Arthur has broken the Crown of Thorns, but madness still awaits him in the court of mad King Corum Rath. AQUAMAN #34 steers away from the Arthur & Mera storyline and instead provides us insight into the mind of this megalomaniacal monarch. Writer Dan Abnett does make some interesting choices when coming up with a backstory for Corum Rath.

Unlike previous issues, however, this comic fails to entice readers with an enthralling story or a fresh take on a villain. AQUAMAN #34, also called “Tyrant King,” falls short with its change of artists. The new art team of Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen’s style doesn’t fit with the story that Abnett is attempting to tell.

The Fall of Corum Rath

AQUAMAN #34 is a departure from previous issues. After the end of the fantastic arc “The Crown Comes Down,” writer Dan Abnett focuses on King Rath. Some of comics’ greatest stories like THE KILLING JOKE  analyze the psyche of a villain. Clearly, there’s a huge benefit to taking a pause in the story of Aquaman’s rebellion in order to analyze Rath.

AQUAMAN #34
AQUAMAN #34 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The most compelling aspect of Rath’s past is that he was actually a member of the lower-class “Hadalin.” Rath’s father worked tirelessly building and repairing palaces for House Atlan. The elder Rath was satisfied with a life of constant labor with no recognition. He worked for the sake of honor. Rath’s father was a hulking figure who took his job seriously, so much that when runtish Corum would drop a stone, his father would hit him.

Arthur Breaks the Crown in AQUAMAN #33

Too Evil for Supervillainy

This backstory for Rath is almost interesting because Rath is someone with something to prove. He’s trying to show that he can do a better job returning Atlantis to its glory than the decadent House Atlan. In this way, he’s similar to a villain like Kingpin, who was a self-made man. However, Rath is unlike Fisk in that the Hadalin didn’t conquer Atlantis because he thought that was the right thing to do. He did it because his long-held daddy issues compel him to prove to himself that he’s actually strong enough.

Additionally, Rath is slowly going insane from overusing magic. It’s disappointing that Abnett had to introduce an external force to make Rath lose his mind. As opposed to Aquaman villains Ocean Master and Black Manta, Rath doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities. There’s not a lot of complexity to this character. Instead, Rath feels much more like a Bond villain in his pure evilness.

Art in AQUAMAN #34

AQUAMAN #34
AQUAMAN #34 page 4. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The art in AQUAMAN #34 absolutely perplexes me. It’s not that artist Jones and colorist Madsen made any horrible panels in this comic. Simply, the style of art they use for this issue blatantly goes against everything that Abnett and prior-artist Riccardo Federici have set up in this series.

Abnett has painstakingly crafted a gritty, political thriller throughout his AQUAMAN series. While there’s room for fun and laughs, AQUAMAN has been one of DC’s main titles that are skewed on the more serious side. Even in this issue, there’s nothing to suggest that Abnett isn’t trying to give this story a lot of gravitas.

AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 Review: Dream a Little Dream

That is why I don’t understand why every panel looks like it springs out of an 80s cartoon. All the figures look like mere caricatures of farcically stretched body parts. There’s no subtly in the imagery either. Rath looks like a Magneto rip-off with his absurdly large helmet surrounding his head and shadowing his face. It’s as if the pages are screaming “hey, this guy is evil” in case we didn’t realize.

There are other parts of the art that feel like they are playing to a younger audience. The artists ridiculously depict magic with bright stars surrounding a spell as if from a 1940s Disney animated movie. Whereas Federeci would draw the ocean with beautiful textures, Jones and Madsen feel the need to represent the water through bright, large bubbles. AQUAMAN #34 is a different type of issue so it required a new team of artists. That being said, I can’t wait for Federici to return to AQUAMAN #35.

The Future of Atlantis

Dan Abnett’s run on AQUAMAN has been fantastic across the board up to this point. AQUAMAN #34 was the first misfire in this long-running series. I appreciated that Abnett, Jones, and Madsen experimented with something new but said experiment didn’t translate.

AQUAMAN #34 goes against the tone and type of story that Abnett has set up so far. It replaces a morally complex, heartfelt story with a campy one about Corum Rath. Furthermore, the art’s simplicity conflicts with the darker and more realistic style that Riccardo Federici established in previous issues.

AQUAMAN #34 doesn’t dampen my excitement for Federici’s return in AQUAMAN #35. In fact, it makes me appreciate the amazing work that Abnett and Federici do around Arthur’s story. Just if Corum Rath bites the dust after the next arc, you won’t find me complaining.

AQUAMAN #34 By Dan Abnett, Kelley Jones, and Michelle Madsen
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
AQUAMAN #34 takes a narrative turn to focus on the royal court of Corum Rath. Dan Abnett sadly doesn't capture any villainous complexity in Rath. Meanwhile the cartoonish style of art from Kelley Jones and Michelle Madsen doesn't fit with the gritty atmosphere of Abnett's writing. In the end, AQUAMAN #34 is a misstep in an overall great series.
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Unfit for A King

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