Kelly Sue DeConnick, Robson Rocha, Sunny Cho
December 19, 2018
Decompressed comics are frustrating. It’s not that they’re bad in and of themselves, it’s that they feel incomplete.
I haven’t really been following Aquaman (or indeed, any major DC comic) for a few years, but the prospect of Kelly Sue DeConnick writing, along with the return of Arthur’s glorious beard and mane, had my interest piqued enough that I at least wanted to take a look. DeConnick’s work has weight, after all. In actually reading it, though, I don’t know that I’m moved. If anything, it feels like something is missing, which I suppose is apt.
The entire issue is about missing things, after all. Missing memories, missing fish, missing time. Arthur, who is missing even his name, has washed up on a remote island with a small population of people who apparently have no idea who Aquaman is. He washed up wearing his full regalia, and no one knows anything about it. It’s clear by the end of the issue that he’ll have his old self back soon, but because of that, it also feels like this issue is a false start. It’s an entire comic of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The people of the island can’t catch any fish; the one time they appear to be successful, the entire haul is already dead and rotting. We’re told this is because of a woman who is mad at the ocean and who was exiled from this island to live on a different one. Arthur has to take her daughter back to her, but it will obviously not be quite that simple; this is the first issue of a run, after all. The plot hook of dead fish reminds me of Aquaman’s status quo immediately post-Blackest Night; it wasn’t really a concept I was into then, and it’s not doing a lot for me now. Also reminiscent of other comics: a woman leans mysteriously over a dead rabbit framed in flowers.
The book is beautiful to look at; Robson Rocha’s art is wonderfully detailed. Despite the theme of things missing that runs throughout the book, each panel is full of interesting line work. Rocha’s framing is excellent; angles pitch and shift in a way that’s reminiscent of being aboard a boat, a fitting reminder given the titular hero. The panel flow itself is simplistic, but effective; most panel sequences throughout the book are widescreen and a simple up-to-down flow. It’s fine, but given how much of the work centers around water, it’d be nice to see someone playing with flow a little more.
A couple of splash (ha!) pages are used to strong effect; displaying truly massive storm-driven waves, and establishing just how frightening and powerful the ocean an be. Rocha’s figure work is also a delight; Arthur himself is glorious to behold, and his entirely new cast of supporting characters are all interesting and unique, each with some memorable trait. Rocha is assisted in the art duties by Sunny Cho, who does marvelous things with color, shifting the entire tone of panels as storms break and sunrise shines through. The way the light changes from sickly grays and greens to bright blues is the kind of thing that had me flipping back and forth between pages a few times, just to admire the work. It’s really impressive.
Aquaman #43 is ultimately a smart move; just ahead of the new movie, DC has put a superstar writer on the hero, given us a design that is reminiscent of that movie (and of Arthur as he looked in the ‘90s), and featured a visual team that is able to properly provide the kind of eye candy that Jason Momoa will have us all clamoring for. It’s just that the decompressed nature of modern comics mean that this issue feels like half of one, and that feeling is enhanced by the way that this story is about what’s not there. I hope that the next issue features a little more actual story.