Beware; spoilers for AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 abound!

Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson takes the reigns on AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 as he focuses on Arthur Curry’s relationship with his peers, specifically on his relationship with Mera. As a result, the narrative delves deep into nostalgia as it explores the juxtaposition between idealistic dreams and the real loss.

aquaman annual #1
AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC comics.

AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 commences with Arthur and Mera exploring a valley that Arthur wishes to be the foundation of a new, glorious Atlantean city. In this sequence, Arthur exemplifies his ambitious nature wherein he reveals his dreams for the future. He maintains an optimistic perspective of his life to come, one that is filled with hope and perfection. As the couple departs the valley, they briefly discuss their wish for a child that will ultimately contribute to their perfect future.

Following this moment, the work, seemingly, segues into the future. King Arthur and Queen Mera are hosting a ceremony in the city of Crownspire. The two invite members of the Justice League, resulting in a reunion between Arthur and his former teammates. Once Superman, Wonder Woman, and Hal Jordan (aka Green Lantern) arrive they meet Arthur and Mera’s son, Tom Curry. Fellow Justice League member, Batman, fails to make an appearance at this reunion, with Arthur perceiving his absence as a result of his distaste for social events.

A League of Champions

Unfortunately, the happy festivities are interrupted. A group known as the Sons of Atlan lead an attack against the King and Queen of Atlantis while a plethora of prisoners escape from a hidden dungeon. These unexpected events result in the former Justice League team reconvening to fight against their newfound foes. It’s an exciting moment, but an ominous air surrounds it. Who catalyzed this attack and released the prisoners from their confinement? Amongst the chaos, the former leader of the Atlantean army, Murk, makes an appearance. Arthur is shocked to see his former ally since he was believed to be dead.

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Following their unexpected reunion, Murk proceeds to make a shocking claim: the world that Arthur is currently living in isn’t real. His son is an illusion. Crownspire is an illusion. This future is an illusion. Murk implores Arthur to seek out the Red Seep to discover the truth. As Arthur attempts to ignore Murk’s assertions and evade his attackers, Batman confronts him, making the exact same claims as Murk. In reality, Batman catalyzed the release of the prisoners and the attack by the Sons of Atlan to expose the falseness of this world. Arthur adamantly denies the perception that his world is false, up until he enters the Red Seep and finds the unconscious bodies of Mera and himself. With this revelation, the illusion starts to fade, beginning with Arthur and Mera’s specter of a son.

A Ghost to Mourn

The conclusion of the issue depicts a somber Murk reflecting on the state of Arthur and Mera, who have awakened from their dream. We come to discover that a plant known as Black Mercy was the cause of Arthur and Mera’s tragic illusion due to its ability to project an individual’s greatest desires within their mind. The Atlantean couple are left grieving a son, and a world, they never truly had. As a result, the question arises of whether the two can truly attain their ideal life when they are mourning a perfect illusion in the real world.

It’s quite shocking to witness the shift from hopefulness to tragedy in this issue. The conclusion of AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 is very ambiguous. Johnson presents us with many questions to ponder, one of which being how does one cope with a loss that never truly took place? How does one accept a dream that will never come to life? As a result, this installment of the Aquaman mythos is one that will remain with readers as they inevitably sympathize with Arthur and Mera’s loss.

aquaman annual #1
AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 page 9. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The Many Hues of AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1

Colorist Dave Stewart does an exemplary job on AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1. The contrast he exhibits between reality and the dream-world is striking. The real world maintains dark hues that are countered by the brightness of the illusion of Crownspire. While the illusion begins to fade, though, Stewart subtly darkens the tones within the dream-world. As Arthur and Mera grow closer to the tragic realization that their beloved world is a façade, the panels exhibit darker hues. It’s a wonderfully creative element to include in this issue, augmenting the intensity of this story.

In regard to the illustrations of AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1, Max Fiumara’s detail is astounding. However, at times, there are clear inconsistencies in the depictions of characters, particularly Tom Curry. Asides from this, the imagery is fantastic. The action sequences are wonderfully chaotic, and I especially enjoy the depiction of Hal Jordan’s new powers. Overall, I love the way the artwork in this installment parallels the ominous nature of the narrative. As a result, the issue truly comes together in all forms.

aquaman annual #1
AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 page 11. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

What Lies Beyond

AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 is a cohesive, captivating work. It won’t only satisfy fans of the character, but it will engage those who are unfamiliar or even dislike him. The issue presents a story that digs deep beneath the surface of the narrative. Readers will find themselves feeling Arthur and Mera’s emotions as well as experiencing their toils. As a result, we’re left pondering the fate of the Atlantean rulers and where their future lies beyond their illusion of loss.

AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 by Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Max Fiumara, Dave Stewart, & Deron Bennett
Art 8
Characterization 9.3
Plot 9.8
Summary
Phillip Kennedy Johnson's story in AQUAMAN ANNUAL #1 is full of some crazy twists and turns that will have you engaged all the way to the issue's poignant conclusion.
9
A Heartbreaking Tale
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