Thursday, October 22, 2009Edit
Thursday, October 22, 2009 Edit
Alan Kistler's History of Aquaman - Pre-Crisis Edit
Alan Kistler's History of Aquaman - Pre-Crisis
Date Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 12:12PM
OUR HERO IN A NUTSHELL
His birth name was Orin. His human father named him Arthur Curry. As a super-hero, the world has known him as Aquaman. Due to his unique heritage, Aquaman was born a being of both the surface world and the undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Strong enough to lift car and gifted with enhanced senses and a connection to the oceans and all the life forms it holds, he concerned himself not only with humanity but with the other two thirds of the planet that are too often unprotected. He did not see it as a calling to do good. He just couldn't stand to see innocent life ever be threatened.
Seen as a freak by some humans and Atlanteans alike for his mixed heritage, Arthur grew up hardened by the prejudices of those around him. Like the oceans, he became a man of intense passions which could quickly shift from one direction to the other. For a time, he found some peace. He married the beautiful Mera, a woman from another dimension who could manipulate water. He had a young ward, Garth, called Aqualad by the media. Arthur even had a son, Arthur, Jr. Aquaman's was the story of an outcast who became a leader and a hero.
But everything changes. Arthur, Jr. was murdered. Mera left her husband soon afterwards, blaming Aquaman for not having saved their child. Garth was thought dead, only to turn up again as an older man with greater power, renaming himself Tempest and stepping out of Arthur's shadows. And in a battle with an enemy, Arthur lost his right hand and was forced to replace it with a prosthetic. Later still, he was given a new hand composed of the mystical waters of life.
Despite all he'd done for his people, Arthur was asked more than once to leave the throne for one reason or another and was eventually exiled. Despite the disloyalty of his people (who later admitted they were wrong), Aquaman sacrificed his identity and his body months later to save Atlantis (and Earth itself) during the great war known as the Second Crisis (or the Infinite Crisis). Many months later, Arthur seemed to lose his life as well.
For now, the world believes him to be dead. But Arthur has shown us before that, just like the mythical king of Camelot, he often returns just when he's needed most. It's just a matter of time.
A MUCH MALINGED HERO
Now, certainly, in comics (and, indeed, in all literature) there are characters in comics who are just lame. I admit that. You will never convince me that the Golden Age hero blessed with super-speed called The Whizzer was cool (especially considering that he had the audacity to wear a yellow costume with that name). A hero who got his super-speed powers due to an emergency transfusion of mongoose blood? Shut it, he was lame.
What irks me though is when people look at a legitimate hero with solid history and powers and consider him lame because they only saw him in a few episodes of the Superfriends and never actually read his book. Aquaman is such a character. We’ve all heard it. “He sucks. He lives underwater, so what?” Hey, jerk, Captain Nemo lived underwater too and he was a madman who made all of Britain tremble with fear. And he didn’t even have the benefit of super-human abilities or an entire ocean of creatures serving at his beck and call.
Now keep quiet for a few minutes and let me tell you about the history of this surprisingly mythic character. Because this is not just some silly guy in an orange shirt. This is King Arthur under the sea.
THE NOT-SO-COOL VERSION
Aquaman began much earlier than some of you might have guessed. He was not a Silver Age character. In fact, he was created in 1941 and was introduced in More Fun Comics # 73. To start things off, Aquaman told readers his whole origin in the following statement.
“==Golden Age Aquaman==
The story must start with my father, a famous undersea explorer — if I spoke his name, you would recognize it. My mother died when I was a baby, and he turned to his work of solving the ocean's secrets. His greatest discovery was an ancient city, in the depths where no other diver had ever penetrated. My father believed it was the lost kingdom of Atlantis. He made himself a water-tight home in one of the palaces and lived there, studying the records and devices of the race's marvelous wisdom. From the books and records, he learned ways of teaching me to live under the ocean, drawing oxygen from the water and using all the power of the sea to make me wonderfully strong and swift. By training and a hundred scientific secrets, I became what you see — a human being who lives and thrives under the water.”
Now if you know the later incarnation of the character from the comics and cartoons, you will notice a couple of major differences. There are no actual Atlanteans in this story. Aquaman is not king of the seas or anything at all. He’s a child of the surface of unexplained nationality and is transformed into an amphibious man. He also has no given name other than his super-hero title.
Aquaman didn’t telepathically communicate with sea life in these original stories. It was said that he could speak the “secret language of the fish” and so you saw him verbally talking to them the same way that Tarzan would often be seen speaking to chimps and such.
This version of Aquaman didn’t mingle with other super-heroes at the time, but he didn’t twiddle his thumbs either. In fact, he fought Nazi soldiers a full month before the U.S. joined Pearl Harbor. And as World War II went into full swing, our aquatic hero made a career of hunting down Nazi U-boats and Axis agents who dared threaten democracy and freedom. Because of his unique nature, Aquaman (like Superman) was able to have adventures all over the world rather than confined to just one city in America. Although Aquaman’s nationality was never said or explained, he was definitely seen as a very American hero, fighting for truth, justice and the American way as many DC comic book heroes did at the time. A U-boat was after him? No worries. Aquaman just had to smash his way through the entrance hatch and then he could lay a good smack-down for democracy, smirking as he punched out German soldiers who were conveniently horrible shots.
But despite the occasional skirmish with Hitler’s forces, Aquaman never built up an impressive rogues gallery. The undersea adventurer mainly fought modern-day pirates, criminals disguised as historical pirates, and the occasional evil treasure hunter. His arch-enemy was a pirate named Black Jack. There were also several adventures where Aquaman played hall monitor of the sea, fighting off anyone who threatened shipping lanes and sea life. Not bad, but not exactly the stuff of legend. In several of these stories during the 1940’s, Aquaman was also occasionally partnered with a pet seal named Ark.
Despite Ark’s presence, Aquaman was definitely a solitary guy, making his base in the abandoned city of Atlantis. In between adventures, you’d find him there hanging out in the city’s ancient temple, sitting in a stone throne until it was time to go back into action. But although he was occasionally called “king of the ocean”, he had no official right to such a title. He was just a guy in an orange shirt who fought evil from time to time.
Editors Notes;This typical 1940's DC Comics.No bite to the character.Everything is safe-not too daring.Middle of the road dull and dum. Doc Thompson.
In 1946, Aquaman was dropped from More Fun Comics (which became a humor only title) and began showing up as a back-up feature in Adventure Comics (whose main star was Superboy, Superman’s earlier/teenage alter ego).
Starting in 1956, Aquaman got a new partner, a pet octopus named Topo. In one adventure, Topo revealed that he had been trained in archery by the hero Green Arrow and displayed how he was able to fire four bows and arrows at once with his tentacles (exactly why you would teach an undersea creature how to use a weapon that relies on aerodynamics was never explained).
In another adventure, Aquaman was able to help out a cruise yacht whose band had gotten sick by having Topo play all the instruments at once (including the banjo!).
The Hell is this?!
I have no problem admitting that this version of the character was kinda lame, especially when compared to Marvel’s aquatic anti-hero the Sub-Mariner. Introduced two years beforehand, the Sub-Mariner could fly, had bullet-proof skin, was able to handle powerful bursts of electricity without getting fried, and had enough strength to go toe-to-toe with the Hulk. In light of that, Aquaman with his pet seal and octopus just didn’t seem to match up.
UNDERSEA KING ARTHUR
In the late 1950’s the Silver Age of comics began and super-heroes titles were rising once more DC comics. Aquaman got himself a new origin and some new abilities. Same costume though, except that the fins on his leggings became green rather than yellow and his gloves soon had the same color change (I guess so they didn't clash with the rest of his outfit).
Adventure Comics #260 in 1959 changed the character from the ground-up. revealed to us that Aquaman’s real name was Arthur Curry. His aquatic powers were not due to scientific experimentation. Like Marvel’s own aquatic hero the Sub-Mariner, he was actually a hybrid, born of a surface man and an undersea woman. His father had been lighthouse keeper Tom Curry, who had found Atlanna, a mysterious woman who had washed up on shore, weak and lost. The woman did not speak about her past or where she came from and needed constant hydration.
Tom Curry and Atlanna fell in love and eventually had a blonde child named Arthur. When he was very young, Arthur wondered off shore and into the sea. Seeing his son was completely submerged, Tom panicked and dove in after him. Yet there was no need for alarm. Young Arthur was playing among the sea creatures, breathing the water as naturally as if it were air. Later, it seemed that Arthur had a strange kinship with sea life. A shark let the young boy pet him and young Arthur didn’t think twice about it, knowing full well the fish would not harm him and acting as if they could understand one another. Tom wondered how it was possible his son could do these things. Atlanna told her husband she would explain one day.
Finally, a few years later, when young Arthur was not yet a teenager, Atlanna lay on her death bed (evidently finally giving into the physical weakness she’d displayed for years). Before she died, she called her husband and child to her and explained to them that she was from the lost city of Atlantis. The capitol city of that ancient nation had fallen beneath the waves, protected by a great glass dome, and its inhabitants had used chemicals to allow them to breathe underwater in order to enjoy their new domain. In fact, an Atlantean could not remain out of contact with water for more than an hour or they would fall into a coma-like state and soon die (adding a new weakness to our hero).
Atlanna had been outcast from this society and had sought refuge among the surface people. It was happy luck that she had met a man who took her in and who she fell in love with. Thus, Arthur was a man of two worlds, both the undersea and the surface folk.
Arthur Curry grew up. Unlike some super-heroes who have to discover their powers on their own, Arthur's father took a keen Aquaman%20Ross%203.jpginterest in helping his son test his abilities and his limits. Tom Curry held various types of fish in tanks and had his son practice his power to telepathically communicate with them. Tom also emphasize that Arthur should study all he could about marine life so that he would have a good knowledge of what he was dealing with and how to ulitize his undersea friends when he needed their help. A very smart move, don't you think?
Doubly cool about this was that kids were actually learning about marine life now thanks to hearing Aquaman talk about it. When working with sharks, our hero would casually mention how the creatures had no bones, only cartilage, and young readers would walk away with more education than they'd had minutes beforehand.
Arthur discovered he had incredible speed and maneuverability underwater (dolphins had nothing on him), but was very afraid of high-diving. To get his son over this fear, Tom actually waited until Arthur was cleaning the windows at the top of the lighthouse and then jumped into the sea, pretending to drown. Reacting on instinct, Arthur leaped off the top of the lighthouse and dove in, sustaining no injury due to his enhanced strength and resiliency (his body had been made to withstand the pressures of the deep, after all). This kind of scene was cute and fun because you got to see a father really connect to his son and help him become a hero, which was quite unique in comics when the main character was usually either an orphan or already an adult when he discovered his abilities.
Eventually, Arthur went out into the world. He took on the name "Aquaman" and dedicated himself to protecting the very oceans that had birthed his mother, as well as the human society that his father had been a part of. In 1959, he took up residence in “New Venice”, a city hidden beneath the waters, completely unknown to mankind.
Let’s step back a moment. During the beginning of the Silver Age, DC Comics had been taking several old heroes and re-interpreting them into characters more grounded in science fiction. For instance, in the Golden Age, the Green Lantern was Alan Scott, a man who wielded a magical ring. In the Silver Age, the Green Lantern was Hal Jordan, a man who had been recruited by an intergalactic police force who were each given a power ring, a weapon of advanced alien technology. Likewise, the Golden Age Hawkman was a man who realized he was the reincarnation of an Egyptian prince whereas the Silver Age Hawkman was an alien policeman.
It is interesting then that Aquaman was taken in a completely opposite direction. He started out as a character with somewhat of a sci-fi background (being the subject of his father’s scientific experiments) and then the Silver Age re-interpreted him into a more mythical character with a fairy tale quality to his origin and his heritage.
In Adventure Comics #266, Aquaman got a temporary teammate (despite his objections) when readers met a curvy young blonde named Lisa Morel. The young woman had been one of several Atlantean children born unable to adapt to the undersea environment, a trait which had the side effect of giving the child violet colored eyes. To save these children who couldn't breathe underwater, Alanteans would send them out to the surface world in sealed life boats. Young Lisa was adopted by the scientist Hugo Morel and his wife.
Lisa met Aquaman and later, when she saw the hero in danger, the adrenaline surge caused her Atlantean genes to finally kick in. Like Arthur, she could now breathe underwater and speak to sea life. Making herself an identical costume, she was ready to be his partner in crime-fighting. But other than making the occasional joke, this version of Aquagirl didn’t have much meat to her character. She soon lost her powers and vanished from the stories, never to be mentioned again.
There was also another girl named "Aqua-Girl" in a story that appeared some time later. This girl was an Atlantean named Selene who teamed-up with Aquaman in order to impress her boyfriend (ah, silly teenagers and their games). But she was only in one issue and promptly forgotten about as well.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
1960 was a big year for this new incarnation of Aquaman. He became a founding member of Earth’s new team of A-list heroes, the Justice League of America, alongside the Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman. Aquaman had rarely interacted with other heroes before and now suddenly he was on the team composed of DC’s A-listers. Fans thus made the association that he was an A-lister himself and his title started picking up.
Aquaman started taking a few nods from Batman, had become a household name by this point. Arthur got himself a aqualadVS.jpgsidekick named Garth or “Aqualad”, a boy from Atlantis who seemed to be about eight years old and had purple eyes. Normally, this genetic trait was a sign that the child would be a "throwback" and unable stay in the ocean. Garth was fortunate enough that he didn't have such a problem, he could breathe and survive the ocean depths just fine, thank you very much. This kid's problem was that he had a pathological fear of fish. After his parents died in an accident, Garth was outcast by the Atlanteans, who believed that such a fear would prevent him from ever functioning as a valuable citizen who could contribute to the community.
Aquaman took the orphaned boy under his wing, knowing what it was like to feel out of place. He then did his best to help Garth overcome his fear of fish over time, through various therapuetic exercises. At last, Garth was cured and stayed on as Aquaman's partner, calling himself "Aqualad." He would sometimes jokingly refer to the young, skinny boy as "tadpole" or "minnow" (and years later admitted he did this specifically to annoy the lad). Further borrowing from Batman, Arthur also set up his own “Aquacave”, an underwater cavern with an air pocket where he could store trophies from some adventures and just get away from it all.
As his popularity increased, Aquaman finally got his own self-titled bi-monthly book in 1962 and his supporting cast of characters started growing. Garth and Arthur soon met the Atlanteans and they all became allies. It was said that Aquaman’s ability to communicate with sea-life was unique to him and that other Atlanteans didn’t share this power. Thus, Aquaman was considered special even to other undersea people (this continuity change also retconned away the existence of Lisa Morel, who had been forgettable anyway so no one minded).
Queen Mera Aquaman and Garth set up shop in Poseidonis, the surviving capitol city of Atlantis (the other surviving city was the nearby Tritonis, which housed literal mermen and mermaids such as Superman's college girlfriend Lori Lemaris). And in Aquaman #11, Arthur Curry met Mera, a woman who ruled an aquatic world in a parallel dimension. Mera was not like many other comic book love interests who only got captured and needed rescue. With her fiery temper and “hard water” powers (a telekinetic-like ability to manipulate the water around her to form battering rams or shields or pressure blasts), she was quite formidable in her own right. She and Aquaman soon fell in love.
When the ruler of Atlantis died with no clear heir, the people of Atlantis actually voted for their hero Aquaman to become their new king, because they trusted him and knew he would look at them as his people rather than just his subjects. He would protect them not becuase he needed their labor but because he considered himself as one of them.
All rights, readers, let's take another step back and discuss things, shall we? Notice how the Silver Age version of Aquaman is mirroring the hero of Arthurian myth. In legend, King Arthur of England was sent away from his royal family to live as a peasant and work as a squire to a knight. This was to protect him, yes, but it was also so that he would gain a kinship with the common people and not look at them as merely his subjects and servants as royalty often tended to do. He was a king for the common man, just like Aquaman had was, having literally been voted into office.
And just as the legendary King Arthur was connected to England itself (some legends would have his advisor Merlin tell the king that as he grew in strength, so would the land), Aquaman had shown a connection to the seas he protected, a much stronger connection than any of the pure-blooded Atlanteans who could not communicate with all the sea life around them. Aquaman served not just the people but the sea itself and all her creatures. In a comic book published decades later, Superman told a therapist that seeing Atlantis was like seeing "Camelot and Arabian Nights" rolled into one. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that this undersea king was given the name of “Arthur” in the Silver Age.
The baby was later officially named Arthur Curry, Jr. and occasionally referred to by the nickname “Aquababy.” It wasn’t Aquababy. long before the young baby displayed that he had super-powers even though he could barely talk. Like his mother, Arthur, Jr. could force the water around him to form into solid objects and hurl them at enemies.
And then, one year after their first meeting, on the day he was crowned King of Atlantis, Arthur married Mera in AquamanAquaman%20wedding.jpg #18 (Nov-Dec. 1964). This was a huge surprise for readers during the 1960’s. Super-heroes didn’t get married! And certainly not after less than only ten issues! They were supposed to court their love for an unreasonably long time such as Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But nope. It happened. The Justice Leaguers came down to Atlantis to attend the event and celebrate as their amphibious teammate tied the knot with a woman who was completely aware of his life as a super-hero and who accepted him for who he was.
Aquaman wasn’t the only guy to find love. Garth got a girlfriend, an Atlantean girl named Tula. When Garth later helped found the team the Teen Titans (along with Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl), Tula would sometimes help the team out on the occasional mission. In honor of her boyfriend and Aquaman her hero, she called herself “Aquagirl” whenever she was out in the surface world. Just like Aquaman, Garth had a very unique position among the super-hero community. After all, you never saw Robin take a date on a mission or Wonder Girl bring her boyfriend to help solve a crime. Nor did you ever see those other sidekicks introduce a date to their mentors. Aquaman and Aqualad seemed to be free of a Aquagirl_tula.JPGlot of the angst and secrecy that plagued other heroes. There was no need to always come up with a cover-story to protect your secret identity, after all.
In 1965, readers were blown away when, just under a year after the royal wedding, Queen Mera gave birth to a young infant son. This may seem like a natural progression since the two were married and part of a kind’s responsibility is to ensure an heir to the throne, but again, we’re talking about a super-hero. It was unbelievable enough that Aquaman had gotten married but now he had a son as well? Who did those Aquaman writers think they were, thumbing their noses at convention and cliche like that. Did they think we readers actually enjoyed reading a title where you were never sure what could or would happen and got excited by the possibilities?
If there had been any doubt amongst readers before, Aquaman had now made it crystal clear to everyone that he existed in a realm outside of most modern super-heroes. He fought evil with the Justice League sometimes, yes, but he was not someone in a mask who patrolled his city looking for crime. He was a king with territories covering most of the planet. The people he protected were completely aware of his powers and his adventures. When Superman fought the evil alien android Brainiac, he would go back to Metropolis and couldn’t tell anyone about the weird adventure he’d just had. But Aquaman had a wife, a child, a sidekick, an advisor and several friends and staff members who he could unwind with and speak openly with. He even had a son who readers were sure (and the comic book narrators flat-out said it) would one day grow to be a super-hero himself, a son that Aquaman could train and raise just as he'd become a big brother and guardian to Aqualad. He was a family man, something you couldn't say about a lot of costumed champions.
THE VILLAINS ARRIVE!
And there was also the environment outside of the man that gave the comic its uniqueness. Superman was originally from another planet, yes, but Aquaman operated in a different world every day, a world separate from the surface. And even as a kid, you know that Gotham City and Metropolis are not real cities. They don’t exist. But the sea still holds mystery for us. And you can imagine that perhaps, just perhaps, there is a world there at the bottom of the sea somewhere where little or no light exists, there might be a city hidden from our view. And Aquaman was not just from that mysterious realm, he was a part of it.
The others in the Justice League of America were super-heroes, sure, but Aquaman was a warrior king who could handle himself in a fight both above and below the waters. And if you think about it, this makes him more formidable than some heroes.
I’m a big Batman fan. But let’s think about this and make a comparison, shall we? Take Aquaman and put him in the middle of Gotham City and send ten street punks against him. He has no weapons or tools on him at all. Guess what? Aquaman wins, because he’s an above-average hand-to-hand combatant with a lot of experience fighting alien would-be conquerors and super-villain killers and because he’s more than ten times as strong as any one of those thugs is going to be. And the same strength/resiliency that allows his body to survive ocean pressures also makes him more resistant to conventional injury. Bullets won’t bounce off him, no, but he’s not going to bruise or bleed immediately from a bunch of punks who have probably never had any training or know how to really throw a devastating punch. Three minutes and he’s got them all down on the ground with cracked ribs and broken jaws.
Now do the reverse. Take Batman (same scenario, no tools or weapons at all) and drop him in the middle of the ocean or in the city of Poseidonis. And say that on top of being underwater, he's surrounded by ten hungry Superman drowned Aquaman.JPGsharks or ten rogue Atlanteans. Bruce is kinda screwed, no? He may not get killed immediately, but by no means is victory assured, nor will it necessarily happen.
That's Aquaman's real power, folks. Our boy can adapt. Does he stand up to Superman or Green Lantern in terms of power and formidability? No, but hey, not every hero has to be up to that power level to be cool. My point is that he's not a wimp, especially these days.
Many years later, Aquaman gained a hand of living water (we’ll talk more about that in Part 2). With this hand, he could command the oceans around him to part of cause a small tidal wave if he focused hard enough. What's more, Arthur could control the hand's shape and density. Meaning, he can make it hard enough to shatter concrete or extend it and expand it like a burst of water.
So, let's just supposed that Superman was bearing down on him for some reason. Okay, not an immediate victory to the Man of Steel. Because Aquaman can just command the hand of mystic water to extend itself down Superman's throat and expand instantly, filling up the Kryptonian's lungs with water which he can then solidify a moment later.
Man of Steel or not, he still needs to breathe and if he doesn’t have enough warning to take a deep breath first and hold it, he could be in serious trouble and some interal pain from that kind of an attack. Moral of our story? Aquaman can kick some ass when he needs to.
Which is a good thing, because it was the Silver Age that finally gave us some villains worth their salt.
Aquaman was big enough now that he couldn’t just keep fighting evil fishermen, pirates and whalers like in the 50’s. So in came some actual super-villains.
(1966) introduced Ocean Master, a homicidal maniac with delusions of conquest. Ocean Master was Orm Marius, a terrorist whose brilliant engineering skills allowed him to design a variety of high-tech weaponry. He went from just attacking ships to causing huge natural disasters with his advanced machines, demanding huge ransoms from the nations of the world or else he would allow the planet to destroy itself.
He may have had a silly name and a wierd purple outfit, but the guy showed that he was the kind of threat that normally you expected a guy like Superman to take on. Silly mask aside, he was a far cry from the modern-day pirates Arthur used to fight during the 40’s and 50’s.
When Aquaman and Aqualad finally confronted the maniac, Arthur ripped off Ocean Master’s mask and was shocked to recognize the face underneath. Although they stopped the villain’s scheme, Aquaman refused to fight him further and left.
When the dust had settled, Aquaman explained to Garth that after his own mother had died, his father Tom Curry had married another woman, a human named Marie O’Sullivan. With his new wife, Curry had another son named Orm Curry. Orm had grown up resentful of his older, super-powered half-brother. Entering his teens, Orm turned to violence and crime and then one day vanished entirely and lost all contact with his family. Evidently, Orm had suffered an injury that left him mostly amnesiac, thus his use of the new name “Orm Marius.” Aquaman had let him go because he did not wish to fight his own half-brother, however twisted he may have become.
Once again, Aquaman’s story takes on a mythic/fairy tale atmosphere as opposed to many other super-heroes. Luthor and Superman had been friends when they were teenagers, yes, but Aquaman and Ocean Master were family, evoking images of Cain and Abel. Decades later, writer Peter David would add to this theme by saying that there was an ancient Atlantean prophecy that two brothers must war over the fate of Atlantis.
Orm figured the reason Aquaman had chosen not to fight was because the hero was afraid of him and decided to pursue his new enemy under the sea. Using his skills in science, he made a costume for himself that allowed him to withstand the pressures of the deep and a mask that allowed him to breathe. He and Aquaman fought several times. Arthur never wanted to fight him, but nor was he going to let the psychopath kill innocent people and wreak havoc both on the surface and in the ocean.
When Orm finally regained his memories in 1970, he became more determined than ever not only to beat Aquaman but to take Atlantis too, coveting the nation that had voted his half-brother to be its king.
Black%20Manta%20Painting.jpgThe other new arch-enemy for Arthur was the Black Manta, an undersea treasure hunter who had no compunctions about killing anyone who got in the way of him and lost gold. Black Manta was a well-built man who stood at an intimidating 6'4" and wore battle armor that allowed him to breathe underwater and fire laser beams from his helmet. He also carried various weapons he'd designed himself and at least a half-dozen henchmen for each scheme. Like Ocean Master, he was cold-blooded and without remorse. If you were in his way, that was just too damn bad.
There were other villains who were fair but not quite as fearsome or as memorable. The Fisherman. The Scavenger. There was also an organization called O.G.R.E. ( Organization for General Revenge and Enslavement) which was a group of mercenaries and assassins. The Supreme Leader of O.G.R.E. wore a black hood and robe, evoking images of the Klu Klux Klan, and he led his group in missions to steal nuclear weapons for an unidentified country. Black Manta was hired by O.G.R.E. once himself.
Just as Superman was occasionally annoyed by the magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, Aquaman would occasionally have an adventure where he was brought to wit’s end by a childish water sprite named Quisp, who was quite the prankster and impossible to ignore with his magical powers. He meant well though and was an ally to our hero on a few occasions. After the sixties, Quisp vanished from the comics but he would show up again in the late 1990’s when JLA writer Grant Morrison revealed there was more to him than meets the eye (which we'll discuss in Part 2).
TEENAGE YEARS AND EARLY CARTOONS
Aqua%20Dance-thumb.jpgAquaman had a fairly good fanbase. He was fighting evil not just in his own title but alongside the Justice League of America. Aqualad and Aquagirl were more entertaining than a lot of other teenage sidekicks since we actually got to see them do normal teenage things like party together in-between missions. And Mera was a lady you had to respect. What was there not to like?
Still, the guy's sales needed a little push. Superman had been getting good reaction by having stories published adventures he had when he'd been younger and living in Smallville, under the banner line of “Adventures of Superboy” and such. Aquaman writers decided this was a good idea and showed that Arthur had originally acted as a hero when he was a teenager and had called himself “Aquaboy” (naturally). Whether they intended it or not, this actually helped with the backstory of Ocean Master’s jealousy, since we now realized he’d grown up in the shadow not just of a teen with super-power but of a bonafide teenage super-hero. In 1970, we learned that young Aquaboy had shared an adventure with Superboy, establishing them both as Earth’s only real heroes during those early years (Batman had still been training and Wonder Woman had still been living on Paradise Island).
Aquaman became a household name when Filmation started a cartoon series showcasing his adventures. “The AdventuresAquamanVideoSet.jpg of Aquaman” were played right after Superman’s own cartoon adventures, giving the sovereign of the seas pretty high status by association. The cartoons were fun and playful, showing Aquaman and Aqualad defending Atlantis from menaces such as Black Manta, aided by a Walrus named Tusky. Together, they fought aliens and undersea plunderers and strange robotic menaces and armored lunatics.
The cartoon showcased how different Aquaman's world was from Superman's, thus showing he was a hero in his own right and didn't need to be compared. Also, in the cartoon, it was emphasized that Aquaman was seen as the go-to guy. When other races who lived under the sea were in trouble, they risked their lives to find Aquaman, knowing he was the best chance for salvation. And even if you were a villain with a powerful submarine and weapons at your disposal, Aquaman wouldn't get worried. He was strong, fast, agile and had all the creatures of the ocean around him. In several cartoons, you'd see him summon whales to smash into tiny subs or ride into action atop a great white shark as if it were a horse (now that is intimidating). And if you weren't afraid of the single shark he was riding, hey, no problem. There were ten more sharks following right behind him!
The cartoon also added a more combative ability to Aquaman's arsenal. By focusing, he could pressurize the water around his hand and then toss a liquid force blast at his enemies, slamming them with a battering ram. It was a fairly cool, if odd, ability and I'm surprised it wasn't transferred into the comic book.
Aquaman became a household name because of the Filmation shorts. It was a shame that the SuperFriends cartoon that came out later was a huge step backwards for him. The cartoon was meant to showcase the Justice League members and writers weren't sure what they could have Aquaman do when they already had Superman, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman at their dispoal. Unless a story directly involved the ocean, he seemed to have nothing to contribute.
Black Manta also seemed very non-threatening in the cartoon, especially when the animators later changed his costume to a brown color and just called him "Manta", teaming him up with two dim-witted henchmen who looked like they used to hang out with Popeye.
When the later cartoon series The Legendary Super-Powers was aired, Aquaman was in the credits but never actually featured in the show itself. All of this led to a stigma against Aquaman that exists to this day, the idea that he is a guy with no valuable abilities or skills other than being able to swin and speak with fish.
If you enjoy Aquaman, I say you should pick up The Adventures of Aquaman which has now been collected onto DVD. Yes, they're meant for kids, but they're very fun and innocent and entertaining. And if you check out the "special features", you'll see a retrospective documentary featuring TV producers, comic book writers Mark Waid, Dwayne McDuffie, Alan Burnett, and little old me.
DON'T MESS WITH THE KING
In the 70's, socially-conscious writer named Steve Skeates entered the book and decided to make Aquaman a mouthpiece for problems affecting the world.
As the 1970’s were arriving, the comic book industry recognized that its readers were no longer just kids. Quite a few people who’d been fans in their youth were still reading the books with regularity now into their adult years. So adult issues were tackled. Over in Marvel, Spider-Man had had to deal with his friend and roommate Harry Osborn being addicted to LSD. In DC, Green Arrow had to suffer the shocking revelation that his own sidekick Roy Harper (a teammate of Garth’s on the Teen Titans) had become addicted to heroin.
Skeates took advantage of the trend and had Aquaman tackle social issues such as drug addiction, government corruptionAquaman%20Nail.jpg and pollution. Aquaman was now proactively defending his environment and his people from those who casually dumped their wastes into the sea. He also went after whalers who hunted the creatures for sport and money. And by “went after them,” I don’t mean he signed a petition and complained to his congressman. I mean he jumped onto the ship and physically assaulted the hunters head-on, using the same super-human strength that allowed him to demolish a car if he so wished.
For years, it had been known that Aquaman must be pretty strong in order to walk around the ocean floors without a pressure suit, but now in the ‘70s he seriously began showing how scary he could be if you ticked him off. He was still nice and casual with friends, but if you threatened his oceans because you wanted to make a profit and didn't care about the consequences or the damage you were doing, Arthur would toss you into the water and command a school of sharks to circle you until you got the message. He wasn't bullet-proof, but he was several times more resistant to injury than any normal human being and he'd smash through walls to get to his target. The TV cartoon hero Captain Planet would warn you diplomatically to stop polluting the sea. Arthur would punch you in the face first and then tell you to listen.
Readers and characters alike all took notice of this slight change in attitude. In a story where Aquaman teamed up with Batman and Gotham City Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, Gordon later remarked that Aquaman seemed like the sea itself: dark, cold, mysterious and intimidating.
While Aquaman was getting a little more street-cred, Garth was having his origin retconned a bit. Readers found out thatGarth%20Sees%20Parents.jpg there was a group of magic-weilding Atlantean pacifists who lived in their own community away from Poseidonis and Tritonis. These people were called the Idylists and it was among them that Garth was now said to have been born. Further detail was added when a while later Garth decided to investigate the identities of the parents he barely remembered. To his shock, he saw a portrait of the former Idylist King Thar and Queen Berra and recognized them as his parents.
Aqualad further investigated and found that King Thar had apparently gone insane with power eventually and was only stopped when the Idylists rose up and killed him. Fearful of the Queen (who was pregnant at the time, they banished her to the main nation of Atlantis and so that was why Poseidonis was born in Poseidonis. Garth mentioned that he remembered his mother had died soon afterwards. Rather than mentioning that occasionally some Atlantean children were born with purple eyes and the inability to survive under water, it was now said that Garth's eyes were rather unique. Garth mentioned that he believed the people of Poseidonis had then banished him to fend for himself due to a superstitious belief that his strange-colored eyes were a freakish and possibly cursed trait. This then (as far as continuity was now concerned) was the reason why he'd been lost and alone and terrified of the fish around him when Aquaman had finally discovered the boy.
Black%20Manta%201.jpgBlack Manta was also changed during the ‘70s. For years, he had fought Aquaman with no real purpose other than collecting as much treasure, gold and valuables as possible. But during one battle, the Black Manta took off his helmet at last and showed that the term “black” actually referred to his race and not just the color of his armor. Black Manta explained to Aquaman that he had been collecting treasures and valuables over the years in order to fund the building of an undersea nation where those of African descent could retreat from the white man’s world that had abused and injured them for so long. Beneath the waters, they could thrive in peace, away from other races. Most of his henchmen were black and they believed in his dream, especially his lieutenant Cal Durham who could breathe underwater due to Manta’s experiments in gene therapy/surgery.
It seemed that perhaps Manta was not evil but just misguided in his hatred of Caucasians and his willingness to doBlack%20Manta%20unmasked.jpg whatever it took to obtain the resources he needed. But Cal Durham approached Aquaman and said he was concerned that the repeated defeats and interference from the Atlantean king had caused Manta’s mind to become clouded by thoughts of revenge.
Soon afterwards, Black Manta admitted to Arthur that he actually didn’t care about creating a nation where the black man would be protected and allowed to thrive in peace. He wanted money and power and most of all, Aquaman’s death.
It was later revealed that Black Manta had grown up in Baltimore, Maryland as an autistic child who loved to play by the water. One day, the boy had been kidnapped forced to work on a ship of criminals who regularly abused him both physically and sexually. How long he was there wasn’t specified, but it was likely a few years.
Black%20Manta%205.jpgAt one point, the boy had seen Aquaman and several dolphins swimming nearby and had attempted to call to him for help but the hero didn’t hear him.
Finally, the day came when the boy freed himself and killed one of his captors with a knife he swiped. In his mind, the autistic youth viewed the ocean as a cold and emotionless prison that had prevented his escape for years and he saw Aquaman as the representative of that prison. Hating the ocean but unable to forget it, Black Manta decided he would become its master.
And once Aquaman came back into this life, Manta knew that he would take no small pleasure in destroying him for not having noticed him when he was younger and had needed help. Ignorance was no excuse. It was just that simple.
THE DARK TIMES
Aquaman’s series didn’t do well on its own. It was cancelled in 1971 due to low sales. His adventures moved back to the title Adventure Comics. And then his series was restarted in 76 but only lasted for under a year, causing him to move his regular feature back to Adventure Comics (with some stories also published in World’s Finest). People were losing interest (the Superfriends cartoon didn’t help matters either) and DC decided a drastic event was needed to shake things up.
First, Aquaman began slowly introducing the secretive people of Atlantis to the surface world. Then, he decided to leave the throne, feeling that kingly duties were not really for him. He turned rulership of Atlantis over to Vulko. It seemed like DC decided that perhaps all the mythic parts of Aquaman’s character were holding him back and that readers would be more attracted to him if he were a more traditional type of a super-hero.
Soon after the move to New Venice. Black Manta made himself truly stand out from Aquaman’s other enemies. This time he didn't just attack Aquaman and his super-powered wife and sidekick. Instead, the Manta captured tiny Arthur, Jr. and held the boy hostage, locked within an water-tight chamber. Although there was air within, the boy was still too young to survive without water for too long. Aquaman fought the Manta but by the time he got to his child, it was too late. Arthur, Jr. was dead and readers were horrified. Aquaman had been the first super-hero to marry and to father a child. And now heAquababy%20Death.jpg experienced what no one else on the Justice League could have and what no person should ever have to endure. The death of his only child.
This experience forever changed Aquaman. After this, he was much harsher, much tougher in his demeanor towards others, even his own friends. As the narration itself said when we saw Arthur holding his dead son, “There is hatred in the world. There is injustice, prejudice, corruption – but none of these matter anymore … Not to a once-compassionate hero whose soul now sees only anguish – and a dark fury that cries to be fulfilled …”
The death of Arthur, Jr. caused a rift between Arthur and Mera. They moved away from Atlantis and made their new home in the undersea city of New Venice. But the death of their child still Aquababy%20Death%202.jpghaunted them and Mera believed that Arthur himself was responsible. At last, the couple separated. It was a story very grounded in reality, considering the U.S. was entering an age where divorce was becoming more public and more common.
Aquaman was now without a kingdom, without a child and without his wife. He was a loner once more, no longer a warrior king but just another super-hero trying to fight evil where he could. Eventually, his own solo stories were cancelled and Aquaman was featured exclusively in the pages of Justice League of America.
As the mid-80s began, Aquaman got ticked about how many of the Leaguers would miss meetings or not show up immediately to emergencies due to their own lives and heroic careers. After an alien invasion nearly succeeded in conquering Earth, Aquaman pulled rank. The Justice League’s by-laws allowed him to disband the JLA if he believed they weren’t doing their job effectively and so he did so. Afterwards, Aquaman reformed the team only with heroes who were willing to make the League their number one priority. Joining him in this was the Martian Manhunter, Elongated Man, Zatanna, and four new recruits: Steel I, Vibe, Vixen and Gypsy. Aquaman was now not just a teammate but a leader. He was a harsh commander and was later seen to actually be using his telepathy to influence teammate Steel to stop questioning his orders so much.
The idea that Aquaman’s telepathy had increased to allow him influence over humans would be dropped almost immediately and later writers never referenced it again.
After several missions, Aquaman said he had to leave the JLA and turn over leadership to the Martian Manhunter. Mera hadAquaman%20Alone.jpg been missing and Atlantis looked like it needed some help and he wasn’t about to completely abandon either one. Nor could he stay, since the League was now not his first priority and he didn’t wish to be a hypocrite. He took off, returning to the oceans.
After that, DC had their major crossover event entitled The Crisis On Infinite Earths. You can read the entire story in my Crisis article, but here's the basic gist. A villain called the Anti-Monitor had destroyed several parallel universes and now had his sights set on our own reality. It was a war that involved heroes of many parallel Earths combining forces to save all of reality.
Just before The Crisis happened, fans were treated to a surprise. Over in the comic All-Star Squadron (which took place during World War II), the heroes of the parallel world Earth-2 made a new friend. His name was Aquaman and he was the son of a scientist who'd used abandoned Atlantean sciens to give him added strength and the ability to breathe underwater. The Golden Age Aquaman again on Earth-2, though only for a very short time since The Crisis ended with the destruction of these parallel worlds.
During The Crisis, the villains Brainiac and Lex Luthor assembled an army of super-criminals from various worlds and set them loose on the populace. The villains attacked everything in sight, including Poseidonis and Tritonis. One of the villains who attacked Atlantis was Chemo, an artificial being composed of various toxic substances. As Aquagirl attempted to help save the people of Atlantis, Chemo released poisonous chemicals into the waters around her and she began to choke. Aqualad took Tula to the hospital but it was already too late. Garth was heartbroken at the loss of his first love and readers were shocked to learn that, just like Arthur, Jr., Aquagirl was now gone.
After The Crisis was finished, DC took the opportunity to refine and revise continuity for several of their characters. Aquaman was unaffected originally. But even though his history wasn't being altered, it was decided he still needed a new direction. And maybe a new wardrobe as well.
Aquaman%20Blue%20Costume.jpgIn a four-issue mini-series by Neal Pozner, we were introduced to a new take on Aquaman. Our Atlantean hero ditched his classic green-and-orange outfit for a camouflage suit composed of many shades of blue, perfect for blending in beneath the waves. In other comics, it had been said that in ancient times the nation of Atlantis had been home to the homo magi, a race of humans who could weild magic. One of them, Arion, had been one of Earth's most powerful sorcerers and had protected the nation of Atlantis fiercely before it finally sank.
In Pozner's mini-series, we found that Atlantis itself was magical, having been built on the nexus point of Earth's magical energies. This again brought a mythic quality into Aquaman's world and also was a way of implying his unique powers of communicating with undersea life were mystical rather than a scientific mutation (which separated him further from Marvel's hero the Sub-Mariner).
The villain of the mini-series was Ocean Master, who now had a decidedly more demonic appearance and had determined that since his high-tech weapons had never beaten Aquaman, he would turn to magic instead. Orm became obsessed with gaining control of powerful mystical Atlantean talismans and once again Arthur had to stop him in order to protect not just Atlantis but humanity at large.
The mini-series was well-received and readers enjoyed the new magical elements. Sadly, sales were not big enough for DC to relaunch Aquaman’s regular series.
Not long afterwards, an Aquaman Special was published. It was so poor and confusing that to this day even those very few who read it can’t really remember what it was about and I've decided it should therefore be ignored. It is my own theory that this was actually a tangible anomaly in the space-time continuum, perhaps brought into our universe from a parallel dimension where crap sells (though how is that terribly different from our own universe, I wonder). As of yet, I have no evidence. Yet!
Some time passed. DC refused to let go of their character and decided perhaps what was needed to garner interest was a firm re-establishment of his origin and the basics of his history. Originally, this was intended to be in the pages of the regular title Secret Origins but it was later decided to be shown as its own comic in order to make sure people paid attention. So in the one-shot special The Legend of Aquaman, Athur Curry's origin and beginnings were significantly altered yet again, giving us a new Post-Crisis version of the character.
Thursday, October 22, 2009 Edit
This is Part 2 of the History of Aquaman Edit
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To find out about what happened to Aquaman afterwards, continue on to Part 2.http://