Corum Rath had long been a thorn in the side of The Aquaman, Arthur Curry. As leader of The Deluge – a xenophobic terrorist group which resisted Aquaman’s efforts, as King of Atlantis, to establish peaceful relations with the surface world – Rath led an attack on the American city of Boston. He was imprisoned until certain traditionalist elements with the Atlantean Council of Elders grew equally tired of the king’s progressive attitudes and decided to appoint Rath as the new King of Atlantis.
Rath’s first act as King was to seal off Atlantis from the outside world, using an ancient magical artifact known as The Crown of Thorns. He ordered the ancient houses of Atlantis to turn over their own hereditary magical objects and launched a campaign of terror against the so-called “taint-bloods” – those Atlanteans changed by the influence of the ocean, growing to resemble the animals of the deeps.
Despite his orders that the Aquaman be executed before he could leave Atlantis, Arthur Curry has survived and joined with the resistance to Rath’s reign. Now, as the councilors who placed him on the throne begin to question their wisdom in doing so and if Rath might still be an exploitable figurehead while they secure their own positions, Rath ponders his own past and takes steps to secure the future of his reign.
Given the time it takes for a comic script to become a comic book and how far in advance books are prepared for publication, it seems unlikely that Dan Abnett meant for Aquaman to be the political parable it seems to have become. Certainly history is full of mad kings and despots like Corum Rath, who were driven to extreme measures by paranoia. Still, with a villainous ruler obsessed with destroying the legacy of his predecessor while promising to restore a nation to greatness, it’s hard not to see some obvious parallels to real world events in Aquaman #34.
Thankfully, whatever subtext may be gleaned from this, Abnett’s text is primarily concerned with exploring the background of Corum Rath and tying his background in to another villain – the street mage Kadaver – whom Abnett introduced in previous issues. The character study here is fascinating and while this issue is light on action until the very end, the issue’s cliffhanger conclusion promises big things in the future.
The artwork by Kelley Jones confused me at first. Jones is best known for his work on various horror titles and I found his style an odd fit for Aquaman at first. The first few pages of the issue are a little rough, but the reason for Jones’ inclusion on this series becomes apparent by the issue’s end. Suffice it to say that fans of H.P. Lovecraft and weird horror will want to check this issue out for Jones’ art alone.
For what my money is worth, Aquaman is one of the most underrated treasures of the DC Rebirth initiative. Aquaman #34, in turn, is a great introductory issue for those looking to dive in to this series.
Aquaman #34 releases March 21, 2018.
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.