When people make comic book jokes, the lion’s share of them are aimed at Aquaman. Unlike Marvel’s super misanthropic,
douchebag Atlantean, Prince Namor, DC comic’s Arthur Curry (aka Aquaman) has always seemed to invite ridicule. I can’t really comment much as to the overall caliber of the stories he’s appeared in over the years, because in the ten years that I have seriously read comics he’s rarely had his own title. Recently, Geoff Johns has stepped up to the plate and put out a really stellar version of the character. For more on that, please seek out the reviews I have put out for issues 1-5. However, none of what Johns is currently doing would be possible without the stories that are contained in this graphic novel.
“Aquaman: Death of a Prince” contains several excellent stories from the 1970’s issues of Aquaman and his appearances in Adventure Comics, but the main story contained herein that prompts the title is the macabre issue where Aquaman’s three year old son, Arthur Jr., is murdered by his arch-nemesis. This revelation spoils nothing as the Atlantean King is portrayed on the cover standing before his child’s grave with his wife spewing curses upon him for not protecting their son. Despite the depressing goal, the book leads up with exceptional storytelling that defines the heart and soul of the character: who he is, what he stands for, where his priorities lie, and a solid recap of his life story. The writers involved are allstars including the ever amazing Paul Levitz, Gerry Conway, Steve Skeates, Martin Pasko, David Michelinie, and Paul Kupperberg, and the artists are also amazing including the likes of Dick Giordano, Jim Aparo, Vince Colletta, Don Newton, and one of my all time favorite artists, Mike Grell. There really is no way you can go wrong from the creative standpoint.
Despite the obvious focus on the eponymous death and Aquaman’s journey to and from it, the book expands far beyond Aquaman into other directions which round and expand upon the world he lives in. Aqualad’s enigmatic origin, always puzzled over owing to his purple eyes, is finally revealed, the world that Aquaman’s queen, Mera, hails from is visited as well, and Black Manta, Aquaman’s most iconic enemy reveals his orgin. All of this works towards making these characters more dynamic and as a result making the world Aquaman lives in less two dimensional. With strong backup characters around him, propping him up, the title is less laughable, even were you to still feel that an undersea superhero who communicates with fish is silly. On this last point, the writers did a very good job of making him a believable protagonist who can go toe to toe with some of the DCU’s premier baddies.
In fact, this book also does a good job showcasing his rogues gallery as well as some major villains from outside the seven seas. Of course Black Manta makes several appearances, but we also see his wicked half-brother Prince Orm (aka Ocean Master), the Fisherman, the Scavenger, and the introduction of a new, enigmatic villain named Karshon. Outside of the seas the book has him going up against Starro the Conqueror, the first enemy that the Justice League fought together in 1960’s Brave and the Bold #28, as well as one of the greatest DC villains, Kobra. For those of you who don’t know Kobra, he is a cult leader of an Indian sect of Kali snake worshipers. He is cunning on the level of Batman, and mystical on the level of Ra’s al Ghul. Seeing Aquaman battle him was a sheer delight. Watching him battle all of these foes was a delight.
Historically this book is a must read if you are into classic DC lore. It sees the death of Aquaman’s only child (you know that going in, so again, no spoiler really), the origins of Mera, Aqualad and Black Manta, as well as Black Manta taking his helmet off for the first time and showing us why he bears the nome de guerre that he does. When reading it you forget your pretentions and not for a moment is it silly. It is most certainly a 70’s comic, but actually the way it is written and paced is perhaps at the height of graphic storytelling. A must read for anyone claiming to be a comic book aficionado.
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to any of these images and give credit to those whose work they are.
Adventure Comics #452: Art by Jim Aparo, Colored by Jerry Serpe
Aquaman #62: Cover art by Jim Aparo, Colored by Adrienne Roy