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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Mort Weisinger.
Right from the start, Aquaman is depicted as a figure involved in world events. The politically liberal, anti-Nazi viewpoint here is consistent with the liberal, anti-totalitarian politics of the Weisinger-edited Silver Age Superman stories. Like Superman, Aquaman is something of a self-starter. He is not sent on a mission by some higher authority figure. He simply sees that bad things are happening on the surface of the Earth, and tries to stop them. Both heroes are especially concerned with protecting the weak and innocent. Even in this origin story, Aquaman spends as much time helping the refugees as he does battling the villains.
This story is remarkably consistent with the characterization of Aquaman, that will persist in the 1960's Silver Age tales. He has essentially the same costume here he will wear for the next thirty years, and an identical visual appearance. His powers seem the same as well, especially his ability to live underwater, and to summon sea creatures to do his bidding. Aquaman does not seem to be telepathic here yet: he can talk to sea creatures in their own languages, but he cannot yet issue them telepathic commands. Also, there is nothing in this tale about him needing contact with water every hour. He seems to have great strength here, something not emphasized later. Still, this story is extremely close to the Aquaman tales that came thereafter. Unlike most Golden Age super-heroes, Aquaman never suffered a publishing collapse in the later 1940's, followed by a Silver Age revival around 1960. Instead, he was continuously published from 1941 through the 1960's. Thus there never were separate Golden Age and Silver Age versions of the character. There was just one Aquaman, and all his properties seemed to persist indefinitely.
Aquaman has no secret identity. He lives in the sea, and can go anywhere in the oceans where he believes his help is needed. He is intelligent and resourceful, as well as being courageous and determined. Aquaman seems to have few other activities other than helping humans. This basic set-up is present in this first tale, and will persist unchanged through the 1960's.
Aquaman goes right into the deepest parts of the sea floor here. This is a poetic and still under-explored realm that would be a favorite locale for Superman stories in the Silver Age.
Aquaman's powers seem much less biological than Superman's, whose X-ray vision or invulnerability are rooted in his personal biology. Mainly, Aquaman can summon sea creatures to do his bidding. This makes him seem oddly similar to such non-super-powered characters as Batman or Green Arrow. Green Arrow debuted in the same issue of More Fun Comics as Aquaman, and was also a Mort Weisinger creation. Just as Green Arrow uses some specialized arrow to perform the task at hand, so does Aquaman summon some specialized sea creature to perform his desired task. This gives the two heroes a similar feel.
How Aquaman Got His Powers (1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Flashbacks show Aquaman's boyhood, and the development of his talents. The origin of Aquaman. This story resembles Superboy tales, in that it shows Aquaman gradually mastering his powers as a youth, and being guided by non-super-powered human parents. The story is much more elaborate than the one in More Fun Comics, and contains new features. Still, it is somehow close in spirit to the original tale. Both show Aquaman as a boy, being guided by his father.
During the late 1950's, DC often created retrospective origin stories for long existing heroes. Such stories represent a deepening of the characters. They also represent a new level of ambitiousness among the creators of the comics. See such Western origin tales as "The Naming of the Wyoming Kid" (Western Comics #65, September-October 1957) and "The Origin of Johnny Thunder" (All-Star Western #108, August-September 1959). Weisinger was also creating Untold Tale stories in the Superman family, stories which filled in the origins of hitherto unexplained parts of the Superman mythos. Such Untold Tales were also part of this same creative, origin process.
From 1958 on, the Superman family under Weisinger's editing started building up a complex mythos. This mythos involved adding many continuing characters and science fiction situations to the world of Superman, concepts that appeared in story after story. There are signs that during 1959-1960, something similar was attempted for Aquaman. The canvas available for Aquaman was much smaller than for Superman: the Superman family extended over most of six magazines, whereas Aquaman was restricted to a single 6 to 8 page story each month in Adventure. Furthermore, not all of these tales were used to extend Aquaman's mythos. Still, an interesting mythos eventually did build up.
This mini-mythos or pocket mythos makes a contrast with Superman's. Just as Superman came from the advanced planet Krypton, so do Aquaman's ancestors hail from the advanced civilization of Atlantis, although Aquaman himself was born on the Earth's surface. Just as the bottled city of Kandor represent a survival of Krypton on Earth, one that can be visited by the characters, so does the domed undersea remnant of sunken Atlantis represent a continuation of that magnificent civilization. Just as Supergirl and the Phantom Zone inhabitants represent survivors of Krypton that are now on Earth, so too does Aquaman meet representatives of Atlantis such as Aquagirl and Aqualad. Aqualad definitely became a continuing character, and although Aquagirl is apparently a one-shot, she could have easily been revived for more stories.
Aquaman Meets Aquagirl (1959). Aquaman meets Aquagirl, a woman who has powers identical to his. The origin of Aquagirl. This story asks questions about Aquagirl's origin right on the splash. It presents Aquagirl in full powers. Then it has a puzzled Aquaman asking who she is, and how she got her powers. This is the virtually identical strategy Otto Binder had used in his Supergirl origin story six months previously, "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action #252, May 1959). In both tales, a successful attempt is then made to ground the new superwoman and her powers in the existing mythos. Both stories show an excellent use of logic, and concern for the inner consistency of the mythos. Both have a similar use of spacecraft.
However, there are also key differences between the two tales. The stories are by no means clones of each other. Supergirl knows her whole life history, and exactly how she got her powers. She proceeds to explain the whole story of her origin and relationship to the mythos to Superman. By contrast, Aquagirl is nearly as puzzled as Aquaman about her new powers.
Their origin has to be gradually unearthed, detective style, in the rest of the tale. Another difference: Supergirl's powers are presented in full force on her entrance. By contrast, Aquagirl has to gradually discover hers throughout the tale.
In both stories, there is an emphasis on how the woman has powers exactly equal to the man's. This causes the hero anxiety. It is the central moment in each story: on the cover of the Supergirl tale, on the splash of Aquagirl's (this is not a story based on a cover). There is political ambiguity here. Looked at from a feminist point of view, it shows the difficulties women have with men when they try to demonstrate their talents. Looked at from an anti-feminist point of view, it demonstrates male anxiety in the face of a threat to male dominance. In both points of view, it dramatizes a key social issue of 1959: the dawning realization that women were men's equals, despite the gender discrimination of the time. In the long run, the Supergirl stories were deeply feminist: Supergirl persists as a character, and eventually she becomes recognized as Superman's full equal partner.
The seaside house here resembles Frank Lloyd Wright's real life house, Falling Water (1936).
The Adventures of Aquaboy (#268, January 1960). Flashbacks go back to Aquaman's childhood, when he was first trying to reveal his existence and powers to a skeptical world. The tale uses the name Aquaboy to refer to Aquaman during his childhood. This is not to be confused with Aqualad, a separate character whom Aquaman will later adopt.
This is similar to the Untold Tales that frequently appeared in the Superman family. These were stories that tried to depict some key moment in the development of the mythos.
This story has the "Challenge and Reply" construction that is frequently used in the Superman tales. Here the challenge consists of Aquaman's attempts to show to observers that he is really super-powered. They in turn keep coming up with natural explanations fir what they have just witnessed, which explain away the events and allow them to remain convinced that Aquaman has no powers. A similar plot was used in some Superbaby tales, in which residents of Smallville would convince themselves that they really hadn't seen young Clark Kent perform some super-feat. See Otto Binder's "The Super-Feats of Superbaby" (Adventure #231, December 1956), for instance.
The Kid From Atlantis (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Aquaman meets Aqualad, a boy who has powers identical to his. The origin of Aqualad. This story has been variously ascribed to writers Jim Miller or Robert Bernstein.
There is a good deal of emphasis in this tale about Aqualad overcoming his fear of fish. It recalls a similar scene in "How Aquaman Got His Powers", in which the young Aquaman had to overcome a fear of diving. In both cases, older father figures resort to stratagems to help the kid with this. The two tales seem to be the product of a single writer.
Fradon extends her ideas about Atlantis' architecture here. A giant sphere and pyramid (p2) recall the Perisphere at the 1939 New York's World Fair. This real life futuristic scene showed up in such Golden Age comics as the untitled Green Lantern tale in All-American Comics #18 (September 1940), and probably made a deep impression on the New York City based comic book industry. Fradon also includes an aerial view of Atlantis, in which we can see the individual buildings. It reminds one of the detailed aerial views frequently included by artist Sid Greene in his sf stories for Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.
The Menace of Aqualad (#270, March 1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Aquaman begins to fear Aqualad, after a witch predicts that someone will replace him as King of the Sea. This is a direct sequel to Aqualad's origin story, "The Kid from Atlantis". It is a minor tale. Most of it is a standard "super-hero anxious he will be replaced" tale, a subject that frequently occurred in the Weisinger magazines, but which rarely led to a good story. Robert Bernstein wrote several tales for the Superman family, in which apparently supernatural events engulf the characters.
The story's best part is its finale, which adds some minor but pleasant features to the Aquaman mythos. The finale reminds one of scenes in Bernstein's "Superboy's Big Brother" (Superboy #89, June 1961), where Superboy and Mon-El share a bedroom.
The Manhunt on Land (1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Aquaman uses approaches associated with Green Arrow, when he has to capture a criminal who operates on the mainland in Green Arrow's home base of Star City. This is the first of pair of stories, in which Aquaman and Green Arrow switch roles. It is immediately followed in Adventure #267 by the Green Arrow tale "The Underwater Archers", in which Green Arrow and Speedy try to catch a criminal in the ocean. The two heroes had long appeared back to back in Adventure. Some one had the ingenious idea of having them trying to work in each other's territories.
Both stories show considerable wit and imagination, in adapting each super-hero's techniques to the other's powers. The story also has poetic qualities. Aquaman's journey onto the land mirrors humanity's exploration of the ocean floor. It is a surrealist reversal of the modern human experience of voyaging into the ocean depths. This reversal is both comic and poetic. It echoes one of the great adventures of modern times. And it does so in terms of one man's story. This ability to hold a magic mirror up to real life is one of science fiction's poetic gifts.
Usually Aquaman works with the Coast Guard, at sea. Here he is involved with the police on land. It is a nice change of pace for him. Fradon does a good job with the police, giving them plenty of personality and glamour.
Aquaman always seems to enjoy himself. He takes his responsibilities seriously. But he also has a sense of fun, a sense that he is playing with new toys. It is an appealing spirit.
This story was published during the period in which Weisinger was building up a mythos for Aquaman. The story helps link Aquaman's world with that of Green Arrow, further extending Aquaman's mythos.
Both of the heroes of the team-up tales use technology to take on and duplicate the powers of the other hero. This recalls Bernstein's Pete Ross tales in Superboy, in which Pete would try to impersonate Superboy, and use technology to replicate his abilities. In both cases this attempt is wholly benevolent, something done by a good guy to aid in a good cause.
Bernstein would also include both Green Arrow and Aquaman as characters in his "Irresistible Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961), along with Batman. Both Green Arrow and Aquaman have little mini-adventures in this tale, as well as being part of the overall plot of the story. Each mini-adventure is typical of that hero's powers and activities. This tale is a further team-up. It also served as a last hurrah for Bernstein and these characters, which had been taken over by other writers by this time.
Four Fish to Fetch (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Louis Cazeneuve. Aquaman helps Professor Squill, a scientist who is banding then recatching fish, in his attempts to increase world food production. This story is deeply committed to helping bring extra food into a hungry world. It is one of the best works of social commentary in Golden Age comics. The Johnny Quick story, "The Miracle Farmer" (Adventure #128, May 1948), also deals with the problems of world hunger. So this was a major theme running through the pages of Adventure.
The tale is a very pure Aquaman story. It consists of many episodes, in each one of which Aquaman and his sea creature friends ingeniously help recapture the marked fish. The story is rich in plot inventiveness.
Professor Squill is depicted as an old man with a long white beard. This venerable scholar reminds one of Aquaman's mentor Professor Hatcher in the later Samachson-Cazeneuve "Aquaman Goes to College" (1947). Both men are experts on ocean biology, which is treated as an all-important subject in both tales. Both get Aquaman's full support.
Cazeneuve has good art showing a cave (p3).
'Ware Water (1946). Writer: ? Art: Louis Cazeneuve. When Aquaman is exposed to radioactivity, he must stay away from getting his skin in contact with water for 48 hours. The exposure took place in the previous issue's tale, Joe Samachson's "The Ghost Ship" (#106, July 1946), which involved radioactivity from a uranium mine. Characters in that previous story wore lead suits to guard against the radioactivity, just as Superman would later use lead suits against Kryptonite.
This story is a transformation tale, a story in which the hero undergoes some sort of science fictional transformation of his body. It is similar to the numerous transformation tales that later appeared in the Silver Age Superman family. Most but not all of these later tales were written by Otto Binder. One wonders if Binder also had a hand in this tale. As in later Binder tales, the transform makes life very difficult for his hero - after all, Aquaman's native habitat is the water. Also like Binder transform stories, the hero deals with his problems cheerfully and with ingenuity and determination. He keeps coming up with new, clever methods of coping with his difficulties. As in Binder's stories, the hero keeps encountering a wide variety of situations that relate to his transform. Most of these can be classified as "unusual aspects of daily life", just as in the later transform stories. Both here and later, the transforms are a lot of fun, with a light-hearted story emphasizing plot ingenuity, and charm and variety of circumstance.
There are also some differences from the later Binder paradigm. The protagonist does not try to keep his condition secret here, and it does not threaten his secret identity, probably because Aquaman has no secret id! Also, the hero does not seek an antidote to reverse his condition at the end; he simply waits out the 48 hours, trying to survive the effects.
The Stolen Light (1946). Writer: ? Art: Louis Cazeneuve. Bad guys hijack a lighthouse, and manipulate its lights.
This story has interesting references to world events of its period. Such political references were common in Adventure during this period, especially in Aquaman tales. Weisinger would later include much commentary on world politics in his Silver Age Superman stories.
This is a simple but effective thriller. Aquaman has his sea friends help him; their scenes often add a comic touch to what is otherwise a serious story. Such a comic aspect is appropriate: Aquaman is basically a comic character, in the high comedy sense of "comedy as opposed to tragedy". He is an upbeat person who is always making life better for everybody, solving problems, and taking energetic action. He is full of the life force. His ability to talk directly to animals and work with them underscores his connection with the life force in the world. Aquaman often shed a positive light and positive influence on the darkness around him.
The Monster and the Mermaid (1946). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Louis Cazeneuve. Two competing sea museums spring up, one with a stuffed sea monster, the other with a live mermaid. This tale is a lot of fun.
The tale includes Samachson themes. Aquaman disguises himself, and goes on land, just as he later will in "Aquaman Goes to College" (1947). The clothes Aquaman wears here include a raincoat and hat; they remind one of the noir heroes Samachson would write about in the 1950's, such as the lead in Samachson's "The Flying Raincoat" (Strange Adventures #66, March 1956). Raincoats and trench coats were frequently associated with private eyes and other noir heroes. Aquaman is definitely not a noir character, but at least he is dressing like one. His going undercover and in disguise is also a noir theme. And the story includes hoaxes in which apparently fantastic events become part of daily life in modern America. Such hoaxes were common plot elements at this time in the stories Samachson wrote about the Shining Knight, which also appeared in Adventure Comics.
The tale has many good night scenes (p3 and 4). We see the dark sea waves, and various boats in silhouette, with lights in their cabins making outlines of their windows. These panels are moody and effective, as well as being quite beautiful. These scenes continue with the noir mood of this story. The tug of war scene (p5) with the fish and the rope is also vivid.
Aquaman Goes to College (1947). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Louis Cazeneuve. An incognito Aquaman attends college on land, in order to study fish. Delightful story that is one of the best early Aquaman tales.
The story shows the deep respect for learning and scholarship that is always shown in the comic books. Aquaman studies hard, and both his course work and his marine biology teacher Professor Hatcher are treated with grave respect. Aquaman's decision to go to college obviously involves considerable gutsiness on his part: he is far from the typical college student. It is motivated by an accurate conviction that his life would be much better if he had a college education. Aquaman's action mirrors, in a science fictional way, the real life influx of many working class students into college during this era. The G.I. Bill funded college tuition for veterans returning from World War II. The Bill allowed ordinary Americans to attend college in large numbers for the first time in US history. Up till then, college had largely been a privilege reserved for the children of the rich. Aquaman's experience at college mirrors the real life experiences of these working class students, people who were determined to get a degree, but who were not part of the traditional student population. The idealism of these students, and their courage at undertaking a new positive experience, are mirrored here.
Joe Samachson often wrote stories about benevolent aliens living on Earth disguised as humans. His J'onn J'onzz, the Manhunter from Mars, origin story is a classic example. This Aquaman tale falls into this tradition, with Aquaman being an "alien" presence of sorts. These disguised aliens often have knowledge gathering missions in Samachson's work; Aquaman's attempt to get a college education is somewhat in this tradition.
Louis Cazeneuve's art shows humor in its depiction of Aquaman's clothes. They are a slightly exaggerated version of a "typical" college student of the era, including a red turtleneck sweater and glasses. I particularly enjoyed his black beanie. Beanies were big in the 1940's, although I do not think I've ever seen anyone wear one in real life from the 1960's on. They have always had a humorous or absurd look. Both Cazeneuve and Samachson show a welcome vein of humor throughout this tale. The splash is particularly fun. Cazeneuve also excels at the depiction of the undersea coral (p2). It spreads along the far horizon at the bottom edge of his panel, like one of Carmine Infantino's cityscapes.
Shades of John Paul Jones (#121, October 1947). Writer: George Kashdan. Art: John Daly. Aquaman time travels back to America's Revolutionary War, where he aids John Paul Jones in his naval battle. This was one of a series of minor tales in Aquaman, in which he was involved in war-like and military activities. These tales are OK, but they are not outstanding, and their militaristic background is distasteful. The best part of this story is the time travel sequence itself, in which Aquaman gets involved with a whirlpool. This is a neat idea in itself. It also echoes the many time travel sequences in comics, in which the hero encounters rotating lights or bands of color. The way Aquaman throws himself into an adventurous situation with the whirlpool just for fun echoes Green Arrow's involvement with an exciting situation in Kashdan's "Unhappy Birthday to You" (Adventure #137, February 1949). Both men take it on for fun.
A Fish Out of Water (1948). Art: John Daly. Aquaman gets amnesia, and believes that he is just an ordinary human sailor. Amnesia plots were a standard part of the Silver Age repertory of plot devices. It is interesting to see them flourishing here, as far back as 1948. Many changes are rung on the plot possibilities of this situation here; these gambits will also return in later stories.
The story resembles "Aquaman Goes to College" (1947), in that it shows Aquaman taking part in human society on land, while dressed in ordinary clothes. Although no location is stated in the tale, the atmosphere is like that of a traditional Maine fishing community. Aquaman is dressed in clothes here like those of a typical New England seafaring man: a pullover with red and white horizontal stripes, and a knit cap. The clothes have a strong working man connotation. But they are also vividly colored and designed: comic book heroes were always in the brightest and most visually appealing costumes. The sweater reminds one a bit of the red turtleneck Aquaman wore in "Aquaman Goes to College". While Aquaman is King of the Sea, when he lives among humans, he always has a working class role. He is never an authority figure, and is always being bossed around by various human men in authority. He always maintains a certain independence of attitude however. He will cooperate with authority figures, but only if he regards it as a worthwhile cause. The fact that Aquaman is quite young looking for a super-hero also gives him a certain look of a man at the bottom of the social heap. He looks like a young working man, just starting out in life, and with no clout or established niche in the world. Aquaman seems to be in his early twenties.
The Flying Dutchman (#117, June 1947). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: Louis Cazeneuve. A mysterious "ghost ship" appears, and loots other vessels at sea. This is a typical Weird Menace tale, a detective story about a seemingly supernatural crime that is eventually giving a rational, non-supernatural explanation by Aquaman. Such Weird Menace stories were popular in both the pulp magazines, and in the comics. This particular one is pleasant, but not spectacular. It has some nice atmosphere, complete with a setting in the Sargasso Sea, always a favorite location for eerie sea stories. Cameron liked to get Aquaman in the role of the sleuth in a detective tale, as in his later "The Man in the Iron Shoe" (1948). In both stories, Aquaman gets involved after an older male good guy-authority figure requests his help. Here it is Aquaman's friend, sea Captain Dan Billows who requests Aquaman's aid. Dan Billows is one of the many old salt, traditional marine figures that float through the Aquaman tales. Both stories also have a serious tone, although they are not grim, and plenty of nocturnal atmosphere.
The Man in the Iron Shoe (1948). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: John Daly. Aquaman investigates when criminals keep jumping into the water to escape police. This is a well constructed detective tale. It is a real change of pace for Aquaman. Stories rarely cast him so purely in the role of detective. His sea animal friends do not appear here, and science fiction elements are downplayed. However, much of the story does take place in his underwater realm.
The story reminds one of the mystery tales John Broome would go on to write for Big Town in the 1950's. As in them, there is plenty of big city atmosphere, including bridges and cityscape settings. Also as in them, the focus is on step by step detection. Aquaman uncovers one piece of the crime, then another then another, all in steady logical sequence. Such as sheer concentration on detection will appear in many Big Town Broome stories.
The story is full of nicely used scientific elements. Such educational tidbits in chemistry and physics often appeared in the comics.
The story talks explicitly about Aquaman's vow not to take life. Both Green Arrow and Superman take similar vows in Weisinger edited comics. This is reflected in the deep pacifist beliefs of many of the stories.
The story also reminds one of the Green Arrow tale "The King of Danger Channel" (Adventure #122, November 1947). Both tales take place partly underwater, and both contain large, schematic, diagram like illustrations of unusual under water buildings. Both tales are credited to completely different writer/artist teams, however.
Daly has a good illustration of a boat search by night with a spot light (p2). Daly also shows some good staging, in the early scenes at the police station. Aquaman is summoned to help with the case by the police commissioner, an atypical event for him. When the commissioner and a police sergeant are talking by themselves, the sergeant stands close to the commissioner's desk, emphasizing the close working bonds between these two colleagues. But, when in a later panel, Aquaman is in the commissioner's office, he stands way on the opposite side of the room from the commissioner, with Daly's long shot showing a great expanse of empty space between them. This underscores the remote relationship between Aquaman and the police. Aquaman is helping the police out, but he is not a member of their team, and he is not reporting to the police. He is an independent agent, acting on his own authority. This is typical of Aquaman's relations with the surface world. The long shot also helps show the entire commissioner's office, with its typical police station atmosphere. This is typical of Daly's vivid staging throughout.
Race Around the World (More Fun Comics #86, December 1942). Writer: ? Art: Louis Cazeneuve. Hollywood films Aquaman's swim around the world for charity.
This is an early example of many traditions within the Weisinger world. The hero gets a "job" for charity. This allows him to participate in institution sponsored activities, but not for selfish purposes. It is also a fairly early example of the Hollywood satire. Here, Aquaman is working for the President of Pariversal Pictures. The studio name is a combination of Paramount and Universal, two top film companies of the era. The studio head has a big desk and huge office. Aquaman also gets star treatment at the studio. Glamorous actress Hedy Hepburn asks him for his autograph. Her name is a combination of Hedy Lamarr and Katherine Hepburn, two real life stars of the day. The best parts of this tale are the beginning and end, which contain all the Hollywood material. The long middle section is poor, and consists of a routine look at Axis saboteurs trying to destroy Aquaman's swim.
The finale shows Aquaman being honored at a Hollywood banquet. Louis Cazeneuve has made the art most glamorous. Aquaman is in an elegant black tuxedo. It is rare to see him dressed in anything but his costume. There are also several naval officers, in white dress uniforms: the charity the race benefits is Navy Relief.
The Television Thieves (#112, January 1947). Writer: Joe Samachson. Art: Louis Cazeneuve. Aquaman's latest battle with the villainous Black Jack is accidentally picked up by two cameramen in a plane, who broadcast it live on television. This is a minor story, whose best aspect is the TV subplot. The main battles between Aquaman and Black Jack are routine, and Samachson does not do anything plotwise with the TV aspects- they are just there, covering the fight. However, it is interesting to see how people viewed early TV. The story also has some nice stylistic features in its last panel. The story combines two perennial features of Weisinger comics: the use of live television to link up actual events at a distance, and a slightly humorous look at show biz.
Cazeneuve does a good job with the flying cameramen. They are dressed in the full flying togs of the period, and look quite glamorous.
The Sweetheart of the Seven Seas (1948). Writer: ? Art: John Daly. Aquaman develops a crush on Esther Grable, a Hollywood star who specializes in swimming movies. As the splash panel points out, real life star Esther Williams made swimming films, and Betty Grable was a famous Hollywood beauty; Esther Grable's name is a combination of both. The idea of Aquaman in love with an Esther Williams like star is a delightful one. As the story notes, she is at home in the water as he is. In fact, they are probably the two most aquatic characters in popular art of their era, at least before Lloyd Bridges came along with his Sea Hunt TV show.
The story is very low key, however, though it has plenty of charm. The juvenile Aquaman tales were not really oriented towards romance, which rarely appeared in them, and the whole tale is very chaste and G rated. It mainly consists of Aquaman doing various feats for Esther, in order to impress her. Such feats were at the center of many Aquaman tales anyway. The story also works some nice science into it, reminding us that many of the Aquaman tales were quite educational. The best scenes in this tale are genuinely poetic.
The Undersea Lost World (1949). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Daly. Aquaman helps a team of scientists explore the ocean floor, one of mankind's last frontiers of unexplored territory. This story resembles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sf novel The Lost World (1912), in that the characters eventually find themselves in a region filled with large prehistoric animals.
Stories that glorified explorers were very big in comic books in this era. Edmond Hamilton's tale of space explorer Chris KL-99, "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950), comes to mind. These were idealistic stories, glamorizing people who expanded human frontiers of knowledge. The explorers also stood for scientists as a whole. The tales were clearly written as educational works for young readers, hoping to inspire them to grow up and do great deeds of scientific discovery in their own lives.
Binder's story is one of the first comic book tales to glorify the United Nations. The UN would be a major subject during the Silver Age in the Superman family tales, with many stories by both Binder and others referring to it. The UN was always depicted in a positive way in DC Silver Age comics. The expedition is sponsored by the US Government; members of its "Marine Bureau" ask Aquaman to join it. I do not know whether this was a real life US Government organization, or whether Binder invented it for the story.
The Sunken City of Gold (1956) Aquaman is asked to lead an expedition of scientists to a region of prehistoric marine life that has suddenly emerged from the sea floor.
Fradon's art is notable for all the imaginary sea creatures she has created. There are at least nine different types of new marine beings here. She has drawn her inspiration from numerous sources. Some look like giant, macroscopic versions of real life microorganisms. There are creatures here who look like ciliates, bacteria, and radiolarians. Others look like pre-historic fossils: the sea shell at the end resembles a giant trilobite, for example. Still others combine two other existing sea animals, often ingeniously. The strange octopus here has inner canals like some times of jellyfish. It is as if Fradon superimposed the two types of organisms, in a sort of visual pun.
The story differs from "The Undersea Lost World" (1949) in that the animals are not especially dinosaur like. They tend to look like invertebrates or even protozoa. None are huge, either. Doyle's The Lost World dealt with a remote region of the Guyana highlands in which dinosaurs survived. The comic book story showed us its undersea equivalent. "The Sunken City of Gold" by contrast evokes a far more ancient world: the sort of animals that existed in the Cambrian and before. It deals with the most ancient and primitive forms of marine animal biology.
The Whale that Was Wanted for Murder (1952). Writer: George Kashdan. Aquaman's whale friend, the giant Black Beauty, is accused of becoming a destroyer of ships.
This story is unusual in that it is a murder mystery with an animal as its chief suspect. The author shows considerable ingenuity in adjusting the mystery story paradigm to an animal protagonist.
Black Beauty's intelligence is shown as being on roughly the same level as that of a horse or a dog. He can perform intelligent actions, and has feelings, but he is not as smart as a human being. This is typical of the intelligence level of most of the sea creatures in Aquaman. We never directly see any of these animals thinking, and they are not anthropomorphized, as Krypto, Streaky and other Silver Age animals to come will be. But they are shown as having considerable intelligence in the performance of underwater tasks and feats. They are also loyal and friendly to Aquaman and each other.
There are many references in this tale to 19th Century literature. Black Beauty's name, and his friendly actions to humans, recall Anna Sewell's classic tale of a horse, Black Beauty (1877). Sewell's novel was an exposé about the mistreatment and exploitation of animals by humans, and there are elements of her concerns here. The ship-destroying alleged crimes by whales here also echo Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick (1851). And the sea captain here is named Verne, presumably a reference to sf novelist Jules Verne.
George Kashdan would eventually become the editor of the Aquaman comic book in the 1960's.
The Evil King of the Sea (1952). Gangsters train college swimming champ Jim Hall to be an Aquaman impostor, as part of a swindling scheme.
This story is one of many in comic book history, about a hoax that makes it look as if a non-super-powered character actually had super-powers. Such stories frequently occurred in the Superman family of comics during the Silver Age to come. Here the gangsters employ a wide range of devices to make it look as if their impostor has all the powers of the real Aquaman. This is treated as a series of mini-mysteries: first we see the impostor perform some apparent super-feat, then in a subsequent panel we learn how this was done. This mini-mystery approach will also be popular in later Superman family tales.
The story also deals with a familiar anxiety of the Superman Silver Age, a super-hero being replaced by a rival. Here Aquaman's impostor is dressed just like him, and threatens to usurp his role as King of the Sea. Both men are blond and quite similar looking. Fradon depicts Jim Hall as one of her macho men. He is both good looking and somewhat mean. His most noticeable feature is the peak his blond hair rises to in front, making him instantly recognizable as the non-Aquaman, even when he is dressed exactly like the real character. The two men have a memorable eyeball to eyeball confrontation (p3).
The Mystery of the Aqua-dolls (1954). A toy company starts manufacturing small, radio-controlled Aquaman dolls. Ingeniously plotted story that rings many changes on its main plot idea.
Silver Age comics loved stories about dolls, usually those who looked like its central characters. See Gardner Fox's "The Dozen Dooms of Adam Strange" (Showcase #18, January-February 1959) and a tale it probably influenced, "Dolls of Doom" (Lois Lane #21, November 1960). In a way, these dolls were essentially robots, and fit into a long tradition of robot stories. However, the dolls tend to be much lower tech than robots, with no intelligence, and much more limited capabilities. They are also less science fictional. In fact, real life toy manufacturers of the 1950's were making dolls nearly this sophisticated. So the stories have a degree of probability and realism that robot tales do not. Also, most kids were familiar with toys, and it gave the stories a subject to which kids could relate. Also, one suspects that DC hoped that such dolls could be manufactured in real life, as comic book tie-ins. In this story, the Aquaman dolls immediately become a national craze, like the hula hoop. Perhaps this is wishful thinking on the part of DC marketers! Other doll stories of the period: "The Indestructible Menace" (Strange Adventures #118, July 1960).
In the 1960's, dolls for boys were renamed "action figures", and became popular. In the more literal minded 1950's, they are still just dolls.
This story contains another "extra idea" splash panel, illustrating a plot situation that does not actually occur in the story. It is delightfully inventive, and shows Fradon's gift with composition.
The Giant Tropical Fish (1955). A chemical leaked into the sea causes Aquaman to encounter giant fish. This is one of the earlier Aquaman tales involving changes of scale, as in the later "The Tom Thumb Aquaman" (1956). It suffers from a perfunctory ending, but otherwise is full of charm and inventiveness.
The Coward and the Hero (1956). Aquaman helps out Johnny Blake, a man whose war experiences have left him terrified of water. Also: Johnny and Aquaman look so much alike they might be doubles.
This tale is oddly emotionally involving. It suggests that conventional ideals in the 1950's about masculinity and bravery are not correct, or adequate to cover the real life complexity of the issues involved. Such a criticism is suggested implicitly by the story's plot; it is never made explicit in the dialogue. It also suggests that people are deeper, more complex and emotionally more profound than any simple theory about behavior. It is interesting too that Aquaman is less sure about such ideals than are the groups of men we see jeering Johnny Blake in the story. Aquaman's main concern is to help Johnny, whereas the men are simply trying to hold Johnny accountable against an ideal, something Aquaman regards as secondary. This is an interesting contrast. It perhaps relates to the fact that Aquaman is an extreme individual, who lives alone in the sea, whereas the other men all take part in groups. It also relates to Aquaman's long standing attempt to help others. In the comics, this is what a good guy is: someone who attempts to help other people.
Fradon includes some fine portraits. Aquaman is shown in a swimsuit, while he is disguised as someone other than himself (p3). She also shows pilot Johnny in his flying jacket and leather helmet (p5).
Fradon has a good urban rooftop landscape here. It is filled with rectilinear rooftops, shown fairly close up, with each roof being at a different level. The whole effect looks like some sort of urban wonderland. Aquaman rarely ventured on such urban turf. Even here, there is a large, circular tank of water on one of the roofs, giving Aquaman an aquatic milieu. The tank also allows Fradon to introduce circles into her composition. She also includes the highly curved finial of a rooftop, apparently a dome, in her foreground.
A Rival for Aquaman (#222, March 1956) Aquaman meets Seaman, a mysterious man whose aquatic powers rival his own. This is a fairly minor story, with an easily guessed origin for the mysterious Seaman, but it has some good touches. One is the mild character of Seaman, who is decent and not at all villainous. This gives the story a humane tone.
There are also some interesting scenes. Towards the beginning, Aquaman is hounded by publicity seekers; this has some wry realism. A scene of torrential rain is also well illustrated by Fradon. Her portraits of Aquaman with his wet hair plastered down the side of his head are also good. There is an inventive sf moment in the rain sequence, as well.
The Tom Thumb Aquaman (1956). A criminal's shrinking ray turns Aquaman into a tiny being. Delightful sf romp that is one of the best treatments anywhere of the miniaturized person theme. While such classic films as The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) deal with ordinary humans who shrink, this tale by contrast concentrates on Aquaman and his special characteristics. This gives the story an unusual flavor, different from most other shrinking being tales. It also enables new plot possibilities. Perhaps because Aquaman has super-powers, this story has no horror feel. Aquaman feels challenged by the events, but not terrified. The tone of the tale is one of adventure.
The shrinking and expanding rays here anticipate similar rays used by Brainiac in the Kandor origin tale, Otto Binder's "The Super-Duel in Space" (Action #242 July 1958). In some ways this story also resembles that Binder specialty, the transformation tale.
Three Fates for Aquaman (1956). A computer makes three predictions about Aquaman's upcoming day. This tale seems like a precursor to several stories in the Superman family. Lois Lane encountered similar predicting machines in XXX. More subtly, Otto Binder's "Superman's Other Life" (Superman #132, October 1959) shows a Superman-built computer that can show what Superman's life might have been like under other circumstances. Like the Thought Machine in "Three Fates", it reasons from current facts to likely future outcomes. It creates a simulacrum of an alternative reality, just as the machine in "Three Fates" develops a model of the future. Binder's tale is far more imaginative, but "Three Fates" has substantial merit of its own.
Rex Stout's prose mystery story "The Zero Clue" (1953) contains a mathematician character who can make similar predictions based on statistics. Perhaps the possibility of such future predicting calculations were being widely discussed in the 1950's.
The Superman family often wrote about evading fate. Sometimes, this was in time travel stories, in which the heroes discovered that they could not change history.
Aquaman's saga often involves science fiction. Perhaps because he is a super-hero, with powers based in an sf mythos, such ideas seem fair game.
The Ocean of 1,000,000 B. C. (1958). Time travel lands Aquaman in the prehistoric past, where he copes with dinosaurs and other giant primitive reptiles. No, Aquaman does not meet Raquel Welch in this tale! It is similar to time travel movies, in which the hero is sent back to the age of the dinosaurs. This tale is more scientifically accurate than most such movies: there are no cave people or other humans here. Rather, all the animals are genuine representatives of the age of dinosaurs.
Many of the events here can be classified as "sound and light shows". The time travel scenes use abstract art to depict the strange feel of time travel: this is an ancient comic book tradition. It is fascinating to see Fradon's version of abstract art. She uses concentric rings, and starbursts of light, to symbolize the strange time travel experience. She also has Aquaman completely upside down during the initial journey to the past. This symbolizes his complete disorientation. Later, when she returns him to the present, he is shown the right side up - but he is shown from below, at an unusual, film noir like extreme angle. Both illustrations allow Fradon to depict Aquaman from perspectives with which he is not usually seen. In both cases, her depiction of him is excellent.
Many of the events used by Aquaman to scare the dinosaurs away from him are also light spectaculars. These include light generated from phosphorus, and rainbow colored sea weed. The series of ideas and devices Aquaman comes up with here are as physics and science oriented as the ideas in "Wanted - Aqua-Crook" (1958) and "The Menace of the Electric Man" (1958). As in that latter tale, they lead to complex displays of light. All three of these stories came from the same year. All three can also be considered as educational science tales, as well as exciting stories.
The Menace of the Electric Man (1958). A villain accidentally gains immunity to electricity, and uses it to hijack ships during thunderstorms. This sort of super-villain is rare in Aquaman. Even here, it is clear that the creators are much less interested in the villain and his personality, than in the spectacular electrical effects he can create. These are richly imagined, and beautifully drawn by Fradon.
Topo the octopus, Aquaman's friend, coils up his tentacles at one point, and uses them as a spring to launch Aquaman upward. This reminds one of the catapult seats in the Arrowcar, used to launch Green Arrow and Speedy upwards.
Station Neptune (1955). Aquaman interrupts his search for sea pirates to audition as a performer at an underwater TV station, in this satire on 1950's television.
Members of the Superman family frequently use their super-powers to entertain people at shows. Sometimes these were for orphans or other kids; sometimes they were benefit shows for charity. These tales allowed the writers to come up with ingenious feats, that depended on their heroes' super-skills. Much of this Aquaman tale is in the same tradition, with a series of fun stunts involving Aquaman and his sea friends. I especially enjoyed the underwater "rodeo", with Aquaman wearing a ten-gallon cowboy hat. Fradon produces some graceful compositions here, especially with the octopus.
Television is live here, as is typical of the Superman family. Also Superman like: the way TV here is viewed as a direct transmission from a camera to one or more specific viewers. The Superman books were rarely interested in TV as a mass medium; instead, they focused on a specific viewer's response to what is being broadcast, weaving the action this viewer takes into the plot.
TV and Hollywood tend to be satirized in Superman family comics, and this tale is no exception. Fradon does a great job with the MC of the underwater variety show. He is a typical well-groomed 1950's TV host, handsome, smiling, urbane, wearing a tuxedo under water along with a diving helmet! There is something irresistibly funny about this combination. Fradon often associated formal wear with men who lack substance: see her depiction of the fake newspaper columnist Mencken in her Brenda Starr comic strip (1991). These men typically look terrific in their tuxes, but they have little other than visual polish. They are figures of fashion high style, however. The combination of visual dash and satirized superficiality links Fradon's art to the comedy of manners, and other satires of the sophisticated set. Such men are entertaining, if not admirable. The host here also has the elaborate hand gestures associated with TV MC's in this period.
The splash shows a group of men in a Coast Guard station barracks room watching the show. Fradon shows considerable skill evoking such a 1950's scene. It anticipates her depiction of naval life in "Aquaman Joins the Navy" (1957). Each man seems to have his own reaction to the show. There is much individual personality painting. During the later 1950's, the United States was at peace, but nearly all men spent time in the service due to the universal draft. That meant that such scenes as these involved nearly all American men, at one time or another.
A Day in the Life of Aquaman (1956). A TV show follows Aquaman around on a typical day. One suspects that this is a comic book version of a real life TV show.
Aquaman really hams it up for the cameras. His overdone smile and elaborate gestures are a delicious spoof of the mannerisms of TV personalities of the era. Fradon has exactly captured how TV hosts move and look at the camera, and exaggerated them for comic effect. Aquaman always looks good here, even at his most satirical. One suspects that viewers both enjoyed the bright artificiality of their TV hosts, and found them silly. This spoof is lacking in malice; after all, the cheeriness of TV personalities is at least well meant.
Fradon also includes a spoof of shaving commercials here. Aquaman rubs his chin after shaving, using the exact gesture seen in dozens of TV shaving commercials. It is quite funny.
The funny splash shows an octopus working as a waiter. It recalls a similar zany "octopus as valet" splash in "Aquaman Goes to College" (1947).
Like other comic book stories of the era, the creators have packed as many plot possibilities into this brief tale as possible. The story also shows us how Aquaman carries on his daily routine. The splash explicitly asks the reader if they have ever wondered about the details of Aquaman's daily life. In fact, from the scriptwriter's point of view, this daily routine might be the central subject of the story.
Aquaman is shown apparently as a vegetarian here, as someone who mainly eats seaweed. Clearly, the creators did not want to portray Aquaman as someone who might eat some of his underwater sea creature friends. Aquaman is one of the few vegetarians anywhere in the DC comics: most of the other heroes had no scruples against eating meat.
Like "Station Neptune" (1955), this tale imagines what technology might be necessary to shoot TV underwater. This plays a pleasant role in the story.
The First Undersea Newspaper (1955). Aquaman helps out the publishers of a sea newspaper, when crooks sabotage their printing press.
Freedom of the press was very important in the comics. Superman and his friends all worked at the Daily Planet, and newspapers were idolized. This story has similarities in theme to France E. Herron's "The Gangster Boss of Small Town" (Big Town #2, February 1951), in which idealistic big city newsman Steve Wilson helps out a small town newspaper terrorized by crooks. Here Aquaman does the same thing. However, the Big Town story is a "realistic" tale from a detective comic book, while Aquaman and his marine animal sea friends go to work here with ingenious science fictional ways to print and publish a newspaper. Aquaman actually does all the printing at the ocean bottom, thus giving the story its title.
The Aqua-Mailman (1955). Aquaman helps out a guy trying to win a contract to deliver mail to people working in and under the oceans. The basic premise of this tale recycles that of Otto Binder's "The Undersea Post Office" (#131, August 1948), with both tales having Aquaman help a man get a contract to deliver mail to obscure sea locations. However, the details of the two stories are quite different.
Spaceman Tommy Tomorrow frequently joined other kinds of outer space workers: the mail system in "The Space-Mail Mystery" (Action #181, June 1953), the traffic police in "The Traffic Cop of 2058, A.D." (Action #242, July 1958). This is a similar kind of story, with Aquaman meeting a wide assortment of challenges to get mail to people. Aquaman's ocean is almost as full of strange environments and denizens as Tommy's outer space, and the two domains should be seen as quite parallel.
Aquaman Joins the Navy (1957). Light-hearted tale showing the fun Aquaman, incognito as a US sailor, has carrying out impossible orders from a tough Chief Petty Officer. This story is full of zing. Many of the best Aquaman tales have him doing something other than fighting crime.
This tale could have served as a model for Jerry Siegel's later story in which "Superman Joins the Army" (Superman #133, November 1959), and copes with a martinet officer. The stories are a bit different in tone. Superman's nemesis is an officer, and Superman causes his orders to blow up in his face, while Aquaman is merely coping humorously with a tough but essentially decent enlisted man.
Aquaman clearly enjoys being a man among other men in this tale. Like Superman, Aquaman seems a bit lonely. He enjoys the social contact that this sort of undercover assignment brings. Like Superman, Aquaman is an isolated figure, an alien being among humanity. Unlike Superman, he has no secret identity to help give him social contacts. Ramona Fradon's art showing the sailors is excellent here. Aquaman has no interest in the officers here: the focus is on bonding with the other sailors.
Wanted - Aqua-Crook (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. When Aquaman gets amnesia, crooks tell him than he is a Secret Service agent, and order him to recover sunken loot from the sea. This is a typical Binder plot, in several ways. It is a transformation tale, in which the hero undergoes some personal alteration, and has adventures. In Binder transformation tales, gangs of crooks are often standing by, ready to exploit the hero's new characteristics for their own ends. Often times, the crooks lie to the hero, just as they do here.
Many of Aquaman's underwater experiences here involve physics. This gives a unifying theme to what are otherwise a series of episodes. It also gives the story ingenuity.
In a typical Binder transform tale, the hero has a series of experiences, all of which relate to his new state. They tend to be pleasantly miscellaneous events, in which various aspects of daily life all employ the hero's new powers. This story is somewhat different. Here we have the same structure, a "series of events from daily existence". But the events all relate not to Aquaman's amnesia transformation, but to physics. This is an atypical variation on Binder's usual plot construction approach. This story's structure is similar to the ground plan of a Binder transform tale: the transform, its exploitation by crooks, the episodic adventures of the hero, and his final recovery and restoration to his original state. But the story now has two foci: the transform the crooks and the recovery relate to amnesia; the episodic adventures are all based on physics.
The most delightful episode here involves the cars Aquaman finds under water. Just as Binder's Space Cabby tales transposed 1950's car culture to outer space, so does this tale put American car culture under the ocean. While this is none too plausible, it is a lot of fun.
The Great Ocean Election (1959). Aquaman helps ensure an election in an ocean side island country is honest. Aquaman's main task here is to help honest candidate Vic Wade convey his message to the public; he has been frozen out of all media by island's crooked governor, Big Jim Mason. Aquaman and his friendly sea creatures keep finding ways of sending information to the island's public. The story has formal similarities to other Aquaman tales in which he goes to work in human society on some task. We keep seeing ingenious ways in which Aquaman and the marine animals perform this task.
This story takes place in the imaginary island country of Comstock. Unlike many comic book stories about nations ruled by dictators, this story does not have the feel of a nation behind the Iron Curtain. Instead, the crooked politics resembles that of corrupt, Big City, Tamany Hall crooked machine politics of the pre-1950 United States. But these politics are enforced by the sending out of soldiers, something that would not be possible in an American city. Big Jim Mason resembles the crooked machine bosses of a bygone era.
Aquaman was often involved in public service and public life. In this he was like Weisinger's other super-hero Superman. Both men had a much wider repertoire than just crime fighting.
Fradon does a great job with her portraiture of Vic Wade. He is one of the most vivid hero presences in the Aquaman series. She also includes a good image of the soldiers.
Aquaman and his Sea Police (1959). In the canal-oriented coastal city of New Venice, Aquaman and his sea friends serve as police, to encourage citizens to obey laws against motor boat speeding and littering in the canals.
New Venice is full of architectural interest. In many ways it is just an ordinary American town. Yet, it is now below sea level, and it has canals where its streets would normally be. Its citizens use motor boats to get around, not cars. It is rare to see Aquaman in any sort of urban environment. Fradon proves adept at rendering an urban landscape. It is a unique place, an environment that is fun to think about, and imagine oneself visiting. It is hard to envision it in any other medium than the comics. It would take millions of dollars to create in the movies, if it were possible to build at all. And even then, it might not have the air of reality which Fradon gives it, with apparent effortlessness.
The story is unusual in that its bad guys are not professional criminals. Instead, they are ordinary, respectable people who are scofflaws. Fradon draws all of them as well dressed, even affluent folks. All of them are adults, too, even the hot rodders, who were more typically depicted as teenagers by the movies of the era. The first hot rodder is a handsome man in a suit. A group of picnickers on a yacht remind one of the affluent yachting party in Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura (1959-1960), a movie not released till long after this story.
Aquaman often comes up with ingenious ways of teaching law breakers a lesson. This is the familiar "challenge and reply" construction that will be frequent in the Silver Age Superman family stories. Each law violation, such as littering or speeding, is a "challenge". Aquaman's ingenious counter thrust, designed to teach a lesson, is the "reply". Much of the story consists of a series of such challenge-reply pairs.
The splash has a good portrait of Aquaman, wearing a badge and a police officer's uniform cap, along with his regular super-hero costume. Later tales would sometime feature Superman as a temporary member of the police, similarly dressed in policeman's cap and his normal costume. Fradon has made Aquamna as macho and as intimidating as possible here. His military inspired posture here includes his hands on his hips and his legs spread apart, in challenge to law breakers.
The Secret of the Super-Safe (1959). Aquaman accepts a commission to move an enormous safe to an ocean location.
This story is especially close in feel to "The Aqua-Mailman" (1955). In both, Aquaman and his sea animal friends have to move large objects around the ocean, in order to help out humans. In both, Aquaman is involved with world of work.
This story is a well-constructed mystery tale. Neither Aquaman nor the reader know the contents of the safe, or why it is being moved.
Aquaman's Super Sea-Squad (1958). When a nuclear projectile falls into the sea, Aquaman has to transport it to a decommissioning site before it destroys all life in the sea. The politics of this tale are interesting, and a bit ambiguous. The story never actually offers an explicit opinion on nuclear weapons, pro or con. But it is consistent with the pacifist ideas that will later be expressed in the Superman family. The story shows nothing good about nuclear weapons; instead it shows that accidents involving them can involve a grave threat to life on Earth and the environment. Aquaman's mission here is to get the weapon to a place where it can be destroyed. This is consistent with the many Superman family tales about the destruction of weapons and disarmament.
Aquaman is shown here as working with the US military to destroy a weapon that the military itself created. However, it is clear that Aquaman is not an agent of the military. He is simply cooperating with them on a single task, the transportation of the weapon. His motives here are not to help the military, but rather to avoid a catastrophe to the sea, which Aquaman always protects. Aquaman offers no opinion in the tale pro or con about the actions of the military. The story offers neither right wing patriotism or left wing social criticism of the armed forces. However, it would be hard for any reader of the tale not to feel that the military's actions here are causing great risk to the Earth.
Weisinger was also encouraging writers to add social commentary to Superman family tales, for instance Otto Binder's anti-Nazi "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #123, August 1958) of the same year. The DC Silver Age was rich in social commentary of all types.
Most of this story consists of a series of ingenious attempts by Aquaman to use sea creatures to transport the weapon. This is similar to the basic paradigm of many Aquaman tales: a series of ingenious feats.
The story can be considered as a travelogue of the wonders of the ocean, as well. It reminds of Otto Binder's Tommy Tomorrow tales, which often involved a journey through an asteroid, with Tommy exploiting the special features of the asteroid to reach some goal. The sea monster in this tale is an especially science fictional touch, reminding one of outer space creatures in Tommy.
The projectile looks like Sputnik. Fradon gets great mileage out of its geometric properties for her compositions. The splash shows Aquaman's head and shoulders outlined against the sphere of the projectile, with radiating straight lines extending from the sphere.
A World Without Water (1958). An accident at a nuclear weapons test sends Aquaman 5000 years in the future to AD 6958, where he finds that all the oceans have long since disappeared from Earth. Vivid science fiction tale. The story is a haunting reminder of the fragility of our oceans.
This story reminds one of the work of Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton's "Superman Under the Red Sun" (Action Comics #300, May 1963) depicted a future dried-up world. Several of Hamilton's tales deal creatively with evolution of animals, just as this tale does. The characters in the future are also types one sometimes encounters in Hamilton: wise, benevolent, friendly older men, who are somehow not very effective in actually helping the hero much.
Once again, the events of this story suggest skepticism about atomic weapons. Aquaman is not involved with the test as a participant; he is merely trying to clear the test area of sea creatures so they will not be harmed. He cooperates with the US Government officials running the test, but he is not actively a tester himself. The test is shown as harmful to sea creatures, and the accident has negative consequences for Aquaman, sending into the future. The whole story is consistent with the rest of the Aquaman stories: without any explicit moralizing or commentary, its events depict nuclear weapons in a purely negative light.
Fradon creates a beautiful architecture for the world of the future. Almost all of the buildings are purely round. They are "surfaces of revolution", solids created when a curve is rotated around a central axis. Many of them have sections of different thickness, at various heights. This gives some of them a "stack of rings" look. The various buildings are interconnected by aerial ramps, used as roads for vehicles.
Fradon will later use similar architectural styles for her depictions of the advanced civilization of Atlantis.
The Incredible Fish of Dr. Danton (1959). A cloud of fallout from a nuclear test causes sea creatures to mutate. This interest in evolution of marine animals, and warnings about the dangers of radiation, link this story to "A World Without Water" (1958). The finale of both tales has Aquaman in ingenious full operation with a team of mutated marine animals.
Elements in this tale also remind one of such works as Otto Binder's "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" (Jimmy Olsen #31, September 1958) and John Broome's "The Mystery of Elongated Man" (Flash #112, April-May 1960).
The bizarre beasts that evolve are very strange, but they are not malicious or evil. Aquaman does have great problems controlling them, and preventing them from causing harm, through their new bizarre properties. However, the havoc they cause is inadvertent. Aquaman always tends to see sea creatures as friendly and essentially good.
During the Silver Age, comic book creators greatly increased the science fiction content of super-hero tales. This led to a great enriching and broadening of the imagination in the stories. The mythos that was created for the Superman family is the prime example here; the Silver Age Green Lantern, and the Aquaman mythos stories of 1959 - 1960 are also examples of this science fictional trend. Even when writers were not adding to the mythos of their heroes, Silver Age stories often integrated sf concepts. The Aquaman sf stories of 1958-1959 are a good example. Created immediately before the Aquaman mythos tales, they are richly science fictional in content. The first mythos story, "How Aquaman Got His Powers", opens with a scene expressing concern over nuclear testing, a perennial theme of the preceding science fiction/social commentary tales. This is another link between the two series of stories.
The Danton story recalls H.G. Wells' prose sf novel, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896). Both tales feature mutated animals living in a remote island, whose man human inhabitant is a scientific researcher, here Dr. Danton. However, there are some key differences. Unlike the sinister experimenter Dr. Moreau, Dr. Danton is not responsible for the mutations. He is merely gently studying the animals on the island when the radioactive cloud blows over. Unlike Dr. Moreau, Dr. Danton is a kindly figure. Also, while the animal mutations here are bizarre, they are less sinister that in Wells' novel, and none involve beast-man hybrids. This makes the whole comic book tale much less horror oriented, and more like an intellectual adventure story.
The Haunted Island (1954). To entertain some kids, Aquaman takes them picnicking to an island that unexpectedly seems to be haunted.
Stories in which super-heroes entertained kids were a standard part of the Weisinger repertory. They gave the heroes a chance to create super-powered feats that were very different from those used to fight crime. The stories tend to be fun, upbeat, and wholesome, too, creating the sort of environment DC wanted for its heroes. Just two issues previously, Green Arrow had been involved in his own specialized arrow version of baseball in "The Amazing Arrowthon". Here it is Aquaman's turn. Aquaman creates aquatic versions of common sports here, such as baseball and basketball. These versions depend heavily on the sea-creatures.
One might note that Aquaman is not the cause of the haunting here. In traditional kids' stories, good guys never did anything that might scare kids. This tale is in the tradition of hundreds of kids' books, in which kids visit a spooky old mansion/building/island that seems to be haunted. The comic book comes up with some pleasant marine creature variations on this old plot stand-by.
This is one of several Aquaman tales with a distinctive kind of splash panel. Most splash panels in comics fall into one of two categories. They are either realistic illustrations of some key scene in the tale; or they are "symbolic" splash panels, representing in a non-realistic way some theme of the story - for example, a mystery tale might show the hero with a giant question mark. This Aquaman tale falls into neither category. Instead, it shows a scene that could have occurred within the framework of the story, but did not. Here, we see Aquaman playing baseball, with the monster in the tale serving as catcher. It is a delightful image, full of warmth and humor. It occurs nowhere in the story; in fact, it contradicts a premise of the tale, that the monster is a sinister being haunting the island. However, the image is a lot of fun. It is also realistic: it is not symbolic, rather it is a realistic drawing of something that actually could have happened.
Such images regularly occur in Aquaman, but I do not recall seeing them in other comic book series. These splash panels seem to contain "extra" ideas. They are plot ideas, related to the central concepts and characters of the tales, that the author did not manage to work into the actual plot of the story. It is as if the author was overflowing with plot ideas, and had an extra one, that did not actually fit within the framework of the story, but which is being presented to the reader as a sort of bonus. The aesthetic of DC Silver Age comics called for the writer to come up with every plot idea that could be wrung out of a story's premise. After all, that premise might never be revisited again. This is the writer's first and only chance to write a tale based on the given story idea. The writer should make the most of it. Many DC stories of the era include as many plot twists as a long prose short story, or even one of today's novels. There can be over a dozen plot ideas in a tale, each developing the central premise. Using this sort of splash allows the author to add one more plot idea to the tale. It also sometimes allows the inclusion of ideas that are a bit more humorous than the main body of the story, as is the case with "The Haunted Island".
These "extra idea" splash panels also relate to the tradition of the Imaginary tale, which would reach its fruition in the Superman family stories of the Silver Age. These splash panels show events that might have taken place in the body of the main story, but which did not. They are like one-panel Imaginary tales, showing a what-if alternative to the main story.
The Greatest Show on Water (1955). When a carnival barge is wrecked, Aquaman organizes his sea creature friends to provide rides for children. This tale revisits the theme of "The Haunted Island" (1954), with Aquaman and his friends entertaining children in ingenious ways. It manages to come up with all new ideas here. Both stories are irresistibly cheery and good natured. They express a sense of happiness.
The splash shows Aquaman as a circus side-show barker. Fradon has him in a checked coat and derby. These clothes are load and flashy, but they are also fun, and Aquaman looks great in them. Aquaman is welcoming people to the sea carnival here, an appropriate first image for the story. The splash welcomes the reader in to a comic book tale, the way a barker does to a carnival attraction.
The Undersea School (1956). An inside look at the training classes Aquaman holds to teach his sea animal friends to help him in his work.
Two animals are in the tale are quite inseparable. These are two seals, who are "pals", according to the dialogue. They are constantly nuzzling each other. The story makes clear that they want to go through life together. This look at a deep friendship anticipates the friendship tales that will later be central to the Silver Age Superboy stories.
One part of this story seems a little grim: any animal that fails to go a good job with his homework will be thrown out of the course, and lose his place in Aquaman's special unit of animals that assist him. This seems quite serious. It gives this story a dark edge. It reminds one of training classes for elite military units, such as US Navy SEALs, who similarly flunk out students who are not cutting it.
It does provide some structure for the plot, however, with an animal who gets in trouble learning the material.
The splash here shows Aquaman in academic cap and gown, symbolizing his role as a teacher. This reminds one of carnival barker outfit on the splash of "The Greatest Show on Water" (1955). Both panels display Aquaman in some new profession that is central to the story. He also seems in charge of the events going on.
Aquaman's Undersea Partner (#229, October 1956). Aquaman tests three sea animals to see which one would be the best choice for his new partner. This story contains tests for an initiation into a relationship with Aquaman; in this it resembles Otto Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958), in which Superboy faces tests over his possible initiation into the Legion. Both stories also have some similar plot twists in them.
There is a vivid portrait of Aquaman riding the octopus (p6). The octopus' head is emerging from between Aquaman's legs. One of Aquaman's hands is gripping the head, the other is waving. This is one of Fradon's most macho portraits of Aquaman.
The Robinson Crusoe of the Sea (1958). When a chemical makes Aquaman allergic to the salt in sea-water, he becomes marooned on a tropical island, like Robinson Crusoe.
This is mainly a story about the actions of Aquaman's sea friends, as they build him a home and set up a life for him on the island. Such sea animal tales are highly pleasing. This sort of material is part of Aquaman's basic premise as a super-hero, and frequently shows up in small doses in Aquaman stories, even those which are not principally about marine creatures.
The Undersea Hospital (1959). Aquaman opens a hospital on the ocean bottom to treat injured sea creatures. This is another Aquaman tale dealing purely with him and the marine animals. The story has a pleasing two part symmetry, with the events in the second half reversing the plot elements of the first half.
The Underwater Olympics (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. While the world watches on TV, Aquaman and Aqualad lead teams of rival sea creatures from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, in various Olympic sports contests. Like "The Haunted Island" (1954), this story deals with marine animals playing human sports and games. The plot of the story is awfully simple, but the games are fun. So is some of the coverage by TV sports commentators.
Bernstein often had a sinister group of villains monitoring and continuously observing the hero. This forces the hero to act quietly and in secret, so as not to be observed by the villains. Often, he puts some secret scheme in place to thwart them. Here, the bad guys are a group of sinister salvagers led by villainous Bart Horval, who have their own submarine, and who are watching all the actions of Aquaman and his team. These men are human; but in Bernstein's Superman tales, the sinister monitoring groups are often gangs of aliens. In these Superman family tales, they will have a spaceship, just as they have a submarine here. See such Bernstein monitoring tales as "Irresistible Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961) and "The Superboy Revenge Squad" (Superboy #94, January 1962). These are two of Bernstein's best works.
This tale is a bit unusual in that it specifies various marine locations, such as the seas near Cape Horn. Typically, Aquaman tales appeared just "somewhere in the ocean".
Fradon does a good job with the TV announcer (p6). He recalls a little bit the TV host in "Station Neptune" (1955).