Review: Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Kelly Sue DeConnick's Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water is an unusual take on the character. The book is new-reader friendly to be sure, with the title character only knowing small bits about his own identity and scant references to past continuity; it's a book anyone could pick up and know what's going on. Unfortunately, while I realize that DeConnick is a "get" for DC Comics, this Aquaman was too disconnected from the elements that make him Aquaman for my enjoyment. I will be curious to see how or if DeConnick can integrate what she's set up here into a more traditional Aquaman book.

[Review contains spoilers]

Unspoken Water finds Aquaman Arthur Curry, late of Justice League/Aquaman: Drowned Earth, deposited amnesic on the shores of "the Village of Unspoken Water," what's ultimately revealed to be a Lost-esque island to which various water deities have been exiled. Though DeConnick does well using a variety of indigenous gods rather than those of Greek and Roman mythology that usually populate superhero comics, the plot is fairly direct and uncomplicated — Arthur is asked to broker peace between these gods and another, Arthur goes to do so, a superhero fight ensues. The good guys are good here, the bad guys are bad, and many of the cliffhangers involve Arthur rediscovering his water powers — a surprise to Arthur, perhaps, but not particularly to the reader.

There's an extended legend of these gods presented in the third chapter that is unexpectedly gripping. In this, one senses what this book is trying to be, something mythological that extends the "Aqua-man"'s purview beyond just the typical Atlantis. But while artist Robson Rocha offers functional, attractive art throughout (including some dynamic sea monsters), when it comes to the mythology there's nothing in the art to give the book the kind of heft of the historicity of Sandman or Swamp Thing, or of J. H. Williams' Batwoman. Unspoken looks and feels workaday (the new gods are not so well-defined as to become compelling supporting characters in their own right, unlikely to reappear after DeConnick if not even into the next storyline).

I am one who's long since tired of Atlantis' court politics, or at least Aquaman stories that see Arthur primarily underwater; I much prefer the earlier books in Dan Abnett's run, with Arthur palling around with the FBI or opening an above-water diplomatic station (complete with Black Manta attack) than the later volumes of Atlantean civil war among the fish creatures and wizards. To that end, DeConnick's mostly land-locked story ought be just right for me. But it's an error, I think, to have set Unspoken in this isolated god-town rather even than in some remote fishing village; I'm reminded of J. Michael Straczynski's Wonder Woman: Odyssey, which equally jettisoned all Diana's past continuity but replaced it, at least, with an ultramodern take on the character. Unspoken scrapes off Aquaman's continuity barnacles, but doesn't replace them with anything that feels particularly fresh or exciting.

Indeed, a better comparison is that Aquaman's "Andy" is kind of like Nightwing's "Ric Grayson," and again I'm compelled to ask, who is Aquaman if he's not Aquaman and why should we care about him? It feels to me this happens somewhat often with Aquaman — circa "The Obsidian Age," roundabouts Infinite Crisis, during the latest Atlantis civil war, and now — that writers try to give Aquaman a fresh start by pulling him out of everything recognizable (including Justice League membership) and isolating him. I'm not sure it ever so much helps to define the character for me as I'm just counting down until he inevitably rejoins society; perhaps Geoff Johns' Aquaman was such a breath of fresh air because it leaned in to Arthur's participation in the wider world, not away from it.

I was actually surprised to see Mera appear so early in this book, and her presence suggests DeConnick will head this book to Atlantis sooner rather than later. Again, I wonder at that point to what extent this becomes a traditional Aquaman book — because just how long can DeConnick keep Aquaman amnesic, unless that's to be the rub of this title. Though comprising only a scene, I was disappointed to see the tension regarding Mera involve whether she would take a suitor in Arthur's absence — that is, the chief suspense around newly appointed queen Mera is not how she's ruling or how she's helping Atlantis recover from their latest sinking, but rather whether she'll betray the heroic protagonist of his sexual "rights" (parallels to the classic Odyssey notwithstanding). Obviously DeConnick can do better with Mera and I hope we see that when Mera finally makes the scene.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water

Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water ends with a movie-tattooed Arthur blessed by the ocean itself and gifted with a new trident of unknown power. I do hold out some hope for this; I can't quite say what should be the supporting cast or home base for an Aquaman who is "of the water" but not necessarily connected with Atlantis, but I think it could be made to work and be interesting. Unspoken Water feels like a false start, something too isolated and tenuous and inconsequential — like a repurposed Aquaman: Earth One, almost — to launch a new era. Hopefully the second volume will prove that wrong.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketches and pencils]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


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