AQUAMAN #36 is a giant squid step up from recent issues. Much of this is thanks to the spectacular art from Riccardo Federici. As the second issue in Dan Abnett’s “Kingslayer” arc, this issue tells an exciting story with plenty of underwater action. However, compared to prior Abnett issues, this story does scour the ocean depths for as much complexity. If you’re looking for pleasant enjoyment and blockbuster thrills, AQUAMAN #36 is still the issue to read.

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The Monster Within

There have been two elements that have really set Abnett’s post-Rebirth AQUAMAN apart from other comics. Firstly, Abnett is excellent at writing political intrigue. He truly has done wonders in defining and developing Atlantean politics and the factions and rivalries within it. I love how AQUAMAN depicts an Atlantis at war with itself. Much like present-day America, Atlantis doesn’t know whether to be a global player or to embrace isolationism.

Secondly, Abnett beautifully captures the moral complexities of these politics. While we empathize with Arthur, we see how he could be perceived as a weak king. Arthur failed to unite the disparate factions under a singular Atlantean banner, which inevitably lead to his unpopularity and his downfall. Replacing him with the more authoritarian Corum Rath was an understandable decision by the Atlanteans, even if it was a decision the readers would have to disagree with.

AQUAMAN #36
AQUAMAN #36 page 10. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

However, in AQUAMAN #36, all of this complexity and political maneuvering is abandoned. Corum Rath, already a brutal king, has transformed into a monstrous creature infected by the Abyssal Dark magic. Almost everyone in Atlantis who still has any conscious will has turned against Rath.

Whereas before AQUAMAN felt like a battle of conflicting ideologies now it feels like a classic good vs. evil battle. This would have been less disappointing if the magical Corum Rath had any concrete goals. Instead, he simply appears like an insane abomination bent on Atlantis’ doom.

Rath was far more threatening as an extremist. He believed an archaic code of ethics but ethics nonetheless. Now, Abnett reduced Rath to just another boss Aquaman and team have to defeat. It’s disappointing cause there was such potential to develop another great villain.

The Start of a Beautiful Friendship

By far the best part of this comic is the team up between Aquaman and Murk. Their relationship gives AQUAMAN #36 more of a fun buddy cop vibe to it. Arthur and Murk, while politically opposed, have to work together to stop the megalomaniacal King Rath. Much of the story follows Murk and Aquaman breaking into the Atlantean Royal Palace in order to assassinate Rath, place Mera on the throne, and end the war.

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AQUAMAN #36 page 5. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Murk, a classic hardened soldier type, constantly berates Aquaman for his sense of heroism. He argues its one of the things that made him a weak king. Murk tells Aquaman not to hesitate but to hit Murk in his “damn jugular.” It’s interesting seeing the contrast between a true warrior type and Aquaman, a superhero.

While Aquaman has fought plenty of monsters and stopped many conflicts, he has yet to truly take sides in a war until this one. Arthur’s always interested in coming to a solution that will sacrifice the fewest amount of lives. Murk sees this point of view as naïve. When dealing with the magical abomination of Rath, it will be interesting to see if they settle with Aquaman or Murk’s approach for dealing with their enemies.

Art in AQUAMAN #36

Riccardo Federici was off of AQUAMAN for two issues now, so that may be affecting my opinion, but in AQUAMAN #36 his art looks more splendid than ever. There’s just so much detail in every panel and on every page. Federici really does a terrific job shading his characters and giving them such depth. This really adds to the grittiness that the last few issues have been missing.

Arthur Brings the Trident Down in AQUAMAN #35

One of the most interesting elements of this comic’s art is how Federici draws wounds, guts, cuts, and the more gruesome elements of this comic. I especially noticed it with the rendering of King Shark, who bears a searing injury over his nose and stab wounds on his upper arm and shoulders.

I must have spent five minutes just staring at the detail on those injuries. While other artists might’ve been committed to simple red markings over King Shark’s body, you see intense shading and details of the innards of King Shark’s form. You literally see the entrails of his arm leaking out streams of blood. Some might call this art grotesque, I call it impressive.

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AQUAMAN #36 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

Lastly, in AQUAMAN #36 we got the image of the Abyssal Dark infected Corum Rath. I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the design of this character. Honestly, Rath looks like an underwater version of the original LEGEND OF ZELDA’s Ganon. He’s not intimidating as much as he is very wide. (He’s just a very large villain but not in an intimidating way.)

I don’t know how much of the blame is on Federici here since the design appeared a bit in AQUAMAN #35 as well. Simply put, this design also fails to make Rath into a more intimidating enemy.

Assassinating the King

The next few issues of this arc will be the make or break point for this whole storyline. I enjoyed reading every page of AQUAMAN #36. This is largely because of the gorgeous imagery apparent here. However, as soon as I closed the comic, I almost instantly forgot Abnett’s story. It’s popcorn fun but not anything that will emotionally stick with you. I hope Abnett finds a way to finish this arc off with more resonant themes.

We’ll have to wait a month but I’m fine with that if it means a return to the insane quality of the last arc!

AQUAMAN #36 By Dan Abnett and Riccardo Federici
Art
Plot
Characterization
Summary
AQUAMAN #36 is a great entertainment. It doesn't hold much water as far as plot goes, but the art and fun character moments make up for this!
80 %
Shallow Waters

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