I have a confession to make. This is the first comic I’ve read with Jackson Hyde.
Aquaman: The Becoming #1
Andworld Design (letters) Adriano Lucas (colors), Brandon Thomas (script), Diego Olortegui (pencils), Wade Von Grawbadger (inks)
September 21, 2021
An Advanced Review Copy was provided by DC Comics. This review contains spoilers.
Even after all this time, I still get nervous reading the first issue of a new series with a character I don’t know, and one that has years of continuity. I knew exactly three things about this character before beginning the comic.
- He’s Aqualad.
- He’s gay.
- He looks like Kaldur from Young Justice.
It’s been ten years since the Young Justice animated series premiered on Cartoon Network and the world had a first look at Kaldur. He was an instant sensation, and when a new Aqualad premiered in the comics, it was with a new look, clearly inspired by the animated Kaldur. I also confess that I have not watched much of Young Justice. After doing some light internet searching to learn whether Jackson Hyde is Kaldur or vice versa, I think that it’s a good thing I haven’t. As far as I can tell, while Aqualad’s character design is inspired by Kaldur’s, that’s where the similarities end.
This Aqualad has a different name, a different origin, and a different history. But he should also not be confused with previous incarnations of Jackson Hyde, like the one who appeared in Brightest Day (2010) and had a girlfriend, or the Jake Hyde from the graphic novel that came out last year. But just who this Jackson Hyde is, beyond these basic facts, is still something of a mystery–as is his heritage. During the battle at the end of the issue, his opponent calls him “some boy from Xebel,” but what someone says a person is and what they actually are may be different. DC recently revealed that the Superboy in the Suicide Squad is not Superboy at all, so I have some trust issues right now.
Where exactly is Xebel, you ask? My internet searching informed me that Xebel is another dimension where Atlanteans were exiled. The Jackson Hyde from Xebel is human and gained his Aqua-powers from being experimented on by the Atlanteans trapped in dimension. That Jackson Hyde is also the son of Black Manta. Interestingly, the person Jackson fights is wearing armor that looks a little like Black Manta’s. Coincidence? A red herring? I don’t know. But I hope that I find out–and I hope that I find out more about where this Jackson Hyde came from because I like him. I like him so much that I’m willing to put aside everything I don’t know so that it doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment.
And I don’t want my confusion to get in the way of my praise, because while I have questions, I expect the comic to answer those questions. That’s what a first issue should do. I should read through it, and want to read more to find out the answers. Aquaman: The Becoming #1 does that for the new reader with zero context for Aqualad’s story or history in the comics or animated series, and by “new reader” I mean me. I’m that reader. I’ve also read a lot of first issues, and so if a comic is able to draw me into its narrative, I feel like that’s a fair measure of a good comic.
And this comic is good. The focus of the story, as the title suggests, is Aqualad’s journey to becoming Aquaman. He’s not Aquaman yet–everyone refers to him still as Aqualad, including the other Titans. I’ve read many stories about teen heroes taking on the mantle of an established hero, and this one promises to be dramatic. The pacing of this issue as a first issue is smart. I love that we begin and end in Atlantis on the same day. I love that we get to experience a day in the life of Jackson Hyde, which lets us fall in love with him enough that we are appropriately worried when the issue ends in a dramatic cliffhanger fashion.
Rarely does the audience get to spend quality domestic non-hero time with a superhero. The charm of it here is one of the standout things about this first issue. I like it. I also like how Jackson’s relationship with Arthur Curry feels paternal, but not in the substitute father sense. By featuring both Arthur and Jackson’s mother, it establishes how Jackson is navigating multiple worlds by land and sea. Unlike so many heroes, he gets to be the same person. He is Arthur’s heir–but not his son. And even though Jackson bristles at Arthur talking about finding him a cute boy to date, it feels less like a son being embarrassed by his father than being embarrassed by their well-meaning friend. Seeing Jackson being embarrassed with his mother helps sell that dynamic, too. Granted, I am a sucker for a meet-cute with a parent present–especially when it’s awkward, and the parent is there to witness it.
Duality is a theme throughout this issue. Atlantis vs. the surface, Aqualad vs. Jackson Hyde. But unlike other heroes, the duality feels harmonious. Jackson doesn’t have a split life and split personality, nor does he have two lives. He is one person, at all times, confident and sure of himself, and because of that, he can go from sea to surface, from son to hero, with ease. It’s this harmony, the opposite of dichotomy, that makes this comic exceptionally enjoyable on so many levels. The dialogue strikes the right balance of humor and seriousness to be more than a comedy series. The narrative begins in medias res, but contains just enough information about the world that new readers with zero knowledge (me) can still follow along without feeling confused and therefore unwelcome.
And all of this is shown to us in beautiful, vividly colored art that can, like Jackson himself, morph with ease from one world to another, one scene to the next. Pencils, inks, and color work together in a unified style that supports comedy and drama without leaning too far or spoiling how the story will unfold. As cute and personable as the scenes with Jackson and his mother are, the action sequences drawn in that same style also feel dynamic. It works better than I expected, like in the wordless sequence below, which transitions from action into the quiet depths of the ocean without losing intensity.
Aquaman: The Becoming is a six-issue limited series. But after reading the first issue, my fervent hope is that this creative team will be Becoming the creative team of an ongoing series–once we get those pesky charges of treason resolved, of course.