WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS up to Aquaman #32
As debates rage over the political commentary of Black Panther, the desire for more female superhero movies in the wake of Wonder Woman‘s box office success, and diversity in American comic books in general, Aquaman may have quietly become the most politically relevant comic book of 2018. The fictional realm of Atlantis may not seem like a fitting reflection of the American democracy, any more than a King Aquaman seems an analogue for a democratically-elected president. But the DC series’ ongoing storyline continues to explore real-world political issues and arguments – and is about to reach its conclusion.
Political struggles informed the first year of the Aquaman series following DC Rebirth, after Arthur reluctantly assumed the Throne of Atlantis for the sake of peace, following another attempted invasion of the surface world by his half-brother. Ever the believer in hope and change, Arthur made it his mission to establish friendly diplomatic relations with other countries, America first of all. A noble mission, but one that soon collapsed in the face of prejudice, paranoia, and the rise of a new Atlantean ruler determined to ‘make Atlantis great again.’
Aquaman and Mera faced threats both foreign and domestic to his rule, in the form of American politicians who refuse to see Atlantis as anything but a threat, and isolationist factions among the Atlantean people. The greatest blow came closer to home, when King Arthur was deposed by The Council of Elders in Aquaman #24 and presumed dead after he fled the sunken city.
Aquaman #25 shows how drastically Atlantis has changed in a short time. Corum Rath – scion of an old Atlantean family fallen on hard times, and leader of a violent group that questioned the legitimacy of Arthur Curry’s birth – now sits on the throne, promising to return Atlantis to its former glory. His first act as King is to erect a magical wall around Atlantis to keep out surface-world invaders. And since that time, Rath has set the King’s Guard to searching the poor districts of Atlantis for political subversives and other undesirables.
Chief among these: “the taint-blood” Atlanteans who have begun to take on the characteristics of animals due to their exposure to the wild magics unleashed by Rath’s wall.
The parallels between Rath’s reign and the rise of Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency are clear enough, relying on similar rhetoric and talking points, and Rath’s continual insistence that they expel all those who are not “true Atlanteans” from positions of power. He, too, sees the need to effectively ‘drain the swamp.’ Rath’s policies extend beyond the United States as well, with visible parallels between much of Rath’s anti-immigration beliefs and those espoused by British politicians who supported the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Unsurprising, given that Aquaman‘s current writer Dan Abnett happens to be a British subject.
It should be noted, especially by those who have already assumed the comic’s political stance, that Aquaman does not portray liberal groups in a wholly positive light, either. While many factions are shown opposing Rath’s regime, including soldiers and blue-collar workers, they are poorly organized. And what few leaders they have are more concerned with squabbling over position and the goals of their respective factions than helping the people of Atlantis. This could be seen as an indictment of both the Democratic National Committee in the United States AND the many left-wing political parties in the United Kingdom. Both of whom have been accused of focusing on promoting charismatic leaders at the national level, rather than working to affect positive change on a local scale.
This criticism lies at the heart of Aquaman #32, where the leaders of The Resistance place all their hopes on the prospect of deposing Rath and replacing him with Mera… who is also a scion of an ancient Atlantean family. The fact that her family was exiled to the prison dimension of Xebel is dismissed as unimportant, despite the fact that the main faction promoting the idea of “Queen Mera” is the same one that declared her unfit to rule as consort to King Arthur months earlier.
How this situation shakes out – and the final political idea being explored by Abnett – is anyone’s guess for now. But one thing is for sure: whether Arthur or Mera wind up with the crown, wrestling it away from King Rath isn’t going to easy.
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