Even though “Death of the Family” got the lion’s share of publicity, DC scored an unexpected hit and shift in status quo when it crossed over the bestselling Justice League with apparent upstart Aquaman. Perhaps it succeeded because of the creative unity that comes from having only one writer and two pencillers. Geoff Johns also has been on both books since their first issues allowing him to set up plot points, like The Trench, which appeared in Aquaman 1 and come back with a vengeance. There are a plethora of inkers, colorists, and cover artists on these books, but this can be attributed to the huge scope of the storyline and the need to meet deadlines. This event has all the trappings of a good summer superhero blockbuster mixed with realpolitik, family struggles, and a bit of body horror. Executives at DC Entertainment would be wise to look at this storyline when they make a Justice League film and don’t want to rip off Avengers with another alien invasion plot featuring Darkseid or the White Martians.
The events of “Throne of Atlantis” come from developments in Aquaman, but affect the DC Universe and Justice League on a larger scale. The prelude in Aquaman 14 fleshes out the ongoing conflict between Atlantis and the surface world. Orm’s (Aquaman’s brother) story about his great grandfather who was killed by humans sets up the event’s conflict and reveals him as a shrewd king, who will protect Atlantis at all costs.
The immediate cause of the war is a test missile accidentally hitting Atlantis. But the real cause is wrapped around the complex characters of Aquaman, Orm, and Vulko, who previously appeared in Aquaman 0. Johns doesn’t make these characters complete heroes or villains. Orm genuinely cares for Aquaman and became king so he could raise an army and look for his lost brother. However, he also takes many innocent lives in the attacks on Boston, Metropolis, and Gotham. Also,at first,Vulko seems like an overenthusiastic heroic type when he saves Lois Lane and sucker punches Superman. Aquaman also calls him his mentor. However, he almost kills Dr. Stephen Shin, the discoverer of Atlantis, after Shin gets a file from Cyborg revealing the truth about the missile attack. But Shin is no innocent either because he earlier gave up Aquaman to Black Manta for Atlantean artifacts in Aquaman 10.
Aquaman receives a robust character arc in “Throne of Atlantis”, and some may make a case for him being the most powerful Justice League member. But the cost of this new found power and confidence is increased isolation from the League, which begins when they discover he has been keeping the Atlantean War Plans from them. Orm is using these plans to attack the surface. In addition to having plans to take down Batman and Dr. Shin, Aquaman is also not willing to join the League’s tough stance towards Orm. By the end of the story, he lives up to Machiavelli’s principle that it is better for a ruler to be feared than loved. The Aquaman jokes made by the Gotham fishermen in Justice League 15 should be the last ones made by anyone. If Aquaman gets a feature film, he could experience an Iron Man-like revival as a character and property.
Even though Johns occasionally writes clunky dialogue and likes to see his characters shout at each other, his plotting and the characterization of his lead characters are impeccable. Cyborg, who seems to be on permanent monitor duty, has some strong moments in this story. He becomes the “heart” of the Justice League when he sacrifices his last lung to get enhancements to help the team and has a poignant moment with his girlfriend. He deserves a solo title instead of Vibe, Katana, and Larfleeze.
“Throne of Atlantis” has spectacular art, both in the splash pages and smaller atmospheric moments. One of the most powerful scenes is the submerging of Gotham at the beginning of Aquaman 15 with Art Thibert’s inks casting a shade on Gordon’s glasses and the Bat-Signal. Superman gets to cut loose with his heat vision several times, and both Reis and Pelletier’s action scenes crackle with almost omnipotent characters going full tilt at each other. There is also a beautiful two page spread starring the Justice League reserves in Justice League 17 that rivals Bryan Hitch’s work on The Ultimates. The colorist Rod Reis is the unsung hero of the artists and balances a cast of flashy reserve heroes (like Hawkman, Firestorm, and Goldrush) and the stately Atlanteans.
This event solidifies Justice League as the flagship DC book (or is it Batman) and Aquaman as an A-List superhero. The consequences of “Throne of Atlantis” directly lead into Geoff Johns and David Finch’s Justice League of America, and the Justice League’s internal conflicts make up the beginnings of the upcoming mega-event Trinity War.