Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis amp up the energy level in Aquaman #9. Reis is assisted by three inkers this issue, Joe Prado, Oclair Albert and Andy Lanning. The cover is spectacular, and the interior art is amazing. With nearly the entire jungle backing them up, Aquaman and Ya'wara cut a path through Black Manta's men. The cover sets the mood and tone of the issue. It feels as if Johns is trying to infuse Aquaman with some of Wolverine's berserker rage.
Aquaman #9 opens with Black Manta in Heidelberg, Germany, where he has tracked Prisoner from Aquaman's other League, The Others. Prisoner is the psychiatric wing at the United States Army Health facility there. Manta has been tracking down The Others one by one and killing them, taking their effects. Here, with Prisoner, he is after his wrist manacles.
Prisoner is sitting in his room, surrounded by pictures of fellow servicemen and their families. He makes a call to one of them, but can't seem to bring himself to say anything. That's when Manta comes into his room.
This is what Aquaman has needed for some time. For too long his powers have held him back and writers have really been hampered with how to handle him, what to do with him and what stories can be told with him. Geoff Johns has been able to get a blank slate and start all over in rebuilding an Aquaman legend. It's a history and backstory that isn't that far off from the Aquaman that we're familiar with. Johns has just been manipulating the details a little to add a sense of mystery to the King of the Seas.
Black Manta is probably one of the most mysterious of Aquaman's adversaries. He's very much like The Joker in that there is very little known about his identity. Manta's had a couple of different origin stories, but basically, he's a guy in an all-black wet suit with a weird, funky helmet, with laser beam optics. His voice was always so eerie on the old Super Friends cartoon. Johns has made him a more deadly and menacing figure in The New 52. He's now a deadly murderer.
Prisoner is an interesting character. It's almost a shame that we're seeing The Others this way. As victims of Manta's revenge. Maybe in the future, Johns and Reis will be able to take a few issues and follow The Others a little bit more through flashbacks. Prisoner is able to call on the strength of fallen soldiers to fight. He fights off Manta and escapes his hospital room.
As Manta follows Prisoner, the next page is a full splash page of Aquaman and Ya'Wara, still fighting Manta's men in the Amazon Rainforest. They had gone there to investigate Seer's murder scene. Ya'Wara's panther is shot dead and her response is just as lethal. Ya'Wara has similar psychic abilities to Aquaman - she can communicate with animals. Where have these people been hiding? Why haven't they been seen in a team book before now? Prisoner reminds me of the Unknown Soldier - I'm not sure why - and Ya'Wara seems a lot like Vixen.
Between Manta's battle with Prisoner and his previous murder of The Seer, there's an uncomfortable level of violence going on in this story. It's expected from Black Manta, to show a level of menace in his actions. It's uncomfortable to watch Ya'Wara hacking her way through Manta's men. I'm not a fan of gratuitous violence. It's even infected Mera as she confronts Shin about what he knows about Manta.
Shin's story is tragic. He starts as one of Arthur and Tom Curry's only friends. Unfortunately, greed turns Shin against them. The bombshell he drops on Mera about the link between Aquaman and Manta is pretty cool. What makes the story Shin tells even more amazing is that as he's telling it we get to see Manta chasing Prisoner across Germany, until he and Aquman come face to face.
I'm enjoying what Johns and Reis are doing in Aquaman. The man from Atlantis is no longer a B or C-list hero any longer. I'm not left wondering why he's a member of the Justice League. He doesn't seem like a token member any more. I can't wait to see where Johns and Reis take the conflict between Black Manta and Aquaman in the next issue.