Review: Aquaman Vol. 3: Manta vs. Machine trade paperback (DC Comics)

Aquaman Vol 3 Manta vs Machine

That there is really not much to Kelly Sue DeConnick's Aquaman Vol. 3: Manta vs. Machine, but that I still enjoyed it quite a bit anyway, no doubt speaks to DeConnick's prowess as a writer. After all the politically and morally nuanced Aquaman stories we've seen over the years, this is mostly just fisticuffs, which isn't always my thing, but the best of Aquaman is here — Arthur, Mera, Aqualad Jackson Hyde, and the villainous Black Manta — and DeConnick gives them enough personality to make almost half a book's worth of fight scenes feel worthwhile.

In the strange twisty-turns way of comics, we've come to know just before this volume's release that it's the penultimate collection of DeConnick's Aquaman, with her run ending in the early issue #60s. But I don't nearly have the consternation about this sudden "beginning of the end" that I had with Young Justice, for instance. This Aquaman run has been adequate reading, but here almost at the end I can't speak to a strong point, purpose, or direction for this story — aside from being wonderfully, often shockingly domestic — and it's obvious more could be being done. Clearly DC Comics is at a crossroads, clearly most titles are taking a deep breath in before they breathe out, and hopefully when the dust clears there'll be a team ready to put Aquaman back in the forefront of the DCU again.

[Review contains spoilers]

There's a few weird, semi-related things going in this, again, the penultimate volume of DeConnick's Aquaman run, that perhaps speaks to where this title is hitting its mark and where it isn't. The first is that Arthur has just now made acquaintance with the man who founded Amnesty Bay two centuries ago, an immortal seemingly cursed to turn into a giant sea monster. Second is that Black Manta, by way of Lex Luthor's "Year of the Villain," is now accompanied by an AI resurrection of his own father, in the form of an equally giant robot. Third are the various water gods, in the form of eccentric geezers, who Arthur met in DeConnick's first, Aquaman Vol. 1: Unspoken Water, and who accompanied him back to Amnesty Bay.

None of these are poor storylines or without potential, but here at the near-end, it's hard to see any of them as important or lasting. In Aquaman Vol. 2: Amnesty, the spectral Tristam Maurer gave the story a sea-supernatural vibe, but that doesn't keep up here nor does anything about Maurer seem to have implications for modern-day Amnesty Bay. There's a great kaiju moment in the end when sea monster Maurer battles the Manta robot, but it's over quickly and Maurer just disappears.

Equally, for all the hubbub about Manta's father — whom Arthur murdered, mind you, though that's barely mentioned here — the whole plan seems to be just to shoot missiles at Aquaman into oblivion (which Manta could do even without his robot father). And as I've mentioned before, the water gods have done basically nothing since their introduction except be background comic relief (Arthur is seriously concerned in the annual included here that one of them might eat his dog).

But, though the basic plot of the annual being that Loc might eat Salty is kind of absurd, the annual by DeConnick and Vita Ayala may be the truest representation of DeConnick's Aquaman run in the book. A lot of the story plays on the big barrel-chested Jason Momoa-esque Aquaman exasperatedly dealing with mundane and non-superheroic hijinks; there's a strong basis here of Arthur just chatting with his various supporting cast members, and also earnestly trying to save the ruined Amnesty Bay festival.

This is similar to the same in Aquaman Vol. 2: Amnesty, DeConnick eschewing much action (and even Aquaman-in-Atlantis-proper storylines) for Arthur paling around with Aqualad and catching up with his old Amnesty Bay friends. Whether or not one could really make a series out of a few more years of this kind of thing, I don't know — I'd be all for it, but I'm not sure it's what the public wants and maybe that DeConnick's run is ending tells the tale anyway. But if DeConnick's Aquaman does have a legacy, it's this, an Aquaman as Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop kind of tone that's as lovely as it is implausible.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Aquaman Vol. 3: Manta vs. Machine



In the middle of Aquaman Vol. 3: Manta vs. Machine is a one-off by Kyle Higgins with art by Aaron Lopresti. It involves an unexpected combination of storylines, mainly the Trench from way, way back in the beginning of Geoff Johns' New 52 run, but set during the beginning of Dan Abnett's Rebirth run (with a shout-out to Bryan Hitch's first Rebirth volume of Justice League), with a final-page tie to DeConnick's current events. Aquaman here is the clean cut version of those earlier stories and it underscores quite the difference that the Aquaman movie, essentially, has made in this character's last decade. But also it reminds that whomever the next writer is, they have a lot of Aquaman to choose from; I liked this book and I'm eager for DeConnick's final volume early next year, but with a change on the rise I'm also curious where Aquaman's going next.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketch]


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