A comic as full of political posturing as Aquaman #25 seems to cry out for a George RR Martin reference. Game of Wet Thrones, maybe. I've never read the books, and only managed three episodes of the TV show - too much rumpy pumpy, overly beardy - so don't have the knowledge to make a gag stick.
This oversized issue does feature beards aplenty, most notably on Aquaman, who's presumed dead by the usurper ruler of Atlantis, Corum Rath.
He's all about isolationism, and is breaking out Atlantean magical relics to cut the city off from the surface world. While his toadies massage Rath's ego, not everyone is with the programme.
A not-so veiled threat from the man who sounds like a Robert E Howard character. Mind, Aquaman, with hair and beard grown after weeks hiding out in the Ninth Tride trench community, looks like an undersea Conan. One thing he can't hide is his heroic instincts.
Mera, meanwhile, mourns.
And back in the Ninth Tride, someone new emerges.
Well, new to the DC Rebirth world of Aquaman. Older readers will remember Dolphin from the Nineties series written by Peter David, the last time Arthur Curry was a furry Murray. Here she's a little different visually, with fishy limbs that mark her as a mutate. Rath hates mutates, so it's understandable that she wants to stick to Arthur like a peroxide limpet.
I do hope that's the only reason...
There's so much going on in this soft relaunch that I've gone light on the recap. Dan Abnett continues to write the book, which is as it should be - no one at DC is better at sprinkling politics into books without making them deadly dull.
I was deeply unenthusiastic at the idea of Aquaman on the run - Deposed And Exiled is such a standard plot for the Sea King, along with Sleeping With The Fishes and Atlantis Vs The Surface World... I'm ready for an extended period of non-Atlantean adventures. But within a few pages, the rich characterisations so quickly conjured by Abnett reeled me in, and his world-building remains second to none. The redemption of Vulko gets properly underway, Murk seems interestingly conflicted, the integrity of the Widowhood is a beacon in the darkness and, for old times' sake, a kid gets called 'Squirt'.
The only thing I don't like is that undercover Arthur introduces himself by that Atlantean name Peter David saddled him with, Orin. Sounds like a sea biscuit.
As for the art, Stjepan Sejic's full-colour illustrations are simply beautiful. From the scene-setting splash to the frontispiece-style final page, this is an issue to savour. His characters have life and weight; like all the best Aqua-artists, Sejic remembers that these people are underwater, so they're not walking around like surface dwellers. As for the undersea action, Sejic relishes the chance to show Aquaman shooting for urban legend status, like a bat out of water. When was the last time we saw fish diving down a bad guy's throat? That's hardcore... I just hope Arthur's finny friends are fine. And Sejic really knows how to demonstrate Mera's in a bit of a state - just look at the woman's hair in that gorgeously lit Amnesty Bay sequence!
Letterer Steve Wands takes the high fantasy cue with his scene-change lettering, which is dreamy and rather lovely.
Sejic's cover is a winner, though Arthur looks like he's gone mer-man, while Joshua Middleton's latest variant captures on-the-run Arthur superbly.
Whether or not you've been following this series, if you're at all intrigued by Aquaman, or the idea of a superhero comic with a great blend of intrigue, action and romance, dive in. Heck, with Aquaman back to monthly publication after a year of fortnightly issues, following his exploits is cheaper than previously. With the quality of this comic, though, I can't see anyone quibbling at the cost.