Aquaman #34 Review
Aquaman #34, by writer Dan Abnett and artist Kelley Jones, is a break in the story of Arthur attacking Atlantis to dethrone King Rath, and it really is a huge misstep in an otherwise engaging arc. With Rath’s magical barrier broken, and Mera safe on the surface, Aquaman is leading a full scale invasion of the kingdom, and he’s making a beeline for the king. Exciting stuff, right? Unfortunately, this issue brings all of that momentum to a screeching halt to focus on Rath, his motivations, and his mad, overreaching quest for power. If you haven’t been a fan of this villain so far, this isn’t likely to be the issue that changes your mind.
Abnett does his best to flesh out the flat Rath, showing that he came from a working class family, in the poor section of Atlantis. He came to despise his father’s pride in his hard work, knowing that it wasn’t truly appreciated by the higher classes, and this feeling of being stepped on by the more privileged is what eventually drives him to rise up and take the throne for himself. This is all basic information and it surely helps to understand where Rath is coming from, but it still leaves the character feeling depthless. It seems he was always bad, starting with the disrespect he had for his hard working father, so there isn’t much of an arc for the character. He just starts out bad, becomes worse, and then becomes king. Not that any of that has been a problem before now. The story has been about what happens to Arthur when he loses his throne and his relationship with Mera up to this point. It could have been anybody that took the throne from him and the story would have essentially been the same, so to stop and give a backstory for Rath at this point seems like an afterthought.
This issue also suffers greatly from a lack of Aquaman. The title character is only seen briefly as Rath imagines killing him, but other than that, the book belongs to Rath and his supporting crew. In an arc that has been full of fun action and big course-changing character moments for Arthur, having an entire issue without him is just odd. It’s not impossible to pull such a feat off, but there has to be something equally engaging for the audience in the place of the main character and Abnett just doesn’t get the job done with Rath.
Riccardo Federici and Rick Leonardi have been doing a spectacular job on art for this arc so far, but this issue the reigns get passed to Kelley Jones and, again, the book suffers. Jones’ style is perhaps suited more for this more intimate tale, but at times, the bodies of the characters appear out of proportion. Rath’s armored guards have helmets that couldn’t possibly have room for a head inside and there is even a scene where Rath (as a child) looks like he has a hunchback. Michelle Madsen on colors, does a fine job, but gone are the vibrant colors provided by Sunny Gho in previous issues. Now, readers are left with a much darker tone that would be more at home in a Batman book.
In the end, this issue was a dark spot in an otherwise very enjoyable story arc. Rath’s backstory, while needed to flesh the character out, should have come earlier and not have been concentrated into a single issue. Aquaman is missed, but surely he will be back next issue to continue his violent siege of Atlantis. One can only hope that Abnett’s stalling is over and Arthur will finally get his hands on Rath next month.