Aquaman, Vol. 4: Death of a King by Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius dives back into DC Comics’ New 52 with a new volume of Geoff Johns’ Aquaman.
“With politics, betrayal, intrigue, magic and monsters, Johns delivers one of the best volumes since Peter David’s famed run.” – Bellarius, The Founding Fields
For all its ups and downs, there have consistently been a few major changes for the better among the comics of the New 52. Chief among these has been Aquaman, who has been a pinnacle of high quality story telling from the first issue. Every story since then has raised the odds, building a new universe and fleshing out the undersea kingdom, and Death of a King takes that all to the next level.
Following on from the Throne of Atlantis storyline, Arthur Curry is now king of the undersea realm. Determined to help repair as much of the damage as possible, he has been actively using Atlantis’ forces to keep the peace and patrol the seas even as he tries to settle into his new role. As factions visibly work against him from both the surface and beneath the waves, Arthur finds himself facing a new foe in the form of the Scavenger. Yet something far worse is hidden, forgotten from the world, biding its time until it can return once more…
Strongly told from beginning to end, Death of a King is brimming with the exact sort of action and content any fan of the character would want. Initially opening up by introducing what is to be the new status quo for the series, new characters are very quickly established on both sides from the warlike Murk to the Scavenger. This is important due to the dramatic events which follow, as the trade actually provides some breathing room from the action of last time and information to help new readers to catch up. An unfortunate rarity these days in both Marvel and DC Comics, especially when it comes to such major series. Better yet, atop of this the opening issues help to establish certain problems unique to the character and why Aquaman can’t simply call in the Justice League or other heroes to assist him. Even ignoring the underlying xenophobia of his people, it shows that he has to set an example as king and prove himself as a true ruler. While this remains an initial theme to begin with, it’s one which continues throughout the entire trade, even as the action picks up.
From the introduction onward there is a fantastic sense of escalation, with each major battle building towards a truly monumental conflict by the end. First we see the aforementioned problems within Atlantis’ walls, but when this is followed by the threat of the Scavenger and finally an even greater foe. Each proves to an an incredibly satisfying point of drama and action, opening the way for the sort of widescreen action the Authority was originally praised for. Despite the sheer number of foes arrayed within the comic, props needs to be given for making each and every one a meaningful and interesting addition with their own histories and rounded personalities. While they are certainly not the most deep of interpretations, it is still satisfying enough for the story to have some serious character moments either establishing their menace, histories or motivations.
It goes without saying that the story’s pacing remains top notch throughout, and despite the criticisms found in Justice League: The Grid, the story here remains entirely coherent despite the fast speed.A big part of this is keeping focus divided between a few characters at a time, and carefully deciding which one to pick out in turn. While that may sound like a fairly basic element, many big, climactic arcs we have seen from books frequently had the problem of overwhelming the reader with named characters, or being unable to divide between each group with an even focus. Given how extensive Aquaman’s supporting cast is in these books, even before getting to the new additions, it’s definitely something to be highly praised. Without it, it’s easy to see how this volume might have collapsed inwards upon itself.
Similarly the work by the Paul Pelletier, Rod Reis and Sean Parsons all deserve high praise for their contributions here. While the highly detailed and beautifully illustrated artwork has always been a high point within the series, especially when depicting massive action sequences, this volume completely dodges the stigmata often found within underwater settings. At no point did the story ever look repetitive, overly dark or monotone coloured, and the vibrant way in which the comic was presented made it eclipse many of the land based stories we have covered in the past.
Despite all of this, there are definitely a few failings which hold Death of a King back from being a true classic. Many of these surround the Scavenger, especially after he launches his main attack in the comic. Certain decisions by the profiteer failed to make real sense and while he remained an interesting antagonist throughout the book’s first half, he seems to just disappear entirely with no answers as the story moved into a time-skip. This isn’t all, as the time-skip itself seems to have very little overall impact beyond giving Aquaman a beard and locking up certain people. While its presence is hardly entirely detrimental to the story and what follows is a fantastic finale with great revelations, it does feel misused as an excuse to free up the story from certain elements previously introduced. This isn’t the only occasion in which such problems rear their head either, as a major story element involving potentially returning Orm to the throne is largely dropped as well without much resolution. Streamlining the story would have definitely benefited it, as would an actual finale of sorts. While it does provide a satisfying conclusion to the volume’s events, Death of a King unfortunately fails to really close off the entire run, instead ending on a kind of “TO BE CONTINUED” cliffhanger at the final page.
Do these problems drown Death of a King? Definitely not, but they are issues none the less which feel as if they could have been written out in an earlier draft. It’s still a great tale in spite of this and definitely one any DC Comics fan should keep an eye out for.