(p) Ivan Reis and Joe Prado
“The Others” concludes this issue after a six-month adventure featuring the rag-tag team of misfits that Arthur Curry once allied. Geoff Johns has done a stellar job going beyond a simple character reboot, and has made Aquaman one of the preeminent characters in the ‘New 52’. While the first arc, “The Trench”, did well to give readers a general structure for Arthur and the series in general, “The Others” has been all about character development and growth – Arthur’s history with Black Manta isn’t as black and white (eh? eh? Get it??) as it was pre-‘New 52’, and that’s led Johns to make both characters more interesting and fun to read than they have in years.
Don’t get me wrong, “The Others” has it’s fair share of faults — Aquaman’s constant violent bitterness, Mera’s ineptitude when it comes to Arthur’s feelings, a whole new cast of characters that only somewhat make an impression — but these nitpick-y criticisms are part of a larger picture that Johns is drawing concerning the King of Atlantis. Obviously, this isn’t the last time we’ll be hearing from Arthur’s old teammates, so it makes sense that Johns didn’t want to reveal everything about these characters in their introductory arc. After learning that Arthur had a whole life before meeting her, Mera doesn’t really know how to approach her husband, and that’s exactly what the character needs at this point in her narrative.
The biggest problem I had with “The Others” was Arthur’s irrational anger and ‘Lone Ranger’ attitude that continued to get him into trouble. It’s becoming more and more clear that Johns is using ‘mystery’ as a story element that applies to Arthur on a variety of different levels — his ancestry, this friends, his motivations, etc. Arthur is an introvert, and one that seemingly gets explosively angry when others impede on his isolation. I understand wanting to make Aquaman a little rougher around the edges, but making him a huge jerk to his longtime friends is not the way to do it, per se.
That being said, Aquaman #13 turns the entire story around for me in a positive light. Arthur is finally starting to understand that by pushing away those who love him the most, he was putting them in more danger than if he had just accepted their help. At the end of Aquaman #12, Others member Vostok was murdered by Black Manta. Vostok was the most secluded of the group, spending decades waiting for the team to come back together so he could have a purpose once more. Arthur doesn’t handle Vostok’s death well, but in a good way. Obviously, Arthur is heartbroken that one of his oldest allies is dead, but the half-Atlantean hero uses this horrific event to motivate himself to be better than he’s been.
The message Johns tries to convey with Aquaman #13 and “The Others” as a complete arc, is that Arthur Curry used to be a different man, one that used violence and anger to solve all his problems until those same qualities became the source of all his problems. Black Manta’s presence was the trigger that brought the old Arthur bubbling to the surface. It’s a truly genius way to write a story, letting the tale almost tell itself as Arthur’s past starts to make more and more sense in context with the rest of his team. Arthur even admits, “I didn’t tell you…because I’m ashamed, Mera.” Arthur understands that his past is just that — the past. He wants to separate himself from the chaotic man he used to be, but the ghosts of former mistakes keep rearing their heads.
In the end, Johns reveals that Black Manta’s entire mission was simply building up to the upcoming “Throne of Atlantis” crossover with Justice League. Manta answers to someone, but we don’t yet know who. It’s most likely Arthur’s half-brother, Orm (more popularly known as Ocean Master), but knowing Geoff Johns and his penchant for throwing curve balls, it may be someone even more sinister. Aquaman #13 is as perfect a conclusion issue as one can get. It neatly (but not too easily) wraps up “The Others”, shows how the protagonist has learned and grown because of the events that transpired, and it deftly makes readers excited for the next story.