Break from the Bat: Aquaman #43 review

This article originally appeared on Comics Now.

Welcome back to Break from the Bat, where we look at what’s happening in the wider world of comics. We all love the dingy alleys and colorful criminals of our own Gotham, but sometimes, you need a vacation. And this time, we’re goinf across the ocean, to a poor little island, where a not-so-poor man finds himself robbed of his memory. That’s right, we’re talking about Aquaman #43.

Credit: Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, Sunny Gho, and Clayton Cowles

I had no idea what to expect when Kelly Sue DeConnick took over writing duties on Aquaman. Dan Abnett’s Rebirth run had been—for the most part—excellent, and it seemed to me an odd choice to shake things up in the very same week that the king of Atlantis was to make his debut on the silver screen. Complicating things, Scott Snyder had just sent Arthur into an amnesiac exile at the end of the big Drowned Earth event. Why not keep it simple? Why not let curious moviegoers find something at least aesthetically similar on the shelves of their local comic shops? Why not give them Vulko, Mera, and Orm—the characters they’ll be seeing on screen this weekend?

As an opinionated, arm-chair business analyst, I still have those questions. But as a fan of excellent comics, I’m happy to say that DeConnick and her collaborators—artist Robson Rocha, inker Daniel Henriques, colorist Sunny Gho, and letterer Clayton Cowles—have delivered an outstanding opening chapter in what looks to be a promising arc for Aquaman.

Believable characters make all the difference

At least for now, this isn’t exactly the most outlandish Aquaman story to come along. But it still deals with magic and a sea seemingly possessed of her own will—rather the opposite of “grounded.” And yet, the dialogue reads so effortlessly, so naturally, that we can ground ourselves in this fantastic world through its characters. Arthur is the only one of them with whom we have any prior experience coming into this, but the other players have their own charming mannerisms and quirks, and all of the interactions feel authentic. There is a confidence in DeConnick’s speech and narration that very few of the writers in this industry display, and it almost makes the what of this issue insignificant.

Credit: Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, Sunny Gho, and Clayton Cowles

But the plot is an interesting one, too. Amnesia is a common enough device in superhero stories, but the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, day-to-day activity, and restoration of that memory-crippled hero are easily made unique. We’re still at the start of Arthur’s journey, but I already like where we are, and where we seem to be headed. He’s drifted far from the prestige of the crown of Atlantis and his membership in the Justice League, but his life is ever bound to the ocean, and she asserts her claim on him even as he is ignorant of her pull. The setting is quaint, and the conflict localized, but I get the sense that Aquaman’s victory will be far more glorious than the humble stage on which it plays out.

The artwork is a perfect fit. Rocha’s lines have never looked this good, and I don’t think his storytelling has, either. There’s a beautiful economy to it—we get all of the visual information we need, but it never drags. DeConnick’s script helps here, too, because we’re often reading narration over a scene; but much credit belongs to Rocha for the specifics.

Credit: Robson Rocha, Daniel Henriques, Sunny Gho, and Clayton Cowles

Gho’s muted palette reminds me of my time growing up in the northeastern United States. Even on a clear summer day, there was a somewhat desaturated, washed-out quality to our coastal views. So for me, at least, the colors here evoke a “worker’s ocean” far more than a Caribbean paradise. And that’s precisely what the story needs: Arthur helps the local townspeople pull in their fishing nets, or saves them from their own desperate attempts at going it alone. They are a blue-collar people, one for whom the ocean is not a friend, but an oft-adversarial means to an end.

An intriguing new direction

Aquaman hits the big screen this week, and it’s an excellent film. It introduces the wider world to the classic struggle of Arthur Curry, a man sometimes uniting, sometimes caught in the middle of his two worlds. But the tension between land and sea has been done again and again in the pages of comic books; and while many creators have given that familiar conflict new life, it is refreshing to read stories of the man who can talk to fish, out of water—navigating the uncertain land of his youth, instead of the sea he has come to command as an adult. This new run on Aquaman gives us just that, and at an all-around level of production quality that the book has not seen very often in the past few years. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the character, or you’re curious because of the film, this is an outstanding start to a new chapter in Arthur Curry’s journey, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.