Aquaman (3) #33
Title: Mission Quest
Cover Title: Now what have we done to...
Cover Date: June 97
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Jim Calafiore
Inks: Peter Palmiotti
Colors: Tom McCraw
Lettering: Albert DeGuzman
Asst. Editor: Eddie Berganza
Editor: Kevin Dooley
Cover: Jim Calafiore and Mark McKenna
Cover Price: $1.75
Aquaman is walking across a desert, having arrived in some sort of ship. As he walks, he meets an illusion of Mera. After facing that part of his life, Swamp Thing tells him he must face the true problem. While Aquaman ponders, he has to dodge a phantom group of riders. Atlan appears and explains that the riders were Richard the Lionheart and his knights, and compares Richard's crusading to Aquaman's hero-hood. Aquaman asks Atlan for help, and Atlan sends Aquaman into the past of Atlantis...
Where he is immediately attacked by Bazil and a bunch of ancient Atlanteans. He is mistaken for Kordax, and saved by Orin, the original Orin. After Aquaman proves he is from the future, Orin suggests that he observe, not participate, and find the answers he seeks. He watches the battle, and Atlan joins him. When Aquaman says he still doesn't understand, Atlan projects him a little into the past's future...
Where he witnesses Kordax's punishment for attempting to take the throne of Poseidonis by force. He folows the banished Kordax, and asks why he did it, but Kordax has no answers for him.
As Aquaman ponders all he's seen, Atlan again appears. This time he almost spells it out. Aquaman believes that he has done wrong by his people, by the world, and so is punishing himself. He thinks he is a bad King, and that he is not living up to the role he's been cast into. Atlan reminds him that all Kings are mortals, and that his self-hate is wrongly placed. He tells Aquaman to be a good man, and the rest will happen as it will. Then Aquaman is projected back into his own time, where he has become almost normal again, except that his hand is still webbed.
I'm left with the impression that Aquaman still doesn't quite understand. But then, this is a lesson that should take a while to sink fully in. There are no easy answers when you are talking about what a king is, and what a hero is.
The trip through time, did it happen or not? The implication is that it did.
Was Atlan really Atlan, brought in by Swampy to help when it became clear that Aquaman was not going to find the answers on his own, or was it Swampy in disguise, or was it just an illusion cast by lack of water?
Atlan tells Aquaman that his problem is that he's spent too much time consorting with "superheroes."
Aquaman makes it clear that he thinks that using his power forcefully is evil. Which is part of the reason he feels he deserves punishment.
A subtext in the story is about fate. Orin is King, fighting for the survival of Poseidonis, because he is. Kordax says that he did what he did because it is who he is. Aquaman realizes that he is king, not because he's better than the next guy, but because that's what dice were rolled for him.
Aquaman goes back in time to events first told in Atlantis Chronicles Issues 4 and 5. The meeting with Orin happened just before the battle starts, issue #4, and the battle itself and the punishment of Kordax happen in issue #5.
The letter column has a letter from the Aquaman List's own Andy Nystrom. Congrats, Andy.
This issue is good for Aquaman fans and not many others. The story of why Aquaman has changed is solved, and Aquaman gets back to his old self, but there is not much else there for the non-fan. Luckily, for those who have not read Atlantis Chronicles the story is still understandable, and for those who have read them, we get a better background to what Aquaman was seeing.