesn’t hold up when we find the Squad a few pages later, right where we left them in Suicide Squad #45. The Squad is still at the sewer system and Deadshot is still inspecting the nuclear device, as if maybe but a minute has passed since we last saw them. My main point here is that it’s unclear how much time has passed between the two issues and the more I think about it, the more this confuses me. And this isn’t the only inconsistency that I see.

In my review on Suicide Squad #45 I talked about how I’m not really buying the notion that the Squad is still secretive and can’t be tied to the U.S. government anymore. I’m not going to elaborately rehash what I said in that review, but to those who haven’t read it: basically, since Justice league versus Suicide Squad, at least the League knows who they are and who they work for, so their cover is blown. What I think is rather peculiar in Aquaman #39 is that Aquaman immediately recognizes Deadshot, but asks him who he works for. A few pages later, Aquaman explains to Murk exactly what the Suicide Squad is, as well as who they work for. Another weird instance is when Murk is trying to contact Aquaman, but in order to do so he, for some reason, first contacts Dolphin, who then gives her earpiece to Aquaman so Murk can talk to him. Why not just contact Aquaman directly? And, by extension, why does Dolphin have an earpiece and not Aquaman? If anything, you’d think it would be the other way around—although it would make a lot more sense if they both had one of their own. These inconsistencies don’t ruin the reading experience in any way for me, but they are signs of sloppy writing, which I don’t expect from Abnett, and especially not when there are two editors, one assistant editor and a group editor working on this book. But, fortunately, my nitpicking on the comic’s writing also ends here, and with that out of the way, we can talk about the good stuff.

I think Abnett and Williams made a really good call when they plotted this crossover, and that is taking Deadshot and another member of the Squad out of the equation. It remains to be seen how long these two will stay locked up in their cage, but taking them off the playing field for a while allows for Master Jailer and Satanis to move to the foreground. What I immediately notice is that Satanis is assuming a leadership role, and Master Jailer and Croc follow him. Yes, Master Jailer questions some of Satanis’s actions, but it’s clear that Satanis is determined to blow up Atlantis’s foundations and successfully complete the mission. His motivation for doing so is as simple as it is effective: he wants to show that he’s “a valuable operative” to Waller and that he is “the greatest sorcerer of all.” While initially these might seem like dull character motivations, I think they actually really suit the character. It reveals how big his ego is, how much he’s in it for himself, how he has zero problems with slaughtering opposition and innocents, and in combination with his fantastically campy outfit and exaggerated body language, I’d say that this guy might very well be the real villain in this crossover. I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen to him over the course of the story and how much of a threat he will really turn out to be. I’m hoping that Master Jailer will get some more character development in the next issue, though, because I want to know who’s hiding behind that mask so I have a reason to get invested in his part as well.

Lastly, with regards to the script, my favorite part is the conversation between Arthur and Mera. If I have to say who’s my favorite couple in the DC Universe, it’s always a bit of a coin toss between Green Arrow & Black Canary and Arthur & Mera—although it always depends on how they are written, of course. As for Abnett, I feel that he has a good grasp on who Arthur and Mera are and I have been thoroughly enjoying how he writes their romance throughout his run. Their greatest wish is to be together and forget about all else, about Atlantis and politics and superheroics, etc. Mera has a few great lines in this comic that emphasize this point: “We knew the crown would get between us. We knew we wouldn’t have the free life we wanted. You and me, the lighthouse…not a care in the world. But now…better a compromised life with you than any life without you.” Everything these two characters do is out of love for each other, and the scenes that Abnett writes in this issue beautifully illustrate how that mutual passion in combination with their responsibilities as regent and superhero might cause friction between the two of them. Thereby, Abnett successfully complicates their relationship, but doesn’t overwrite it or linger on this topic too long so that it becomes cheesy or melodramatic, because despite everything, Arthur and Mera stay focused on their tasks.

Artwork is being handled by the team of Joe Bennett (pencils), Vicente Cifuentes (inks) and Adriano Lucas (colors), and I have to admit that I have some mixed feelings about it all. The very first thing that I notice about the art is that characters’ faces, expressions and eyes look rather weird every now and then. The shapes of faces keep shifting slightly from panel to panel, and at times their eyes are rather far apart which, ironically, makes them look a little bit like fish. However, it’s clear where Bennett’s strengths lie as a penciller, as his compositions are very good. For example, the double page splash (pages 2 and 3) shows an amazing image of Atlantis, with aircrafts flying over, and especially the Atlantean architecture looks great. There are statues whose arms are raised at the sky, tall towers overlooking the surrounding ocean, and if we look closely we can see walkways and stairs that lead deeper into the city. The action scenes are also great and the panels follow each other logically in sequence. For example, on page 12 we see Aquaman punching Deadshot right in the kisser, who is knocked back by the sheer force of the blow. In the next panel we see that Deadshot uses the distance to his advantage, and opens fire on Aquaman. Then, in the following panel we switch to Jurok who is attacking Master Jailer, but we also see Croc getting ready to strike Jurok. In the panel after, Croc intercepts Jurok and knocks him down. To keep the pace fast, we see Ondine swimming toward Urcell with her guns drawn, but we also see Master Jailer—who just got away from Jurok—sneaking up on her. Then, in the next panel, Master Jailer strikes Ondine down with a rock, and the fight scene continues. What I like especially is that everything is in motion, and it’s like the characters bounce between panels. Bennett does a fine job of juggling multiple fights at once, finding ways to switch between characters seamlessly.

Cifuentes’s inks and Lucas’s coloring make the book look extra good. Cifuentes inks are subtle, never too thick but they make the characters stand out in panels, which helps us to make out what’s going on, especially in such an action-packed comic book. And Lucas’s colors, as always, are just gorgeous. Seriously, I keep being amazed at how rich and layered his compositions are. Take for example, once again, the double page splash on pages 2 and 3. The city of Atlantis seems to glisten in the sunlight, and there are many colors in the ocean that blend so well that you might not even notice if you read through the comic casually. The same goes for the sky and the clouds. There’s red, there’s purple, there’s yellow, orange, blue. It mixes and matches, blends and fuses. Lucas is truly becoming one of my favorite colorists at the moment.

Recommended if…

  • You love action-packed underwater fight comics

  • You are a fan of Arthur and Mera’s romance

  • You want some amazing coloring in your collection

Overall: So far, this crossover has been a good read. There are a few continuity inconsistencies between this and Suicide Squad #45, but if you can overlook those, the rest of the comic is well worth your time if you are into extended brawls and don’t mind offbeat quips and banter. The comic also features a great scene with Arthur and Mera that shows how complicated their relationship is without making it melodramatic. However, the main thing that I think is missing, so far, is more character development for Master Jailer. Hopefully the creative team will get to this in Suicide Squad #46. All in all, if you’re an Aquaman fan and/or like Suicide Squad characters, you’ll probably have a good time. Recommended!

Score: 7.5/10