Review: Aquaman #19 – Johns, Pelletier and Reis

aquaman19Some Atlantean weaponry has fallen into the hands of The Scavenger, who is operating out of a pilfered Russian nuclear submarine, and Arthur has taken it upon himself to retrieve it. He seeks the assistance of Topo, a giant octopus-like monster with intelligence equal to that of a human.  Geoff Johns has mined the silver-age to bring back this one-time Aquaman side-kick.

Meanwhile on the surface at the Belle Reve Penitentiary Orm is presented with the reality of facing multiple murder charges. He is told that unless he pleads guilty to the murders that the victims’ families are going to speak on their behalf. Orm is beyond reluctant to take this legal advice – in fact he feels the Atlanteans that were killed are being swept under the rug while only the American lives lost are worth mentioning. He dismisses the lawyer with a foreboding threat as he alludes to the fact that he has plenty of non-air breathing friends.

Murk and Tula are searching old Murk City for Swatt, an Atlantean who cannot breathe under water without the aid of a special helmet. He is not home when they arrive so they let themselves in to wait for him. It is then that they notice all of the surface objects Swatt has been hoarding. Tula is fumbling with an old camera when Swatt surprises them – the flash goes off, flooding the room with bright light. He lunges at Murk and they begin to scuffle. Tula gets behind Swatt and tries to restrain him but he has other plans. He shocks her but while dealing with her Murk is able to get a hold of him and remove his helmet. Now that he cannot breathe under water, Murk forces his head into a pool and holds it under. He releases him just short of drowning and Swatt scrambles to replace his helmet. Everyone settles down long enough for Murk to tell Swatt that he and Tula need his help in freeing King Orm. He goes on to explain that it is Swatt’s knowledge of the surface world that they have need of. Before anything can be resolved, Tula and the Drift are summoned to Arthur.

Now somewhere south of the Florida Keys, a small sailboat is tossed like a cork caught in a tumultuous storm. The doomed sailors go below deck to the safety of the lower cabin, however one of them notices a lone woman perilously adrift in the threatening waters – it is Tula. The boat begins to spin completely out of control and just when she thinks all is lost a hand reaches out to grab Tula and pull her aboard. The exiled King of Atlantis has saved her but she refuses to bow before him when asked. He tells her they are being pulled down into the triangle by his design. Down and down they go, and as the tiny sailboat is crushed, Tula swims away.

Arthur leads the soldiers of The Drift in search of The Scavenger’s fleet as they now know he has more than one submarine. Tula has finally joined up with her King and is told to take The Drift further down the coast and then circle around. He takes a complement of Drift soldiers with him and stays close to the ocean floor. It is then that he notices a strange smell in the water – fuel. Just then an explosion throws Arthur and his men like dolls, scattering them along the shoreline where a broken and damaged submarine sits lifeless like a beached whale. On board the tattered vessel Arthur and his men find two of their own, one is already dead the other has undergone some type of hackneyed surgery. He lies close to death but clinging tenaciously to life on the floor of the submarine. Arthur instructs his men to help him and bring him home.

Amid the backdrop of sunken ships and the long forgotten relics of maritime plane crashes, Princess Mera swims gracefully through the skeletal remains in search of Nereus, her estranged husband. She finds him standing regally atop the broken deck of a barnacle encrusted ship, spear in hand. He asks just one pointed question, “Where the hell have you been?”

Granted this issue was predominately set-up, the story didn’t advance all that much but Geoff Johns can sometimes go for issues on end without advancing the plot, just introducing characters. That seems to be what he has done here. The one I enjoyed the most was The New 52 debut of Topo. This is a completely new look for him. More kraken than actual octopus now, Topo is truly a sea-monster, albeit one with an extreme intellect. Beyond that we had Swatt and this whole sub-plot involving Murk and Tula’s plan to break King Orm out. With all these Kings and pretenders to the throne I can’t help but think of this as Game of Thrones underwater (without the nudity). There is lots of intrigue and even some hints at a love triangle at the very end of this issue. Ultimately this is Geoff Johns doing what he does best – writing great character driven stories full of good solid dialogue and characters you can actually care about.

Paul Pelletier’s art is dynamic on its own but Rod Reis’s colors really give this book the feeling that it is taking place under water. The muted blues and greens applied over the other colors cast an ethereal other-worldly glow over everything. This works especially well on Pelletier’s incredibly detailed graveyard of sunken ships. More than backgrounds these meticulously rendered scenes frame the action without overpowering it. I found them to be some of my favorite pages. Pelletier and Reis seem to have a great chemistry and it comes through in their work.

Overall Aquaman is fast becoming a stand out in the New 52. Geoff Johns is doing here very much the same thing he did for Green Lantern, writing great stories week after week and making the character his own. I look forward to a good long run from him on this title. If you don’t already get it, give Aquaman a look – I don’t think you will be disappointed.

So until next week, see you at the comic book store.