I like to think that when Tony Bedard got the brief from Geoff Johns on "Flashpoint" and his "Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman" that he was simply told, "Make Aquaman the biggest meanest jerk on the planet." Well, Bedard succeeded, but that's not a bad thing for us readers.
Let's face it, in general pop culture, Aquaman is a joke. Never mind the strong takes on the character in recent years from writers like Peter David and Kurt Busiek, most people have "worthless" next to Aquaman's name in their head. Well, that's not this Aquaman. This is a guy who fakes out and betrays his allies, destroys entire countries, and generally crushes his enemies. Wimp? Not this Aquaman.
Bedard recognizes that you aren't supposed to be cheering Emperor Aquaman, though; this is a book about a villain that shows us what makes him tick. So we get to learn how he managed to sink the city of Rome, for instance, and what rulers and countries lucky enough to be an ally of Atlantis get by way of thanks. The narration is a little flowery in places (most notably when he's swimming through the ruins of Rome) but all in all, Bedard gets our attention. With each double-cross or plotting, you cringe, but at the same time you want to see just what Aquaman will do next. And some parts are a tiny bit predictable (if you can't figure out before the big reveal how the Geo-Pulse device works then you've never read a story before), but it's how Bedard finally shows us the insides that makes it work.
Ardian Syaf turns out some strong pencils here, most notably when we're in the underwater Rome. Aquaman's body language just radiates aloofness, anger, and overall nastiness, and it makes several pages of him swimming among the dead that much more interesting. There are some slight artistic hiccups here and there—Vulko looks like he's swam in from a comedy story, not this much darker comic—but overall it's good. And when Syaf gives us that final close-up for the last panel of the comic? Well, that's what makes the reveal work as good as it does. You know what it's going to be, but Syaf turns it from a "gotcha!" moment to a creepy moment, and that's just what the script calls for.
I'm going to head out on a limb and say that "Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman" isn't the template for the upcoming "Aquaman" series by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis, but that's all right. The important thing here is that it's a reminder to readers that Aquaman can be quite dangerous, and that his powers aren't a joke. Oh, and if he wanted, he could wipe out part of the globe very easily. This Aquaman might not be your friend, but as a bad guy he's entertaining reading.