Review: Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

January 21, 2018

 ·  2 comments

In the transition between this book's previous direction and its next, Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis is an odd collection. Of the three main stories collected here, at least two might be dismissed as tertiary to this book overall, except for the occasional flashes of brilliance that make them difficult to write off entirely. It's as if the ongoing narrative of this series and the stories within this book are slightly misaligned, or if writer Dan Abnett were to have taken his Aquaman inventory stories and shoehorned them into this particular moment in time. Another possibility is that these issues are mostly set-up for stories to come, though that's tough to determine in the here and now. Crown of Atlantis is an impressively-large collection of nine Aquaman issues that sometimes zigs when it should zag and sometimes zags when it should zig.

[Review contains spoilers]

Of the nine issues here, three involve Aquaman battling a new threat mostly unrelated to himself, four are a sequel to one of Abnett's late New 52 Aquaman stories, and just two forward the book's ongoing Atlantis plot. From those numbers alone, it's clear Crown of Atlantis is off balance. Moreover, it is six issues into the book before the reader gets the slightest hint of unrest in Atlantis, and only the cliffhanger of the seventh issue when that breaks open, just before the final two issues that deal with it. Arguably this is a book about Aquaman ignoring his Atlantean duties that, in demonstration, for the most part ignores Atlantis, but what is the climax of this book comes on so suddenly that it reads in part like an afterthought -- as if the pending arrival of artist Stjepan Sejic or the need for some sort of movie synchronicity catalyzed a quick change in plot.

The clearest example of the book's split focus is its first three-part story. In broad strokes, it's not even an Aquaman story -- in the telepathic, humanoid weapon "Warhead" battling and then seeking help from the protagonist to leave war behind, we could as easily slot in Superman or the crew of the USS Enterprise. Abnett does frame it all in Aquaman making his first speech at the UN and having to dodge his Secret Service handlers to take care of Warhead, so there is a clever political dimension to the story -- this is where Abnett's Aquaman has largely succeeded and why "Warhead" can't be dismissed entirely. But the story ends with Aquaman taking Warhead off to Atlantis and then Warhead is never mentioned again; this could be set-up for a big payoff down the line, but for the most part the story feels flat, one that didn't necessarily need to involve Aquaman and one that didn't need to be told at this specific moment.

The "Dead Water" story in Abnett's Aquaman Vol. 8: Out of Darkness was a fantastic prologue to his Rebirth series, rife with horror and superheroics and political drama, and so I was glad to see Abnett follow up here. Also Abnett uses a great amount of Aquaman's land-based supporting cast, including FBI agents Ajar and Irving and the Aquamarines. But while, as well, there's a fine horror movie vibe to the four-issue story and a gripping climax, it gets repetitive in the middle, going on perhaps an issue too long. Though the story is more obviously Aqua-centric, as with "Warhead" there don't seem to be many implications; in the end Mera notes that Aquaman acts more like someone from the surface than someone from Atlantis, but again this doesn't carry over in a meaningful way. I'm guessing Abnett doesn't introduce the sentient water planet Tethys just to forget about it, but like Warhead, this seems a strange time to introduce a new storyline before the book shifts so drastically, and as such this too reads like something of a filler story.

The real meat of the book therefore arrives in just the last two issues, as Aquaman faces a coup in Atlantis. Abnett's metaphor for the clash of progressive and traditional values makes this all feel particularly relevant. Where Abnett has shined before is where he shines now, with the differing and nuanced factions among the supporting cast, from Aquaman's steadfast guard Murk, who turns from him now out of loyalty to Atlantis (my hope is Murk is acting in secret for Aquaman), to Mera, whose offer for she and Aquaman to leave Atlantis and live a life of superheroics on the surface seems a wrenchingly good choice given the circumstances.

In tragic fashion, of course Aquaman must stay and fight for Atlantis, though here Abnett's story weakens a bit. As Abnett has portrayed Aquaman, he grew up and had a relatively normal childhood as Arthur Curry, only learning of his Atlantean heritage in adulthood. In that way, Aquaman is largely human in the same manner as Superman Clark Kent (a similarity Abnett missed the opportunity to remark on in Aquaman Vol. 2). It seems Aquaman wants to stabilize Atlantis out of some deference to his role as king, but Abnett hasn't given us much to go on -- we don't know, for instance, if Aquaman finds a particular Atlantean structure beautiful, enjoys a certain Atlantean food, nor do we even see him interact with the everyday folk. In essence the Atlanteans are right that Aquaman has been ignoring them, as this book shows, and there seems so little he actually enjoys about Atlantis versus the surface that he seems rather pigheaded not to just follow Mera and let Atlantis do what it wants. I'd like to think this is the same nuance with which Abnett imbues the other characters extending to Aquaman himself, but it's not wholly clear one way or the other.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis

There's a powerful three-page sequence at Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis's beginning (drawn by Brad Walker) that sees Arthur simply talking to his childhood friend about how much he -- and the world's perception of him -- has changed. It works because it's exceptionally honest and comes from the characters, and it's for these same reasons that Dan Abnett's scenes with Mera, with Murk, with Tula, and others are all so effective. Crown of Atlantis weaves in and out of that, from what it seems like the book really cares about to what it doesn't. Abnett's Aquaman remains plenty enjoyable overall, but hopefully with a more focused plot in the next volume we'll see more of the former than the latter.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis
Author Rating
3.5 (out of 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Great review! Although as I've said before, this is my favorite Rebirth volume of Aquaman and second-favorite by Abnett overall.

    I can see how you perceive these stories as being tertiary to the overarching storyline, but to me they seemed more like a palate cleanser after what was essentially one big long story. Yes it is a bit awkward how the ending essentially shoehorns in the new big status quo. However, in my reading of it at least, it fits thematically into what this book is trying to show: that is, Aquaman being "in the wrong". In the two prior volumes, Aquaman was portrayed as being right, with Aquaman always trying to be the peacekeeper and all the different factions (US, NEMO, The Deluge) being the clear bad guys. In this volume everything isn't so black-and-white. The first story involves Warhead simply being whisked away seemingly without hoopla or consequence. This didn't initially sit well with me since Warhead had killed people, and it seemed he needed some sort of comeuppance. But then I realized maybe that was the point, that maybe for the first time in this book, Aquaman had done the wrong thing. The same can be said for the Dead Water story, where Aquaman detonating a nuke on the Strange Water planet is clearly against everything Aquaman has stood for, so again, he loses morally. And finally, in Crown of Atlantis, the Atlanteans have a point: Aquaman has neglected his kingly duties, has sided strongly with the surface world over his own, and has ignored a large fraction of his own people's wishes. All of these give the book a thematic cohesiveness that (I hope) leads to a redemption arc in an upcoming volume. So I wouldn't dismiss this book as "odd" right off the bat, rather I see it as a "cool-down period" between major arcs and a thematic lead-in to the next.

    Also I probably enjoyed this book so much because it ties back to Abnett's New 52 issues and, by extension, Geoff Johns', which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm also a big fan of the way Abnett writes the human characters, especially Scavenger, so that helped elevate the book for me.

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    Replies
    1. All very good points. I don't mind my comics subtle, but what would truly sell what you're saying to me would be if there was indeed a scene where Arthur acknowledged some wrong moves. We got a little bit of this in Underworld, but not enough such that I could say, regarding the scenario you're describing, that this is what Abnett actually means. I'm still in the fence whether what you and I are thinking is just our own putting the pieces together or if Abnett is writing with intention here (instead of just stringing together a couple one-off stories).

      Famous last words, but with a bunch of other writers leaving books right now, I'm glad Abnett seems to be staying strong on Aquaman.

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