Review: Aquaman Vol. 6: Kingslayer trade paperback (DC Comics)

Aquaman Vol. 6: Kingslayer marks the final parts of what's been an impressive 14-part (et al) storyline in Dan Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman series. This kind of modular, long-form storyline (essentially continuous over three volumes) is almost unheard of in this day and age of easily digestible six-parters, reminding of Aquaman's own classic "Search for Mera" or "Zatanna's Search" from the 1960s, or the 1980s "Trial of the Flash" (if not quite that long). Abnett's even reflected the Atlantean civil war in a couple of other titles, as well as in the Mera, Queen of Atlantis tie-in miniseries.

This would also seem to be the last independent trade of Abnett's superlative Aquaman run, collecting issues #34-38. Issues #39-40 will appear in a Suicide Squad crossover volume and issues #41-42 are part of the "Drowned Earth" Justice League event; with issue #43, new Aquaman writer Kelly Sue DeConnick takes over. So in some respects, Kingslayer is the finale, though everything doesn't quite feel complete, and my fervent hope is that Abnett can still use these crossover issues to wrap up some of Aquaman's threads before he goes.

[Review contains spoilers]

Though simmering under the surface for a while, the Atlantean civil war story really kicked off right at the end of Abnett's Aquaman Vol. 3: Crown of Atlantis, before starting in earnest in Aquaman Vol. 4: Underworld. Abnett's Rebirth Aquaman series had seen both Aquaman Arthur Curry and consort Mera acting as diplomats for Atlantis in the surface world, and Aquaman largely divesting himself of Atlantean politics directly. That turns out to be to his detriment, as in their anger the Atlanteans depose Arthur, and tyrant king Corum Rath takes control.

The shift in the third volume, and from the third to the fourth, was jarring; at its outset, Abnett's series was akin to "Aquaman meets West Wing," and then suddenly it became a swords and sorcery book. The fact that Arthur was in large part trapped in Atlantis made the book's transformation complete; we mostly lost such surface-based supporting cast as Officer Erika Watson, FBI agents Irving and Ajar, and the British Royal Navy's Joanna Stubbs. It's a credit to Abnett that Aquaman is still compelling after being in some respects almost completely revamped (and that Abnett had the ability to basically soft relaunch his own title in medias res). But, the first half of the book halted so suddenly that itself it never felt complete, and while the Atlantean civil war has wrapped up nicely, that Abnett's run will end so soon makes me concerned he won't have a chance to reconcile the first part with the second.

In many respects, what was at issue when the Atlantean civil war started is no longer the case. Arthur did not want to rule Atlantis but believed reluctantly he'd have to do so, while Mera wanted him to leave Atlantis and live on the surface. Now, Arthur realizes his inability to lead Atlantis and Mera has agreed to rule Atlantis, and one would expect them to rule together, except Atlantis has been inadvertently raised to the surface. As such, to make this Aquaman run truly complete, now I'm hoping Abnett will return to some of the concepts from the beginning of this run, filtered through the new circumstances: Atlantean diplomats and the idea of an Atlantean embassy like the Spindrift Station that Black Manta destroyed almost immediately after it opened.

Five issues is no slouch, but Kingslayer is on the shorter side of trades, and with one of its five issues devoted to Corum Rath's mostly-already-known backstory (though drawn by Kelley Jones), it feels abbreviated. Of course, Kingslayer is the final part of a trilogy, essentially, and taken all together, there really shouldn't be complaints about the length (DC recently re-released Underworld as a deluxe edition likely mainly for movie synchronicity and to showcase Stjepan Sejic's art). If not an omnibus of Abnett's Aquaman, then at least issues #23-38 or #25-38 (plus the Mera miniseries and an issue of Justice League, if not also Titans) deserve to be collected all together.

Aquaman's final victory over Corum Rath is not particularly surprising (especially after the end of Mera), nor was the rising of Atlantis, foreshadowed as it was in Dark Nights: Metal (if anything, I'll be curious to see if Abnett can sink Atlantis again in the span of four more issues). For me, the real meat of this book was the second chapter, in which Arthur finally encounters his former royal guardsman Murk. Gruff but stalwart and loyal, Murk left Arthur for Rath when Rath became king; among Abnett's more memorable new characters, Murk represented a counterpoint to Arthur's own ideals, dedicated to Atlantis in whatever form it took (whereas Arthur often felt he knew better for Atlantis than its own people did).

Murk seemingly killed Arthur, though we knew that wasn't the case; the question was whether Murk was secretly working for Arthur in Rath's guard. Here we learn Murk did indeed injure Arthur, hoping that Arthur would simply heal and go away for good; keeping Murk as complicated as ever, Abnett does not mitigate Murk's unflinching dedication to Atlantis. Only when Rath has proved himself truly evil does Murk agree to help Arthur overthrow him, during which Murk is grievously injured. I'm glad Abnett didn't kill Murk outright, though it seemed possible for a while (quite a number of characters seemed on the chopping block), and some epilogue to Murk's arc is also something I hope for in the next four issues.

Stjepan Sejic only drew Aquaman Vol. 4: Underworld, but we got a very good replacement in Aquaman Vol. 5: The Crown Comes Down in Riccardo Federici. Penning almost all the chapters here as well, Federici's sketchy style, along with Sunny Gho's colors, make Kingslayer a sight to behold, between Federici's depictions of Rath's undead army and his uncanny way of illustrating hair flowing underwater. There's some strong covers by Howard Porter as well as a couple by Sejic; Joshua Middleton's variant covers have been astounding throughout this run.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Aquaman Vol. 6: Kingslayer

Dan Abnett hooked me with the politics in his Aquaman run and kept me for the long haul with the strength of his characters. Forty-two issues seems too short and I'd have been interested to know what the next iteration of Abnett's run would have looked like. Aquaman Vol. 6: Kingslayer is fortunately not quite the end, but unfortunately it's close; I hope this run gets the recognition it deserves in the annals of Aquaman history.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches and layouts]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Aquaman Vol. 6: Kingslayer
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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