As the hoopla over DC’s big reboot announcement continues to build steam and Geoff Johns Flashpoint series continues to push mediocrity in all kinds of new directions, there has come a silver lining. The offshoot stories, for the most part, have been really damn good. Brian Azzarello’s Batman was one of last week’s highlights and Tony Bedard’s Emperor Aquaman #1 is this week’s treat. I will admit that I don’t love calling the underwater icon Emperor Aquaman because it drums up images of him in a tuxedo sliding down a wet ramp in a zoo, but I digress. Emperor Aquaman #1 is a terrific ride; something I wish was a kick ass Elseworld instead of part of this Flashpoint mess.
Tony Bedard has brought together some interesting characters in this issue, including Brion Markov and his sister Tara. The incredibly grim scene of Aquaman swimming through hundreds of dead bodies in the ruins of Rome, which Aquaman sunk with a giant tidal wave, opens this issue and creates the mood for it. As Arthur (aka Aquaman) looks at the horror he’s wrought, we get a brief glimpse into the man’s twisted soul. We also discover that Atlantis’s big war with the Amazons erupted after Aquaman had Diana’s mother murdered on their wedding day. Make no bones about it. This Aquaman is a son of a bitch.
Emperor Aquaman #1 is a political intrigue issue, a constant back and forth of betrayals and schemes. Brion Markov, the king of Markovia, plays a strong role, as does his sister Tara. All the underwater cast is here, Ocean King, Mera, Doctor Vulko, but all with very different parts than we’re used to. Bedard masterfully introduces and sets up these old characters in their new settings. He knows that any fat could muddle the story so Bedard is very economical in his writing, making sure every panel needs to be there.
Bedard also does some nice work with the new Aquaman in terms of character development. Instead of just violent, Aquaman is more unhinged. He acts like a man possessed of such inner demons they have driven him right over the edge. He’s belligerent and volatile but really feels what he’s doing need to be done, which is usually the most terrifying part of any dictator. However awful he may seem, Bedard keeps this dark Aquaman interesting, something Geoff Johns has been unable to do with Flash.
Artist Ardian Syaf takes as much advantage of this new world as Bedard does. His take on this dark Aquaman is made up of subtle changes instead of huge ones and to me that’s always more effective. Syaf has given Arthur a harsher face, meaner lines and a mysterious scar on his nose. His hair is a military cut, his costume darker and he always carries the trident as if he’s always on the attack. Using these new designs, Syaf permeates the whole issue with the same darkness. It isn’t overpowering, it sits in the back of every panel creating mood and tension. Syaf also knows how to nail the action scenes. The art throughout this issue is top notch.
As DC moves on with their reboot, I’m hoping some of the new lessons with Aquaman will come into play. If given his own series again, let Aquaman be a little harsher, a little more capricious and quick to battle. I don’t mean keep the current dark Aquaman, but give us a look at why he’s the king of the oceans. Mark Waid started the idea of how strong this character could be with Kingdom Come and I feel as if the work on Emperor Aquaman could be used to reestablish the character as a major part of the DC Universe.
On a personal note I’d really like it if DC would stop putting those annoying Super 8 comics in the middle of every issue.