Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

September 4, 2019


With the Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth crossover, we find ourselves firmly in the post-Dark Nights: Metal era; "outrageous as the norm" has become not the exception but the rule. That's not bad necessarily; the best of Metal's cosmic loftiness on top of cosmic loftiness is here too, undercut with admirable "we're all in it together" humanism. But if Metal was too much for you, with Justice League: No Justice right after it, consider jumping ship now, as Drowned Earth suggests such tone wasn't an accident and there's probably more to come.

Drowned Earth is a pretty grand Aquaman story, certainly beautifully illustrated. Inasmuch as one is occasionally reminded of Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, it's nice to see an Aquaman event where the conflict isn't Atlantis versus the land or vice versa — that Arthur Curry can star in stories other than where his loyalties are called into question. It is not perhaps the best end to Dan Abnett's Aquaman series run, in that Abnett doesn't get much room to do his own thing, but there are ways we can read between the lines that speak to some of Abnett's themes.

[Review contains spoilers]

With almost breathtaking swiftness, Scott Snyder and company here spin a new chapter in the legend of Atlantis and the Aquaman mythos, one that reinvents Atlantis as a city-spaceship meant to welcome aquatic aliens to Earth and posits an ancient war between Arion and those aliens. It gets all the more complex from there, involving bone crowns and Tears of Extinction and opposing life and death forces, not to mention a Grant Morrison-ian moment of psychic groupthink. I'm on board with Snyder's loopy superheroics with no idea too crazy and no "we've got to save the day" sentiment too melodramatic, but to be sure it all comes really fast here; this is "metal" as way of life now, overlaid on top of an Aquaman story.

Probably Abnett's Aquaman has run its course by now, having reinvented itself already from political drama to swords and sorcery epic, though Abnett wrote such fully realized characters that I would have happily kept going. Abnett doesn't have any loose ends to wrap up that he hasn't already, but rather it feels as though we lack a final word on some subjects. With Mera taking the crown, we know that she and Arthur's conflict over whether to live a life of service has come full circle, and Aquaman and Commander Murk have had their moment of reckoning, as have Aquaman and Dolphin, albeit vaguely. And that's just it — it's not that things aren't said and done, just that their being done didn't coincide with this run's ending proper, and so the conclusion feels uneven.

Abnett's final issue is a dream sequence taking place between the pages of the Justice League issues (a clever conceit for the disparate parts of a "crossover," if at the same time somewhat undercutting the concept). The emphasis is on Arthur's interaction with his father, which is not a relationship wholly absent from Abnett's run, but nothing that feels needed or imperative in this conclusion. Additionally, whereas Aquaman discovering the power of "hope" is also not totally foreign — for indeed, Aquaman's insistence on peace between land and sea is essentially built on hope — neither does that feel like something we've been building toward.

Instead, what spoke most to me was a mid-issue sequence in which Aquaman is confronted by a demonic Black Manta, and Arthur's father talks about regrets, "the things you'll wish you'd done differently. The things you'll wish you'd never done at all." While not explicitly stated, this seems a reference to Arthur having killed Manta's father, a sin that has not only underlay most of Aquaman's modern incarnation, but also sparked the Aquaman/Manta battle that began Abnett's run and destroyed Spindrift Station (what seems like a long time ago now). This connects, I think, to Aquaman's decision in the end not to use the Tear of Extinction to kill the alien sea gods, betrayed by Arion years ago, and instead to make peace even if it means destroying Atlantis. Though the majority of this sequence is written by Snyder and not Abnett, this does seem the final moment needed to cap Abnett's run (and Geoff Johns' before him), if understated — given the choice, after Arthur's irrevocable mistake before, this time he chooses not to kill.

Among artists for Drowned Earth is Francis Manapul, whose work is breathtaking as always and, here at event central, ties this volume visually back to Justice League: No Justice. Howard Porter, of course, has a standing invitation to draw Justice League stories any time, anywhere, and especially with Lex Luthor and a Legion of Doom in play, I was also put in mind of JLA: Rock of Ages, especially in the last chapter. Porter depicts well certain Leaguer's "Aqua-costumes," including pirate Superman and merman Flash; seemingly another facet of Snyder's "metal" aesthetic, like the gladiator variants and others from Dark Nights: Metal, these crossovers are tending to come with alternate costumes that are immediately action figure and cosplay worthy.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth

I feel some impetus to emphasize the Aquaman issues in Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth since this is the only place they're collected. Indeed, aside from Justice League #8-9, all the other issues in Justice League Vol. 2: Graveyard of the Gods are also collected here (plus the Aquaman and Titans tie-in issues), such that from the Justice League perspective, one doesn't get much difference reading this volume or Graveyard; the main value of this book is the Aquaman issues (and one-off Titans). I do think DC was in error not collecting at least parts here of Justice League #8-9 if not the whole issues; they're really "Drowned Earth" preludes, and the parts dealing with Poseidon, if nothing else, don't seem particularly clear to me in the main story without those lead-ins.

Between Drowned Earth and Wonder Woman and Justice League Dark: The Witching Hour, the new Justice League era is showing me it can do crossovers well, even if the collection schema leaves a little to be desired.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 3 )

  1. I really appreciate the way you did this review - I was trying to figure out if I needed this collection in addition to the JL one, and you answered the question for me perfectly.

    Snyder's "everything to 11" style definitely has an interesting effect on my reading schedule - I buy the books, but I wait until I'm in the mood for it. Reading his Batman run (including Metal) in floppy format seemed easier to digest in small bites. No Justice in one sitting was just a lot going on.

    1. As a side note, it seems like we should be about due next summer for an all-in-one Metal collection of some kind (Absolute Edition like Final Crisis that includes the two prologues and two Snyder-penned tie-ins; or an Omnibus with everything). It sure seems like Snyder is heading towards a big event starting next Spring/Summer, and a nice big Metal book would certainly be nice

    2. As nice as it was for Batman Lost and The Wild Hunt to be included in the softcover version of Metal along with the main 6 issues you really need the Dark Days 2-parter at the beginning to get the full story.


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