Aquaman is hiding out in the depths of Atlantis, a fugitive from the forces of new king Rath. The king believes him dead, slain by his former ally Murk, but Arthur survives, wanting space to plan his next move. He’s not exactly eager to retake the kingdom.
While Atlantean mutate Dolphin - a ‘taint blood’ - tries to persuade him to get his aqua-act together, elsewhere in Atlantis, his former courtier Vulko and new pal Ondine, a member of the nation’s mysterious Widowhood, fight on. They’re trying to get to the Treasury, where they hope to glean an artefact of power that will destroy the Crown of Thorns forcefield Rath’s sorcerers have erected around the city. Guarding the way, though, are the ghosts of ancient Atlanteans. As an Elder, Vulko recognises the shades, and in naming them, he can turn them back.
Outside the Crown of Thorns, Aquaman’s partner Mera and friend Garth - once his young pal Aqualad, now the Titan known as Tempest - have been trying to break the Crown using her hard water powers and his spells. So far, they’ve had no success, and now they’ve been spotted.
I’m hugely surprised by how much I’m enjoying this storyline. Strike One: Beardy Aquaman. Strike Two: Dolphin, whose last version was a bit of a sea slapper. Strike Three: Aquaman in exile, sort of, yet again.
And yet, here are writer Dan Abnett and artist Stjepan Sejic producing a joyously entertaining romp that has me wishing this series were still on a fortnightly schedule. As illustrated by Sejic, whose full colour art is gloriously consistent, Beardy Aquaman is far from the angry tramp of the Peter David days. Likewise, his new design for Dolphin is fascinating, her iridescent skin providing extra visual appeal and her facial expressions reminiscent of Garry Trudeau’s vibrant style - it all adds up to a useful reminder that this is a new Dolphin for a new century.
As for Aquaman being on the outs with Atlantis yet again, Abnett puts a new spin on things by having Arthur far from desperate to regain the throne. If the people want Rath as their king, why should he risk his neck trying to grab back a crown he’s never enjoyed wearing - Arthur is happiest at his lighthouse home, with Mera and their pooch Salty. Yes, this is a superhero book and usurpers must be slapped down, but it’s interesting to see Dolphin having to persuade Aquaman to do that hero thing.
The only aspect of this chapter of the Underworld storyline I’m not keen on is how little thought Arthur is giving to Mera - she’s desperately fighting to reach his side while he’s having nice little chats with Dolphin. It’s great that there’s no sexual spark between Arthur and Dolphin, but I don’t think he’s so much as mentioned to her that he has a lady love.
The team-up between Mera and the former Aqualad demonstrates the respect between the two people closest to Arthur, and is a great showcase for Garth’s arcane abilities.
My favourite male-female relationship, though, is Vulko and Ondine, one blustering yet brave, the other incredulous and indomitable. They’re not necessarily destined to be a romantic pair but as partners in adventure, they’re gold. Add in a friendly ghost and Vulko and Ondine’s quest becomes the highlight of an above-average issue.
Letterer Steve Wands’ contribution is as stylish as ever - I assume Sejic provides the ornate scene change display lettering, but I’d not be surprised to hear Wands had been called in to apply his talents.
Sejic’s cover is a gorgeous representation of the contents, ditto Joshua Middleton’s variant. DC, you are spoiling us.
Next issue, I’d like to see more Aquaman - he’s on just four of the 20 pages this month - but whatever the case, if it’s as good as this issue, I’ll be smiling.
Aquaman #29 review, Dan Abnett, Stjepan Sejic, Steve Wands, Joshua Middleton, DC Rebirth