Ten months have passed since the birth of Mera and Aquaman's daughter, Princess Andy. Life has returned to a semblance of normal, and domestic tranquility for all concerned - except for Mera, who remains in a coma.
Aquaman's found family of townspeople, gods, and other such helpers assist in raising Andy at Amnesty Bay. ("It takes a village," after all.)
But in Atlantis, the absence of the ruling queen is causing problems. Vulko, the regent, acts on recorded orders from Mera to take matters into his own hands...
To add to the uncertainty, in the depths of the Ninth Tride, Ocean Master is stirring up an insurrection against the throne!
Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Aquaman run shines brightest when focuses on the human elements of its cast, and in issue fifty-eight, she does so in spades. It’s a rare quiet issue of a superhero title that stands out among the pack, giving its characters time to breathe and just be people. It might feel a little bit like cheating to have advanced the story ahead ten months right after Princess Andy was born, missing out on crucial moments like Arthur adjusting to being a single dad while his beloved lies in a coma. But on the other hand, speeding past those perfunctory moments allows readers new and old to jump in head-first to the new status quo without any growing pains. It’s a delicate balancing act, but DeConnick makes it work.
Aquaman #58 features three distinct plots, each one in the shadow of the fallen Queen. The first, of course, is Aquaman’s new life as a single father. Fatherhood is a role that has strong historical context for Arthur, as one of the character’s most defining plots is the 1978 death of his son, Arthur Junior. Artie’s death cast a long shadow over the character for the next decade and a half, shifting his demeanor from congenial Super-Friend to brooding survivor. The addition of a new child to Arthur’s life couldn’t not invoke the ghost of Artie, Jr., and so since the reveal that Mera was pregnant, this ghost has loomed. It’s therefore heartening to see that life for Arthur and Andy has taken on such a wholesome vibe; all of Amnesty Bay has taken to raising her. It works because it allows Arthur to faithfully return to Atlantis to relay the day’s events to the comatose Mera, lovingly rendering even the most mundane details to her. His heart aches, but is bolstered by getting to return to his lovely daughter and knowing that she’s in good hands while he’s away.
The second plot, and perhaps the most worrisome, concerns Mera’s prerecorded instruction to Vulko to assume the throne should she be out of commission for any lengthy amount of time. Some issues back, Mera swiftly became engaged to Vulko to stave off the cultural pressures of the Widowhood that she take a husband as a matter of duty, not love. This put Vulko in an incredibly awkward position, especially once the estranged Mera and Aquaman found one another again and recommitted to their relationship. But with Aquaman having been stripped of his crown, and Mera being installed as Queen in his absence, this was the swiftest way to retain power against the tradition-obsessed Widowhood.
Now, with no indication that Mera will awaken from her coma anytime soon, Vulko is compelled to follow her prerecorded instruction that he ratify their marriage and assume the crown. Vulko, of course, isn’t a leader; he’s a behind-the-scenes kind of guy. He truly has no aspirations toward the throne, more content to advise and research historical tomes. And although putting him on the throne is a way for Mera to protect it against the Widowhood, who in her absence might install a puppet of their own making for the sake of protecting Atlantis – it’s a move that will ultimately weaken the throne if she doesn’t wake up soon, because Vulko simply is not cut out for that job.
Which dovetails nicely with the issue’s third subplot, Ocean Master’s insurrection in the Ninth Tride. The Ninth Tride (think: Ninth Ward) is Atlantis’s poor slums, where social cast-offs and mutated misfits huddle together, resentful of the crown and the caste society it represents. Ocean Master is setting himself up as a reformer, who despite past sins wants to lead them to greatness. Civil War is coming, at a time when the throne is at its weakest – and only Dolphin is aware of the danger that’s building. But without Aquaman around, she has no real access to those in power whom she night warn of the impending uprising. It’s a sly choice on DeConnick’s part, to tie these two plotlines together so well. It’s obvious that she’s not going to be done with this title anytime soon, which should make long-time readers happy, as she’s doing an absolutely bang-up job.
The art by Miguel Mendonca (who is NOT properly credited on the cover. Shame on you, DC) is, in a word, awesome. Although not as sumptuous in its details as regular series artist Robson Rocha, it flows and weaves in a totally different way, bringing a powerful, confident line to Aquaman and his world. Mendonca is firmly in the same camp as Eddy Barrows or Eduardo Pansica: incredibly talented artists who, for whatever reason, have never become A-list but deserve to be nonetheless. Mendonca’s underwater scenes, in particular, have a lush, zero-gravity beauty to them that stands out. Too often, artists seem to forget that Atlantis is supposed to be underwater, and have hair, clothing, etc. behave as though it were on the surface. Mendonca is smart enough not to make that mistake, and his Atlantis is all the more real for it.
Enough praise cannot be heaped on just how great Kelly Sue DeConnick's Aquaman run is, and issue #58 is no exception. Character-first, subtle, and with wholly gorgeous art, this book is quietly one of DC's best right now.
Aquaman #58: Peace in Our Time?
Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 9/109/10
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