Writer: Rick Veitch
Artists: Yvel Guichet & Joshua Hood (p), Mark Propst & Sean Parsons (i)
The book opens with Arthur admitting to Sweeny that yes he is Aquaman, but their conversation is cut short when Garth (aka. Tempest) arrives, and makes it clear that he wants to talk. We then see Garth is curious why Arthur isn't busy making preparations for taking Atlantis back from the evil sorcerers who currently control the undersea kingdom, and when Aquaman confesses that he's not really sure if he's even going to make the effort to free his city after it was made clear that he was public enemy number one, we see Garth decides he has to do something to recapture Aquaman's interest in the plight of his people. To this end we see Garth casts a spell that sends his & Arthur's spirits into the bodies of a pair of fish, and in these new forms we see the two take in the sights of the new Atlantis. What they see is a city caught in the grip of ruthless tyrants, who have placed Garth's wife & son under house arrest, while Mera is being kept in a drugged stupor, and she is little more the a figurehead that legitimizes the evil spell-casters who rule Atlantis. However, when Garth & Aquaman's true forms are recognized, we see they are chased out of the city, and it's only Aquaman's connection to his new magic hand that allows them to return to their regular bodies.
It's starting to get a bit worrisome in how dependent Rick Veitch looks to be on Aquaman's new hand proving to be the ideal solution to whatever threat Arthur runs up against. On the other hand this issue does nicely define what exactly the hand is capable of, as we learn it's not really capable of casting any spells, but rather it's limited to canceling out the effects of spells, and affording Aquaman a healing touch. Now given most of the attacks that have been sent Aquaman's way in this new series have been magical in nature, and the primary villains of the book are a group of magic users, I'm finding the hand to be a little irksome, as it's hard to find a climax rewarding when it involves so little effort on Aquaman's part. Still, if I do ignore the previous issues and the worrisome pattern that I see emerging, I do have to say that this issue does manage to create a fairly solid sense of danger, as we are lead to believe Garth is the only one who can reverse the spell, so when Garth looks to be completely gone, and out heroes are dissolving in the stomach acid of the fish that swallowed them, I must confess the book had utmost attention. The final page also nicely hints that there are limits to what Aquaman can do with this hand, which is a welcome revelation.
I also enjoyed the fact that this issue does act as a bit of a primer when it comes to the book's new status quo, as not only are Aquaman's new abilities better explained, but the situation in Atlantis is given a good once over. We not only learn what has happened to the city after Aquaman left, but we also learn what is happening to Mera & Dolphin in a city that is controlled by villains who are decidedly hostile when it comes to Aquaman & his allies. The book also opens with a great little scene where we see Garth tries to present a highly affable front, but when the conversation turns to his wife & child, we see this mask quickly slips away. I also enjoyed the way that Garth attempts to goad Aquaman into action, and his disillusioned reaction when Aquaman doesn't rise to the occasion. The book also makes an effort to show us why Arthur hasn't called upon the JLA for help, and while I understand why Rick Veitch would be hesitant to have Arthur calling upon the JLA for help as it would be a decidedly undramatic method for resolving this crisis, the explanation does need a bit more work to be convincing. If nothing else the book needs to define why Aquaman feels there are members of the JLA who he no longer considers his friends.
It's never a good sign when we start seeing "helper" artists on a book when one is only four issues into a run, but if you are going to use two art teams on an issue, then this is certainly the way to do it, as it would appear that the regular art team handled the scenes on the surface, while the guest-art delivered the underwater action. I also have to give this issue full marks for being one of the sharpest looking issues of the series up to this point, as the scenes on the surface are brightly lit, and the characters are nice & expressive. On the other hand the scene below the water have a dark, almost oppressive quality to them that is nicely reflective of the current state of affairs in Atlantis. In fact the underwater scenes are easily my favorite part of the issue, as the art does some very nice work conveying the idea that this is an alien environment, with unique architecture, and a nice sense of weightlessness. My one quibble with the art is that there is a scene where we see the bigger fish makes its attack, and Garth's fish looks to have just avoided the lunge, but the following panel shows us that Garth has somehow made it inside the fish's mouth, which displays poor story continuity. I also have to say that I miss the rather moody covers by Alex Maleev.
I rather enjoyed this issue, in spite of once again being treated to what is quickly becoming this book's primary flaw, as Aquaman's new hand once again provides the ever handy solution to the crisis of the issue. However, I will give the book credit for crafting a plot that manage to grab my interest, as we finally get a good look at what's happening in Atlantis, and by the end of the issue Aquaman is back on his game & ready to leap into the fray. Also while I don't care much for the quick solutions that his new abilities provide, this issue does a pretty solid job of setting up some limits, and the final page of this issue manages to nicely establish that there is a downside to these new abilities. Plus, as a long time fan of Aquaman & his corner of the DCU it is nice to see Garth making his return to these pages, and it's also good to see the action shift back into the ocean. Overall this is the most enjoyable issue of this new series.
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