Aquaman #40 review

Just showing off this variant cover by Joshua Middleton because I think it might be the most beautiful one of his entire Aquaman cover run so far!

Aquaman #40 is the final chapter of Sink Atlantis, a crossover with Suicide Squad. Now, endings are never easy, because as a writer it is hard to satisfy everyone with a story’s outcome. In the case of Sink Atlantis, the story so far hasn’t been very complicated. There have been no deep, intriguing subplots or powerful character dramas running beneath the main plot. There have been no big, cosmic ideas with wild implications for the entire DC Universe. In fact, this story—while spinning out of Snyder and Capullo’s epic Dark Nights: Metal—has been fairly self-contained for a crossover, and the plot itself has been very straight-forward and clear. Sometimes such a plot structure works out for the best, and other times it is what causes a story to fall completely flat. As far as Sink Atlantis is concerned, I think it actually falls somewhere in the middle. So, without further ado, let’s have a look.

Before I’ll get into specifics, I want to talk about this story’s predictable nature. As I said in this review’s introduction, the entire story has been straight-forward and clear, but it has been so straight-forward and clear that I could see many things coming from miles away, and in particular this story’s resolution. I will go into more details in just a moment, in the spoiler tags below, but for those who wish to remain free of spoilers, I’ll try my best to be critical so you at least know what you’re getting in case you decide to buy this issue. See, the whole reason why this story fails to go out with a bang is because it hinges on a couple of plot devices that are poorly developed. One of these plot devices comes in the form of a character, and the other is of course the nuke that the Suicide Squad took with them to sink Atlantis. I’ll talk about the nuke first.

The nuke is necessary. It is a device that the entire plot revolves around. It is the weapon that the Suicide Squad takes with them to sink Atlantis. It is, arguably, the core component of this story. But, and that’s a big but, not once during this crossover did I perceive this bomb as a threat. We see the Squad, Satanis and some others clumsily juggling this bomb as they swim around, trying to make their way to the foundation of Atlantis. We never really see the characters nervous as they handle the bomb, because often they make light of it by cracking a few jokes—especially Harley does this, of course. We don’t often see any signs of worry on these characters’ faces. There is even a moment where one of the characters, Croc, actually wants to die in the blast so he can join Enchantress, his lost lover, in the afterlife—which, at best, reads like a very forced character moment, and completely detracts from the core issues at stake (take this scene out and the story remains unchanged). Lastly, and this is important, there is no suspense whatsoever because this bomb is surrounded by unkillable characters. Aquaman is there, Harley is there, Deadshot, Croc. These are characters whose stories will continue in their respective titles, and because of this I already know they are safe, and they are also, along with some supporting cast members, the only ones in direct vicinity of the bomb. Additionally, Harley knowing she’s in a comic and actually commenting on this fact to other characters doesn’t help matters one bit, because it’s yet another reminder that this is actually a product from DC Comics that involves marketing strategies. Killing off all these essential characters at once would not be a good strategy in the context of Sink Atlantis, and therefore DC wouldn’t do it. It’s that simple.

But despite all of this, the story and the bomb could still have been interesting if the outcome was handled differently, which brings us to this other plot device, the one that comes in the form of a character. The bottom line is that someone commits the ultimate sacrifice in order to save everyone, but rather than having this come out of left field and shock me, I’d already seen (and called out in my previous review) certain signs that were not merely hinting at this outcome, but full-on pointing at it. Had the emotional build-up been stronger, had this character actually been developed beyond being a shallow figure dressed in a cool suit, and had this outcome been less predictable, the resolution might have carried more weight. As it stands, however, it doesn’t work for me, and it’s just such a shame that this crossover, which started out really fun, fails to go out with a bang.

The character that I’m talking about is of course Master Jailer. I already explained a little bit why I think he’s but a plot device, but it’s easier to explain if I can go into spoilers, hence this little section for those who are interested in my ramblings. First of all, we know nothing about this guy. All we know is that he wants out of the criminal life and be a good dad for his kid, and that his name is Carl. Beyond this, he’s a blank slate. The information that we do know doesn’t manage to make him a rounded character: it is too similar to Deadshot’s troubles, and the way it was delivered last issue sounded almost matter-of-fact rather than emotional. Furthermore, all this guy does during the entire crossover is complain and open/close doors and barriers. In other words, having him around is incredibly convenient for the creative team behind this book. A great example is when Aquaman, Deadshot, Harley and the others are shut out of the core vault of the Silent School (where Satanis and Dolphin are fighting), and Jailer simply opens the barrier to allow Aquaman and the others to enter the vault as well. Other than this, Jailer does not contribute anything of value to the story—except at the end where he locks the bomb in a box with his powers and ultimately dies in the explosion. But this, containing the blast and thereby saving Atlantis, while heroic, also amounts to no more than just being a plot device. Yes, he does switch from a crook to a hero in the end, but I hesitate to call that character development, because again: we know next to nothing about this guy. How can I root for someone that I don’t know? Not to mention the fact that, once more, it’s awfully convenient to have someone with his powers around to contain the blast. I don’t like any of this. I hate to say it, but I find it boring, especially because it’s just so predictable, all of it.

Moving on, there are a couple more things I want to bring up. For starters, I want to say a few words about the “fight” between Croc and Shark. Last issue only two panels were devoted to this, and here we have a whopping three panels that are mainly used as a backdrop for Harley Quinn’s recap at the start of the issue. While it looks like these guys are really going at each other, fighting tooth and nails, it also amounts to nothing. The fight was marketed as “the moment you’ve all been waiting for arrives: Killer Croc versus King Shark!” in DC’s solicitations, and I’ll admit that I was looking forward to a good fight. Seeing what it actually is, though, I’m really disappointed. It’s not sequential, it’s not exciting and it leads nowhere. In fact, if this entire thing was cut, the story would not have suffered at all. I get the feeling that this is only included for fan service, but even then it just kind of peters out because the moment the fight is over, it’s completely forgotten about, and it has no bearing on the story’s outcome whatsoever. These panels could have been used to flesh out a character like Master Jailer, for example, but alas…it’s just a missed opportunity. In brief, if you’re going to include a fight like this, then actually commit to it. Otherwise, just leave it out. It only clutters up the narrative.

What I do really like in this comic is that Aquaman rushes in and completely obliterates Satanis in one-on-one combat. We get to see Aquaman as the amazing, powerful champion of Atlantis that he is, and it’s good to see such a hero being triumphant rather than taking on a defeatist attitude and moping his way through the night. This is the kind of heroism that I want in my comics. I want my heroes to be actual heroes. Certainly, they can get beaten down, but in that case I want them to get back up and come back twice as strong. That’s why I think Aquaman, in this book, is done justice, because he’s an actual hero. But even this positive comment comes with some negativity, because Aquaman completely dominating Lord Satanis undoes all the cool character progress that the creative team has worked hard to set up. Precisely Lord Satanis’s character progress—going from a C-list joke to proper super villain—is what I’ve been loving about this crossover, but all of that is undone because Satanis goes down so easily. There’s no epic fight, no clash of titans, no battle of the ages: it’s just Aquaman stomping Satanis and that’s it. It’s a shame, because like Croc and Shark, I consider this a missed opportunity as well. But hey, at least Aquaman is a total badass here!

Moving on to the artwork, this issue’s art team consists of Joe Bennett (pencils), Vicente Cifuentes (inks) and Adriano Lucas (colors). One thing I want to say up front is that I’m very glad that DC has kept Lucas as the colorist for this entire crossover, not just because I’m a fan of his work, but more so because it maintains some visual consistency. Yes, each penciler is different, but at least we see the same layered colors from the same palette, which connects every issue, setting them all in the same world. But I’m missing the same level of consistency in the rest of the art. For example, characters’ faces are very distracting because their eyes are never quite in the right place, and many times characters’ mouths are in awkward positions. However, the art makes up for this with very dynamic fight scenes (Croc vs Shark notwithstanding). For example, we see Dolphin and Satanis locked in combat in the first panel; Dolphin has her hands on Satanis’s helm while Satanis tries to ward her off with his spear. In the next panel, we see that Dolphin has actually managed to overpower Satanis and slams his head into a rock. But in the third panel, Satanis uses his magic to blast Dolphin off of him. In the fourth panel, we see the silhouette of Satanis, armed with the spear, leaping at Dolphin to impale her. But when we flip the page, Aquaman rushes in, intervening. Additionally, Bennett certainly has an eye for composition, because he usually finds nice angles for his illustrations. A nitpick that I can’t neglect to mention is that Satanis’ spear, the Needlefish Bane, is suddenly in Satanis’ hands again, whereas it somehow disappeared in his fight with Aquaman in the previous issue. Some coordination and consistency would have been nice here.

Recommended if…

  • You are a fan of Aquaman and want to see him dominate his enemies
  • You have been collecting the crossover anyway
  • You don’t care if a story is predictable

Overall: When this crossover started, I was on board because it was entertaining. This issue, however, fails to deliver a strong conclusion due to its highly predictable nature and a number of missed opportunities that I outlined above. Perhaps its greatest flaw is reducing a character to a mere plot device to resolve the story’s conflict. Ultimately, the comic just sort of peters out and I’m left with a feeling of, “That’s it?” But, for all its faults, it does give us a victorious Aquaman that we can all cheer for. Still, I can’t really recommend this comic because I think it’s just average at best.

Score: 5/10