When finishing Aquaman #11, I wanted to turn to writer Geoff Johns and say “Oh, I see what you did there.” Johns has always been one for long simmering subplots that are informed by the main plot and also push the character forward until the climax of an arc. A perfect example of that was his development of Hal Jordan from Green Lantern: Rebirth through Blackest Night, which took about eight years to complete. Johns is setting this kind of thing up again with Aquaman.
The story behind #11 isn’t the real purpose here. It’s actually a pretty simple arc. Black Manta has been hunting down a league of heroes that Aquaman once belonged to. Part of his mission is revenge against the king of Atlantis for killing his father, the other part is to try and find an ancient relic from Atlantis. Apparently, Arthur (aka Aquaman) and his old league once took six powerful relics from the Atlantis ruins, the most powerful thought to be Arthur’s trident. Turns out, there is a seventh weapon, and Black Manta aims to find it by any means necessary.
While the high adventure and action of Aquaman #11 is well done, the real treat here comes from what Johns is doing beneath the surface. Aquaman has always been the glue that held the Justice League together. He was always the good guy, the go to guy, the guy you wanted around to make you feel better. In later years, DC tried to harden Aquaman but it never really worked out right, simply because it was too quick a turn. Aquaman had way too much baggage and had been the punch line of the comic book world for too long. With the New 52, Johns has a new lease on the character.
Issue 11 is about teamwork, camaraderie and friendship. Johns works tirelessly to show Aquaman as a loner, one who pretends to be involved with people but can’t commit to it. His relationship with Mera is shaky, his old teammates try to help him but Aquaman refuses, hiding his ego behind high ideals of “protecting” them. There’s even a scene where the old team attacks Aquaman for joining the Justice League, insinuating that he jumps from one team to the next when things get too close. This is a darker and more tortured road than Aquaman has gone down before. It’s also a slow boil; something that Johns is building up in order to show how his personality flaws will feed the troubles to come.
Johns connects everything back at the end. Black Manta discovers the seventh relic, the king’s scepter, which looks much like Arthur’s trident and had enough power to sink Atlantis. If you’ll remember, Aquaman had been centered on Arthur finding out what really happened to Atlantis until Black Manta interfered. By the end of Aquaman #11, Johns has given our hero a deeper background and a whole new set of personality traits. He’s also opened up a can of whoop ass for Black Manta to unload with.
Helping these plot points rise to the challenge is artist Ivan Reis. What do I say about the man? He’s astounding at what he does. The cover alone speaks volumes on what Reis can do. The power of the rain, the battle scarred Aquaman, the violent bleeding helmet of Black Manta. It’s a gorgeous and dark portrait of the new hero. Inside, Reis keeps that level of intensity up. Using creative panel placement and his knack for motion, Reis makes sure each page of Aquaman #11 holds its own visually against the story.
There’s a splash page of a hero named Vostok that’s amazing. I also loved the way Reis pencils the tombs of Atlantis. The fallen world is ornate and regal, but carries an understated sadness to it that’s perfect for the story arc. Reis is as much into subtext with his art as Johns is with his words.
Aquaman #11 is another huge step in redefining the iconic character.
(4.5 art, 4.5 story)