The Rebirth Aquaman series is a funny beast. While I’ve generally tended to enjoy Abnett’s prose writing (particularly his Warhammer 40,000 and Horus Heresy novels), his comic work has been a bit more hit and miss. His work on Aquaman, for example, has been variable. His stories are solid, but the overall pacing of the series has often been more languid than it could (and perhaps should) be. The recent Corum Rath saga, which took well over a year to resolve, is a case in point. Issue 10, however, is an issue I like a great deal. This is from back when the series was bi-weekly, Aquaman was king of Atlantis and Mera was his bride-to-be. In short, this was when the positive promise of Rebirth was still a thing (Arthur and Mera’s marriage had featured in the special) and there was a nice upbeat feel to the series. That said, at this point, Arthur had just faced off against the Shaggy Man (no, really – that’s a thing. Look it up!) and Mera was being tested by the Silent Sisterhood who are a bit like the Bene Gesserit from the Dune novels but sound like they should be an order of mute, psychic power-nullifying warrior maidens from the 41st Millennium. Ahem. It’s this testing that forms the basis for the first half of the issue.
Abnett and artists Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy don’t mess about, plunging us straight away into a terrifying vision seen by Nerid, one of the Silent Sisterhood tasked with divining the future as it pertains to everyone’s favourite underwater redhead. The opening page is intriguing; the following double-page is magnificent, showing a giant Mera-esque figure, screaming in anguish and looming over a burning surface city which appears to be under attack from large crabs. The dead form of Aquaman lies on a bier in the foreground. It’s all rather impressively apocalyptic. In the panel at the bottom of the page, the Reverend Mother and her fellow sisters try to comfort Nerid while Mera floats, horrified, behind them, the cause of their consternation and yet excluded from their company.
The next few pages are dialogue-heavy, but it’s reasonably well-realised dialogue and Abnett’s world-building (which has always been a strong feature of his writing) is very good here. The vision, we find out, is of the ‘deluge’, the Atlantean apocalypse after which the terror group of previous issues has named itself. This is a nice touch, actually. It enriches the reader’s understanding of Atlantean culture as well as, of course, providing a key moment of drama with which to start the book. The prophecy of the deluge centres around the ‘Fatal Queen’ who will bring about not just the destruction of the surface world but also the destruction of Atlantis itself in an act of grief-fuelled psychopathic rage. Needless to say, the Silent Sisterhood are starting to think that this marrying Arthur and becoming queen thing might not be such a good idea after all.
Quite understandably, this is all a bit much for Mera to take in and she powers her way up to the surface, the final ‘aftershock’ of prophetic utterances from Nerid (referring to the “howls of the house of light” which is where “the name of the enemy will be hid”) ringing in her ears. Mind troubled, she makes her way to Amnesty Bay and the lighthouse where she and Arthur have made their home. Hang on. Lighthouse. ‘House of light’. Hmmm…
Oh, all right. Yes, the whole prophecy thing is a bit (maybe more than a bit) corny, particularly when it turns out that the howls are coming from Salty the dog. On the dining room table have been left the mail accrued over the last few days and it includes a letter from Joanna Stubbs, a Royal Navy Lieutenant whom Aquaman and Mera had met briefly in the first Rebirth story arc. The scene shifts to a hotel restaurant in Boston where Joanna is about to tuck in to the seafood platter while being watched by a shadowy character in the, well, shadows, who has apparently been spying on her for 75 hours. Which is extremely creepy if you think about it.
Once Mera shows up to find out that the message is all about Joanna telling her who the real enemy threatening her and Arthur is (that would be NEMO – I’m not going to tell you what it stands for; it’s too silly), all hell breaks loose as the watching character reveals himself to be a NEMO operative called Broadside. Which is… actually a very cool name for a nautical type villain. The subsequent battle is very tastily rendered by Walker and Hennessy who do a grand job of showing off Mera’s water manipulation powers and, for that matter, heroism as she works to contain the blast of a powerful mini-bomb dropped by Broadside to cover his escape. On the last page, Joanna tells Mera about Aquaman’s injured condition and, well, we’ll have to wait till next issue for all that.
Perhaps because it features two very sympathetic female characters (one of whom is extremely British – she says “Crikey” and tells Broadside to “sod off”), I really rather liked this issue. It’s very well-balanced, too. There’s the dialogue-heavy Silent Sisterhood stuff at the start, replete with doom-laden prophecies and, let’s not forget, a very personal setback for Mera, and there’s the much more combat-heavy confrontation with Broadside at the end, with the return to the lighthouse and the reading of the letter as the ‘fulcrum’ on which the two different scenes ‘balance’. (I might be overstretching that metaphor. I don’t know.)
What’s particularly pleasing is that this is, in effect, a self-contained issue, albeit one that advances two strands of the ongoing narrative (the NEMO plot and the Arthur-Mera marriage) in the process of telling its story. It’s also an issue that enriches the series’ background and reminds the reader that Mera is a very capable character in her own right. What does it say that I’m waxing lyrical about an issue that doesn’t have the title character in it? I don’t know, but Abnett definitely knows what he’s doing here. There’s a sureness to the structure and pacing, and his dialogue – even when it’s exposition-heavy – is naturalistic and well-written. And that Walker/Hennessy artwork is very nice. All in all, then, a very enjoyable issue.