Aquaman #34 cover

Review – Aquaman #34: The Usurper’s Story

Comic Books DC This Week
Aquaman #34 variant cover
Image via DC Comics

Aquaman #34 – Dan Abnett, Writer; Kelley Jones, Artist; Michelle Madsen, Colorist


Ray – 8/10

Corrina: Could Have Used This Backstory a Year Ago


Ray: After almost a year as the primary villain of Aquaman, it’s finally time for Corum Rath to take center stage and reveal his backstory, in Aquaman #40, an issue that contains major plot developments but also features flashbacks that finally transform him – somewhat – from a stock villain to a more fleshed-out antagonist. There’s a rather significant art shift this issue, as iconic Batman artist Kelley Jones steps on. That turns out to be a clever choice, as Jones transforms the world of Atlantis from a gorgeous fantasyland to a creepy underground haunted kingdom, which works with Rath’s twisted worldview. Flashbacks show Rath growing up in the Ninth Tride, the son of a workman with a fatalistic worldview and a harsh approach to childrearing. That embittered Rath, leading him to make a pact with a friend to rule Atlantis one day.

That friend? The Ninth Tride freak Kadaver, who was last seen as a minion of crab crime lord Krush (who met his end a few issues ago). Rath is getting more and more desperate as setbacks hit his quest to hunt down Atlantis, and so he concocts a plot to depose the leader of the Silent School and install the magical – although unstable – Kadaver as head instead. As several of his loyal minions start to rumble that Rath may be unfit to lead, he launches an attack on the school of sorcery and opens doors that were not meant to be open. Kelley Jones’ horror-influenced style is perfect for the final segment, as the true villain of this arc is revealed, and Atlantis falls under the thrall of something ancient and evil. In the end, Rath might not be a great villain, but maybe he was never supposed to be. He was a pawn of something much bigger and scarier, and now I’m excited.

Aquaman #34 page 3
Rath’s “advisers.” Image via DC Comics

Corrina: I would have been excited to receive the tale of Corum Rath much, much sooner in this arc. His backstory is well done, especially how he complains about Atlantis oppressing him and his father, when it’s also crystal clear that a large part of Rath’s warped personality is due to his father’s physical abuse. Rath blames the system for turning his father into a villain, though he also simultaneously hates his father.

How his backstory factors into the choices Rath has made as king are unclear. He wanted to protect Atlantis from the outside world. He believes the Atlanteans are superior and thus looks down on the mutants that have rallied to the rebellion. And yet he offers no real alternative. Maybe that’s the point, that he’s so full of hate that all he wants is power but it would have been interesting to see how he would have put his kingly power into effect but all he’s done is put up a wall around Atlantis and make deals with crime lords. That’s basically my frustration with Abnett’s whole run: interesting concepts are raised and not followed through or, as in Rath’s case, information is dropped in at the last minute, just as he’s going to be completely corrupted and lost. It’s a pacing problem but it’s also an overall storytelling problem.

Readers of the series might find the art change jarring but Jones, who specializes in horror comics, indeed makes the art as bleak, dark and terrifying as Rath’s corrupted soul.

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GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.

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