Writer: Rick Veitch
Artists: Sal Velluto (p), Bob Almond (i)
The book opens with Aquaman & Garth racing down the Rhine river in an attempt to warn the goddess of this river about the impending arrival of the Thirst. While they are able to locate the power spot of the Rhine river where they'll be able to cross over into the water spirit realm, we see this site is located in the same location as a huge mining complex, that also plays host to a massive tank filled with a vile chemical waste. While Aquaman & Garth are able to make contact with the river goddess we see she isn't overly concerned, as the Rhinegold, the source of her power is cleverly hidden where no one would ever find it, and as such there's very little the Thirst can do to her. However, when the Thirst arrives we see he employs his enslaved river goddess to start tearing down the dam that keeps the toxic chemicals out of the river, and as it spills out we learn the Rhinegold was hidden at the bottom of this tank. Seeing her power base threatened the river goddess of the Rhine oddly enough sends most of her defenders to the safety of the Secret Sea, with only a couple of the female warriors refusing to leave their goddess. We then see Aquaman rise up out of the chemical bath he took when he was attempting to keep the dam from being shattered, and it would appear Aquaman's body has been altered by the chemicals.
It's during issues like this that I wish DC would adopt Marvel's recap page format, as while I've read all the previous issues, this script is littered with awkward moments where characters remind each other of plot developments that they should already be aware of, such as Aquaman being unable to use his healing hand in anger. Now I will give this issue credit for advancing the plot forward quite nicely, as Aquaman does have a brief tussle with the Thirst before his attention is drawn away to the actions of one of its underlings. There's also some pretty interesting dealings playing out back in Atlantis, as we see Dolphin & her child have been targeted for death by the ruling party, while Vulko looks to have formed an alliance with a rather questionable ally. The issue also has itself a rather unexpected twist at the end, as Aquaman gets himself immersed in a bath of toxic chemicals, and emerges from the experience looking rather bizarre, though I'm guessing this is simply an aspect of his new powers, that kicks in when he's in need of some extra protection. Still even with these various plot developments, there are times when I was a bit frustrated by the book's need to go back over ground that's already been well established, to help out the potential new arrivals. I understand why it's done, and in today's market its a necessity, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
I do like the somewhat surreal elements that have entered these pages since Aquaman became the waterbearer, as last issue had them traveling down a seemingly endless bridge that tired together to rivers of the world, while this issue has them running up against a tribe of women warriors who appear to be locked in an endless battle as they bide their time waiting for someone to attack their realm. There's also a delightfully odd moment where Aquaman & Garth encounter a talking squirrel, who becomes quite upset that everyone calls him a weasel, and a nice comedic moment where our heroes find themselves being drawn into the seemingly pointless battle that these warrior women occupy their time with. I also rather enjoy the rather clever hiding spot that was chosen by the river goddess to hide her scared Rhinegold. However, what I didn't care much for is the scene where after the Rhinegold is exposed, the very women warriors who have spent centuries fighting among themselves to keep their fighting skills sharp are suddenly sent away, leaving their river goddess at the mercy of the Thirst. I realize from a storytelling sense it's always nice to have the hero play a key role in the villain's downfall, and I'm always big on throwing the heroes into a fight where they a vastly outnumbered, but I also have to ask what's the point of introducing these women only to send them scurrying to safety when the road gets a little rough?
It's great to see Sal Velluto & Bob Almond making their mark on the DCU, as while I enjoyed the work of the regular art team on this book, the simple fact of the matter is that Yvel Guichet only had six issues to ingrain himself into my good books, while Sal Velluto & Bob Almond have a three year string of issues on the "Black Panther" that acted to convince me they were one of the best art teams in the business. The level of detail that makes it on the page in one of their books is truly impressive, with the more telling examples in this issue being the double-page shot of the warrior women locked in their seemingly endless fight. The art also manages to capture the decidedly darker mood that hangs over Atlantis, as the place looks evil, and there's a wonderful scene where a creature unleashed by a pair of magic users turns on its masters that plays out like a well done monster movie. Aquaman's brief fight against the Thirst is also nicely done, as was Garth's struggles against the undead army. There's also some solid big impact visuals, from the sequence where the hidden Rhinegold is revealed, to the final panel where Aquaman emerges from the sludge with his new look. While I'm on the subject of impressive visuals, I also have to make mention of this issue's cover, as it's a solid bit of action that manages to capture a nice swashbuckler feel that I've always felt Aquaman should embrace, as it's largely untapped genre full of exciting sequences.
An enjoyable enough issue that is somewhat undone by its rather awkward attempts to summarize the plot developments that have gone on before, and the writing has a rather irksome habit of repeating itself, so we have Aquaman sounding like a broken record as he lets Garth & then the Thirst know that just because he can't use his magic hand doesn't mean he's entirely helpless. The issue also could done a better job of explain why the warrior women didn't protest when they were sent running to the safety of the Secret Sea, when it would seem like this would be the one moment that they've been waiting & training for during the centuries they were engaged in their seemingly pointless battles. The Thirst is an interesting villain though, and I do like the basic threat that he presents, as a battle against an entity dead set on draining the rivers of the world dry this does feel like exactly the type of plot one would expect to find Aquaman involved in. The idea that he employs undead zombies also doesn't hurt matters either, as I've always been a sucker for battles against the undead.
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