With all of the craziness going on at DC these days (Bat-Fleck and Trinity War), Aquaman’s become a bit of a sleeper hit in the Geoff Johns canon. It’s easily noticeable that Justice League, JLA, and Forever Evil are getting more apparent hype than Aquaman, which kind of lost its mainstream comics coverage after the “Throne of Atlantis” crossover with the aforementioned Justice League. This is a good thing. It’s allowed Aquaman as a title (and a character) to develop into something bigger and better at a quiet, leisurely pace, rather than throwing big event after big event on to the playing field.
I think if “Death of a King” had been bigger, it would have easily been worse off. The bigger stories at DC tend to focus on cinematic battles and universe-changing events with an epic scope that it leaves little time for character and plot development. Fortunately, “Death of a King” has both of those in spades. As a story, the plot seems to be advanced rather quickly (this is largely due to the fact that the storyline was supposed to end this issue, but has been extended to issue twenty-five) but the way that it does advance the plot is exciting.
Two of the three storylines converge here with Aquaman and Mera headed back to Atlantis to stop Scavenger’s invasion with the dead king and the armies of Xebel right on their tail. It’s a nice way to tie two plot points into one without feeling forced or crammed. The third plot point with Murk, Swatt, and Tula trying to rescue Ocean Master gets the barest piece of progression here. The banter between the three is fun and it reveals a lot about each character. Murk has a vendetta with humans. Swatt is secretly dealing with humans and feels bad about his inadequacies, and Tula is the headstrong warrior who keeps everyone in tow. The characterization is subtle and revealing enough to have me craving more.
Even with all of the other characters here, Aquaman and Mera do not get shafted in their own book. They both get put through the ringer and become stronger for it. It’s wonderful to see them both put on an equal scale rather than have Mera play the prototypical damsel in distress. Credit goes to Johns for mostly amazing character work (The Scavenger still feels kind of stereotypical for a villain, although the angle that he “scavenges” the sea for weaponry and Atlantean organs is pretty cool). My main problem was with how the story ended. I get that they felt the need to stretch this out to 2 more issues, but it kind of makes the ending here feel incredibly rushed, skipping 6 months ahead to Vulko resuscitating Arthur to health. They skimped out on what could have been a neat cliffhanger but at least we’ve got glorious, bearded Aquaman again.
I’ve never really talked about it before but I see Pelletier’s art to be like a smoother version of Ivan Reis’s art. Pelletier gives the characters a smooth, round quality that makes them feel all the more human, while putting that Reis-esque detail to the armor and the environments. The worlds and environments feel really immersive and create a nice symmetry with the characters. It also probably helps that the inking might be what gives everyone a smooth, roundish look. Pelletier’s eye for keeping things cartoonish but detailed is a big strength in my book. I wouldn’t settle for anything less out of someone as talented as Pelletier.
Since this was supposed to be the original ending but is not anymore, this issue felt like a cross between a transitory-action piece and a climactic showdown. That cross ends up feeling a tad wonky but for the most part, the plot and the characters are good. The dialogue doesn’t feel particularly forced or hammy, and there’s some real high-stakes drama going on here. The low key drama has been very good for both Aquaman #23 and Johns’ writing as whole.