"Aquaman" #9 continues the trend of being a richly detailed, alarmingly fast read that fans have come to expect from Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Rod Reis and Nick J. Napolitano. The quartet gets a little extra help on the inking front in this issue thanks to Oclair Albert and Andy Lanning, but the issue holds together quite nicely and maintains the visual standards this book has enjoyed since the start.
The extra hands on deck in this issue do not detract from Reis' pencil work at all due in part to the magnificent coloring from Rod Reis. It's no easy task to combine a character in an orange and green costume with massive amounts of shadows, flowing water and shiny golden mystery treasures from the past and make it all look beautiful, but Rod Reis is the glue that holds this book together, visually speaking. Furthermore, the double-Reis flashback scenes are heart-warming and eerily rendered and you can almost smell a mustiness about them, like old photos taken out of a box that's been in the hall closet for a while.
That said, the work Ivan Reis pours into this issue is without compare. Reis does not toil in standard-issue page layouts, but his work has an instant classic feel to it, like a throwback pulled from the archives, touched up with modern techniques. Reis' characters move like human beings and carry the burden of human emotions. This is especially prevalent in Stephen Shin's conversation with Mera, who is quite ruthless in her desire to learn more about Shin's past with Black Manta.
Prisoner of War is introduced to us as the next of the others that Black Manta tracks down, seeking the ancient artifact -- in this case gauntlets – in the Prisoner's possession. We get a quick on-the-go synopsis of the Prisoner, his powers and his burden. Johns has concocted an interesting amalgamation here that I'd like to see a little more of. That's not to say he deserves his own series or even spotlight issue, but there are enough cool elements at play that make the character intriguing and timely. The Others are shaping up to be fairly interesting as a collective. Ya'Wara, having the benefit of fighting alongside the titular hero, has gotten the most panel time and continues to remind me of Rima (more the "Super Friends" version than the comic version). We're set to see more of Vostok X soon, but for now Johns has been slowly and deliberately introducing the Others and peeling back the secrets of Aquaman's past with these characters.
At the end of this issue, Johns completely flips the relationship between Black Manta and Aquaman, forever altering the dynamic between the pair of characters while answering many fans' questions about how the two could be so violently opposed with the seemingly compressed timeline that precludes Arthur Jr. from being a part of the equation.
"Aquaman" #9 is a fine slice of what makes this series so very enjoyable, from story to characters to art, but being couched in the middle of "The Others," it is a bit thick to wade into. For fans already soaking in this series, however, this issue is certain to be a highlight. Without spoiling it, I can say that there are two eyebrow-raising surprises in the final two pages of this issue. Coupled with Reis' stunning artwork, this issue is a must-read.