Written by Kurt Busiek
Art by Butch Guice
Published by: DC Comics

“I pretty much knew him just from that cartoon. You know, the one with the stupid walrus? … I liked the guys who could fly. Superman, Green Lantern, soaring around up there in the clouds … Aquaman breathed water and talked to fish.”

Aquaman’s always been the butt of jokes (most recently on HBO’s Entourage). Seen as the weak link of the Justice League (Super Friends to those of you of a certain age), he was a hero fairly useless in our mostly-out-of-water world. The character has gone through several title launches, none ever quite knowing what to do with him. A few years ago, Peter David infused the character with depth and edge, an excitement that had long been missing. First he fleshed out the epic history behind the character (The Atlantis Chronicles) and then, like Christopher J. Priest on Black Panther, he had the title character behaving like a true monarch. After all, Aquaman is the monarch of 3/4 of the world’s surface.

An Aquaman book should have certain qualities to it. There should be a mythic quality, after all, with a birth name like Arthur, plus him being a king, one cannot escape the Camelot comparisons. Being the monarch of the lost city of Atlantis, there should also be elements of sword and sorcery. These kind of qualities should make for an endless grand romp of action heroics on a grand scale. Yet once again, the series found itself on the cusp of cancellation. However, maybe there is simply not enough interest in the character to sustain his own book. Many have tried and now Kurt Busiek gives it a whirl.

I’m a long time fan of Kurt Busiek (JLA, Avengers). His recent remarkable run on Conan kindled an interest in the original works of Robert E. Howard. As of issue #40, he takes over the book, which has been re-titled Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis. It’s not like I had been following the book until then, having given up after Peter David was forced from the book, so having a fan favorite creative team take the book in a new direction makes as good a point as any to jump on board. As its title implies, there is a return to the sword and sorcery style epic sensibilities of Aquaman that remains faithful to the mythology established in The Atlantis Chronicles.

In the wake of Infinite Crisis, Atlantis has been hit hard and the entire undersea landscape (or is that oceanscape) is in a state of upheaval. Enter Arthur Curry, but not that Arthur Curry. It’s Aquaman, but not Orin, King of Atlantis Aquaman. It’s his son. This character embodies the mixed history of the Aquaman character: true to the original idea of Aquaman, product of science, engineered to breathe underwater; dropped into the history and supernatural world of the mythic incarnation of Aquaman.

This character is as lost as the reader and has to figure out all of the players as well as find himself. The big concern for the book though is that we don’t care enough about him to stick around. We need more than “hi, I’m Arthur, wait, not that Arthur” before punches start flying by way of story. He spends issue after issue not doing much of anything and worse, is boring while he’s at it. With sentiments of “I hate it here,” “I never asked for this,” and “you can’t make me,” he knows what he sounds like and there’s nothing ironic about him pointing out his character failings. He goes about his travels accompanied by King Shark (and old Superboy villain used to great effect) and the mysterious sorcerer, the Dweller in the Depths.

In addition to that, I get that Guice hasn’t been seen as a regular artist in quite a while, but I am not a fan of what is in these pages. I am laying the blame for the poor art, however, squarely at the feet of inker, Tony DeZuniga, rather than Butch Guice because I’ve liked Guice’s work in the past (and when in doubt, blame the inker).

“Still, the currents would bring what the currents would bring. There is no rushing them.” –Dweller in the Depths

Being true to the mythic interpretation of the character means that everyone is beholden to various prophecies about the king and his son. Prophecies, as one might imagine, are notoriously difficult to interpret and are more easier understood in hindsight rather than in painstakingly living to map out our daily existence in order to divine them.

With all the talk of the father (Arthur), the son (Arthur – not too confusing though it does put a new spin on the idea that “the father and I are one”), and the spirit (Vulko), the book wants to resonate with spiritual connections. Yet, weeding through the web of prophecies and people trying to both fulfill and thwart the prophecies, one might be better served to simply embrace his father’s will and just serve others. Let that simple edict chart the course for his life.

I see what Busiek is trying to do. Infuse this upstart Aquaman with the sort of vibe fresh from his Conan run, making him a fantasy adventurer against the backdrop of the mysterious depths. I’m just not feeling it.

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