Review by Ian Keogh
Aquaman’s own title was cancelled in 1971, but the king of undersea Atlantis had sustained a place in anthology titles since his 1940s creation, and that’s where he was revived in seven to twelve page episodes three years later. These were well enough received to propel Aquaman back into his own title three years after that. They’re all collected within Death of a Prince.
David Michelinie and Paul Levitz write the bulk of this collection, but the opening chapters are by Aquaman’s former writer Steve Skeates, in the company of then relatively new artist Mike Grell. Grell duly supplies dynamism, but Skeates didn’t appear interested any more. Thankfully Jim Aparo, who’d worked with Skeates on his better Aquaman material, was interested, and his artistry throughout is first rate. Aquaman up against a giant octopus, for instance, was already an idea with diminished novelty in the 1970s, never mind now, yet Aparo brings this to exciting life, as he does with most of the material. He’s not averse to using jagged and triangular panels to tell the stories, and his sea beds are brilliant, teeming with grass embedded in sand.
After some poor efforts feeling his way, Levitz sets the major plotlines in motion. He largely restricts Aquaman’s presence to undersea environments, has Aquaman’s monarchy of Atlantis revoked due to absenteeism, introduces someone else who can control undersea life, beefs up the role of Aquaman’s wife Mera, and makes good use of Aquaman’s small and not very impressive coterie of villains. For the most part Levitz works with assorted scripters, Gerry Conway, Martin Pasko and Michelinie, but stepping back in to script the finale. That’s marginally disappointing, not having any great ties to Aquaman and his world, but a viable plot.
When writing on his own Michelinie’s inspiration reduces. He provides an interesting twist to Black Manta, but he depends on Aquaman being taken by surprise repeatedly by foes that should pose no problem. The Fisherman? Again? Really? The plots have a 1940s adventure reel lack of subtlety and a repetitive quality. Then there’s the matter of the prince’s death, which would have been better left concealed as it occurs at the midway point, and is then a considerable shock. Or would be if it weren’t for the collection’s title.
As Aquaman was occupied with his own matters, Mera and Aqualad were featured in their own stories that then segue back into the main plot. Both are written by Paul Kupperberg, and neither comes close to matching even Michelinie’s work, never mind the better material by Levitz. The art of Juan Ortiz on the Mera strips lacks imagination, while Carl Potts on Aqualad is better, but starting out. Kupperberg transfers to the main Aquaman strip for the final episodes, and these are equally ordinary. The saving grace is the art of Don Newton, in his own way as good as Aparo, but wasted on Kupperberg’s stories.
Around a quarter of this collection, once Levitz settles into his plots, is still very entertaining, and there’s not a bad page from Aparo, but the writing otherwise is by people with no great affinity for Aquaman or any great ideas just going through the motions.