A Tribute to the of
I've covered most of the major Silver Age characters at this point and nearly all of the original line-up of the Justice League of America with just a couple of exceptions. I'm going to get one of those tickets punched this time around as we look at the first Silver Age appearance and origin tale of the King of the Seven Seas, Aquaman.
Aquaman was created in the early years of the Golden Age by Mort Weisinger and artist Paul Norris. He began his comic book career (as did The Spectre a few months eariler) in the old More Fun Comics title--starting with #73, dated November, 1941 through #107, dated February, 1946. The next stop was a stint in Adventure Comics, #103, April, 1946 to 284, May, 1961. His powers are the abilities to breathe under water and to speak to the various sea creatures in their own language via techniques taught to him in childhood by his scientist father who discovered them through his studies of the lost continent of Atlantis.
Aquaman's Silver Age debut pre-dated the Justice League by a little over a year in Adventure Comics #260, the May 1959 issue in the story titled "How Aquaman Got His Powers." [For those of you who believe the DC Silver Age began with the debut of J'onn J'onzz in Detective Comics #225, December, 1955 the correspondinng Aquaman debut occured in Adventure Comics #218, November, 1955. Stay tuned, it may show up here one of these days.] Quite the inspired title, wouldn't you say? This tale was written by Robert Bernstein with artwork by Ramona Fradon (who also worked on Metamorpho) & Charles Paris. Like most of his Justice League peers, Aquaman's origin tale is relatively short. As a matter of fact, seven pages does the job. Let's see if I can squeeze a review out of it. Wait a sec! Before I get to it, I want to give mention to the other great talents that contributed to this issue. The cover art is a fine example of the work of Curt Swan & Stan Kaye. The cover story, "The Kents' Second Super-Son!", was written by Otto Binder and drawn by John Sikela. The third story, "Green Arrow's New Partner!" features art by Lee Elias. Okay! Now on to the main event!
As I already mentioned, Aquaman was a charter member of the JLA (which probably helped shorten meetings due to his need to return to the sea at least once an hour) and since 2/3 of the surface of our world is ocean, you can imagine his underwater skills were in demand. Those talents include his mastery and knowledge of all things within the mysterious depths, great physical strength as a result of his dwelling beneath the sea and the ability to communicate with and command all marine life via telepathy. On to our story.
It opens with a sophisticated looking submarine (not quite The Nautilus, but close) blasting along the surface of the ocean and deploying a series of atomic depth charges. Aquaman happens by on patrol and is horrified at what he sees. Quickly summoning all nearby electric eels via his telepathic gifts, he commands the creatures to jam the guidance systems on the depth charges, allowing him to individually remove the atomic warheads. Upon completion of his task, he calls upon some whales to lash their great tails, creating a strong underwater current that slows the descent of the bombs. Shortly thereafter he boards the sub and tells the Commander that he is responsible for the interference with the depth charges and he requests that they conduct their tests at another location. The Captain explains that he has his orders, but the King of the Seven Seas replies that he must forget his orders and that he has a story to tell about how he got his powers. He takes the boat commander back 20 years to a lonely island where his father was on duty as the lighthouse-keeper. A hurricane is raging and he spots a raft off the shore with a girl clinging tenaciously to it, despite the howling winds and sea. Once she is washed ashore, the man leaves his post to render aid. Incredulous that she has survived he asks where she's come from. She replies that her name is Atlanna and she has come from far away.
Aquaman continues his tale by explaining that it was love at first sight between the two and that within two weeks they were married. A year later he was born and was given the name of Arthur. Despite their devotion to one another, his mother seemed to have a secret past that puzzled her husband. She would often sit for hours, staring out to sea and had yet to reveal where she was from or who her family were. Things began to get curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say, when at Arthur's 10-month mark, he falls from the side of the family fishing boat, only to swim with great skill. Then at 2 years of age, he is discovered by his disbelieving father playing at the bottom of the sea for over an hour with shells and turtles. At the age of 3, he swims among sharks in the nearby cove, completely unharmed. Flashing ahead a handful of years, his mother lies on her deathbed and tells all. She reveals that she came from the lost continent of Atlantis, far beneath the ocean's surface and that because of her desire to visit the upper earth, she was exiled from her home. Arthur has, of course, inherited her ability to live underwater and to communicate with the creatures of the sea. She tells him that he has the potential to become ruler of the oceans and then passes away. Arthur's father takes it upon himself to help train his son to his maximum potential and starts by building a large tank stocked with sea creatures so that the boy can begin to develop his mastery over sea life. As time goes by, he does indeed master his telepathic powers and the word spreads throughout the depths that there is a new ruler of the oceans.
Not content with these gifts, the boy also works consistently to develop his swimming speed so that he's soon able to outrun speedboats and dive to great depths. He studies all manner of books and films about marine life and travels extensively throughout the deep to gain valuable experience. His father also instills in his young son the importance of using his powers for good. He began to regularly patrol the seas to help those in distress. Finally the second tragic day in the young sea king's life happens as his father dies and is buried at sea.
Aquaman's narrative then halts to the bewilderment of the Captain. "I appreciate your trust in telling me your secret, which I will never reveal, but what's it got to do with my atomic depth bomb tests?" Aquaman replies, "Everything, Commander! One final secret! I'll whisper it!"
In the next panel, the sub cruises away and the assembly on deck salutes Aquaman while the skipper assures him that their tests will be conducted far from these waters. In the final panel of this origin story, our hero is shown swimming below the surface toward a huge, glass-enclosed civilization that is, of course, Atlantis. His thoughts provide the ending to the story: "Now it is safe! Had the depth bombs gone off, the ancestral home of my mother...the land of Atlantis...would have been destroyed forever! Perhaps, some day...I will return here! Who knows?"
At the start of 1961, just as his Adventure run was about to end, Aquaman was featured in four issues of Showcase--nos. 30-33. He also filled the back-up spots in Detective Comics, #293-300 and World's Finest Comics, #125-139. He finally received his own title in early 1962 lasting 56 issues, the last dated March-April, 1971. He was often seen performing deeds with the help of his young protege' Aqualad and of course he had his regular duties with the Justice League. Add in the odd pairing in The Brave and the Bold and other titles with such heroes as fellow Justice Leaguers The Atom and Hawkman and he managed to stay pretty busy throughout the Silver Age.
You all know my lack of appreciation for the modern incarnation of the majority of our favorite heroes and Aquaman is no exception. For those of you who've not seen him recently he's been given a very different look to include a beard and long hair and at some point he lost his left hand which has been replaced with some sort of harpoon-looking prosthetic. Poseidon meets Captain Hook? He also seems to have been given some patented Marvel-style angst. Give me the clean-cut version with the orange tunic and green leggings and gauntlets, thank you very much. Last I knew he was again appearing in Adventure comics and of course still has his seat at the Justice League table.
This review is a bit on the short side, but so was this vintage Silver Age tale. All the same it was an enjoyable read. I appreciated learning about how the Sea King came to be and I'll rate this story an 8.
I invite you once again to submit questions or comments to my attention at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll be back in a couple of weeks with another synopsis for your reading pleasure. Be sure and join me.
Long live the Silver Age! This feature was created on 05/01/00 and is maintained by B.D.S.
©2000-2001 by B.D.S.
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