WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Aquaman #25
He may be famous as the King of Atlantis, but in Aquaman's newest comic adventure, he's embodying Batman in the underwater city's poorest neighborhoods. To be honest, it's not a mission of stealth and guerrilla warfare that Arthur Curry is actually choosing for himself, but one forced upon him by the latest developments in Aquaman's "Rebirth" storyline. A story that saw him struggle to advance Atlantis's bonds with the surface world... only to lose his kingdom as a result.
It's a shocking change of status quo that begins writer Dan Abnett's collaboration with artist Stjepan Sejic in Aquaman #25, plunging the action from Atlantis and the American coast down into the deepest depths of Atlantean society. Below the arches, the throne rooms, and the majestic history of Atlantis's golden era sits the Ninth Tride: home to the outcasts and victimized of Atlantis's rigid new caste system. It's here where the poor, the hungry, and the fearful cry out for a protector... and where the King of Atlantis thought dead is becoming a terrible nightmare.
The King of Atlantis is Dead, Long Live The King
For those stepping into the world of Aquaman comics after dabbling with the New 52 - or anticipating Jason Momoa's movie version - it may seem like old hat for Aquaman to find himself on a mission to claim the throne of Atlantis. But this time around, things are a bit different. It isn't a case of Aquaman's brother Orm claiming the crown for himself, which may actually be the story told in the Aquaman movie. No, this time around Aquaman had his chance to rule Atlantis as he felt it should be... and his subjects voted democratically to remove him from power.
In a story reflecting more than one modern political movement, the idea that "Atlantis must embrace progress" has been the foundations of the post-"Rebirth" Aquaman series. It began with some members of his court questioning the abandonment of the old ways, and whether diplomacy with a surface world that feared and hated them was the right decision. It was Corum Rath - head of The Drift, Atlantis's extreme, militarized 'terrorist' cell - that emerged as Arthur's direct rival. And to Arthur's surprise, his court voted almost unanimously to hand power over to King Rath.
The Legend of The Aquaman
With Corum Rath crowned in the previous issue, Arthur flees the city before it can be closed off from the outside world. He wasn't fast enough, stabbed and left for dead by his former subjects. So when word begins to spread of a strange figure able to wield fish like weapons (bats?) and fighting Corum Rath's forces in Atlantis's poorest districts... it's a sign that Arthur is taking some lessons from his former Justice League colleague. Where Batman has Gotham City and Crime Alley, Aquaman has taken it upon himself to patrol the Ninth Tride.
Arthur Curry may live, but his name, title, and appearance have all changed in order to give him a better chance of survival. It's no coincidence that this rougher, more violent era of Aquaman's life should get a Jason Momoa makeover, and a re-adoption of Arthur's Atlantean name. The modestly-dressed, bearded, quiet, and isolated "Orin" doesn't set off any warning when enforcers of local crime lords come calling. Under King Rath's leadership these gangsters of the criminal underwaterworld have taken greater control of their neighborhoods, without fear of reprisals.
He may not have a crown, but Arthur Curry is still unwilling to let innocents suffer. So when one debtor's life is threatened, Aquaman asks himself one question: what would Batman do?
The Legend of The Dead King Grows?
It's a thrilling opening to what DC is calling a "bold new direction" for the Aquaman series, not least of which is owed to Sejic's stunning artwork. The time required to bring these images to life means Aquaman will shift from a twice-monthly-shipped series to just monthly, but if Issue #25 is a sign of what's to come, few fans will argue. Especially not as Aquaman shifts from a gilded, shiny monarch of Atlantis to a brutal, elemental protector of the slums nearest the ocean floor. At least... until his still-loyal friends and family discover that this "legend of the dead king" is truly Arthur in hiding.
It remains to be seen if Mera, Vulko, and the rest of those loyal to Arthur will be enough to tip the scales against The Drift, King Rath, and the highest levels of Atlantean society. What we do know is that the hero won't be fighting his battle alone. With Issue #25 Abnett and Sejic return a long lost Aquaman supporting character to the DC Universe. Her powers are nothing to underestimate, but it remains to be seen if Arthur and Mera's marriage can survive the rebirth of Dolphin, the beautiful Atlantean mutant whom Aquaman once called a lover.
If you ask us, he's taking the job of following in Bruce Wayne's footsteps a little too literally.