"Aquaman" #23 brings Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier's "Death of a King" story to a conclusion, but it feels like less than the sum of its parts. There are a couple of fun moments here and there, but on the whole is a story that could have used a little more room to stretch its legs.
It probably didn't help matters that "Death of a King" lost an issue a few months ago, thanks to an unexpected need for a fill-in issue focusing on the Others. This meant that Johns and Pelletier suddenly had one less chapter available to them, since "Aquaman" #23 seems deliberately timed to lead into next month's "Forever Evil" one-shots. The end result is a script from Johns that feels a bit frantic in places; lots of exposition unloaded during an escape, and a hurried through sequence set back in Atlantis. Johns' scripts are normally better paced than this, and it feels like his back was up against the wall.
That's not to say that it's a disaster, though. When Aquaman defends Atlantis from the invaders, it's a suitably dramatic moment. Pelletier and Sean Parsons make it awesome in the literal sense of the word; it's one of those moments where a double-page spread is needed in order to fully convey the scale and power of the moment. Even a single page splash wouldn't have held the same impact on the reader as you get here; this feels like a moment that is truly dangerous for those who attack Atlantis, and it also helps explain the struggle that Aquaman has in order to enact this defense. More importantly, as seen in the epilogue, this level of attacking Atlantis's enemies has a price tag attached to it. That's probably the best part of the comic, and not because of the surprise final sentence. Rather, I like that Johns has offered up an incredibly dangerous weapon at Aquaman's disposal, and at the same time shown us (rather than merely telling us) why it is one of absolute last resort. A weapon that big needs a reason for why it isn't hauled out at the first sign of trouble, and it works well here.
A lot of the props this month go to Pelletier, whose double-page splash is great. Without giving anything away, I like the sense of scale that's going on here. The shift between Aquaman and the subs, and then the amount of damage that the weapon causes (and the overall backdrop of the city of Atlantis, too) really hammers home just what a huge force this turns out to be. He's good with some of the small moments too, like Mera and Aquaman coming up against the field that keeps Xebel sealed off (with the concentric circles coming off of its surface), or the nine-panel grid right before the big defense weapon is revealed. The switch from Ivan Reis to Pelletier has felt fairly seamless and smooth, and by this point I think Pelletier's made the book his own.
"Aquaman" #23's not a bad conclusion to the second year's worth of stories for this title, but it's definitely one of the weaker issues to date. Johns normally writes a more powerful conclusion, and in the end I'm willing to wrap it up to the sudden need for a fill-in issue that shortened this story overall. (On the bright side, it was a fun fill-in.) With all that behind us now, I look forward to year three kicking off next month. We've been given a good launching point into that third year, and it should be fun to watch it play out. Not bad, but I wish it was better.