It’s taken awhile but some of the more forward-thinking New 52 titles are starting to embrace the New 52 universe. Scott Snyder’s idea of a secret society that has always run Gotham, the new Swamp Thing, the way Animal Man has passed his gifts onto his daughter, these are all new twists on old stories and they help to strengthen the new reality of the New 52 reboot. Now Aquaman joins that line with a new angle on the age-old battle between Arthur Curry and Black Manta.
When last we left our hero, he had gone to Dr. Shin to try and examine an Atlantean relic he’d found. Out of the blue, Aquaman’s old teammates from a superhero group (a JLA of sorts) arrived to recruit Arthur in the search for Black Manta. Manta has been killing old members of the group in order to find and ultimately kill Aquaman. Problem is, Mera never knew about this part of Arthur’s life nor did she know of the female member Arthur was once involved with. Tensions aside, Arthur joins his former group to try and bring Black Manta down.
Aquaman #9 is heavy on exposition, but writer Geoff Johns still makes it crackle. As Dr. Shin regales a less-than-happy Mera with his past with Arthur, a whole new background to the King Of Atlantis unfolds. It’s here that Johns opens up the new Aquaman from the New 52. From the old superhero team to the new attitude and the updated past, Johns is doing his best to strengthen and deepen the legacy of Aquaman.
The end of Aquaman #9 is where Johns puts the final touch on the new Aquaman. In the old Universe, Black Manta kills Arthur’s son, a plot twist that shook the DC Universe to its core. Here, the story is less exploitative but resonates just as well. Apparently, Black Manta attacked Aquaman’s father, causing a heart attack that killed him. In a fit of rage, Aquaman slaughtered Black Manta’s father and the hatred between the two was solidified.
In one deft move, Johns has given Black Manta real motivation and soiled the squeaky clean Aquaman image. Aquaman has faults? He has regrets. Holy shit, Aquaman is a relatable character we can get into? That’s how the New 52 should feel. I’m also enjoying how maniacal Black Manta is. The opening pages, when he tries to kill a hero named The Prisoner, take Manta from being a cardboard super villain to a real threat.
The art from Ivan Reis is exceptional as always. I love the way he draws Black Manta. Just as Johns does with his story, Reis makes Black Manta look threatening. This isn’t a goofball in a diving suit; this is a badass who is out to kill Aquaman. Reis also does exception splash pages as well great detail work. Look at the panels when Mera is using her power to control water, tell me that doesn’t look amazing. Aquaman #9 is another huge leap forward not just for the hero but also for the New 52.
(4.5 Art, 4.5 Story)