Emperor Aquaman #1 review

Aquaman wades into the Flashpoint event with one of the strongest offerings yet. Possibly the strongest. Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes' cover shows Emperor Aquaman against the remains of Paris, but it's another European capital that feels the weight of the war between Atlantis and Themiscyra in this compelling first issue. The book opens with Aquaman swimming through Rome, sunk, like Atlantis many thousands of years ago. But while the Atlantis disaster was a natural event, the tidal wave that wrecked Rome was the work of Man. If Emperor Aquaman sees the irony in bringing a watery hell down on the Italians, he doesn't acknowledge it. But there is a hint of regret, courtesy of a lyrical narrative, framed like one of the Atlantean Chronicles.

The story shifts back and forth, filling in blanks surrounding the Atlantean/Amazon war, showing how Aquaman's chief scientist, Dr Vulko, could produce a weapon powerful enough to rock continents. We see how one man's attempts to forge an alliance against the Amazons threatening to raze his country, after invading the UK, backfires in the worst possible way. We note that Aquaman's nemesis, his brother Orm, is an advisor to the king, though one with less influence than he'd wish. And we learn that the Mera of the world of Flashpoint is not a good woman. And while the Atlanteans' reasons for resentment against the surface world make perfect sense, they really are using the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Writer Tony Bedard is on excellent form here, managing to make me enjoy a back-and-forth narrative, one of my personal bugbears. Little by little, we see what's happened, and begin to work out how the world got here from there. There's pleasure to be had from guessing where the story is going, and being proved right. And occasionally surprised. Arthur himself doesn't have a lot of dialogue, but his silence speaks volumes. The pencils and inks of Syaf and Cifuentes underline the feeling that the emperor's heart isn't in this war.

None of which makes Arthur a sympathetic character. His actions in this book go far beyond anyone's idea of a bad decision - he orders the death of millions, and hints of regret don't transform him into an admirable man; he's a warrior, there for his people, and no one else.

We still don't know the story behind Aquaman's aborted marriage to Diana of Themiscyra, though we do learn that he did something singularly inappropriate on their aborted wedding day. There's a reference to Amazonian atrocities in the UK, but as with Captain Cold's notorious castration comments in Flashpoint #1, so far it's hearsay. No one seems to have reliable intelligence, making me look forward to the Wonder Woman & the Furies, and Lois Lane & the Resistance books even more.

Syaf and Cifuentes are the perfect pairing for this series, able to produce haunting underwater scenes - sunken Rome, with corpses and great art works floating side by side, is truly eerie - and action-packed surface scenarios. Their Aquaman is a powerful figure, bulky and unsmiling, with unguessed depths of emotion. Kyle Ritter colours, showing a knack for undersea tones. And Jared K Fletcher produces a pleasing variety of fonts that complement the artwork.

Next month we're promised the origin of Emperor Aquaman. If it's as good as this issue, we're in for a treat.