Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness, essentially a prologue to his Rebirth series, is really fantastic, and if Darkness is representative of what's to come then Abnett has a winner. Abnett's Aquaman is exactly what I like, taking the character out of the often mundane Atlantean setting and spinning a story that's as much superheroics as political drama and mystery procedural. Special mention, too, of the extra-sized fiftieth issue collected here and drawn by Brett Booth, which is probably the most gorgeous thing I've seen Booth draw. If you're following Aquaman in Rebirth, definitely pick this one up.
[Review contains spoilers]
Out of Darkness is a large a 180 as the Aquaman title could do a little more than mid-way through its "DC You" run. From Cullen Bunn's Aquaman Vol. 7: Exiled's Atlantean palace drama and mystical creatures, Abnett's Darkness takes place almost entirely on the surface, between Aquaman solving a land-locked mystery and Mera opening Atlantis's new Spindrift embassy. The book's sea monster Dead Water, such as he is, is purely sci-fi; the ending involves one of Aquaman's superheroic nemeses; and as if to underscore this new direction's realism, Abnett introduces two FBI agents as Aquaman's new supporting cast. Abnett's Aquaman is surprisingly funny but short on the mystical nonsense, and in that respect reminds of popular "indie" books like Chew.
Abnett puts particular emphasis on Mera, which is welcome after the character had a particularly bad turn in Exiled (and I'm glad those specific events aren't even mentioned here). Mera takes the name Aquawoman and an Aquaman-like costume in order to better "market" herself as an Atlantean diplomat, a move that, like the characters, I felt before as a reader should have been avoided but that now that it's happened seems so simple. This is a fine and logical turn for a character arguably more popular than Aquaman himself, and Abnett handles it all with care and humor (especially Mera's misgivings about her codename). Though Aquaman's conflict with Dead Water is ultimately quite wrenching, at some points in the book Mera's simple political considerations in setting up the launch of Spindrift Station are the book's most interesting moments.
The "Dead Water" storyline starts off with a bit too many horror movie trappings (and not helped by Vincente Cifuentes half-undressing every female character), but picks up in the Brett Booth chapter when Aquaman must figure how a sea-based creature kills on land (way atop a tower, no less), and gains steam through Aquaman's harrowing interrogation of Dead Water, revealed as the human Jonah Payne. Not only does Abnett write a fantastic, prolonged fight scene (with a scary conclusion in the darkness), but then Abnett immediately humanizes "Dead Water" when Aquaman and Mera question the amnesic Payne. Abnett makes fine use of scientific detail here showing the effects of Payne's forced dehydration to keep him from turning back to Dead Water, reinforcing as well the extent of Aquaman and Mera's powers.
Even from the start of the New 52 and Geoff Johns's "The Trench" storyline, we've understood Aquaman to be a character on whose head his duties hang heavily, from having to seemingly kill the Trench creatures to here in Abnett's story, having to kill Payne. It's a theme that continues into Abnett's Rebirth special, one of the best I've read so far, in which Abnett, through narrator Black Manta, lays out how Aquaman fights an almost impossible battle to try to join two worlds that themselves don't trust him, not to mention that "even the fish don't actually talk to him." Abnett offers an exceptionally wise take on Aquaman, one that feels realistically borne from the last fifty two issues of this series, and how clearly Abnett articulates the stakes makes me that much more compelled to read what's in store for his Aquaman.
Because I went on at length at how I did not like Brett Booth's work on Flash Vol. 8: Zoom, I thought it bore mentioning that Booth returns truly spectacular work for Aquaman's fiftieth issue, the book's fourth chapter. There's surely nothing wrong with Booth's angular, elongated figures, and it was only the incessant crooked paneling, melodramatic close-ups, and distorted body positions -- what I termed Booth unrestrained -- that put me off Zoom. Here, Booth is much more controlled, and his figures (both human and Atlantean) normalized. Booth even shows restraint with an appropriately muscular but not egregiously busty Mera; frankly I'd be happy to see Booth draw an Aquawoman series. The art in this issue is fresh, excited, and approachable (with colors by Andrew Dalhouse), clearly the highlight of this book.
I'm not sure Dan Abnett defies expectations of what an Aquaman story can be in Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness, so much as in plugging the Aquaman cast into so many genres, he reminds us of what we've been missing of late. Aquaman made a -- forgive me -- splash out of the gate in the New 52 and then tapered off as many of the series did. Out of Darkness suggests a true rebirth for the Aquaman title, positioning itself to impress once again.
[Includes original and variant covers, Brett Both character designs, Rebirth special]