Amnesty Bay has long been home to Aquaman. Along with its undersea counterpart Atlantis, it serves as a symbol for him, a constant reminder that he is torn between land and sea. Only recently, however, have writers truly fleshed out the seaside town and its inhabitants. With the New 52 reboot, Geoff Johns revamped Amnesty Bay and in doing so opened incredible opportunities for characterization. These opportunities and threads have been picked up by each subsequent writer, with each run adding more and more to the town’s personality and mythos.
Arguably the most influential in this line is Kelly Sue Deconnick, who has vitalized Amnesty Bay and built it into a living, breathing world. With this week’s Aquaman Annual 2, Deconnick and guest cowriter Vita Ayala have fully taken advantage of this worldbuilding to tell a heartfelt story about the people of small towns and their courage in the face of looming darkness. The success of this week’s annual can be boiled down to a couple factors: its successful recognition of past worldbuilding, and just how plain fun it is.
KSD’s run so far has been pointedly focused on character development and personality; every step of the way, she has put incredible effort into creating distinct voices for each character. This extends to her treatment of the world at large, as well. The current arc of the main title (aptly named “Amnesty”) has not only brought Aquaman back to Amnesty Bay, it has begun to build a history and a mythos for the town itself, adding layers onto past work. With the introduction of the sea gods and their settling in Amnesty Bay, KSD has set up a wondeful dichotomy. The fantastical is juxtaposed with the mundane, with each serving to highlight the other through contrast. With the annual, we see the story potential in this scenario fully realized. Gods mingle with the townspeople, creating hilarious situations like storm goddess Atabey arguing with a shop clerk.
Central to the main story framing the issue is the rich characterization of Aquaman himself. Yes, this is an Aquaman book, but KSD and Ayala have totally nailed Arthur’s personality in an incredibly satisfying way. He acts as a beacon for the community, taking the time to help because he hates to see his loved ones unhappy. In a heartwarming scene, he comforts a young boy who is upset by the tragedy left in the wake of the attack on the town. This is the appeal of Aquaman, he’s not a larger-than-life figure. Quite the opposite, he’s an everyman who wants to help and does so when given the opportunity. With this strong voice guiding the issue, KSD and Ayala are able to do great work in branching out and exploring intra-town relationships and personalities. Set against the backdrop of Year of the Villain, the issue depicts the lovable townspeople and their frustration with the constant darkness. In an inspiring narrative, we see their reaction to this despair and how they push past it, helping each other and coming together to overcome it.
The best part of the issue is how plainly obvious it is that the creators loved making it. It’s a ton of fun, and their joy can’t help but rub off on the reader. The issue opens, in fact, with the two best examples of this. As the reader opens the issue, they’re greeted by Salty, Aquaman’s dog. Salty is a good boy, and it’s always a thrill to see him, even more so to see a story framed around him. This, combined with the issue showing how much Aquaman loves and cares for Salty, is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face.
There’s also Sea Daddy. “Sea daddy” is a naval term that refers to an experienced sailor mentoring a younger crew member. This issue introduces a villain using the name, confronting the absurdity head-on. It’s hilarious to watch the scene unfold, but even funnier is the reaction in universe to his entrance. The structure and pacing of the scene is genius, with Aquaman and Aqualad meeting each other’s eyes and mocking him. One can only imagine how much fun KSD and Ayala had scripting the sequence, and how much the art team enjoyed bringing it to life.
Artist Victor Ibáñez and colorist Jay David Ramos do a fantastic job of setting the tone for the issue. In a character focused issue like this one, it would be incredibly easy for the art to feel static. Thankfully, Ibáñez and Ramos effectively convey a fluid experience. Expressive facial acting and clean movement are highlights of the issue, creating an incredibly easy to read comic. The colors are warm, and they help to make the characters pop against the darkness of the world, thematically defiant as they fight against the gloom.
This week’s Aquaman Annual 2 is a real treat. At its core, it is about humanity and its inherent resilience. These uplifting themes permeate the narrative, showing the citizens of Amnesty Bay determined not to give in or let circumstances get the better of them. KSD and Vita Ayala make a great team, balancing such heavy themes with humor and rich storytelling. Their collaboration is magical, and one can only hope that they work together more in the near future.