Review: Aquaman Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)


Dan Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising ends up with the same kind of crackling geopolitical drama that made his first volume, Aquaman Vol. 1: The Drowning so good. Given nine issues, it's not such a problem that the first three are given over to a somewhat-repetitive action-focused story arc. Essentially, if -- like me -- the beginning of this book concerns you that perhaps the loftiness of the first book was a fluke, never fear, because Black Manta Rising gets back there in time.

There's aspects of Rising that follow common storytelling tropes, and there's material that's all too familiar among Aquaman stories of late; if there's a concern to be had, it might be that Abnett demonstrates there's only so many stories one can tell with Aquaman and Atlantis. But Rising is enjoyable, and its politics are its defining factor; Rising follows up on Drowning well.

[Review contains spoilers]

Abnett starts off Rising by introducing six different legal or military facets to the Atlantean government, a lot to keep track of right away. But Abnett does well in giving all the new characters distinct personalities and goals such that, when bodies start falling some issues later, the readers legitimately mourn these characters they've only just met. Between the Atlantean government in all its forms, the U.S. government, the Justice League, the villainous NEMO organization, and Aquaman's varied supporting cast including FBI agents and hometown friends, there's a wonderful amount going on here that Abnett juggles well. An early scene sees Aquaman arguing with an Atlantean terrorist who hates Aquaman, but is willing to work with Aquaman against surface world factions, a good example of the kind of nuanced loyalties that underscore this volume.

When the book gets down to it, the "Deluge" storyline is equally good, as Atlantis has been framed for an attack on the surface and must balance their innocence and wanting to be the "good guys" with responding to retaliatory actions by the U.S. That's a conflict again with a lot of nuance, and Abnett writes equally well the Oval Office deal-making and also Aquaman fighting hand-to-hand against menacing shark-people. All of this started in Drowning with the relatively-simpler conflict between Aquaman and Black Manta, dialogue-heavy, and Abnett brings it back around again to a satisfying near-silent fight between the two in the last issue.

To get there though, as mentioned, Abnett spends three issues on Aquaman fighting the Shaggy Man, the epitome of a Justice League villain with nearly no purpose whatsoever than to trade blows with whatever title character. The issues are akin to "Death of Superman" in that they demonstrate Aquaman in a truly physical fight, but Abnett's approach is too predictably methodical -- an issue of Shaggy Man approaching, an issue of Aquaman and Shaggy Man fighting in the ocean, an issue of Aquaman and Shaggy Man fighting on land.

The storytelling is similarly boilerplate with Abnett's Mera and Aquaman and Superman arcs in the book -- Mera has to receive Atlantean schooling, she balks, she acquiesces; Aquaman and Superman disagree, then they agree. I didn't always feel Abnett delved in these moments, but rather followed predictable lines -- Superman could as easily have been Batman or Wonder Woman, and Mera's fear of Atlantean prophecy comes off uncharacteristically naive. Not to mention, the book turns once again on a fight between the U.S. and Atlantis based on a misunderstanding, in broad strokes something of the same conflict as Geoff Johns's Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. (I'd be eager to see the U.S. and Atlantis actually team up some time against a common threat, with maybe political detail about how the militaries work together, etc.)

Among three artists in this book, I continue to like Brad Walker's depictions of these characters best of all; the Atlantean garb looks extraordinarily silly next to normal people, but Walker's realistic body shapes help to even it all out. Philippe Briones evokes long-time Aquaman et al artist Paul Pelletier, but all of the artists -- including Scot Eaton -- have trouble at times, with civilians sometimes saved before they're endangered, for instance.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Aquaman Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising

In effectively his first year on the Rebirth series, Dan Abnett tears down and builds back up Aquaman's place in the world, and also Atlantis's place, for that matter. That's a good basis from which to "start" a series, and it's unfortunate the deluxe hardcover edition of the first and second books didn't make it out, because this would be killer -- and probably stronger -- to read all together. Though, we know Abnett is about to change the status quo at least with the fourth book, so whatever gains made in Aquaman Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising might essentially be lost -- but that gets ahead of ourselves just a bit. I am curious to see, however, how Abnett's third Aquaman book stands on its own, what kind of story we get there versus transition to the Stjepan Sejic pairing in volume four.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Aquaman Vol. 2: Black Manta Rising
Author Rating
3.5 (out of 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. "I'd be eager to see the U.S. and Atlantis actually team up some time against a common threat".

    This sort of happens in Vol. 3, which in my opinion is Abnett's best volume since Out of Darkness. Definitely got me excited for Underworld and beyond.

    1. You and I will have an interesting conversation about my review of Aquaman Vol. 3.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.