Aquaman #23.1 by Geoff Johns and Tony Bedard – Friday Flash Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first Villain’s Month issue for Geoff Johns’ stellar Aquaman series.
“With a strong first half but a somewhat middling second half, this isn’t as good an issue as I’d hoped, but it still does quite a bit to set up a great story with lots of promise for the Forever Evil event.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Aquaman has consistently been one of my favourite DC books since the New 52 relaunch. Geoff Johns and the various artists who have worked on the series to date have done much to get me to fall for a character that I previously had little interest in, and in the process, they have also given me a really great and badass villain to appreciate, Black Manta. Black Manta’s personal history with Aquaman was one of the strong points of the second arc on the series, The Others, and it is something that I’ve wanted to see more of ever since.
Which is where this Villain’s Month issues comes in, and it also ties in with the events of Geoff Johns’ big event, Forever Evil. This issue was one of my most anticipated issues of the month, one that I had really been looking forward to. I was prepared to be amazed and thrown for a loop with some amazing twist. But Geoff Johns, who plotted the issue, and Tony Bedard, who wrote the script, disappointed me for several reasons, even though overall this was a really good issue otherwise.
The issue is divided into three parts: the Belle-Reve breakout, the meeting with the Crime Syndicate, and Black Manta’s epiphany. The first and third parts are really good, the first far more than the third, but the second part was rather boring. Each part contributes to the overall Forever Evil storyline, to a greater or lesser degree, and this was kind of my problem here. The disconnect between the three parts is too great, which prevents the issue from being stellar.
The Belle-Reve breakout has to be one of the most compelling sequences in Aquaman to date. We see the Crime Syndicate break into the prison and begin to recruit an army. Their agent of choice to bring in Black Manta is King Shark, one of the members of ARGUS director Amanda Waller’s Suicide Squad. The interaction between the two characters was really great, especially since it came at the heels of Waller trying to recruit Manta to the Suicide Squad. We’ve seen this before in the main series and this is a regurgitation of that, but no less impressive for the fact. From there, we see chaos take hold of Belle-Reve as all the supervillains are freed, and throughout, we see how focused Manta is on getting away. In particular, when he heads to the supervillain storage-armoury, we see a crazy awesome brief moment between Manta and another Aquaman villain, Orm the Ocean Master. There is so much repressed tension in that scene, and it is a small moment like that which makes the issue standout. Some superb scripting here.
Then, there’s the meeting with the Crime Syndicate, which is a straight regurgitation of the scene that was last seen in Johns’ Forever Evil #1, except with some really small additions to make it “different” it really is no different to what has come before. And this rankled with me. Essentially a complete third of the issue is an unnecessary repetition that adds next to nothing to the story. However, Black Manta’s reaction to the meeting is perhaps the one element that I found to be interesting here. It was a very interesting narrative decision, and markes sense in the context of Manta’s dialogue with Waller from a few pages before, just before the Belle-Reve break-out.
And this leads into the final third of the issue. Here, we move from a “violent” and intense tone to one that is very whimsical and introspective. Given everything that has happened before to Black Manta, the events that have brought him to this point, this tonal change was perhaps very appropriate. And I was really getting into it as well, more so since we got to see an actual consequence to Ultraman changing the path of the moon in Forever Evil #1. For an Aquaman villain, this consequence makes all the more sense in that context. A really nice touch that. But overall, it all fell a little flat. It was all too… I don’t know… plot-driven? Like it was a necessary beat that had to be hit, rather than something that grows out naturally from the story. Once again, I appreciate what was being done here, but I didn’t get into it.
Overall, the writing wasn’t too bad, but neither was it to the standards that I have come to expect from Aquaman.
In terms of the art, with Claude St. Aubin on pencils/inks and Blond on colours, this was a functional issue. None of the art really stood out for me in the same way that Paul Pelletier and Sean Parsons have been doing on Aquaman, or Ivan Reis/Joe Prado before them. King Shark was suitably gory and fetishistic and creepy as hell, with a particular page in the final third with Black Manta’s father being another stand-out, but that’s really all the cool scenes in the issue. Everything else was just.. functional. Nothing really impressive. And I feel let down by that. St. Aubin’s Crime Syndicate in particular just look really weird, very, very different from how David Finch drew them in Forever Evil #1 or Ivan Reis/Joe Prado in Justice League #23.
This issue could have been so much better, and yet it isn’t. I feel so disappointed. I can only hope that things get better for Black Manta in future issues of Forever Evil, since Geoff Johns has gone on record as saying that he’s going to be a major character for this event.