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Jackson Hyde’s Homecoming – A Review Of Aquaman #62

Jordan Clark, writer
Marco Santucci, artist
Romulo Fajardo Jr, colorist
Clayton Cowles, letterer

This review contains spoilers! Please don’t click over if you don’t want to have parts of the issue spoiled! Yes, a spoiler warning even though the comic came out a week ago!

Beneath this mask I wear
Is a world that I keep just for me
Of dreams and fears
And love and loss
And who I one day hope to be

Lokua the poet

A year ago – Aquaman #50 to be exact – Kelly Sue DeConnick started to feature Aqualad as part of Aquaman’s supporting cast. Not to disappoint some Aqualad nerds but by Aqualad I mean Jackson Hyde. Hyde has had relatively few appearances since the character’s debut in Brightest Day #4 in 2010 and then his inclusion in DCU Rebirth #1 in 2016 that’s notable for the fact of writer Geoff Johns making him gay. We also learned Jackson is the son of one of Aquaman’s long storied rogues, Black Manta (AKA David Hyde), and Lucia, a native of the aquatic and isolationist nation Xebel. How Hyde and Lucia met was never told, but we know Lucia fled Hyde with Jackson at a young age to New Mexico. Jackson eventually developed a hydrokinetic ability much like Mera has.

A spotlight story on Jackson has been a long time coming and I’m very pleased by the work from Jordan Clark and Marco Santucci in this first of a two parter. Allow me to mention why.

Having two issues to tell a story is a distinct limitation and Clark’s well thought out plan is chockful of drama, action, character development, and quiet moments that let characters (and readers) breathe. Clark tackles the drama front with a tense scene between son and father that serves metaphorically for every son who’s ever struggled to find his own identity. Jackson wants some of his father’s Manta mech to help find Aquaman and Mera’s missing baby, a task Jackson has taken on himself. Clark reveals some of Jackson’s interior state and perhaps youthful inexperience by having Jackson make a compromise with his father for the mech once the very physical fight between son and father reaches a stalemate. This also sets up Jackson for some type of consequence that the compromise will likely make him regret. Even a simple line of dialog, “See, Lucia has been filling your head with nonsense”, is character revealing. Or at least it struck a chord with me as my father often made similar comments to shift blame and responsibility for himself onto my mother.

Now I’ll confess to not remembering which writer thought up the idea to have Manta download or program his ship’s operating system with his own father’s (Jesse) personality and memory. Thank you to whoever it was because for Clark this becomes an opportunity to show how Jesse thought he was doing the right thing by his son David tough enough to grow up in Baltimore during the 1980s because “this world isn’t made for our people to succeed….you have to look out for yourself.” This provides meta commentary on systemic racism while simultaneously filling out Manta’s history and giving the Hyde family greater context.

Clark shows two sides to Grandpa Jesse; one side appears to be caring and curious about grandson Jackson whom he never met in the flesh. In this scene which also serves as an intro to Aqualad, Clark fills in some of Jackson’s character such as his interests (online tabletop league. weird fiction, and choreography videos). A panel a few pages later as the action begins shows how ruthless and secretive the elder Hyde can be especially since it places Jackson in potential danger. Which brings me to the action scene where Jackson encounters the deadly guardians keeping Xebel safe from outsiders – especially Atlanteans. The sequence may be short but it’s power and effectiveness are underscored by the pacing preceding it.

Up to this point Clark’s writing has hit all the right beats for me. If it had ended here or continued as an action sequence I’d have been satisfied knowing Jackson’s character had been expanded on. Thankfully Clark had a better idea – create a potential romantic interest with a plot twist – a Xebelian who just so happens to be a guard on a remote outpost who catches Jackson inside the city’s borders. The dialog between Jackson and Ha’Wea is interesting as it runs the gamut from Jackson’s fast talking to genuine curiosity between the two men and then vulnerability as they both let down their emotional guards. It’s just so beautifully written and leaves me wanting to read more of the two next issue and beyond. The scene is also a good example of how to give personality to new and ostensible minor characters.

Santucci and Fajardo make for a good combination on the art front and they seemed to enjoy working on bringing Clark’s script to life. Santucci’s art is admirable in a number of respects – first in its clean and crisp line and unfussy inking. He has an excellent understanding of anatomy along with facial expressions and gestures and is equally comfortable with drawing bodies at rest or in action – and in or out of water. Panel layouts may be on the conventional side but Santucci keeps them visually interesting by varying angle, perspective, and focus. Fajardo’s coloring is evocatively moody without being overwrought in its rendering. and perfect for bringing undersea scenes to life. A limited color palette of blues, reds, and browns punctuated here and there with brighter colors is used to great advantage in bringing the various underwater settings to life.

One other thing I want to mention about Ha’Wea before it slips my mind again. Thank you, Clark and Santucci for giving Ha’Wea a different body type! I’m sure this will please bears and cubs. For me, it’s just visually interesting to look at characters with different shapes and sizes.

Shout out to Clayton Cowles for concise and clear lettering that moves the story along without calling undue attention to itself. My post outpatient eye procedure eyes have newly found appreciation for lettering work like this!

Everyone — Clark, Santucci, Fajardo, and yes, Cowles — who worked on this issue have me looking forward to the concluding chapter and wishing for an Aqualad mini from them!

August 25, 2020
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